Quote of the Day – HPMOR Edition

I’ve been reading the fanfic Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by author Less Wrong since about the time chapter 77 went up.  Less is the nom de plume of Eliezer Yudkowsky:

a resident of Berkeley, California, has no formal education in computer science or artificial intelligence. A former child prodigy, he scored a 1410 on the SATs at age 11 and a perfect 1600 four years later. He co-founded the nonprofit Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (currently the Machine Intelligence Research Institute) in 2000 and continues to be employed there as a full-time Research Fellow.

He is also heavily involved in the Center for Applied Rationality.

In my previous post Faith in Government, I referred to the collection of essays on the left sidebar of this blog under the heading “The ‘Rights’ Discussions,” in response to a Facebook post on a whole list of proposed new individual rights. A good chunk of those essays were a back-and-forth between myself and a math professor, Dr. Danny Cline, partly on whether rights were something human beings understood instinctively. He said yes, I said no.

In the TSM tradition of using someone else’s words when they say it better than I can, an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Chapter 87, Hedonic Awareness:

“Is there some amazing rational thing you do when your mind’s running in all different directions?” she managed.

“My own approach is usually to identify the different desires, give them names, conceive of them as separate individuals, and let them argue it out inside my head. So far the main persistent ones are my Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin sides, my Inner Critic, and my simulated copies of you, Neville, Draco, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Professor Quirrell, Dad, Mum, Richard Feynman, and Douglas Hofstadter.”

Hermione considered trying this before her Common Sense warned that it might be a dangerous sort of thing to pretend. “There’s a copy of me inside your head?”

“Of course there is!” Harry said. The boy suddenly looked a bit more vulnerable. “You mean there isn’t a copy of me living in your head?”

There was, she realized; and not only that, it talked in Harry’s exact voice.

“It’s rather unnerving now that I think about it,” said Hermione. “I do have a copy of you living in my head. It’s talking to me right now using your voice, arguing how this is perfectly normal.”

“Good,” Harry said seriously. “I mean, I don’t see how people could be friends without that.”

She continued reading her book, then, Harry seeming content to watch the pages over her shoulder.

She’d gotten all the way to number seventy, Katherine Scott, who’d apparently invented a way to turn small animals into lemon tarts, when she finally worked up the courage to speak.

“Harry?” she said. (She was leaning a bit away from him now, though she didn’t realize it.) “If there’s a copy of Draco Malfoy in your head, does that mean you’re friends with Draco Malfoy?”

“Well…” Harry said. He sighed. “Yeah, I’d been meaning to talk with you about this anyway. I kind of wish I’d talked to you sooner. Anyway, how can I put this… I was corrupting him?”

“What do you mean corrupting? ”

“Tempting him to the Light Side of the Force.”

Her mouth just stayed open.

“You know, like the Emperor and Darth Vader, only in reverse.”

Draco Malfoy,” she said. “Harry, do you have any idea –


“- the sort of things Malfoy has been saying about me? What he said he’d do to me, as soon as he got the chance? I don’t know what he told to you, but Daphne Greengrass told me what Malfoy says when he’s in Slytherin. It’s unspeakable, Harry! It’s unspeakable in the completely literal sense that I can’t say it out loud!”

“When was this?” Harry said. “At the start of the year? Did Daphne say when this was?”

“No,” Hermione said. “Because it doesn’t matter when, Harry. Anyone who said things – like Malfoy said – they can’t be a good person. It doesn’t matter what you tempted him to, he’s still a rotten person, because no matter what a good person would never -“

“You’re wrong.” Harry said, looking her straight in the eyes. “I can guess what Draco threatened to do to you, because the second time I met him, he talked about doing it to a ten-year-old girl. But don’t you see, on the day Draco Malfoy arrived in Hogwarts, he’d spent his whole previous life being raised by Death Eaters. It would’ve required a supernatural intervention for him to have your morality given his environment -“

Hermione was shaking her head violently. “No, Harry. Nobody has to tell you that hurting people is wrong, it’s not something you don’t do because the teacher says it’s not allowed, it’s something you don’t do because – because you can see when people are hurting, don’t you know that, Harry?” Her voice was shaking now. “That’s not – that’s not a rule people follow like the rules for algebra! If you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it here,” her hand slapped down over the center of her chest, not quite where her heart was located, but that didn’t matter because it was all really in the brain anyway, “then you just don’t have it!”

The thought came to her, then, that Harry might not have it.

“There’s history books you haven’t read,” Harry said quietly. “There’s books you haven’t read yet, Hermione, and they might give you a sense of perspective. A few centuries earlier – I think it was definitely still around in the seventeenth century – it was a popular village entertainment to take a wicker basket, or a bundle, with a dozen live cats in it, and -“

“Stop,” she said.

“- roast it over a bonfire. Just a regular celebration. Good clean fun. And I’ll give them this, it was cleaner fun than burning women they thought were witches. Because the way people are built, Hermione, the way people are built to feel inside -” Harry put a hand over his own heart, in the anatomically correct position, then paused and moved his hand up to point toward his head at around the ear level, “- is that they hurt when they see their friends hurting. Someone inside their circle of concern, a member of their own tribe. That feeling has an off-switch, an off-switch labeled ‘enemy’ or ‘foreigner’ or sometimes just ‘stranger’. That’s how people are, if they don’t learn otherwise. So, no, it does not indicate that Draco Malfoy was inhuman or even unusually evil, if he grew up believing that it was fun to hurt his enemies -“

“If you believe that,” she said with her voice unsteady, “if you can believe that, then you’re evil. People are always responsible for what they do. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you to do, you’re the one who does it. Everyone knows that -“

No they don’t! You grew up in a post-World-War-Two society where ‘I vas only followink orders’ is something everyone knows the bad guys said. In the fifteenth century they would’ve called it honourable fealty.” Harry’s voice was rising. “Do you think you’re, you’re just genetically better than everyone who lived back then? Like if you’d been transported back to fifteenth-century London as a baby, you’d realize all on your own that burning cats was wrong, witch-burning was wrong, slavery was wrong, that every sentient being ought to be in your circle of concern? Do you think you’d finish realizing all that by the first day you got to Hogwarts? Nobody ever told Draco he was personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society he grew up in. And despite that, it only took him four months to get to the point where he’d grab a Muggleborn falling off a building.” Harry’s eyes were as fierce as she’d ever seen him. “I’m not finished corrupting Draco Malfoy, but I think he’s done pretty well so far.

The problem with having such a good memory was that she did remember.

She remembered Draco Malfoy grabbing her wrist, so hard she’d had a bruise afterward, while she was falling off the roof of Hogwarts.

I’ve never read the original Harry Potter novels, but five chapters into HPMOR I was hooked. If you’ve not read it, I give it my strongest recommendation. Then you, like me, can wait for each new chapter to be published.

Faith in Government

I have this T-shirt, I got it recently, that says:

Defies Both

But that’s not the Quote of the Day.  This is:

The administration has admitted to spying on everybody, including the press; collecting every bit of communications and personal data it can, including credit ratings, purchases, and browsing history. Nowhere have they said Congress is exempt. Verizon was the first phone company where it was admitted that everything they touch goes to the NSA. Upon taking office, every member of the House and Senate is handed a Blackberry to do everything on. Who has the contract for the Congressional Blackberries? Verizon.

Since this started in 2009, one has to assume that every member of Congress regardless of party has been compromised, or has family that has been compromised; and is being blackmailed, extorted, or bribed in some form or combination, and is under the control of the administration. This explanation is the Occam’s Razor for why the Congress, the Republican Caucus in particular, has been so passive and refused to fight back against Obama.

There are implications for the future of the country.

Indeed there are.  And they’re not pretty.

I’m most of the way through reading the book Why Nations Fail. The overarching theme, it seems to me, is the same one put forth by Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell, among others – human nature doesn’t change. Added to that is Robert Heinlein’s observation:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

Prosperity – a good marker for societal success – follows liberty.  Though it is far from the sole condition necessary for prosperity, liberty is an essential condition.  But liberty is quite rare, difficult to win, and apparently impossible to maintain for extended periods.  In contrast to the Declaration of Independence, throughout history governments have been instituted among men almost exclusively not to secure the rights endowed upon them by their creators, but instead to secure the power and privilege of the powerful and privileged.  Because human nature is what it is, who it is that has power and privilege may change over time, but the function of government remains, with few exceptions, to protect that power and privilege – regardless of who holds it.

Liberty endangers the power and privilege of those currently holding it.  The authors of Why Nations Fail point out repeatedly that governments – again, almost without exception – tend to do whatever they can to prevent economic “creative destruction,” because with it comes shifts in who holds economic, and thus political power.

Liberty is dangerous, and it is most dangerous to the powerful and privileged.  I am once again reminded of something I’ve quoted repeatedly from a post by blogger Ironbear several years ago:

It would be a mistake to paint the conflict exclusively in terms of “cultural war,” or Democrats vs Republicans, or even Left vs Right. Neither Democrats/Leftists or Republicans shy away from statism… the arguments there are merely over degree of statism, uses to which statism will be put – and over who’ll hold the reins. It’s the thought that they may not be left in a position to hold the reins that drives the Democrat-Left stark raving.

This is a conflict of ideologies…

The heart of the conflict is between those to whom personal liberty is important, and those to whom liberty is not only inconsequential, but to whom personal liberty is a deadly threat.

At the moment, that contingent is embodied most virulently by the “American” Left. This is the movement that still sees the enslavement and “re-education” of hundreds of thousands in South Vietnam, and the bones of millions used as fertilizer in Cambodia as a victory. This is the movement that sees suicide bombers as Minute Men, and sees the removal of a brutal murder and rape machine from power as totalitarianism. This is the movement that sees legitimately losing an election as the imposition of a police state. This is the movement that believes in seizing private property as “common good”. That celebrates Che Guevara as a hero. The movement who’s highest representatives talk blithely about taking away your money and limiting your access to your own homestead for your own good. The movement of disarmament.

The movement of the boot across the throat.

Think about it. When was the last time that you were able to engage in anything that resembled a discussion with someone of the Leftist persuasion? Were able to have an argument that was based on the premise that one of you was wrong, rather than being painted as Evil just because you disagreed?

The Left has painted itself into a rhetorical and logical corner, and unfortunately, they have no logic that might act as a paint thinner. It’s not possible for them to compromise with those that they’ve managed to conflate with the most venal of malevolence, with those whom they’re convinced disagree not because of different opinions but because of stupidity and evil, with those who’s core values are diametrically opposed to what the Left has embraced. There can be no real discourse, no real discussion. There’s no common ground. There can be no reconciliation there – the Left has nothing to offer that any adherent of freedom wants. The only way they can achieve their venue is from a position of political ascendancy where it can be imposed by force or inveigled by guile.

And all adherents of freedom have far too many decades of historical precedent demonstrating exactly where that Leftward road leads – to the ovens of Dachau.

But it’s not just the Left. BOTH sides currently in power are threatened by personal liberty. Creative destruction threatens them. The Left calls itself “progressive,” but as was noted a while back, they’re notthey’re the very definition of conservative, because they’re trying to conserve their power and privilege. They do that by building a class dependent upon government, a class that will keep reelecting them to ensure their gravy train doesn’t stop.  The only thing they want to change is the size of that dependent class to further guarantee their power and privilege.  And the GOP?  They want to conserve their power, too, but they’ve earned the sobriquet of “the Stupid Party.”

Steven Den Beste wrote an excellent essay on the topic back in 2002, Liberal Conservatism, in which he put it this way:

I am a humanist. I am a liberal, in the classic sense of the term, meaning that I think that the goal of a political system should be to liberate the individuals within it to have as much ability to make decisions about their own lives as is practical, with as little interference by other citizens or the mechanisms of the state. I strongly believe in diversity at every level: diversity of opinions, diversity of political beliefs, diversity of lifestyles. When in doubt, permit it unless it is clearly a danger to the survival of the state or threatens the health and wellbeing of those within the state.

Which, in 2003 in the United States, makes me a “conservative”, at least in the reckoning of self-anointed “Liberals” in this nation.

But what it really makes him is a libertarian.

What threatens the power of the established classes?

Personal liberty.  Private property.  Rule of law.  The things the Constitution was originally written to defend.  Why?  Because these things mean change, change that cannot be controlled, and change threatens the status quo.

Rand Paul frightens the hell out of both sides.  So does the Tea Party.

Perennial gadfly Markadelphia has, in repeated comments here, decried the fact that more and more of the wealth of this nation is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.  He is right to notice that and raise objection.  However, his “solution” is to use government force to take that wealth (“make the rich pay their fair share”) and redistribute it according to, I suppose, some wise plan conceived by our betters in Washington.  Markadelphia has an overweening faith in government.

What that concentration of wealth indicates to people like me, on the other hand, is what is known as “regulatory capture” and “crony capitalism.”  Government is seen by us as unlikely to be a solution, because it is part of the problem.  In point of fact, people like me don’t see “solutions” – we see trade-offs.  Whatever we do will have consequences over and above what might have been intended.  We recognize that fact, and are concerned with minimizing such consequences.  The Left seems oblivious to negative outcomesIntention it seems, is more important than result.

For our skepticism, we are accused of “hating the government,” and being “insurrectionists.”  I’ve been up front ever since I started this blog that if I thought a revolution would fix anything I’d be on the front lines pulling a trigger.  But I, like the majority of people on my side of the fence, understand that Ambrose Bierce was right:

Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.

The authors of Why Nations Fail illustrate this truism repeatedly.  The number of times in recorded history where revolution has resulted in an improvement in conditions for the common man can be counted on one hand with fingers left over.  We don’t have guns so we can revolt against the government, we have guns to make the government think twice about what it can do to us.  Robert Averech put it well:

Liberty is too messy, too chaotic for the forces of the Democrat party. They yearn for conformity, for a uniform sameness that gives the illusion of a serenely content society. That’s why they want to get rid of cars and shove us all into railroad cars. Socialists just love cattle cars; they just relabel them high-speed rail.

That’s why Democrats want to get rid of the Second Amendment. An armed citizenry can resist an unjust government.

Not revolution, what we want is a restoration of government to its original mandate – the protection of the rights of individuals.  The problem is, over two-and-a-quarter centuries of entropy has made the majority of the population of this nation unwilling, if not unable to accept that the government shouldn’t stand in loco parentis.

Take, for example, this Facebook post I came across the other day:

Here’s the first draft. Interested in feedback for revisions, additions or deletions:


We, the human beings on Plant Earth are endowed with certain inalienable rights. We receive these from our Creator and/or the intrinsic sense of justice that dwells in all people of good conscience.

We are entitled to:
• Freedom of Speech
• Freedom of Worship and the Freedom from Worship
• Freedom from Want
• Freedom from Fear
• Access to Health Care
• Clean Air
• Clean Water
• Freedom from Economic and Sexual Exploitation
• Justice and Transparency in Financial Transactions
• A Living Wage
• Democratic Governance; Free and Fair Elections
• Equal Justice, Due Process, and the Rule of Law
• Public Education
• Public Libraries
• Public Parks
• Public Roadways
• Collective Bargaining
• Just Distribution of the Tax Burdens of Individuals and Corporations

I’ve already taken on the “freedom from fear” meme, but I could make a career out of fisking this list.  Hell, the nine posts on the left sidebar under the banner The “Rights” Discussion do a pretty good job of demolishing it, but there are a LOT of people out there who would read this list and nod their heads sagely headbang while throwing up “hang loose” and peace sign hand gestures.

Here’s the author’s profile picture:

 photo 1045116_601199539911755_1899370960_n.jpg
Yup, another unreformed 60’s hippie. According to his “about me” page, he taught English as a Second Language from 1981 through 2007, he currently lives in Washington, D.C. and he is an “Aggressive Progressive.” Quelle surprise!  Gee, I wonder if he’s read Paulo Friere’s Critical Pedagogy.

This is, quite literally, what we’re up against.  People like this are every bit as activist as NRA members, and I’d venture to guess there are MORE of them (since they have infested the public school systems and taught our kids for decades), albeit less focused or organized. Or rational.

A while back, Oren Litwin, aka “Critical Mastiff” when he comments here, said this:

If the non-socialist end of the political spectrum cannot create a political philosophy that is both good theory and emotionally appealing, we’re doomed.

Any political philosophy that is not self-reinforcing is by definition not the best political philosophy. Libertarianism (with a small “l”) features a stoic acceptance of individual risk (i.e. the lack of government intervention) for the sake of long-term freedom and prosperity–yet takes no measures to ensure that the society educates its young to maintain that acceptance of risk. The equilibrium, if it ever exists in the first place, is unstable and will collapse.

This aside from the fact that libertarianism is emotionally cold and unfulfilling to most people, who have not trained themselves to consider lack of outside restraint to be worth cherishing.

Bill Whittle has described the Left’s “emotionally appealing” political philosophy thus:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5HT64S_wJY?rel=0]
I think he’s on to something there.  But what about a good “emotionally appealing” alternative?  Orin says Libertarianism is “cold and unfulfilling to most people,” (or downright frightening some), but that’s a marketing thing, I think.  Bill Whittle has something to say on that subject, too.  Here’s the first part:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okF-UPzUvrQ?rel=0]
I have a major quibble with Bill on this, though.  “Leave Me Alone” is not the position of the Republican Party.  Both the Democrats and the Republicans are shot through with people who very much DO want to tell people what to do.  It seems that wanting to tell people what to do is a primary requirement for wanting to run for public office.  “Leave Me Alone” is a libertarian position.  Heinlein wrote in his 1966 Hugo and Nebula winning novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws — always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up.

Andrew Klavan just the other day echoed the thought:

If I could reach into the heart of humankind and pluck one flaw from its unknowable depths, it would be our seemingly irresistible desire to tell one another what to do.

It seems the only response to that deep yearning, that seemingly irresistible desire, is to try to do something about limiting their ability to act on  it.  Heinlein also wrote in Mistress:

It may not be possible to do away with government — sometimes I think that government is an inescapable disease of human beings. But it may be possible to keep it small and starved and inoffensive — and can you think of a better way than by requiring the governors themselves to pay the costs of their antisocial hobby?

Now there’s a thought!

On to the second leg of the Libertarian tripod, “It’s Your Stuff”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur2ewO9B2FM?rel=0]
If you don’t believe that “six or seven out of ten” college students self-identify as socialists, consider the fact that a 2002 Columbia Law poll found

Almost two-thirds of Americans think Karl Marx’s maxim, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” was or could have been written by the framers and included in the Constitution

That’s right in the middle between six and seven out of ten for the math impaired.

Seems like things haven’t changed much in the last decade.

On to part three – “Don’t be a Jerk”:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX8ZGSkGOFI?rel=0]
But they’re not conservatives – they’re libertarians.  And they’re not represented by either side currently in power.

And they’re not likely to be, either.  Go back up and re-read that first quote.  If in fact the Ruling Class is that firmly entrenched, then there is little hope left for those of us in Angelo Codevilla’s “country class” – those of us who are “small ‘L'” libertarians.  Liberty is on life-support.  The continued concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands is guaranteed, and the inevitable outcome will be a failed state and eventual societal collapse at the hands of people who live to tell others what to do.

Billy Beck calls it “The Endarkenment.”  He’s been predicting it for quite a while.  And it comes from “Faith in Government,” in defiance of history and reason.

Quote of the Day – Coal Edition

Given yesterday’s announcement that the Obama administration needs to engage in a “War on Coal,” I was amused by an Instapundit reader’s comment:

Given the success of the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, if I’m Big Coal, I’m praying for a War on Coal.

This goes well with yesterday’s QotD, which concluded:

…in government, failure is an exciting excuse to ask for more funding or more power.

Can I get an “AMEN!”?

I See a Trip to Texas in my Future

Texas to Pay Sportsmen to Hunt Hogs

There are an estimated five million feral pigs in the United States, half of which are located in the Lone Star State. Texas already spends $7 million on their hog management programs but experts say that is not enough to prevent the population from tripling in the next five years. To keep the pigs under control, the state will have to eliminate nearly 66 percent of the swine every year. For comparison, hunters and trappers accounted for over 750,000 pigs harvested in 2010, only 29 percent of the population.

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) will be partnering with county governments to launch the 2013 County Hog Abatement Matching Program (CHAMP). The initiative will encourage counties to match state funding dollar-for-dollar up to $30,000, which will be then paid to hunters.

I think I need to start loading some .458 SOCOM…


The eighth (8th!) annual Gun Blogger Rendezvous is coming up, September 5-8 in Reno, Nevada.  Each year the Rendezvous is sponsored by several manufacturers and distributors of firearms and firearm accessories, along with gun rights and advocacy groups:

Allchin Gun Parts
Crimson Trace
Dillon Precision
Front Sight Academy
Hi-Point / MKS Supply
Lucky Gunner
Tactical Solutions
Burris Optics

True Blue Sam did a little video of some of last year’s sponsors:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPUxmaCZOYM?rel=0]
Trust me, the swag is worth the $30 registration fee alone, and this year the sponsors will be feeding us breakfast Friday and Saturday, and dinner Saturday as well.

S&W team shooter “Millisecond” Molly Smith and her family will be joining us again this year, and for the first time we’ll have a bowling ball mortar at one of our shoots:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQvTIEH0H7I?rel=0]

Bowling ball mortar courtesy of new GBR sponsor Gunauction.com.  If I did the math right, a 22 second hang-time corresponds to a peak altitude of approximately 1950 feet AGL. Impressive.  If you come to GBR-VIII, I’ll tell you the story of the bowling ball mortar at the second big AR15.com Southern Arizona shoot….

Quote of the Day – Jonah Goldberg Edition

From his NRO review of the book The End Is Near and It’s Going to be Awesome by Kevin Williamson, Leviathan Fail:

While new iPhones regularly burst forth like gifts from the gods, politics plods along. “Other than Social Security, there are very few 1935 vintage products still in use,” he writes. “Resistance to innovation is a part of the deep structure of politics. In that, it is like any other monopoly. It never goes out of business — despite flooding the market with defective and dangerous products, mistreating its customers, degrading the environment, cooking the books, and engaging in financial shenanigans that would have made Gordon Gekko pale to contemplate.” Hence, it is not U.S. Steel, which was eventually washed away like an imposing sand castle in the surf, but only politics that can claim to be “the eternal corporation.”

The reason for this immortality is simple: The people running the State are never sufficiently willing to contemplate that they are the problem. If a program dedicated to putting the round pegs of humanity into square holes fails, the bureaucrats running it will conclude that the citizens need to be squared off long before it dawns on them that the State should stop treating people like pegs in the first place. Furthermore, in government, failure is an exciting excuse to ask for more funding or more power.

RTWT. I had Thomas Sowell’s A Personal Odyssey lined up next in the nonfiction queue, but I think I’m going to have to get a copy of The End is Near and read it next instead. Kevin Williamson echoes some of the things Bill Whittle has been saying of late, but I have some disagreements with Whittle’s optimism, and it seems Jonah Goldberg has some (albeit minor) disagreements with Williamson. I’m looking forward to the read.