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The uncertainty principle in violence blame mechanics

Sometimes one is privileged to witness the discovery of a law of science.

Δl Δm > M

Six years ago I wrote a post called “Two contrasting articles by Michael Tomasky on spree killers”. In that post I compared an article Mr Tomasky wrote in January 2011 after the attempted murder of (Democratic) Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the course of a spree killing carried out by Jared Loughner (“In the US, where hate rules at the ballot box, this tragedy has been coming for a long time”), to another article written by him in November 2009, just after the mass killing at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan (“American, for better or worse”).

Regarding Hasan, Mr Tomasky was of the opinion that “We have much more to learn about Hasan before we can jump to any conclusions” and “We should assume until it’s proven otherwise that Hasan was an American and a loyal one, who just snapped”.

Regarding Loughner, Tomasky felt much more able to draw immediate conclusions. He wrote, “You don’t have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday” and “So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don’t have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that “you don’t have to accept the federalist laws”. He called a female classmate who had an abortion a ‘terrorist'”.

Forgive the lengthy prologue. I was prompted to write this post by the fact that Mr Tomasky has now added a third article to the series, concerning the attempted murder of Congressman Steve Scalise and other Republicans by James Hodgkinson: “One Left-Wing Gunman Doesn’t Make a Movement”. He is back to a state of unknowing.

We may never know about James Hodgkinson’s mental state in the days and hours leading up to his horrifying attack Wednesday morning, since he’s dead. We know that he was left wing, a comparative rarity for a political assassin in the United States these days.

And

But it’s my hunch that Hodgkinson was not part of any broader movement.

In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”

A similar principle may be discerned in the field of “violence blame mechanics”, an emerging field of political science. The complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence. “Left-protectedness” can be manifested as actually holding left wing beliefs or as belonging to a group regarded as oppressed by the left, such as Muslims or dark skinned people.

In layman’s language, the more certainty there is that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, the less certain it is possible to be about his motives. Thus the very act of seeing that the Facebook page of James T. Hodgkinson included a Bernie Sanders banner and the words “Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words” makes it impossible to know his motives.

“Uncertainty of motive” can also be reformulated as “time before it is proper to speculate on motive” by a simple mathematical transformation, with tm tending to zero in the case of Loughner and infinity in the cases of Hasan and Hodgkinson. This explains the apparent contradiction of how it was improper to guess at Nidal Hasan’s motives before trial despite the widely reported fact that survivors heard him shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he fired, but that when it came to Jared Loughner Mr Tomasky felt that we had enough of a picture the day after the attack.

In tribute to the clarity with which his writings have demonstrated the concept, I had thought of calling this law “Tomasky’s uncertainty principle” but, as so often in the history of science, the same discovery has been made by several different researchers. It is a crowded field. To establish priority, readers are invited to submit examples where a particular author has demonstrated his or her understanding of the principle by citing multiple articles showing it in operation for different values of Δl and Δm.

Meanwhile, may I suggest that we should name the equivalent of Planck’s constant in a way that does justice to the collective nature of the development of this principle. Let us call it M, the Media constant. Thus the law can be stated in mathematical form as Δl Δm > M. I have added this equation to the top of the post.

Edit: I must draw your attention to the very cogent objections raised by Moore, L. (2017):

If “the complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence” then the first variable isn’t really the degree of certainty that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, but the degree of certainty as to whether a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class.

And then of course the whole Tomasky uncertainty principle collapses in a heap, because if we know for sure that a perpetrator of violence is a right winger we have zero uncertainty about whether the perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class. This should mean the uncertainty of motive is infinitely large. But it isn’t. It’s zero. If we know for sure that if the perp was a rightie, we know for sure the motive was rightiness.

I suspect what we have here is Tomasky’s exclusion principle, derived not from Heisenberg, but from Pauli. Left wing motives and violence turn out to be identical Graunions, which cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time. They simply cannot co-exist in one event. The one excludes the other.

Samizdata data point of the day

I am not sure this works as a quote of the day, but it certainly does count as a data point so eye-popping that I wanted to share it:

Forty-three hundred people, including two dozen children under the age of 12, were shot in Chicago last year.

That’s right: 4,300 people shot in a major US city during a period of 12 months.

Partisan analysis

Jacob Sullum writes about one of my pet peeves:

Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley is rightly alarmed by the federal government’s position that naturalized Americans can lose their citizenship based on trivial misstatements to the Department of Homeland Security. But Stanley wrongly portrays that position, which was staked out by the Obama administration, as a product of Donald Trump’s special hostility to immigrants. The mistake illustrates the sadly familiar tendency to frame what should be critiques of government power as complaints about particular parties or politicians.

But make no mistake, this is not something limited to the political left. I have long observed that it was Republicans who set the stage for Obama’s drunken sailor splurge. Big-statist Republicans put that ball into play and Obama just picked it up and ran with it. This left me unsympathetic to former Bush apologists decrying the Obama years with a marked lack of introspection let alone repentance. And of course in the Trump era, the same thing is happening in spades. Indeed, every time Trump enforces an Obama era statute or regulation, it is being decried by Serious Academics™ as evidence Donald Trump is ‘literally Hitler‘, unlike nice Barack Obama.

A muddle of psychiatrists

Here is a fun little article in The Independent about psychiatrists who think Donald Trump is mentally ill, and it is their professional duty to warn people. They are saying this sort of thing:

I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousness from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert on dangerousness or spend fifty years studying it like I have in order to know how dangerous this man is.

This sounds like complete nonsense, but it turns out that “clinical evaluation for predictions of future dangerousness, have become integral to the function of the legal system” — so it is qualified nonsense.

I don’t know about psychiatry; one commenter dismisses it as junk science. Most of the other commenters think it is a bit silly to attempt to diagnose a politician from viewing public appearances.

I think experts, especially when direct measurement of the phenomena is impossible, have a tendency to mistake shared opinions for objectivity. Politics amplifies that effect. See also climate science.

Samizdata quote of the day

In Justin Trudeau’s Canada, if I mention the Islamist ties of Akbardzhon Dzhalilov, the 22-year-old suspected of carrying out the subway bombing that killed 14 in St. Petersburg, Russia on Monday, am I guilty of Islamophobia?

What if I also mention that Khalid Masood, the man who mowed down scores of pedestrians, killing three, and stabbed a police officer to death outside the British Parliament last week, was a convert to Islam? Am I guilty of a crime against Canada’s new politically correct speech codes?

I admit, what constitutes a Muslim terror attack is not always black-and-white. Was London’s Masood driven by Islamist fervor or by his long, troubled criminal past? Or maybe a bit of both?

Lorne Gunter

Canada has been heading in this direction for a while now, part of a growing list of nation states denying one of the most most fundamental civil liberties: freedom of expression.

Samizdata quote of the day

Yet it is the Democrats’ relentless focus on minority issues that has enabled the GOP to capture parts of the white middle and working class vote. Trump exploited that opportunity more effectively than any other Republican. But he did it – with the alt-right’s help – by borrowing from the Democrats’ playbook. Aping the left’s identity politics, Trump adopted the alt-right’s cultural narrative around the oppression of white people. Gone was the traditional Republican belief in individual responsibility. In its place came the leftist credo of perpetual victimhood.

Simon Gordon

Another way of putting it is that Trump is a bit like Bernie Sanders, with skyscrapers and funny hair.

Question: was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or…

Was Trump’s strike on Syria motivated by geopolitical considerations or… genuine concern about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces (and they have form for that)… or the need to demonstrate he is not in Putin’s pocket? Or something else?

Discuss.

How to win like Trump

Marc Sidwell’s book How To Win Like Trump: Nine Simple Rules for Victory Against the Odds explains how Donald Trump won the US presidential election. It is written in the style of a self-help book and in simple Trump-like language. This makes it a fast and easy read: it does not take itself too seriously. And it avoids “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity”. But it is packed with insight.

For example, politicians and the press are between them largely acting out a fiction which has similarities to the kayfabe of professional wrestling.

Trump had two insights, thanks to his grasp of kayfabe. First, Trump recognised the widespread fakery of modern politics. That let him see past the curtain of narrative, revealing the limited insight of political experts and the vulnerability of “inevitable” candidates whether Clinton, Rubio, Bush or Cruz. Second, Trump realised that by injecting the kind of entertainment and character common in wrestling narratives into the meek, grey world of political illusion, he could slam everyone else to the mat.

[…]

It’s underappreciated how much of the mainstream media’s tremendous influence lies in its power to frame big events. Hundreds of thousands of New York Times readers and millions of public radio listeners get taught the same framing story, and learn the socially acceptable limits for discussing whatever just happened.

As such, media organisations and a one-man master framer like Trump were always going to tread on each other’s toes. But Trump had an efficient, reframing response. All attacks on Trump through the media got reframed as evidence of a biased media persecuting a man it hated. This sidelined questions about the merit of any accusation. It established a catchall frame presenting Trump in a flattering light. And when negative stories did run, they only reinforced Trump’s favoured frame. That’s how to frame your way to victory.

It explains that Trump’s tweeting is partly about direct contact with people, and partly about quickly testing the product with real users.

Trump’s constant movement is also an endless process of improvement. It’s always looking for what works better. It is an evolving strategy, one that never gets to the end of the line. And that made his presidential bid more like a startup than a campaign. The Lean Startup movement believes in constantly evolving towards a product that fits the market through a cycle of building, measuring and learning. Rather than sweating to get something perfect, Lean Startups aim for the minimum viable product. Then they test it on an audience. Get it in front of a customer. See what they make of it. Improve it. Rinse and repeat.

This explains his constant changes of mind and hiring and firing, something that his opponents have claimed as a weakness. Another supposed weakness is his apparently defensive and petulant fighting back at anyone who criticises him, as he did with Megyn Kelly.

There is one very, very big way — and it’s so big, gigantic really, massive — that Trump’s haters and losers fail to get him. They think his temperament is unpredictable. Yuuge mistake. Believe me.

Marc argues that Trump’s consistent strategy is to maintain peace until he is attacked, and then consistently fire back, and that this is good game theory.

Trump’s essentially peaceful strategy relies on consistency and clarity to work. Every time he does what he always does, he reminds people of the consequences. The more disproportionate his reactions, the more Trump signals he is willing to bear any cost to get someone back.

This makes him not such a bad person to be holding the nuclear button:

What Trump understands by instinct, and demonstrates consistently in action, are the principles of nuclear deterrence. No first use. Credible threat of massive retaliation. That policy has kept the world safe from nuclear holocaust. Its creator Thomas Schelling worked it out using game theory, winning the Nobel for economics in 2005 in recognition of his breakthrough. Schelling even worked out that it helps if your enemies also think you are a little bit crazy and capable of attacking them at very high cost to yourself. It’s called the Madman Theory. President Nixon used it.

I am left wondering just how much of Trump’s strategies are luck rather than judgement, and it remains to be seen how long they will continue to work. But I do have more understanding of how the things he does that work, work. It is nice to see it all enumerated and made obvious.

Highlights I have not mentioned so far include the description of the way Trump picked off his opponents one by one in the primaries, how he used Clinton’s 3AM phone call commercial against her, and how he makes himself relatable to ordinary Americans. And there is a good bit about how Trump gets inside his opponents’ OODA loops (a concept I heard about years ago from one of my favourite sources of inspiration, Eric Raymond).

Donald and Hillary sex change

A university professor wondered what would happen if Donald Trump was a woman and Hillary Clinton was a man.

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

[…]

We both thought that the inversion would confirm our liberal assumption—that no one would have accepted Trump’s behavior from a woman, and that the male Clinton would seem like the much stronger candidate. But we kept checking in with each other and realized that this disruption—a major change in perception—was happening. I had an unsettled feeling the whole way through.

[…]

Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

I would like to see more video than this short excerpt. But they are working on a film version, “shot for shot, as they were televised on TV.”

This is indeed the way to deal with attacks… turn them into a badge of honour

D’Souza thanked the academy for the prizes, saying in a recorded message that “being dissed by you guys, this is absolutely fantastic.

“My audience loves the fact that you hate me.”

“The reason you are giving it to me is because you’re very upset Trump won.

“You’ve never got over it, you probably never will.”

– Dinesh D’Souza, as quoted in the Guardian upon getting four Razzies for the worst film of the year for his Hillary Clinton exposé.

This approach works equally well against both left and right.

Tim Harford on the power of bottom-up decision making (and on H. R. McMaster)

If you haven’t already partaken of this bit of video, then you really should. It lasts just under twenty minutes.

Tim Harford is speaking, in 2011, at some gathering of the clever and the smug, but it’s better than that. The name H. R. McMaster comes up several times, and this is, among other things, a very good quick way to learn why McMaster’s appointment by President Trump as his National Security Adviser might turn out to be such a very good one. It certainly explains why this appointment is already so very popular. You don’t have to believe that the USA rearranging matters in faraway countries is always or even ever a wise policy to get the points that Harford is making.

Harford also mentions, in passing, Hayek. From this, you may guess that this is a talk about decentralised decision making, and how on the spot knowledge, again and again, trumps the wisdom of the Central Committee or the High Command. If that is your guess, you would not be wrong.

The story that Harford tells reminds me of another transformation of policy that happened in China, and gave rise to what is now called the Chinese economic miracle. This miracle is now starting to look rather less miraculous, but it was still a massive improvement over what preceded it. That change too is usually attributed to a change of top leadership and of its top-down policies, but that policy also, I seem to recall reading, began at the bottom of the chain of command and in spite of the chain of command.

I even seem to recall having linked to stuff about that from here. Yes, here is that posting, about teeth of all things, and here is the article at Planet Money that the posting linked to. It’s the same story as Harford tells in the above-linked-to video.

How dare the U.S. demand NATO states have the means to defend themselves!

If you needed yet another reason to reject the EU as an utterly toxic organisation, here is an absolute corker:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that Europe must not cave in to U.S demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid could also count as security.

No doubt Jean-Claude Juncker feels that NATO should deploy Oxfam, Save the Children & Charlotte Church to Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn in order to deter any Russian incursions into the Baltic states.