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By Sivad
#15012277
A Brief Theory of Very Serious People

Tyler Cowen argues that the concept of “Very Serious People” refers to people who “realize that common sense morality must, to a considerable extent, rule politics.” I’m not either the originator nor the popularizer of the term, but I think that’s wrong. As I understand it, the theory underlying the concept of Very Serious People is as follows.

1. Everyone has a mix of beliefs, some of which are right, and some wrong.

2. Everyone co-exists in a social system that tends to value, heavily reinforce and widely disseminate some people’s beliefs while disparaging, heavily discounting, and tending to limit the circulation of certain other people’s beliefs. This bias is not random, but instead reflects and reinforces existing power structures and asymmetries.

3. People whose beliefs are reinforced and widely circulated so that they are socially and politically influential, even when they are manifestly wrong, are Very Serious People. The system provides them with no incentives to admit error or perhaps to understand that they have erred, even when their mistakes have devastating consequences.

Or: Shorter Theory of Very Serious People.

1. Being Tom Friedman Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.

Unless my memory is badly mistaken (it might be), Duncan Black arrived at the concept of Very Serious People during the intra-US Iraq War debates. Duncan, Paul and others (including many of us at CT) were very, very unhappy with how debate on the Iraq War was conducted. Those who advocated the pro-invasion case were treated as serious thinkers, of enormous gravitas, who were taking the tough decisions necessary to protect America’s national security. Those who disagreed were treated as flakes, fifth columnists, Commies and sneaking regarders. As we know, despite the agreement of the Very Serious People that the Iraq war was a grave and urgent necessity, it turned out to be a colossal clusterfuck. As we also know, many of the People who were Very Serious about Iraq still continue to be Very Serious about a multitude of other topics on our television screens and in our op-ed pages.

Being a Very Serious Person is about occupying a structural position that tends to reinforce, rather than counter, one’s innate biases and prejudices. Put slightly differently, the Very Serious Person theory is one that is at least as much about collective structures of opinion as it is about individuals. We all err, sometimes very badly. The theory says that VSPs face less incentive either to second guess their errors as they are making them, or to think through their errors after they have made them, because collective structures reinforce their tendency to think that they are right in the first instance, and their tendency to think that they ought to have been right (if it weren’t for those inconvenient facts/specific and contingent circumstances that meant that things didn’t go quite as predicted just this once) in the second.

My version of the VSP problem would hence lead one to focus more on the weaknesses of collective structures of error correction than on trying to correct individual biases. We all have biases which lead us to understand the world in particular ways.

These biases, however, can be valuable as well as problematic. I’ve been looking for years for a Joseph Schumpeter quote that I think I saw once, but may have inadvertently reconstructed for my own convenience, to the effect that our vision is blinkered because of our ideological biases, but that without these ideologies we would not be able to see at all. As Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have argued, individual biases, together with a certain degree of pigheadedness can have advantages for group problem solving, as long as people have a minimal capacity to come around to recognizing the advantages of a better perspective, however grudgingly, and (my addition) as long as collective structures of decision making do not systematically entrench certain kinds of bias.

This is the advantage of democracy when it works; it harnesses mulishness and rancorous dispute, to reveal the information that is latent in the disagreements between our various perspectives on the world (which are inextricably intertwined with our value judgments). However, when certain people’s perspectives are privileged, the value of democracy is weakened. Their perspectives will continue to prevail, even when they are wrong. Weak arguments that they make will be treated as strong ones, while strong arguments made by their opponents will be treated as weak ones.

One implication of this argument is that centrist opinionators – those whose opinions are closest to the social core and hence most likely to be reinforced by the social system they live in – are especially likely to be prone to VSP syndrome. So too, perhaps, are people (on left, right or center) who believe that their reasoning capacity makes them more likely to be free from bias than those around them – Mercier and Sperber convincingly argue that reasoning evolved less as a way to figure out the world than to defend one’s one biased view of it and hence to win arguments. The problem with VSPs is not that they are biased (we all are) – it’s that the systems around them magnify that bias, reinforce it, and reflect it, creating the risk of vicious feedback loops of self-satisfied yet consequential ignorance (as in the Iraq war).
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By Drlee
#15012325
I wonder, Sivad, if you actually take time to read your sources. Did you know that our two George Mason friends have been around for awhile? Did you know that....Well. Obviously you didn't.

Here is some more from your source:

I think of it this way: the People are Very Serious if they realize that common sense morality must, to a considerable extent, rule politics. At least if voters are watching.

So It embodies a number of propositions, including, for instance (with cultural variants across nations):

1. Political decisions should be based on what people and institutions deserve, based on their prior conduct and also on their contributions to the general good.

2. Economic nationalism.

3. Traditional morality, based on respect for authority, repayment of debts, savings, and hard work.

4. Inflation is bad, in part because it violates #1 and #3, and in the case of the eurozone it often violates #2 as well.

5. “I don’t care what you all say, the government should be able to find some way of arranging things so that I don’t have to suffer too badly from this.”


Now here’s the thing: common sense morality very often is wrong, or when it is right that is often with qualifications.

Therefore at the margin there is almost always a way to improve on what the Very Serious People are pushing for. The Very Serious People realize this themselves, though not usually to the full extent, because they have been cognitively captured by their situations. They see themselves as “a wee bit off due to political constraints,” instead of “a fair amount off due to political constraints.” So there is usually some quite justified criticism of the Very Serious People. Common sense morality is needed at some level, but still at the margin we wish to deviate from it.

That said, it is a big mistake to try to throw the Very Serious People under the bus. The Very Serious People understand pretty well how to deal with a public which believes in some version of 1-5, and furthermore they often know that such public beliefs, whatever their limitations, are useful too.

Anyone else trying to manage the situation may come up with some favorable breakthroughs, but also may make a total hash of it, as was the case with Syriza. Syriza failed to realize the import of 1-5 for both domestic and foreign politics,and so they drove the Greek economy to the point of total desperation. There is a nested game going on, where the public has a big say on the heavily publicized issues, and the politicians must in some way heed that.

If you want to try the “replace the Very Serious People” game, and assume the subsequent risks, that is a judgment which can be made. The mistake is to think that the partial wrongness of the Very Serious People is necessarily a reason to take matters out of their hands.


IF we grant you are 'on to something' with regard to your fear of Very Serious People, exactly what is it that you fear? Your author has mentioned the Iraq war twice. Clearly this war was a ruse. Not so clearly it was a mistake. But the thing is not that it might have been a mistake but rather why it was made. The question is, "was the Iraq war a deliberate and concerted effort to deceive the people of the western world into invading Iraq for possession of WMD or the understanding that however valid the "real reason" might be, (teaching the 'Islamic World that they ought not fuck with us individually or through terrorist proxies) the public would only accept the WMD cover story." (Nukes.)

When a nation or group of nations decides to band together, especially in a loose framework of some sort of nominal democracy, they must collect and accept certain conventions of morality and behavior within which they operate. There is no other way, is there? So all incorporating documents are, of necessity, conservative. (Small 'c') It would be folly to band a group of nations together (the several states or the countries of the EU for example) by asserting that the benefit is that all of them are going to try to think and act as far out of the box as is possible.... That their confederation is experimental and plastic. Can you imagine a constitution that reads, "we resolve to go boldly into the future trying just about every idea that comes along and thereby hoping to find what works better or fixes what we have recently broken"?

Clearly the term "Very Serious People" has been embraced to replace the term "Conservative". Why? Because the term "Conservative" has come to represent the hodgepodge of single issue voters and frustrated obsolete workers that is today's republican party in the US and by other names overseas. Why do I say this? Look at the five values the author attributes to VSP. They are, with some imagination simply variations on classic conservative values.

1. Political decisions should be based on what people and institutions deserve, based on their prior conduct and also on their contributions to the general good.


Sounds very much like conservatism's boot-strap philosophy and moral hazard.

2. Economic nationalism.

'Nuff said.

3. Traditional morality, based on respect for authority, repayment of debts, savings, and hard work.

See number one.

4. Inflation is bad, in part because it violates #1 and #3, and in the case of the eurozone it often violates #2 as well.

5. “I don’t care what you all say, the government should be able to find some way of arranging things so that I don’t have to suffer too badly from this.”

The essential promise of all government and hardly new. But, conservative rather than what we now call 'liberal' because it presupposes number's one and three.

Economists frequently have a problem with traditional conservatives. The science of economics frequently butts heads with the fact that, in practice, so much of the measurable effects of experiments in economics (noble and promising as they may be) are judged by number five.

Economic experiments work so much easier in tightly controlled governments than they do in mere howling democracies simply because they 1) does not have to please the howlers and 2) do not have to overcome institutional inertia based upon the notion that things are not necessarily broken.

We saw this in the recent (2008) crash based largely upon the mortgage market. Clearly the banks had, in the successful search for large profits making home loans, gone off of their rails. They simply ignored the moral hazard inherent in their actions that demands that some day they actually stand responsible for the money. Then we have the real irony that, when arguing for a bailout, these same banks wanted the money directly rather than through the aid to the mortgage holders. And what was their battle cry? Moral hazard. These overextended mortgage consumers should not be allowed to escape the moral hazard they incur from overextending themselves. Pathetic but entirely consistent with what they actually believe. They saw the mortgage crisis as simply a failed business plan but they saw the failure of the consumers to whom they had granted loans that they should have seen were never going to be repaid in the first place as somehow naughty.

As I quoted your source before:
I think of it this way: the People are Very Serious if they realize that common sense morality must, to a considerable extent, rule politics. At least if voters are watching.


So Sivad. You have posted yet another thread about what you think someone else thinks is wrong. But, as usual, you have posted none of your own ideas nor any notion of what should be done about whatever it is you are bemoaning. So what is it? What do you want?
#15012377
Hong Wu wrote:Actually, some high profile studies have shown that conservatives can predict how liberals will react to things but that liberals cannot predict how conservatives will react. This is because when a Conservative tries to "think like a Liberal" they just follow their immediate emotional responses, when a Liberal tries to "think like a Conservative" they act out irrational delusions such as a desire to hurt animals or supporting a big corporation for no reason.


I doubt this.

Post a link to one of these studies.
By Sivad
#15012437
we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. . . . So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later.

[...]

the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans.

-Philip K Dick, 1978 speech titled “How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”

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By Drlee
#15012444
we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. . . . So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms.


Really? Which "spurious realities". In the day-to-day life of an average American, what is it to which they are exposed but the disparate groups that are "pseudo-realities"?

This piece reads like an artists statement and the author should be hit with a wet sock. "I ask in my writing, what is real?" Gag me with a spoon. Then on he goes to excite the tin hat people.

Everyday people do everyday stuff everyday. They are seeing advertisements, hearing political speeches from time to time but their day is not dancing at the end of someone else's virtual string. We do not live in the Matrix. We are astonished by Star Wars but we are not laboring under any delusion that we are about to be attached by a Wookie.

Life is all too real for the vast majority of the citizens of earth.

Yes I get that Facebook is trying to control my behavior. I understand that Alexa here is hearing my every word and attempting to control my behavior as a consumer. I admit that I am probably unaware of all of the sophisticated attempts to separate me from my dollar and my vote. But at the end of the day these efforts are not all that effective and certainly not that transparent.

The sky is not falling.
#15012446
Drlee wrote:Really? Which "spurious realities". In the day-to-day life of an average American, what is it to which they are exposed but the disparate groups that are "pseudo-realities"?

This piece reads like an artists statement and the author should be hit with a wet sock. "I ask in my writing, what is real?" Gag me with a spoon. Then on he goes to excite the tin hat people.

Everyday people do everyday stuff everyday. They are seeing advertisements, hearing political speeches from time to time but their day is not dancing at the end of someone else's virtual string. We do not live in the Matrix. We are astonished by Star Wars but we are not laboring under any delusion that we are about to be attached by a Wookie.

Life is all too real for the vast majority of the citizens of earth.

Yes I get that Facebook is trying to control my behavior. I understand that Alexa here is hearing my every word and attempting to control my behavior as a consumer. I admit that I am probably unaware of all of the sophisticated attempts to separate me from my dollar and my vote. But at the end of the day these efforts are not all that effective and certainly not that transparent.

The sky is not falling.


I have to remind people, especially those I know born in or slightly before the 21st century, that the real is in fact, real, and that the virtual worlds they immerse themselves in are just simulations, simulacra... Most I think seem to sense that it's not real reality, but the young are prone to be drawn to sensation and diversion, is all.

All the same, then, human nature does not change, and a fixation on the abnormality or malignancy of normal everyday life, and normal everyday regular people, that all this is somehow a ''prison'' as the Gnostics once taught, appears to be rather a sign of a personal aberration and alienation.
By Sivad
#15012452
The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! From the least of them even to the greatest of them from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.
Last edited by Sivad on 17 Jun 2019 05:24, edited 1 time in total.
#15012453
Sivad wrote:The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! From the least of them even to the greatest of them from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.


Because the false prophets and false priests don't tell people the truth, they tell them what they think people want to hear, especially the powerful in the land.
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By Drlee
#15012455
The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! From the least of them even to the greatest of them from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.


I think it is cute when atheists quote the Bible.
By skinster
#15012998
Marx was cute. Lenin too.

Young Stalin while I'm here.

:D

Sivad wrote:Working class people aren't Marxists, the only people I've known who were into Marx were spoiled little twats from the suburbs.


:D
By Sivad
#15013070
Drlee wrote:I wonder, Sivad, if you actually take time to read your sources. Obviously you didn't.

Here is some more from your source:

As I quoted your source before:



:knife: Not my source, my source was refuting the shit you're quoting.

Once again drlee has put on a clinic in what would happen if crack smoked itself.

what we have here is a very serious drlee desperately trying to convince us that VSPs aren't the ridiculous idiots they have repeatedly proven themselves to be.
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By Drlee
#15013346
You need to work on two things.

Actually reading your sources and understanding what you read. Maybe someone could help you with it. :roll:

Heaven forbid rich people are a hair less rich.

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