Taking Liberties With Workable Liberty

It's time to get real about key ideas that run our lives, which have been taking laughable liberties with human nature – and with the logic of livable liberty.

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions


1. Our way of life takes liberties with human nature. It uses Enlightenment ideas about reason which Samuel Hammond says psychologists know are “very unrealistic” (if not laughable).

2. Hammond’s essay on liberalism (=workable liberties sought by lefties and conservatives) makes many crucial points, but isn’t entirely realistic about reason’s role.

3. Key principles of workable liberty are discovered, not invented. For instance, Hammond says, church/state separation and multicultural religious toleration were discovered in 1590s India under Islamic rule. And in 1640s Europe after many wars. (Aside, the supposed “failure of multiculturalism”isn’t universal).

4. Certain behavioral rule patterns (like the Golden Rule, or property rights) are discoverable by any perspective-taking game-theoretic thinking.

5. Game theory enables “mathematical…ethics" with patterns as provable as geometry. And like geometry, game theory takes teaching (try rediscovering Euclid). But cooperation-preserving game theory matters far more than geometry.

6. Hammond mentions the badly taught Prisoner’s Dilemma game. If the strategy labeled “rational” produces bad results, is it rightly called rational?  That the Golden Ruled or god-fearing beat “rationalists” suggests we need to rescue “rationality.”

7. “Experts play a vital role” says Hammond. Yes, but only if they’re properly motivated. If experts (or leaders) aren’t loyal to something above self-gain, like the public good, they’re buyable and unreliable (see Plato on greed-driven politics, + original idiocy).

8. Hammond feels that “reason can help establish… cooperative norms.” But they’re also established, transmitted and internalized emotionally (see paleo-economics). Social emotions evolved partly for cooperation, as did language (we’ve got evolved social cooperation rule processors, akin to our tacit grammar rule processors).

9. Darwin saw that in humans workable cooperative norms work like natural-moral selection. Your way of life discovers them, or it dies out (see needism, + negative telos).

10. Hammond advises “reason and persuasion, not fear-mongering or other emotive strategies.” But persuasion often requires emotion (see Aristotle’s rhetoric). The trick is to recruit emotions for “good,” not to ignore them (see Plato’s emotive Chariot, + facts versus fears).

11. Many besides psychologists know that the Enlightenment’s reason-reliance is laughably unrealistic. Only the unobservant or “experts” educated into “rationalist delusions” or “theory induced blindness” (like model-mesmerized economists) could believe otherwise.

12. Some Enlightenment thinkers understood; Hobbes—>“Reason is not...born with us…but attained by industry,” Hume—>“Reason Is and Ought Only to Be the Slave of the Passions:”

13. But less realistic ideas won, and “Enlightenment errors,” though unempirical, still underpin democracy and economics.

14. Three unempirical “Enlightenment errors,” rationalism, individualism, and hedonism, are particularly seductive because they’re partly truth. However their elegant oversimplifications exclude much that matters. They’re typically empirically complex compositions hybridized with their opposites (emotional and relational rationality, self-deficient individualism, painstaking mattering and meaning-seeking).

15. No workable liberty can permit freedom to harm what your community depends on. Yet “logic” that pits self-interest against collective self-preservation lurks among the market-mesmerized.

16. Ways of life built on unempirical views of emotions or reason aren’t sustainable. Hammond makes progress by using empirically sounder psychology (e.g., mentioning System 1 + System 2). But long-lived liberty requires “behavioral politics” and “better behaved behavioural models.”

 

 

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Illustration by Julia SuitsThe New Yorker cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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