Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Difference in Values

There has been a lot of talk about how 'divided' America is as evidenced by the election. Many in the media have tried to take the high road by reaching across that divide and advising those disappointed with the election outcome to do some reflection. They suggest more engagement with the other side.

I think this is sound advice, but there is a more basic principle I think people should consider.

Thomas Sowell I believe was the one who wrote that, often intense political debates really just come down to two people having different preferences. People argue until they are blue in the face offering facts, rebuttals, references, all with the tacit assumption that their point of view is the 'right' one. Progressives say that their world view is informed by 'facts', therefore it is ok for the media to be biased and write off Trump voters as misinformed. Many Trump supporters feel the same about liberals. They see progressives as ignorant.

But in reality the divide may not so much be about 'facts' but rather moral principles. Progressives and conservatives are two groups of people who simply prefer different things. It is not a difference in understanding, but a difference in values.

In any discussion it is important to determine what sort of disagreement you are encountering. Differences in understanding can be worked out through dialogue, research, and compromise. Differences in values are often irreconcilable.

I'll use an example from the tech world.

A coworker and I may have different opinions about how to set up a Cassandra database cluster. He might think we should use a very large number of servers and I might think we should use fewer. This is not a difference in values but rather a difference in understanding. His understanding of Cassandra is that it is best to use lots of cheap small nodes. My understanding is that, while you can get some performance gain from using lots of nodes, there are diminishing returns at a certain point, and the overhead of managing lots of servers is not worth it.

There are two important things about this sort of debate. 1. Neither of us is really emotionally invested in it. Our sense of identity is not embedded in how many Cassandra nodes we launch. 2. There is something close to an objective right answer. Depending on our use-case and data size, there are objectively better Cassandra architectures. Because of this, if we are both rational, we can argue, test, and eventually reach a resolution. This is how differences in understanding should generally end.

But what if we have a difference in values? Lets stay with a simple tech example: I prefer to use Vim, my coworker swears by Emacs. Is one editor objectively better than the other? Well, not really, no, though they have different features that might be better for certain things. What's more, both of us may have some emotional investment in our opinion. I have been a Vim guy for many years and find it hard to seriously consider other editors. My coworker feels the same about Emacs.

So I don't bother trying to convert him. I am about as interested in getting him to use Vim as I am in arguing with people who think Empire Strikes Back is better than A New Hope, or people who think Pepsi tastes better than Coke. Sure I might argue about such things for fun but ultimately I see no point in trying to change people's subjective opinions. Whatever triggers a dopamine hit in your brain chemistry is your business.

And so we come back to the problem of politics. The divide between liberals / conservatives / nationalists / libertarians / etc – ultimately it is often a difference in values. Progressives prefer to live in a more secular society that celebrates diversity, gender equality, alternative sexualities, and encourages the government to manage more of the economy. Conservatives prefer to live in more traditional societies that support gender norms, a homogeneous culture, nationalism, and a more capitalist economy.

Neither viewpoint is objectively better than the other. We could try to scientifically argue that one vision leads to a better economy. We could try to argue that one vision is more socially 'fair', though even that would be steeped in specific values. We could try to make a factual case for one vision over the other, but in the end, some people might just prefer the other one anyway.

So where does that leave us? In a society of 300 million there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Neither side can easily change the values of the members of the other side. People's values evolve gradually through technological change, emerging consensus, and often in response to national crises. In the mean time, as I said in my previous post, I think Americans need to work toward rebuilding a shared culture.

Personally I think the founders of America had the right idea with the tenth amendment. In a nation as big as America, federalism is the only practical answer for keeping people of different belief systems happy. Let the progressives be progressive, and let the conservatives be conservative. In fact that's something all Americans could get behind.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why They Lost

I didn't support Trump or Hillary Clinton. Were it up to me we would have had Rand Paul vs. Bernie Sanders. Yet now that Trump has won, I can't help but be amused by all of the shocked democrats that thought he would be crushed in a landslide. I too thought Trump would lose, but I never wrote him off. As I said in my previous post, I figured he had a chance if Hillary's turnout was weak and the polls were inaccurate. Both turned out to be true.

Progressive and moderate Hillary supporters need to do some soul-searching. The usual advice given to the defeated party by the victorious one tends to be self-serving; they'll suggest democrats need to moderate their positions, compromise more, yield to republican preferences, etc.

There may be some temporary political benefit in that, but it is not the key advice I would give. To the frustrated leftist out there wondering why Trump won, I would NOT advise them to change their views on gay rights, racial injustice, feminism, Obamacare, immigration, multiculturalism, the welfare state, etc. Fight for what you believe is right. No need to change your values unless something convinces you to do so.

Instead I would just advise progressives to think about their tone.

I'll give an example of what I mean.

Throughout Trump's campaign I heard it mentioned several times that he was receiving high levels of support from poor, uneducated whites. Progressives should have responded to this by saying, "Ok, how can we reach these people. Why are they not buying what we are selling?" Instead, whenever this fact was brought up, it was always said with a kind of snarl. The attitude was, "Hah! see! only uneducated and poor people vote for Trump. Smart, rich people know to support Hillary." There was no attempt made to conceal the contempt for these people. This is why Hillary's "deplorables," comment was so powerful. It was a shockingly honest moment for her.

Progressives used to care first and foremost about the downtrodden. They were the champions of the poor. They were the advocates of the less-educated. Thanks to identity politics they have lost sight of this. They saw that a lot (though not all) of these Trump supporters were white and immediately branded them as bigots. This allowed them to immediately dismiss any and all of their concerns. They closed their ears and their minds.

Once the progressives wrote off Trump's supporters, Trump's supporters wrote off them. They too stopped listening and didn't care about Trump's many flaws or the reasonable arguments for supporting Hillary. It became a numbers game. From there the media did much to help Trump by overplaying their hand. They made Trump into an underdog by endlessly demonizing him. To be fair Trump set himself up on more than a few occasions with some of his rhetoric. But it became obvious to the voters early on that Hillary Clinton was essentially being coronated.

I think this sense of entitlement rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. That all the media, academia, and Hollywood had aligned against Trump only served to create the impression that Hillary was the candidate of the elite and Trump the candidate of the little guy. The #NeverTrump wing of the republican party added to that feeling. You had video games parodying Trump. Celebrities attacking Trump and urging people to vote Hillary on Youtube. Speaking of Youtube, I was watching Epic Rap Battles of History the other day, and I saw that they even made their latest episode into a pro-Hillary rant. I think this all had the opposite effect as these sorts of efforts only end up preaching to the choir. But the creators don't realize this. They don't realize how much they are in their own bubble.

A recent Onion article describes it well:

The problem is not just that progressives are out of touch. The problem is that rhetoric on both sides has gotten so toxic. The problem is also the notion of "sides." This election has shown that the traditional left / right divide is breaking down. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all going for Trump is a sign of this.

We need to get out of this factionalized paradigm and start trying to build a shared culture again. Modern society with its internet communities and smartphones, has made it easy for us to wall ourselves off into echo chambers. This is more of a problem for progressives because conservatives have a harder time avoiding progressive viewpoints. Every time they open a newspaper, go to a college class, have an HR meeting at work, watch a movie, play a video game, or just try to watch a Youtube video about rapping historical figures, they end up hearing progressive ideology. What's more there is a perpetually outraged mob of internet warriors ready to attack people's families, employers, and livelihoods if a conservative happens to say something that triggers a progressive.

Again, I'm not saying progressives need to change any of their views. I just think they need to think about how to actually win hearts and minds. Deep down I sense that a lot of progressives don't want to try to persuade the other side. I have heard a lot of people react to the election loss by saying things like "I'm just done trying to reason with these people! They're just racist, sexist, homophobic idiots!" Many progressives I think hope that persuading the other side ultimately won't even be necessary. The Young Turks mentioned this during the election coverage. The demographic trends of the United States favor the democratic party in a number of ways.

The hope seems to be that, given enough time, conservative white voters can be made irrelevant by importing enough foreigners and having minorities outbreed them. This is a dangerous Machiavellian game to play that is guaranteed to invite backlash (see yesterday's election results for evidence). Writing off a massive political constituency that you disagree with is bad strategy. Hoping to gradually disenfranchise them is no better.

Progressives need to look in the mirror and consider their approach if they want to come back strong in 2018 and 2020. I am sure Trump will give them plenty of ammo. Yet none of it will matter if all of their arguments fall on deaf ears.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Eve of the Election

The U.S. election is coming up in a few days.

I want to not care about it. Unfortunately I sort of have to pay attention. What happens in America has a big impact on Japan. Furthermore I still feel some emotional attachment to America.

What's funny is that I know that if I were still living in New York I would not even bother voting. Both candidates are so awful that I think the only way I could bring myself to pick one of them would be a 'lesser of two evils' argument, and that would only really influence me if I lived in a swing state.

But since I do not live in the United States any longer I don't think it really is my place to vote. I don't intend to live there again. It seems unseemly for me to exert political influence on a society in which I no longer intend to participate.

Though I must admit, if Trump wins, I will be curious to see how it turns out.

I don't think he will. The demographics are strongly against him. That the media has been strongly biased against him has been a significant handicap. It also didn't help that he was a pretty terrible candidate to begin with.

The only way I see him winning is if somehow the polls completely missed a large portion of his support. It is possible that Hillary's base turnout will not be as strong as the new voters Trump pulls in with his populist views. Still, if I were a betting man, I'd say Hillary has this locked up.

Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. It is strangely fitting. The 2008 and 2016 elections will define the millenial generation in the United States. In 2008 they were inspired by an “outsider” promising hope and change. In 2016 they will shun the outsider and choose the status quo. When they do, I know that I can comfortably wash my hands of America, and get about the business of becoming a full member of my new homeland. America will become whatever it will become. With Hillary at the helm, I can say with confidence that I won't want to be a part of it. With Trump, could at least be entertaining.