Extrapolation Traps

In early springtime, you see the fresh growth of leaves and weeds and grass. You think to yourself, “If it keeps up this way, by Independence Day the whole of earth will be puffed out in green suffocation.” But the first growth is the most rapid, and as higher leaves give shade, the lower growth slows.

One of the key tactics of propagandists, be they on vaccines or immigration or race baiters or war hawks or anti-traders or campus speech zealots or . . .

One of the key tactics is the extrapolation trap. You start with some handful of stories of badness. “Ms. Liza Greenlawn found a lump of fresh dirt in her yard, and upon excavation she found a bone!” Oh my. Next week, Greenlawn’s neighbor up the way, Dr. Maggie Hayfever, finds her own bowl-shaped dirt pile and another bone.

The propagandist takes to the Twitter and behold:

Mutant lawn monsters are growing clones of themselves by burying their bones.

And now you’re worried. You cannot bear the idea! Whole towns being devoured by these lawn monsters! Uncivilized!


But it’s the same story, over and over. Fido burying his bones as he’s done for generations.

The president hears about a caravan, and suddenly we need to the National Guard down on the border. Your uncle heard that Obama was going to do this Jade Helm takeover of the country.

  1. A seed of doubt or worry.
  2. You run with it, thinking of all the things that could happen next.
  3. TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It)

Example:

  1. Survivors of a school shooting demand action.
  2. Bills are floated to reduce gun purchases by high-risk persons.
  3. THEY’RE TAKING ALL OUR GUNS

Sigh.

And yes, to an extent the worries about the rise of fascism follow this pattern. The president sucks at his job and frequently resorts to idiotic attacks on basic democratic institutions including the judiciary, the press, and so forth.

The institutions are fighting back. When and if they ever capitulate, in the least, you should worry. But as long as due process is being followed, we should watch and speak out and push back, but we should not extrapolate his 280 characters of hate into a full-scale emergency.

There’s a difference between having a fire in your house (in the fireplace) and your house being on fire.

(There are other countries where the fascism has metastasized and is now a very real threat. The fire has spread from their fireplaces. To the extent that the USA is not in a position to help quench those flames through diplomacy, our current administration deserves full blame. Our nation was founded resisting tyranny, and it should always stand for that cause.)

It is vital to keep perspective. Extrapolating is good at worst-casing of things, but the real world tends not progress always in one direction without shifts in pace, course, method, etc.

Beware Behavioral Memes

On Twitter and Facebook and throughout the Internet there are folks that want to spread memes for business and governmental purposes. But the memes aren’t just things like, “Vlad can has borschtburger.” They are also behavioral or attitudinal memes.

Behavioral memes aren’t funny little pictures with captions. They are how people respond. For example, in political discussions I often see people saying that a scandal won’t matter, that the bad leaders can get away with anything. I’m not claiming that attitude is intentionally used to subvert discussion, but it is an attitudinal meme.

Behavioral memes spread ideas about how we communicate online. They say, “This is all hopeless,” even if they agree that we need good governance and that democracy is worth far more than the trouble it causes. Cynicism against any possible solution is the general shape of these behavioral memes.

Or they might say, “Seeing a bully get her comeuppance is enjoyable.” Or that punching down is edgy.


It’s not just about the online spread of falsified reporting. It’s equally about the spread of how we act and respond online. Whether it’s creating cynicism where solutions existed or driving people away from participating in productive discussions or distracting them into debating Bill Clinton in the 1990s instead of the matters of the day, there are ways aplenty of harming online discourse.

The Internet can grow and change, and if people are not behaving productively where you are, you can either find somewhere else, or create a new space of your own. Spread out. As in actual warzones, it’s difficult to target people the farther apart they are. Every new platform that artificial participants have to add to their influence operations costs them more time and money.

If you see the same kinds of replies, whatever the news, consider the attitude and question if it’s a useful one. It doesn’t matter if they are APs or not. The productivity of behavioral memes is independent of who is spreading them, just as with caption memes.

A Standard District

The question before the Supreme Court in Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Benisek v. Lamone (Maryland) isn’t really whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but whether there is a standard they can set forth that will be effective. Such a standard does not explain how states should develop their districts, but only how to tell if they have not done their job with fidelity to the law.

The best fix, as usual, would be for states and congress to work the problem out. But given the problem is that we can’t elect moderate representation (due to gerrymandering), it quickly becomes a chicken-egg paradox.

Although there are various suggested standards to use, it is likely none of them are ideal enough for the members of the court who don’t want to have to go ten rounds on the subject. But that should not stop them from imposing an imperfect standard. There are plenty of instances where the court had to refine itself in case after case. And there is always the opportunity for interplay between the federal and state legislatures on the matter.

Consider tea. People add milk and sugar (or other sweeteners) to make it taste better. Some like tea stronger, some weaker. There is no perfect cup of tea. But when you order tea from a restaurant, or you buy a canister or bottle of tea from a vendor, they have normalized the tea. They are producing a product that, on average, will not be perfect tea for anybody, but will be acceptable tea for everybody.

Now, they could punt. They could rule per curiam and open the floodgates to hear challenges on every district until a standard is found. If they believe that these particular districts are unconstitutional, justice demands at least that.

But even that ruling must articulate a why that points to the future grounds where some standard would be built. The basic shape of partisan gerrymandering is non-compactness, is choosing to shift pockets of voters either to concentrate or dilute them. The standard, therefore, must be to the strength of the tea. Nobody buys watery tea, and nobody wants it too strong.

Thus, in comparing districts, they should each be tea and not tea concentrate and not water with tea flavor. If quality control lets a few stronger or weaker through, that’s tea for you. But if quality control misses the basic task, that violates the constitution. Toss it and the QC inspector in the harbor.

The Line Between Advertising and Manipulation

There shall be no compulsion in religion.

— Quran, 2:256

There was always the question of what separates a cult from a religion. And the answer is fairly straightforward. It’s compulsion. Deceitfulness and isolation of members. Arm-twisting.

The goal of the manipulator differs from the advertiser. The manipulator wants to suck you in, make you read story after story about the same thing until you believe that it’s everywhere.

Take vaccines. It tells a story. Beautiful kid gets a vaccine and everything changes. Suddenly they have this disorder. It could happen to anyone. Protect yourself: read the same story over and over. Because more information is the only protection, and with a dearth of information, repetition is the only way.

Same with anti-immigration. They aren’t publishing the millions of immigrants, legal or not, who ate a nutritious breakfast. That’s for damn sure.

Same with this wave of stories about free speech on campus. You’re on the mailing list. You have to know the latest outrage about how some kids who are neck-deep in debt didn’t want to pay for to a cultist to have a soapbox. Boo hoo.

This is a pattern. You get fed the same story over and over. Crooked crooked crooked Hillary Hillary Hillary. E-mails e-mails Benghazi e-mails e-mails.

Repetition is a key to learning. Repetition is a key to learning. Repetition is a key to learning.

  1. Identify a fear. Examples: autism, crime, suppression of speech, loss of guns, public corruption.
  2. Attach the fear to something. Examples: vaccines, immigrants, college campuses, Democrats/Obama, Hillary Clinton.
  3. Repeat it a lot. Forever.

Cults also make you feel like you belong. These manipulative causes make you feel like you’re red-pilling a bunch of sheeple with your guantlet of truth. Like share reply subscribe. Like share reply subscribe. Like share reply subscribe.

Because they don’t know, man. They are going about their lives sipping their Starbucks and they don’t “know what the queers are doing to our soil!” (The Dead Milkmen, “Stuart”) Being important feels good. You’ve got your little mission. Gotta keep up with the movement.

Don’t get me wrong. There are causes worth pursuing. But being a footsoldier is not the way. Supplanting your identity with a cause isn’t healthy, no matter how worthy the cause.

Advertisers are fairly open about the fact they want your money. They hope you enjoy their product so you’ll buy more, but they don’t want to hang out. They don’t hold meetings. Multi-level manipulators hold meetings.

The manipulators, they want you to hang out. Bring a sleeping bag and a sack lunch. We’ll provide the Kool-Aid. They want your money. But it’s in support of the cause. It’s the cause first. You were called. You were chosen. You alone can fix it.

God, what a waste of potential.

Government of the Voters

The latest special election, in Pennsylvania’s 18th (a vanishing district that will not exist for the midterms this November), was exceedingly close. Anybody would expect that someone elected to represent such a district would take that lesson to heart and respect that the voters want someone pretty middling. Same goes for the 2016 election and the presidency.

The number one political threat is that we can’t seem to recognize the meaning of elections. They aren’t sporting events. To the victor belongs the spoils, but to the nation belongs the nation.

To put it another way, if you and a group of humans were trying to decide what to spend communal money on, about half of you wanting a sewing machine and the other half wanting a rowboat, upon voting and realizing how evenly divided you were, you might opt to get a portable color television set, instead.

America deserves a portable color television set, God damn it. We’re long past the time when to get it, never mind that analog signals no longer exist and people can stream video on their compacts and the underside of the brims of their baseball caps. Compromise.

The main impediment to compromise is the same thing that keeps these elections so close: both sides want their choice. Politicians fear that compromise will break their voters’ hearts, and they will be scorned for it. They will lose their precious seats at the table where nothing useful gets done. But in striking real deals (and not the president’s two-for-me-none-for-you schemes), some of them will be spared. The ones that are capable of actual governance will generally get reelected. Moderates and Democrats will vote for Republicans that are willing to admit to reality, and moderates and Republicans will vote for Democrats that don’t demand the cosmos.

Now, leadership is a problem. McConnell and Ryan are not willing to allow for compromise. The president calls for it, then lists his demands and then backtracks and changes them and then gives up and blames Obama. The first step toward compromise in the Congress must be to change leadership. It must be to recognize the pluralist majority is stronger than either party.

But sooner or later, America will have its portable color TV, whether Trump, McConnell, Ryan, the Russian Federation, or anybody else agrees or not. We want it, we deserve it, we can afford it, and we will have it.