Everyone keeps models in their head. Itís the way we humans make sense of the world. For simplicityís sake, lets model the model as a linear equation. The crudest models have one term: X caused Y, x = y. This is the stuff of the moonbat right and left. War = oil, abortion = murder. As you work your way along the bell curve towards the center of mass, the models get a little more complicated. People add weights to the terms: 0.9*abortion = murder (for those who donít feel that rape victims need to keep the child). As you work your way further up the bell curve, more sophisticated thinkers begin to add terms: 0.9 early stage abortion + 1.0 partial birth abortion = murder*.
People can even hold different models for different situations. For example, in my personal universe, 0.8 abortion = murder. Rape victims and mothers of grossly deformed fetuses are exempt in my personal morality. However, I also have an equation for public morality borne of my libertarian beliefs, and if x does not equal y in your world, have at it. Donít expect me to pay for it, but Iím not going to stand outside your clinic and call you a murderer, either. Human life is too complex to apply simple models of morality to other people, they are for you own guidance in making choices in this world.
As you get to the center of the human mental distribution, you find that most people have a mix of complex and simple models in their heads, but since most people canít keep track of more than 3 things at once, most people have 3-term models as their most complicated case. More than one standard deviation past the mean, and you begin to get to the intellectuals, or partial-intellectuals such as me. Models begin to get really complex (My models are mostly partial differential equations, but then, I was trained to think that way.) Letís stick with the linear equation analogy, although it gets a bit dicier as the models get more complicated. Now both variables and weights can interact. In the words of Murphy, commenting on the perversity of physical models: constants arenít, variables wonít.
Lets take the disagreement that Lex and I have over the nature of Russian civilization. I do not think that we have fundamentally different terms in our model, itís the weight we place on each term that differs. He places a lot of weight on the Byzantine term, I donít. But we both recognize that the weight of the Byzantine term interacts with the weights of other historical events and trends that reinforce those Byzantine characteristics. Personally, I think that a civilizational influence has about 500 years to play out., and will die out unless reinforced by another historical influence. For example, the Yankee tendency to mind other peopleís business outlined in “Albionís Seed” would be of lesser importance in America today if we had not absorbed a lot of European socialists in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th Century immigration waves. So, in my model, if A is the weight on the Yankee butinkski tendency, and B is the weight on Euroweenie socialism**, then A = A(t) + B(t+150)*0.3A(t0), where A(t) is a function of A that makes it decline over time, and A(t0) is the original impulse. Now weíve introduced time dependence into the model (I told you my models were complex), and Iím not sure Iím going to make sense to anyone aside from the other voices in my head.
It is easy to talk to someone with a model that contains basically the same terms and weights as yours. Talking to someone with fewer terms than you usually means that you teach them, and talking to someone with more terms in his or her model means that you are the student. Assuming an ability to learn on the part of both parties (not always a good assumption, I know, believe me, I know, I was a TA), problems in communication usually arise from people fixing their weights in a radically different way. Lex and I have no problem getting at the root of the difference in our worldviews, and we have productive interactions talking about the origins of those differences. The difference in our weighting terms is small enough to have a conversation. When those weights diverge too much, however, communication becomes problematic. For example, when I talk about politics and economics, my fundamental assumption is that most people are shitheads. Letís construct a simple model for my beliefs:
Economic and Political Disorder = 0.8 Shitheads Ė 0.6 Capitalist system of reality checks Ė 0.1 Government intervention to prevent tragedy of the commons
A good system can overcome some of the idiocy, and the market system, and the scientific method, are good ways to overcome the inherent capacity of humans to stuff their brains with manure. But the high Shithead weight and the low government weight are connected in my brain. Put someone in power and that personís personal Shithead quotient goes up, so the government weight can never get very high in my model. Lets call the weights in those terms A. B. and C. In my model, C = 1-A-D, where D is a term to represent corruption. Socialists assume that only business people are shitheads, and that government solutions are superior to market solutions, so they think of a model such as this one:
0.8 Shitheads Ė 0.05 Capitalist system of reality checks Ė 0.9 Government intervention to prevent tragedy of the commons
Their C term is something like a normalized: 1/A-0.05D. I canít talk to someone who assumes that human beings lose their tendency to become shitheads once those humans enter government service. Such a person needs a lot more life experience, and / or capacity to examine readily discernable evidence, before we can have a meaningful conversation.
All this is a very long-winded way of introducing the next post I want to do on Chinese regionalism. I was putting it off until I read this post over at the Coalition of the Swilling, and it reminded me that Iíve been meaning to review two books here, ďThe China DreamĒ by Joe Studwell, and ďThe Coming Collapse of ChinaĒ by Gordon Chang. I personally believe that the latent regionalism in Chinese society will reassert itself during the coming financial crisis. I just do not know how much weight to put on the ďregionalismĒ term. Just as experience, better education, and vastly improved communications devices have impacted the peaks and valleys in the stock market cycle, so too will those factors affect the inflection of Chinese regionalism in the wake of the retreat of central authority that will surely accompany the looming financial crisis.
* Iím normalizing all of these weights to make the maximum weight equal 1. Think of them as percentages.
** And just to piss Ralf off, I will point out that it was German Romantic philosophical muddlers who gave the world both Communism and National Socialism. When I think of a statist Euroweenie, the caricature in my head always has a German accent. Of course, when I think of an independent-minded Western European scientist, they, too have a German accent. ;-)