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My 2 cent (classical armchair analysis):

It seems to me that some of these discussions are mostly dominated by irrationality. This is particularly recognizable in the US, but also occurs in Europe to a degree that varies from topic to topic and country to country.

I believe there are two major factors at play. First, certain topics concern taboos that are still strong even in secularized societies. To these belong anything concerning human sexuality and some religious views. Second, certain topics have simply been hijacked by politicians, because they need positions that differentiate them from other politicians in a world in which most problems can and need be solved in a technical way. Criminal justice, gun laws, drug laws, healthcare, and climate change are such topics in the US. The discussion of these topics in the US barely makes any sense, because at least certain aspects of the problems related to them have perfectly objective solutions. But then US Democrats and Republicans would essentially defend the same policies and only differ on technical details, and that's not compatible with US election cycles.

A third 'problem' is perhaps a self-imposed and socially imposed limitation of freedom of speech that is particularly strong in developed humanist societies. What e.g. many US gun nuts really want to say is that the freedom of owning a gun outweighs the deaths by gun accidents and amok runs with guns, because freedom is such a high good and they like guns. A politician is not allowed to say that, however, and so the value ordering behind the policy is hidden behind insincere arguments that merely serve as a pretext. This happens everywhere, not just in the US, of course. I don't think this third issue is a problem, as it merely illustrates how evolved the societies are already. The social pressure is there for good reasons and fulfills an important role. (You don't want people starting rational arguments for introducing slavery, because it would lower their production costs. It's good when society endorses values that sanction such arguments even when they are purportedly rational.)

To make this clear, these phenomena occur everywhere in the Western industrialized world. Democratic politicians have run out of political positions, because most problems could be solved by experts and have one or more good technical solution.

(Note: In this post I mean 'technical' in the sense of τέχνη, as in 'technocracy', concerning instrumental means-end rationality.)




> amok runs with guns

This is the problem when discussing political issues like gun control. Gun related crimes has shown correlation with gun ownership laws. Gun accidents is naturally correlated to gun ownership. Mass public shootings however do not when adjusted for the population, but it draws so much political attention so it always get put into the discussion regardless if it match the data.

Gun accidents is also a rather weak-ish argument for gun control. Accidental deaths and injured caused by guns is statistically unusual, and no where near the top for the population in general or kids specifically. As famously noted in the book freakonomics, swimming pools comes in a big second place directly after Motor vehicle accidents in accidental deaths. The best argument in my view being made for gun control based on accidents is a moral one, in that even some accidents is bad enough when the owners don't have any reason to own a gun.

Which leaves us with the parent comment and gun related crimes. Assault and robberies. Those are where gun control seems to have the strongest connection with the data, and where it would do the most good. People on the lower end of the social economical ladder getting shot by other people on the lower end of the social economical ladder. It is not flashy, its not a winning political platform, but its where the data points to. I would not call it irrationality, but rather human fallibility in focusing on the rare and extreme and not see the common.


The big tragedy with the widespread availability of firearms is suicide. Guns are a quick and easy way to end it all, where if you had to search out a tall building for 5 minutes the suicidal urge would subside.

Anyone who has dealt with depression can tell you how this works. The suicidal urge doesn't last very long, but guns are waaaaaaay too convenient. Guns are far from the only way to kill yourself, but their widespread availability and the immediacy of the action are unique among suicide methods.


When Australia implemented its tighter gun control and gun buyback in the late 1990s, suicide dipped briefly, but recovered and surpassed the previous level shortly after. Suicide by shooting was largely replaced by hanging.

The theory sounds right, but it doesn't look like the data supports it.


How would you structure something like state sanctioned assisted suicide given this "window" of irrationality?

We have a waiting period here in the USA when you purchase a firearm from a store. Is the waiting period not long enough in your opinion?


Federal law does not require a waiting period, only a background check. Last time I bought a firearm from a dealer, the background check took about 5 minutes. By law, up to 3 days are allowed for the background check, but it usually takes only minutes.

There had been a Federal waiting period, but it was ruled unconstitutional in 1997. Some states have waiting periods. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Instant_Criminal_Back...


Assisted suicide is a different thing. In those cases, people usually have terminal illnesses anyway so death is inevitable. These people have already accepted death in most cases (I believe this is one of the criteria in places that allow assisted suicide).

This isn't so much about "I want to kill myself; I should go buy a gun" but rather about "I want to kill myself; my dad keeps a gun in his sock drawer". Talk about responsible gun ownership all you want; but if you own a gun for personal defense (as the majority of gun owners do), it's probably not locked up most of the time.


That is no doubt true for some, others will find more drastic methods to end themselves (not all car accidents are accidental and some may hurt bystanders).

In addition I have this philosophy that if you want to interfere with peoples freedom you are responsible for making their life (as judged by that person) worth living - not just preventing them from killing themselves.


I wonder if those deaths are accounted in the accidental death statistics.

Regardless, it would be interesting to know if there was data on the effect on suicide when you get increased gun control. The data for suicide that I have seen seems to imply that the availability of guns would increase the suicide rate for men, which is also the biggest demographic for suicide victims.


If you refer to statistics, and there is official international statistics on that matter, please provide reference. So far I never see any evidence for your point of view. You refer to it like commonly "known" fact, but it is not.


http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/...

It should also be noted that the data set they used only include mass killing with guns, and not mass stabbings. Those also happens, including here in Sweden a year ago at a school. But if you don't like that data then bring more and we can discuss.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/Firearm.htm

Two things pops out. First that the variance is massive within the united states. The second part is that 63 percent were suicides. It is very doubtful that a single correlating factor accounts for the variance.


I agree that these topics are dominated by irrationality. I think you are pretty much spot on, specially on the second point, but you are also missing an important aspect.

The problem with politics is that you have a status quo from where you operate and you are massively constraint in the possible directions you can go. For example, you simply can not go against social security and things like that because the way these programs have been designed ensures that they are almost immortal.

I disagree with you that these easy technocratic solutions exists. There are fundamentally different positions that people can have and actually do have, I just think that whatever these positions are, they matter little because they are not reachable anyway.


> It seems to me that some of these discussions are mostly dominated by irrationality.

I have another theory: people are very conservative and rational (with all its limitations) at the society level, doesn't matter if they came from the left or right, deep changes in society have unexpected consequences. It didn't happen with same marriage laws but can happen in many other sectors.


That is the classic Burkean view.


>many US gun nuts really want to say is that the freedom of owning a gun outweighs the deaths by gun accidents and amok runs with guns, because freedom is such a high good and they like guns.

Thanks for dismissing myself, many of my friends, and many people who share my opinions, lord jonathanstrange. Such arguments aren't in bad faith at all, and quite the contrary, promote reasonable discussion where people are happy to take a verbal beating for their beliefs.


So how are you contradicting his argument? It looks like you are keeping in line with his gun nut stereotype by openly admitting that you like to stand there to take a beating for your beliefs. Similar to how you exposed yourself now except I'm not referring to your position on gun policy, I simply find no value added baiting like this to be a waste.



>most problems could be solved by experts

Implicit here is that when you say "experts", you mean people who share your terminal values and general way of thinking.

Your post makes it seem like you're having trouble stepping out of your value system to consider opposing views. Consider your quote here:

"certain topics concern taboos that are still strong even in secularized societies. To these belong anything concerning human sexuality and some religious views."

Apparently to you it's unthinkable that secular (e.g. leftist) viewpoints could also nurture irrational, destructive taboos and blind spots. But they absolutely do. Some of them are on display in your post.

You say, "most problems could be solved by experts". This is basically stating, "If I had absolute power all this could be solved easily." It's one of the impulses that leads to tyranny. This sort of thing has been tried; the world has seen many leftist technocracies, and it's been one of the most murderous political forces in human history. It's not a good line of thought.

The reality is that the solutions you imagine wouldn't actually work the way you imagine they would. Because your values aren't ultimately the best ones in any absolute sense. They're just yours, and like all humans, they're blinding you to critical aspects of the situation. This is why successful societies become successful not by concentrating power, but by spreading it. When power is spread, many values and perspectives are brought to bear, and we muddle through.

The technocratic, power concentrating, "If only I was king!" tyranny impulse needs to be rejected at every turn.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have any power; your values are valid and valuable. But you should continue to share that power.

Technocracy is tyranny is murder.


Technocracy implies the people in power are experts. That has never and likely will never happen. People gain power by being good at politics and or inheriting it. Neither of those measures technical skill.

At most you can look at countries who listen to relevant experts, which very much includes the United States. Though again on a sliding scale and always secondary to maintaining power for the in groups.

Really if you look at the worst leaders of all time none of them are Technocrats. Joseph Stalin pure politician>Revolutionary , Hitler - Artist>Soldier>Politician. Pol pot failed out, built roads in Croatia then became a revolutionary. Mao Zedong > Politician/Revolutionary. Augusto Pinochet > Military. Leopold II of Belgium > Prince > King.

Karl Marx for example may have qualified and is tied to Socialism, but never gained power.


Technocracy implies a belief that a sophisticated and well-enforced set of top-down policies - which aren't tied to any other vague elements of leadership or political maneuvering - are the best way to rule societies. Not that the people at the top themselves have the know-how to craft and execute them. Just as one can be a AGW proponent by trusting scientists without knowing how to read climatological data or sequester even a single cc of carbon dioxide.


You're describing something else "well-enforced set of top-down policies" is how things are structured. You can get that from a king's brutal enforcement of divine law.

Technocracy is how to chose who runs things: "is a system of governance where decision-makers are selected on the basis of technological knowledge. Scientists, engineers, technologists, or experts in any field, would compose the governing body, instead of elected representatives. Leadership skills would be selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than parliamentary skills.[2] Technocracy in that sense of the word (an entire government run as a technical or engineering problem) is mostly hypothetical." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technocracy

Critically, having someone technical in charge based on an election is not a Technocracy. It's related to Monarchy/Democracy just replace by birth or by election with by demonstrating relevant technical skill. Knowing how to build a CPU for example is not relevant to setting health policy.

PS: The closest we have come is probably a small hunter gather group lead by a group of the eldest. As they are selected based on their skill in survival. Though presumably they had far fewer regulations etc.


Well known technocrats frequently raise because of being good on politics/charisma/etc, rather than their technical skill which sometime can be average at best.

On top of that, pure and legitimate technocrats frequently are so deep in their fields they don't notice side effects to other fields. Politics are about making the whole system work, not about advancing one single field.

It's easy to optimise a society for a specific task (e.g. war economy). But the disbalance it brings may not be worth it in the long run. E.g. today's western societies are not self-sustainable due to huge welfare and too low birth rate. I wonder wether we'll revert to family-based societies next or invent smth new.


The economic drain of welfare spending is often overestimated. The IRS for example shifts a lot of money from A > B, but it does not cost a lot of money to do that shift. Mostly what changes is who is allocating resources, not the total number of resources to allocate.


Which is technocratically correct. But on the other hand, welfare may enable freeriders. Who are fully capable to make a living themselves, but choose handouts.

Of course, next step is that welfare to freeriders is cheaper for the society than freeriders turning into criminals. But even with welfare there're criminals and not all freeriders are criminally minded either.


Freeriders can still create value. See J. K. Rowling for a billionaire example who leveraged social welfare into wealth. I am not saying Welfare is justified, just that is not a major issue.

US has a 18.57 trillion GDP, if you dedicate 10% of that into ~1,500$/month free riders that's ~1/3 of society. As long as most people want more than a subsistence level income it's simply not going to become a big deal. Sure, you in theory lose the economic output of the lazy not just the old or the infirm, but that output is simply not that significant in the first place.

Granted, we spend vastly more than that on many people. But, higher costs are a question of poor implementation not inherent costs.


> secular (e.g. leftist)

The two are nowhere near synonymous.


I think this comes about due to the fact that in the US there is a group defined as the "religious right". The simplistic opposite view is the "secular left" despite the religious / secular spectrum only being loosely related to the spectrum of political ideology. There is definitely a correlation, but it shouldn't be used as a basis of assumption regarding religiosity or political ideology.


For example, Jesus Christ would be a good example of a religious left. He advocated taxes, social programs for the poor, and the moral ill of wealth. His view was less populist because he felt that this change should happen by those with power and money, but still very left even by modern standards. If Jesus' economic philosophy was made law, it would probably be the most socialist society in the world.


This is not the right place for these kind of discussions, but since your critique is so specific and oddly ad hominem:

Implicit here is that when you say "experts", you mean people who share your terminal values and general way of thinking.

No, I'm really thinking about experts in the technical sense, based on instrumental rationality. Think of panels of domain experts from all political sides and how they can agree on a solution. And yes, they often can agree on a solution - or at least could - if they put their own political agenda to the side for a moment.

Your post makes it seem like you're having trouble stepping out of your value system to consider opposing views.

That's an unfair and unwarrented assumption. I have no problems stepping outside of my value system. I have no troubles understanding e.g. ISIS, social darwinists, very right wing positions, libertarians, etc. and have had discussions with all of these except members of ISIS.

You say, "most problems could be solved by experts". This is basically stating, "If I had absolute power all this could be solved easily."

If there is a meaningful relation between those two statements, you certainly haven't made it explicit. The experts in question can be as conservative as you like, if that appeases your mind - as long as they are able to distinguish between their own values and expert opinion about technical issues.

The reality is that the solutions you imagine wouldn't actually work the way you imagine they would. Because your values aren't ultimately the best ones in any absolute sense.

There are two claims here. The first one is empirical, and since I haven't discussed any particular solutions we can ignore this issue. The second one concerns the role of values. My claim is that the solution of most problems in modern societies has not much to do with values, but mostly will be based on technical issues aka means-end rationality. Not all of them, there is plenty of room for different values and democratic equilibrium between those. You're ignoring my central claim and don't back up your opinion.

The technocratic, power concentrating, "If only I was king!" tyranny impulse needs to be rejected at every turn.

I would consider myself an expert on the interplay between abstract values and technical rationality, as I'm currently leading a research project on this topic, but I'm decidedly not an expert in any of the domains that are relevant for the problems mentioned in my post. So your (personal?) critique seems off-topic. If I would be king that would probably be fairly bad for my country (although perhaps not so much if I'd listen to experts).

When I'm talking about experts I'm literally talking about professors with a high reputation among their colleagues and a proven track record of 40 years of peer reviewed publication in their domain who converge in expert panels to come up with solutions to given problems in some democratically legitimized way and who are not chosen on the basis of their beliefs or political views. Not about random people on social media or electrical engineers who debunk General Relativity or climate science.

Technocracy is tyranny is murder.

I used to think that in less drastic terms, too, but have changed my mind. Modern problems, especially their economic aspects, have become too complex for basic democracy and some strongly representational mechanisms are needed for democracy to work. Technocracy does not imply tyranny as long as proper division of power mechanisms are in place. (Whether the division of power is good enough in country X is another question and certainly debatable for some countries.)


This is not the right place for these kind of discussions

To the contrary, this is an excellent place for this sort of discussion, and there are far too few of them here. Thanks for the excellent response.

When I'm talking about experts I'm literally talking about professors with a high reputation among their colleagues and a proven track record of 40 years of peer reviewed publication in their domain who converge in expert panels to come up with solutions to given problems

I'd guess that this is exactly the scenario that the parent was evisioning. I'd also guess that the parent doubts that these experts would be able to agree on a solution if they were actually ideologically diverse; and that if they did agree, it's unlikely that the solution would be workable and without unforeseen consequences.

since I haven't discussed any particular solutions we can ignore this issue

I think there is a legitimate fear that many "unsolved" problems remain that way not because of lack of technical knowledge but because of lack of agreement as to what a desirable solution would entail. Are there any particularly strong historical examples that you could point to where a technocratic approach has worked? Absence is not proof of absence, but it can be evidence, and a good example (future or historical) would make your argument much stronger.


Or you know, we could study the problem carefully and recognize that prohibition just leaves us with damaged families and social outcasts we can never reintegrate, and a permanent criminal subculture. Then instead focus on treatment and reintegration of the actual societal problems in a measurable way that avoids stigmatizing and alienating otherwise productive members of society.

And nobody needs absolute power to do that. They just need to discuss reasonably amongst themselves and decide on a course of measurable action and re-evaluate down the road to ensure the desired effect was reached.

But yeah, I suspect you don't listen well to reasonable arguments, likely because you're too busy pretending words can't be pinned to specific definitions for the purposes of productive discussion.


This was a thoughtful and rational response. If you disagree with it, you shouldn't downvote it.




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