Sunday, November 04, 2012

Who do I Want to Win or Us vs Them

Gary Johnson, of course. But he isn't going to.

The more interesting question is which of the two major party candidates I want to win. What I find interesting, looking at my own feelings, is that there are two different answers.

The rational answer is that the worst outcome might be Obama in control of both houses of Congress, but that that is very unlikely to happen. The second worst is probably Romney in control of both houses, a little more likely. Beyond those two, the order is unclear. On the one hand, my guess is that Obama would want to do more things I disapprove of than Romney. On the other, Romney, if elected, will almost certainly control the House and might control the Senate, or get control of it two years from now. What matters is not what people want to do but what they can do, and Romney might well be able to do more things I disapprove of than Obama.

A further argument is that when Romney talks a free market line but fails to act it, those of us who actually believe in free markets will get blamed for the resulting failures. That, after all, is what happened with the Bush administration. I do not expect either Obama's policies or Romney's to succeed, and if policies are going to visibly fail, I would prefer that they be blamed on someone else. That is an argument in favor of Obama. 

My conclusion is that I have little reason to want Romney to win, some reason to want him to lose. I am not confident of that conclusion—one can argue that Romney would be likely to appoint better Supreme Court justices, a point some libertarians have been making in his favor. One can speculate that the influence of the tea party Republicans might push Romney into being a better president than he wants to be. But the spectacle of the Bush administration is a strong argument on the other side.

If I switch the question from what I ought to want to what I do want, from reason to emotion, the result changes. I will be happy if Obama loses, unhappy if he wins.

Human beings have a tendency, perhaps unfortunate, to view the world as us vs them. Obama's supporters are, on the whole, people whose political views are more sharply opposed to mine than those of Romney's supporters. Insofar as my hardwired instincts are trying to sort political struggles into the categories of friend and foe, it is clear which side they put me on. If I think of the election as a football match, I may not be cheering one side, but I am definitely booing the other. Obama's defeat will be a crushing blow for a lot of people who I am inclined to disagree with and disapprove of—and a good thing too. That's my gut level response.

This is not the only time I have observed myself reacting in this fashion. I have spent a good deal of time over the past few months arguing with people in a usenet group devoted to issues of global warming. One of the things that struck me early on was that, although participants represented a range of views on the subject, almost all of them could be grouped, by behavior if not by views, into one side or other. That was how they thought of themselves.

I was not an exception. My actual view was and is intermediate between the two ends of the dispute. I think it is reasonably clear that global temperatures have been trending up unusually fast for the past century or so, and the most plausible explanation I have seen is the effect of human production of carbon dioxide. On the other hand, I do not think there are good reasons to predict that warming on the scale suggested by the IPCC reports for the next century or so will have large net negative effects, a point I have discussed here in the past. 

Although my views put me somewhere in the middle, disagreeing with one side on some questions and with the other on others, that is not how I felt or how I was viewed. I spent enough time criticizing arguments made by the believers in global warming to get classified by them with the skeptics (who they labeled "deniers"). That produced enough attacks from the believers to trigger my built in friend/foe detector.  I posted criticisms of arguments on the other side when I thought the argument was wrong and I had something to contribute. But, on the whole, I was happy to see believers post bad arguments, since they could be refuted, unhappy to see critics do so; emotionally speaking I was a partisan.

The latest episode in this particular drama involved a point of very little importance for the question of global warming but  considerable importance for the egos of the participants in the debate. Various people described Michael Mann, a climatologist associated with the IPCC, as a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Other people, myself among them, pointed out that it was not true. Mann's claim, made by him as well as his supporters, was based on the fact that the IPCC won a Nobel peace prize and had sent a letter with a copy of the prize certificate to various of the people who had contributed to its work, thanking them for their contribution to its winning the prize. Mann exhibited his copy online. 

The IPCC, however, does not have the power to give out Nobel prizes, and the certificate quite clearly stated that the recipients were the IPCC and Al Gore. A heated argument followed.

Eventually it became impossible for Mann's supporters to maintain their position, when first a representative of the Nobel Committee and later the IPCC provided unambiguous statements that contradicted it. At that point, most of those who had argued the position dropped it, in at least one case trying to pretend to never have made the argument. One, but only one, tried to insist that the statement from the Nobel Committee, reported from at least two independent sources, must be a fake.

The part of the story relevant to this post was my reaction. The fact that a prominent supporter of global warming had been inflating his credentials implies very little about whether global warming is real, anthropogenic, and dangerous. It was, however, a humiliating defeat for "them," hence a victory for "us," hence a development I enjoyed.

Which is one reason I decided to drop out of that news group and that conversation, at least for a while.


Scott said...

On foreign policy, immigration, and the war on drugs both Obama and Romney are awful but it's clear that a Romney administration would be vastly less libertarian than Obama.

Given how important these issues are to libertarians (especially immigration imho) it seems to me that libertarians should be hoping and praying for a Romney defeat on Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

I guess I too had some cognitive dissonance about elections in the US. As a resident of another country, I care less. As a resident of an ally of the US, I have to care a little more.

Anyone other than Ron Paul to me means expansion of the state and a diminishing outlook for the future.

My conclusion: total apathy is the only answer for me as an individual. I have no influence over the outcome, so the best thing for me (physically) is to avoid any emotional concern about the outcome. Keep my heart-rate stable and laugh at the results.

Ian Nowland said...

I come in very similarly on both issues, and have similar problems. For the election issue, a lot of my friends are < 35 year old "reflexive" liberals, who seem to have never in their lives really considered that the other side may have some decent points, and in this election cycle are totally unable to evaluate Obama on what he promised vs what he delivered (i.e. that he failed even on their terms).

Yet Romney has now stated more terrible policies (military at 4% GDP, the anti-China stuff, cutting taxes before cutting spending) than Obama, and since it is also very clear Republicans will win the house to "keep him honest" I should be very happy with an Obama victory.

And yet I find myself watching the intrade odds hoping to see a surge to Romney. So alas even for myself, politics is the mind-killer.

Dan said...

I'll be happily voting for Gary Johnson but find myself rooting for an Obama win in the electoral college with Romney garnering more popular votes nationwide. This result would provide a nice counterpoint to 2000 and make dorm-room-style debates over which voting system makes more sense less grounded in partisan rooting interests.

Anthony said...

David, would love to read the Usenet debates on global warming. Is is accessible?

Robert said...

Sorry this is not a response to the main point.

I think "denier" is more appropriate than "skeptic" when it comes to disbelievers in climate change and I don't say that as attempt to insult disbelievers.

"Skeptic" is someone who questions "facts" taken for granted by others, demanding higher standards of evidence or reserving judgment. Most "climate change skeptics" are not like this and they do not deserve use of the word "skeptic". They long ago made their mind up.

On the other hand to use the phrase "climate change denier" does not to me imply they are wrong. As an atheist I would not be bothered by you calling me a "god denier". I deny the existence of god. The title seems appropriate.

Perhaps there is a better word than denier but I don't see how skeptic is it.

David Friedman said...

The debates are on the Usenet group If you don't have a newsreader, you can access them via Google groups.

But it isn't a very enlightening conversation. Much too much of it is people strutting, exchanging insults, absolutely certain that they are the good guys and the other side is knaves or fools.

David Friedman said...

There are two problems with "denier."

1. It's associated in a lot of people's minds with holocaust deniers.

2. The global warming story isn't one claim, it's a series of claims, as I've pointed out here before. If you accept some but disagree with others, are you a denier? Of what? But you are a critic of the whole chain because you think parts of it are wrong.

To put it differently, everyone denies some things. The believers deny that the critical arguments are correct.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

t seems to me that regardless of which candidate is elected, conditions will improve over the next four years. It is a general trend for conditions to improve, and coming out of a recession like we are it's unlikely the president can do so much damage to reverse that course in one term.

For this reason, isn't it appropriate to desire a Romney win, so that people see the recovery as a victory for "free market" policy, even though it will really come in spite of all government?

___________________________ said...

I find my tribe identification to kind of be the opposite. My perception of the Right is as something that is intellectually offensive, and a support for religious fundamentalism. I end up identifying more as a social liberal, an atheist, pro-science, and so on, and so many right-wing moves appear to be gross violations.

That isn't to say that I support Obama to any strong extent. The man isn't a friend to freedom, but I don't see him as being as odious as the right-wing. I mean, even if the right defends markets, they often don't defend them on grounds I can accept. I don't see markets as being equivalent to liberty, I see them as a pragmatic choice for promoting social welfare and individual liberty, one that if evidence tells us otherwise is something to reform, not deify. I don't think that the Tea Party or other groups are really particularly motivated by this kind of thinking, so I couldn't identify with the right on this ground either. (This issue also pushes me away from the libertarian tribe to a large extent as well.)

Interestingly, Scott Sumner suggests that this may partly be a generational issue. I'm not sure how correct that theory is though.

Fred Mangels said...

7pm wrote, "For this reason, isn't it appropriate to desire a Romney win, so that people see the recovery as a victory for "free market" policy, even though it will really come in spite of all government?".

I agree that the "recovery" will go on in spite of government rather that because of it, but see no reason to want Romney to win. Our endless wars, sky high spending and attacks on our civil liberties will continue, regardless of who wins.

That's one reason I've already voted for Gary Johnson.

Anonymous said...

A further argument is that when Romney talks a free market line but fails to act it, those of us who actually believe in free markets will get blamed for the resulting failures.

Basing your vote on how you are perceived reminds me of another blog that I follow with some interesting articles.

jimbino said...

Your concern is "whether global warming is real, anthropogenic, and dangerous." I'm willing to stipulate the truth of those assertions but then move on to the real questions, which are whether the gummint should do anything about it and if so, what.

Increasing obesity is real, anthropogenic and dangerous, but I don't think the gummint, which can't profitably deliver the mail or educate kids, should do anything, and, in particular, should not ban 40 oz sodas. Privatizing child rearing and medical care would be a better solution, forcing folks to bear the costs of their behavior, both the over-breeding and over-eating, themselves.

In any case, there is no good argument for hobbling the present generation in order to coddle future generations, when the simple solution would be to just ban the rampant breeding.

William H. Stoddard said...

I've been experiencing a very similar process. On one hand, I started out regarding Romney as no better than Obama (and the other Republicans, Gary Johnson excluded, as actually worse), and over the past few months I've wavered between that and thinking he may be marginally less bad. (The Supreme Court argument carries some weight with me.) On the other hand, a lot of my personal social circle is made up of progressives who support Obama, look forward confidently to his winning, and make hostile comments on his opponents—and as a result, I find, I increasingly hope to see Romney win out of sheer anticipated Schadenfreude.

I feel as if I were trapped in Sturgeon's "And Now the News."

Mark Horning said...

I'm personally hopping for a 269/269 tie, or as I like to call it: "constitutional crisis jackpot"

I'll be voting for Johnson tomorrow (as an Arizonan my vote for el presedente matters not a whit anyway).

I do think the best for the country would be a Romney Presidency, Republican House, and Democratic Senate. The Republicans won't spend quite as much as the Democrats, and with Democrat control of the senate the Rubublicans won't manage to get any major policy victories through congress.

And yes, given the last two SCOTUS nominees, keeping Mr. Obama from nominating any more weighs heavy on my mind.

Simon said...

What further complicates our separating "the consequences of A happening" from "my emotional response to A happening" is that psychological effects are part of the consequences and we know the minds of other primarily through our own.

Let's say a Romney victory means humiliation for the lamestream media. I know I'll enjoy that. But if a sense of enjoyment and triumph is shared also by others, it becomes part of the consequences of a Romney victory. Maybe it means that alternative media will be encouraged and strengthened. Or it could mean that people like me get lulled into complacency.

Simon said...

Should be "the minds of others."

Curt- said...

It's a bad question. I don't "want" either of those two damned fools to get into power.

I'm conflicted only in that having the election is putting people further into believing that voting can change anything. That is an illusion I want destroyed.

Andrew said...

Reading usenet to learn about global warming is like reading usenet to learn about sex.

There are far better ways to learn.

Learn how a simple climate model works. Why is the earth's temperature the way it is at all? Why isn't it 200F or -100F? LEARN.

David Friedman said...

Andrew thinks reading Usenet is a poor way of learning about global warming. I'm not sure he is correct--in the course of the arguments, people on one side or another point at webbed material supporting their position, which I can go look at. Among other things, that's how I discovered Anthony Watt's blog, which seems to be a pretty good source for the arguments critical of the standard global warming story.

In any case, whether or not it is a good way of learning about global warming, it is a good way of learning about human behavior—in particular the behavior of people arguing over issues such as global warming.

Good but depressing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, David -
I'd rate a Romney sweep as far worse than an Obama one - look at how well we did under Bush! The Republicans have abandoned all sense of financial responsibility, and think starting new wars to keep the military-industrial pork barrel pipeline flowing is just fine, and were far more aggressive in their attacks on civil liberties. (Not that Obama's been any prize on any of those fronts either, but at least he's only a halfway Republican.) And Romney's beliefs and plans were all on his etch-a-sketch; at least Bush/Cheney told us they were going to be Evil when they were running.

On the Supreme Court, Roberts's primary belief seems to be that the Executive Branch can do anything it wants, which is hardly friendly to civil liberties. The conservatives have been more friendly to businesses, and I seem to be one of the few people who thinks Citizens United was an unavoidably necessary correct decision, but the fact that the courts have let prisoners stay in Gitmo rather than enforce habeas corpus says they're definitely not friends of civil liberties.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot to sign the last one.
Thanks; Bill Stewart, aka Anonymous@12:19

Anonymous said...

Anyone seen this?

Andrew said...

David, people post links to webbed material, and maybe occasionally math, but the truth is that trying to understand any of the source material is extremely difficult if you do not have a basic understanding of climate modeling--for example, a blackbody model of the earth.

Without that knowledge, usenet posters are akin to those talking about stock prices without basic knowledge like shares outstanding. Many people do that too.

It's rather sad that so many would rather spend their time arguing than learning.