26 Aug 2017


Politics, War on Terror 34 Comments

==> Tom Woods interviews Scott Horton on his new book about Afghanistan.

==> Brittany Hunter on the “sunk cost fallacy” vis-a-vis Afghanistan.

==> Tyler Cowen weighs in on the issue of public shaming. This was interesting:

I see many people who have behaved very badly — and here I mean legally convicted criminals — but where the prevailing “mood affiliation” among American liberal intellectuals is to favor their rehabilitation. For instance, if a company does not ask job applicants if they have criminal records, this is considered to be good, and maybe it is. For one thing, many of those criminals are the products of bad circumstances and we may have various (true) theories that help to excuse their behavior. So we don’t go to the nth degree to shame and disgrace those ex-criminals, even if they have been convicted of prior violent activities.

How are we then to feel about contemporary neo-Nazis? Most of them have not been convicted of anything at all. Yet right now we are going to great lengths to shame and disgrace them. We regard them as on a lower moral rung than the convicted criminals. But is wishing for violence that much worse than having committed it yourself?

Incidentally, I think I have an answer on this specific way Tyler framed it. To wit, presumably a company that hires a convicted criminal *doesn’t think the guy is going to commit another crime on the job*. In contrast, the guys who participated in the recent march and then get fired, presumably didn’t come to work on Monday saying, “Wow that was a dark period in my life, and I’m totally beyond that now.”

Another element is that people who break actual laws are presumably punished by the legal system, whereas it’s not actually a crime to say horrible things. And so, it arguably makes sense that people reserve their capacity for public shaming / boycotting / etc. for such offenses.

So to be clear, not only do I think it is within their *rights* for companies to fire the people who were participating in the tiki march, but I agree with their decision. My concern with all this stuff, though, is that in the zeal to burn the neo-Nazi witches, hysteria has gripped the country and a lot of regular people are getting caught in the crosshairs. Further, the casual talk of “punch a Nazi” is also disturbing, since it is *not* within your rights to punch the tiki marchers.

P.S. I’ll leave the comments open on this one, but I don’t want a war breaking out so please don’t bring up anyone who is currently feuding in our ranks.

34 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. Harold says:

    On sunk costs. Trumps decision does not look like sunk cost fallacy to me. He described how he nothing invested in the conflict up to now – it was not his war. His first instinct was to pull out, which he could do without cost because he had nothing invested. The reasons given for staying were all about the future – the risk of further terrorist havens if the Taliban were to be successful. No sunk cost fallacy.

    There have been some amusing advertisements illustrating the sunk cost fallacy for people who like to get their money’s worth. For example the man who sits waiting in his car until the parking time he has paid for has expired and the man trimming his hedge in his fancy dress costume.

  2. Harold says:

    On shaming. I think you are right – we don’t need shaming for criminal activities because we have criminal justice system to discourage such activities. Social disapproval is a powerful method of social control. Shame has evolved as a method for keeping us cooperative, I imagine. Like guilt. We don’t do things we think are bad because we will feel guilt. We particularly worry about getting caught because we will feel shame. This keeps people behaving according to social norms in areas not covered by the law.

    For people who do things that most disapprove of but do not themselves think it is wrong society expresses this disapproval to try to make the individuals feel shame. This can work very effectively. Until quite recently homosexuals were in this position. Even after homosexual acts were legal there was very significant social disapproval and people had to stay in the closet. This has reduced but still remains.

    Shaming is effective but it does not mean that the shamed activity is necessarily “wrong”. When people feel that the activities will be universally disapproved of they usually go to lengths to remain unidentified, as homosexuals used to do. If they think there is wider acceptance they will not care so much – hence gay pride marches which celebrate their membership of the group. Also hence Nazi marches which celebrate their membership of this group.

    I think that until recently we would not have seen such marches with people proudly declaring their membership of these different groups. I think this is because the members of these groups feel that there is much more general acceptance of them. I think this is a good thing in one case but not so much in the other.

    However I do not think singling out individuals for universal shaming is generally a good idea. There have been many cases of people having their lives ruined by excessive public disapproval “bandwagons” for trivial or misunderstood behavior. It is a tricky area. Social control is essential, but it is too easy to whip up a mob.

  3. Tel says:

    People are getting fired simply because corporations shy away from public controversy and the SJW’s are effective at harassment strategies. It’s about who has power, nothing more than that, and not worth a deep analysis over the morality of it.

    As James Damore pointed out, his memo had been circulating around inside Google for quite a while and he wasn’t fired over that. Only AFTER it got out into the public and the “Progressive” outrage machine started grinding its gears did they decide it was easier to just get rid of him… and then the last thing they did was look for a reason why Damore broke some rule or other (which was totally dishonest, and involved severe misrepresentation of what he wrote).

  4. RPLong says:

    I don’t think shaming ever works. Shaming doesn’t offer a guilty party a way out. It’s not as if a neo-nazi would suddenly turn over a new leaf after having experienced a poignant enough episode of shame. When exposed to shame, people have a tendency to justify themselves or to recede further from the society that has put shame upon them. None of this provides a long-term solution to things like nazism.

    Relatedly, I am often struck by biographies of people from the 1800s and early 1900s. Often people were convicted of serious crimes, caught, sent to prison, and then later became successful and respectable members of society again. I’m thinking, for example, of a man who was in Butch Cassidy’s gang, who later became a well-respected business mogul after his stint in prison.

    The point is, back then we had a mechanism for people to redeem themselves of their past mistakes: Prison. They went to prison, and then they came back and built a new life. And while being an ex-convict was shameful, there was a limit to how much shame people were willing to heap on someone. Eventually, they could overcome it and start anew.

    Compare to the present-day world, where one bad Twitter mistake will ruin your life for decades. I don’t see how shame has done the job we want it to do. Instead, we just aim the nozzle of our vitriol at one person at a time, fully douse them in hideous shame, ruin their lives permanently, and then five minutes later find a new target. No one wants to ever admit to being wrong because, apparently, there is no getting it back later – once you’re wrong, you’re wrong forever. Once you make a mistake, you’re done for good.

    This isn’t good for social outcomes. What we want is a path leading from bad behavior to good behavior. Shame doesn’t accomplish this.

    • Craw says:

      Nor does the vindictive pursuit of those we disagree with advocated by Murphy work. Not work well enough to justify the venom anyway. Perhaps it’s just my confirmation bias at work but it always seems to be the atheists suggesting that mild words turn away wrath.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Craw wrote:

        Nor does the vindictive pursuit of those we disagree with advocated by Murphy work. Not work well enough to justify the venom anyway.

        You know Craw, there was a guy who used to comment here a lot, and I eventually banned him because he would blatantly misrepresent my views.

        You do realize that I have the head of the LP suggesting I am in league with Nazis because I refused to publicly denounce the Charlottesville people, right?

        I am saying I agree with the businesses who fired their employees who allowed themselves to be caught on national TV chanting “Jews will not replace us.” This is what you have characterized as my call for vindictive venom?

        Perhaps it’s just my confirmation bias at work …

        Yes it is 100% that.

        • Craw says:

          You said you approve of firing the people who went to the rally. You say that, I believe, only because you deplore their views, and would not say it of someone you agree with it. And I think it vindictive.
          So where am I distorting what you said?

      • RPLong says:

        I don’t know if Bob was advocating that we shame people. I think he was just saying that it’s the right decision for a public company to fire an employee that makes controversial views public, if the company does not want to be associated with those views. This is a fairly mild and reasonable position.

        I think atheists are used to being the brunt of shame tactics, especially when we grow up as atheists. As such, we might be particularly sensitive to its ill effects. Maybe it’s our bias, as you say, but another way to look at it is that we have direct experience with how poorly it works.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          You people need to scroll through my Twitter posts. It’s basically puppies and anti-antifa. I seriously have the head of the LP wondering if I am cool with neo-Nazis.

          Also I haven’t seen anyone being shamed on social media lately for being an atheist. I saw a huge thread with thousands of cumulative Likes for saying Joel Osteen is a hypocrite for not letting displaced people into his Houston church, though.

          • RPLong says:

            Bob, forgive me. The point of my comment above was to defend you against Craw’s claim while simultaneously offering him some sympathy for the shame he might have felt as an atheist. I’m an atheist myself, and the shame I experienced as a young boy still follows me around to this day, so I can empathize with him on that.

            Despite that empathy, though, I think he had your number wrong. I believe your position is reasonable here. I’m with you.

            • Craw says:

              So I read Bob’s post on punching nazis and “wrong” people being fired , and how bad that is.

              But for some they aren’t the “wrong” guy getting fired. For a lot of people getting that guy fired is just tickety-boo. They can and will echo Bob’s comment above.

              Are they vindictive?

              Do you see an incentive forming here?

            • Bob Murphy says:

              RPLong no problem, I was just venting because I’m getting hit from both sides lately. People are seeing what they want to see.

              Incidentally, I would never waste my time researching people to try to get them fired, but I was saying if I’m an employer and I realize one of my employees is participating in something so reprehensible and stupid as the tiki march, then yeah I’m firing the guy.

        • Craw says:

          He wasn’t advocating shaming. He was advocating a more direct form of retribution: firing.

          • Rory says:

            Would not Bob’s position be consistent with approving of the right of association/disassociation, while also saying that he would make the same decision re: Nazis, but personally disagrees with the decision re: Damore?

            • Bob Murphy says:

              You also have to work my “venom” into the analysis, Rory.

            • Craw says:

              To say they have the right to fire them, yes. He also said he approved of firing, which is saying much more.

              • Rory says:

                Do you approve of Bob changing his mind? I would assume so, so now the only question is: would you force him to do so?

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Rory wrote: Do you approve of Bob changing his mind?

                When did I change my mind?

              • Rory O'Neill says:

                Bob: Hypothetically

        • Craw says:

          No-one has ever tried to shame me for being an atheist. I grew up in a tolerant place I think. I would like to see more such tolerance for dissent and difference. I think it’s fading.

    • Harold says:

      I think I accidentally clicked away and lost this post – apologies if it appears twice.
      “The point is, back then we had a mechanism for people to redeem themselves of their past mistakes: Prison.”

      We still have prison, but then and now it is reserved for criminal matters.

      “Compare to the present-day world, where one bad Twitter mistake will ruin your life for decades.”

      Compare that to the olden days, when one witnessed kiss could ruin your life forever. Man or woman, liaising with the wrong person could ruin your life. Reputation, particularly for women, was a precious and delicate thing.

      Things have changed, but maybe by not as much as you imply.

      • RPLong says:

        Harold, I think you’re looking too hard for things to disagree with in my comment. I cited a specific example to make clear that there was once a time when a person could go to prison and then come back as a functional and even successful member of society. In that regard, times have changed.

        I’m also no suggesting that absolutely every aspect of society and shame has changed for the worse since then, so your point about other sources of shame is well taken, but also not applicable to the present discussion.

        The lesson we ought to draw out of both examples is how poorly shame works as a mechanism for improving outcomes. It didn’t work in the past when people started hanging out with the wrong crowd, it doesn’t work now when people go to prison or make a dumb comment on Twitter. (Consider the fact that I am even writing a phrase like “go to prison or make a dumb comment on Twitter.”)

        Narcissists feel shame, but they do not feel remorse. Narcissists can’t function in normal society precisely because they don’t feel remorse, they only feel guilt. This gives us a clue: To improve social cohesion, we ought to be helping people feel remorse for unwanted or unproductive behavior. Remorse, not shame.

        • Anonymous says:

          ” how poorly shame works as a mechanism for improving outcomes”

          I am not really trying to pick an argument, but it is an interesting area for discussion.

          Shame is an effective way of society imposing standards of behavior. It does not help the victim, I agree, but it does effectively deter many people from the behaviours that are disliked.

          The definition is not universal, but shame is feeling bad about transgressing society’s standards, guilt is feeling bad about transgressing your own standards. Remorse is only going to occur in the case of guilt – where you acknowledge to yourself that you have fallen short of your standards in some way and done something wrong. Of course you can feel both shame and guilt about the same thing.

          I agree with you that shame is not going to get to the root of the “bad” behavior. There need be no remorse following shame. There will only be remorse following guilt.

          Perhaps shame is a way of society imposing standards whereas guilt is a way of society persuading people to abide by standards voluntarily.

          • RPLong says:

            You make an interesting point, that perhaps shame is socially coercive, whereas guilt and remorse reflect a more voluntary set of circumstances.

            My feelings on shame reflect what I think is the mainstream view in psychology: Shame correlates highly to feelings of social anxiety and isolation, exactly the same feelings that tend to drive people into extremist communities like neo-nazi groups.

            It’s a tall order, but it would be great if we could all resist the urge to shame others and instead offer them a path back into the mainstream. Craw isn’t wrong about that, he’s right.

  5. Hildebrand says:

    I agree with RPLong in thinking shaming wouldn’t be effective, if the goal is helping people to change, to redeem. I’m guess the shaming thing is more about feeling good being such a staunch antinazi.

    There is worse. If by hounding KKK sympathisers and depriving them of a job, what should you expect if not further radicalization? Those KKK man, with so many guns and no more able to bring bread to family would easily commit massacres.

    Look at this Daryl Davis, who seems to have a hobby of making friends with KKK men:

  6. Craw says:

    Live and let live is controversial here now it seems. The point of my comment to which Bob Murphy took such exception, is that grabbing screen captures, finding out names, and getting people fired, or firing them, is about as far from live and let live as you can get. I routinely hear libertarians called ugly names and portrayed as haters. When the same thing happens to anyone wearing a Mises shirt what will you think then?

  7. Tel says:

    Here’s my take on private companies firing people (just when this thread is starting to wind down):

    In general it’s a good idea if companies can fire at will, in a world where people have maximum practical liberty. We don’t live like that because large numbers of regulations are imposed on us. It wasn’t my idea to come up with all those regulations.

    Reputation is very important and as such a company needs to give honest reasons for firing someone. Thus, if the company seriously only hires socialists then this should be stated upfront, and the company should openly spell it out, “We fired him because he failed to live up to our requirement that all employees be socialist.” Should the company start inventing other reasons and openly misrepresent why the employee was fired, I think there’s a violation of the NAP in that, and also a violation of law in most jurisdictions. Our current regulations impose limits on what a company can stipulate upfront, so this encourages them to tell lies. That’s a bad thing.

    Looking at actual society (where people do not have such a lot of liberty, and we are forced to make a lot of compromises) I see a deeper principle which is that the people who advocate for laws and who make the laws should also be forced to abide by the law. Especially they should be made to follow their own rules… very consistently.

    An excellent example is to look closely at the way Congress exempted themselves from “Obamacare”. That should tell you everything about whether they believe in it, or whether they don’t. Their ability to exempt themselves changes the incentives. This is a very bad thing.

    So when it comes to companies like Google deciding to kick conservative viewpoints off YouTube, it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Just bake the damn cake, Google.” It’s legitimate to force others to remain consistent with THEIR OWN principles, even if you don’t personally believe in those principles, because should they ever be able to wriggle out of it, then there’s no barrier to future hypocrisy… they can demand any law apply to other people because they know they don’t need to worry about it themselves. Incentives matter.

    Getting back to firing people… if a corporation was to fire an employee for wearing a “hammer and sickle” logo representing communism, or if a corporation was to fire someone for declaring that wealth redistribution is a great idea, or that they believe fossil fuel is evil, or that they support minimum wage, then these “Social Justice” types would go ballistic. One way or another they got a bunch of anti-discrimination laws passed that make all of these type of firing illegal… thus we are in a situation where companies cannot fire at will, and ex-employees can sue because they don’t like the conditions under which they were fired.

    Well… the law is the law. You asked for this to be the law, now we apply that 100% consistently, all the time, no exceptions. If you want to do to conservatives what you didn’t want done to the “Progressives” then you get to suffer the same penalties you were willing to impose on others. Then afterwards, when you fully understand why there might be a problem here, perhaps we talk about fixing up the system, but no you don’t get to have it all your own way.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Tel wrote:

      if a corporation was to fire an employee for wearing a “hammer and sickle” logo representing communism, or if a corporation was to fire someone for declaring that wealth redistribution is a great idea, or that they believe fossil fuel is evil, or that they support minimum wage, then these “Social Justice” types would go ballistic. One way or another they got a bunch of anti-discrimination laws passed that make all of these type of firing illegal…

      I agree with you that SJW-types would go ballistic, but I’m not sure that’s actually illegal (in the US at least). I think there are very specific categories that are “protected.” I am not sure about this, but just saying I’m not sure your claim above is literally correct regarding US labor law.

  8. Harold says:

    “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000e and following) prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin (including membership in a Native American tribe).”

    This has been extended to age (over 40) and Americans with disabilities, but everything else is fair game I think.

  9. Khodge says:

    I do not necessarily disagree with Brittany Hunter but two questions spring to mind:

    If a company pulls out of a project it still may have contractor costs that cannot be dismissed. Hopefully those costs were in the original contract. The US must, at least, examine the consequences of pulling out. Due to politics, nothing was spelled out before we went into Afghanistan but that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to examine the consequences.

    Trump was quite adament, before the election, that you do not tell the enemy your plans. This is the skillset that he brings to office and, contrary to the national media’s screeching, it is not something he needs to lay out for the world to see.

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