Friday, June 22, 2007

What We Fear - and What We Don't

When I attended lectures on American culture in Moscow Linguistic University some 15 years ago I was astonished to hear about one particular trait of this culture: fear of “cezarepapizm”. The term historically is associated only with Byzantine culture, and in all history of Western Europe and Northern America there never was a precedent of political realization of this phenomenon. It never got materialized even in Russia, most close ideological heir of Byzantine tradition. So it belongs only to realm of political mythology. How could it happen that this non-existent threat (especially impossible in context of Anglo-Saxon culture and even more so in US, where separation of state and Church is enshrined in Constitution) became a source of pervasive, obsessive, exaggerated and irrational fear — a textbook description of phobia? If my professor was correct, this phobia amounts to universal neurosis, in Freud’s terminology. The same applies to fear of political repressions. There simply never was a precedent of this kind in American history; even McCarthyism did not produce cases of imprisonment people for their views or propaganda dissemination, only for perjury or espionage. Another mass phobia, also completely unfounded. In Soviet Union, on the other hand, we had a rampant spying scare, millions of innocent were jailed or executed for fabricated accusation of spying, while all borders were impenetrable and all contacts with foreigners strictly forbidden and impossible. American borders are existent only as lines on the map, hundreds of terrorists can trespass them every day, lots of international terror organizations openly boast their goals to commit terrorist acts on American soil (with smuggled nukes, perhaps). It took several weeks to erect Berlin wall (and analogue fortifications everywhere at DDR border). Americans, with vastly much more resources and much more real treat, failed to enforce effective border control for 6 years after 9/11. How it can be explained in terms of mental health that collectively people tend to fear most the least probable dangers and eagerly deny the most obvious ones? John Derbyshire’s Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence only postulates this phenomenon, but does not explain it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A new Emperor's Clothes are so old...

It is amusing that humans, it seems, unable to devise anything really new in such realms as world-view, ethics or religion, they only unknowingly reproduce the old ones with some modifications. For example, Leftist world-view for last 200 years (Marxism, Communism, Trotskyism, Stalinism and all varieties of Socialism) was and still is a combination of the two many-centuries-old heresies: Pelagianism and Manichean. Even the most zealous neocon, Christopher Hitchens, still follows this combination, replacing the original sin (capitalism) of his previous Trotskyist faith by a new enemy - Islam. He wants us to wage a Crusade against it, but not in the name of God, but in the name of secular New Enlightenment. A ridicule proposition: where can he hope to find enough true believers for that? To win an all-out religious war, one needs to be no less religion motivated and fanatical than his opponent. Atheism is not a weapon, but a fatal weakness in such a battle.
Islam, too, is a Manichean delusion, but combined not with Pelagianism, but with Calvinism in its most pessimistic and antihuman form.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

State as a nurse: what went wrong?

Britain's slow descent to socialism is marked by introducing of institutionalized system of state-run nurseries, as a form of help to working mothers. But it seems that this compassionate gesture, as many others attempts to provide help from government institutions, brought more harm than benefit to recipients of this help. School teachers began to note that something went wrong with these children from day-care centers; their behavior differ in many ways from that of home-nursed ones. Is this substitute of normal family care not completely adequate and somewhat deficient?
Hardly it surprised me. More than half a century ago a new diagnosis was introduced into infant psychiatry: hospitalism. Young inmates of orphanages, hospitals and other like institutions show retarded development in comparison to home-nursed children of the same age. Lots of studies were conducted to find the reason of this retardation: was it nitrition, poor living conditions before hospitalization, genetics or parents alcoholism? It turned out, however, that the only reason was the very fact of placing children in out-home environment, without close contact with mother. Humans simply are not fitted by their nature to develop normally without this everyday contact. Recently I read in Daily Telegraph:

"Now a government-commissioned study by Oxford University, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the National Centre for Social Research confirms this anecdotal evidence in the most worrying way.

It found that children who attend nurseries for more than seven hours a day may be more confident and co-operative, but are also more likely to be become "worried and upset". They are likelier to bully and tease, are bossy and need to have their way - in short, to display the early signs of anti-social behaviour.

Such findings are hardly surprising. Placing children in institutionalised care from such a young age - a child can be placed in full-day care from the age of three months - will inevitably have an impact. Only now are we getting an idea of what that impact is.

This is a social experiment that could have the most disturbing long-term consequences."

It seems that all social experiments with socialist flavour are doomed to produce wrecked individuals with anti-social behaviour. Human nature revenges attempts to ignore or "improve" it — it is not malleable in any positive sense.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Some thoughts

When Fukujama in early 90 declared the end of history, he completely overlooked existence of the last undefeated aggressive, expansionist, totalitarian ideology - Islam. It is called "religion", but it is religion in name only because of its clearly stated political goals. Historically some other religions also declared such goals, but were urged to drop them when confronted and challenged by liberal political philosophy; this reform was the heart of Enlightenment. Islam has not undergone this transformation, and it is not clear yet whether it can accept it or survive it. So, Islam is the enemy. By diplomatic reasons it would be unwise to declare it officially; diplomacy inevitably includes good portion of hypocrisy. But it would be a suicide to fool ourselves by "religion of peace" rhetoric. Eradicate Islam is not possible now, but it is not needed. Our goal is to defeat, defang and disarm it, put it back into lethargic submission, which is its natural disposition.

Giving duly prizes to democracy and liberalism, one should also be aware of their inherent weaknesses and moral dangers. Enlightenment has a dark side to it — skepticism turned to relativism turned to nihilism. And democracy should have counterweights in form of aristocracy of spirit, or meritocracy. Otherwise it devolves into conglomerated mediocrity. Evelyn Waugh nailed it his The Loved One, and gave some cures in Brideshead Revisited. George Orwell declared that Waugh was "about as good a novelist as one can be while holding untenable opinions." But half a century after, these opinions do not seem to me untenable. One simply need have some faith to defend them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

One-dimensional man and political language

It is revealing that in western countries leftists intellectuals usually outnumber conservatives in education, mass media, show business and humanities, while in hard sciences, engineering and economics situation is reversed. In Soviet Union humanitarian or teaching career, as a rule, was chosen by those who felt themselves not smart enough to pass math exams.

Recently Psychology Today published a study comparing psychological features of conservatives and liberals and asserting that conservatives are neurotics possessed by irrational fear and reacting to it by conformism and clinging to authoritarian rule. Dan Beste debunked this analysis and proposed his own view on the essence of conservatism and liberalism in different historical circumstances. He found that the meaning of these terms depends on concrete historical reality and can change dramatically as this reality changes, even can became opposite to what it designated originally.

What Dan Beste really did looks alike what authors of scandalous Psychology Today “study” attempted: make a “saving translation” from the language of political philosophy to the language of personality psychology. But he did it much more thoughtfully and honestly. And so he found that personality characteristics can’t be expressed by a single value on any possible scale, but need many dimensions ­– the more the better. Personality is multi-dimensional “variable”, actually infinite dimensional. That is why serious psychologists, like Carl Jung or Viktor Frankl, prefer multi-dimensional approach to typology of personality. There are, alas, several formidable obstacles in using any of such classifications: first, axes are somewhat arbitrary, they are not really orthogonal, that is characteristics are not independent and usually correlate or anti-correlate, and, second, these correlations are not inherent, they are culturally dependent and wildly vary from one generation to another or from country to country. And, of course, most people hardly can imagine geometry of multi-dimensional space. So these correlation are used to simplify the picture and reduce dimensionality, usually to one. Such reduction can be more or less justifiable in one moment of history and became totally inadequate in another, because old correlations fade out and new emerge. More rigorous approach would be not to specify axes beforehand, but use Pearson’s biometrical statistics: multi-dimensional scaling, factor analysis, method of principal axes, cluster-analysis, and seek real correlations by objective statistical criteria. But modern psychologists, it seems, are too mathematically illiterate for this task.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Habitual socialism

Vladimir A. Chudov

Summary. At manufacturing firm, whoever may be its owner, boss, all property inside it indivisible. There is no private property inside factory fence. So the only possible type of production relations here is socialist one. This unavoidably influence psychology of hired labor employed in this factory. But outside if the factory, after work, the same people act at the market as consumers, and their psychology substantially influence current economic processes.

In the end 20-th century a tendency of applying psychology to economic studies has emerged. This is highlighted also by practice of awarding Nobel Prizes for studies of influence exerted by psychology of customers on general course of market processes. But market is only one component of human activity in the sphere of consuming, trade and distribution of goods. Exactly this problem of just distribution is of special interest to left-wing politicians; their voters often view social justice as elementary egalitarianism.

But to be able to distribute anything (just or not so just), one need, at first, have those goods produced. And organization of production is subject of professional interest of not so numerous managers, entrepreneurs and scientists. They are also anxious about psychology of employee, but in other aspect – only as participants of production process. Are these scientists anxious about the fact that the same person is simultaneously producer and customer, active participant of processes both of producing and buying of goods? How his psychology is formed and how it influence on his behavior in both of those spheres of human activity? Politicians of right wing also should think about it.

From this perspective, it is of interest to think about simple question: does a metal turner sell details to fitter? No, and nobody ever sells anything to anybody in course of industrial process. And this is so everywhere, throughout the world, irrespective of country and its social order. Why? After all, already two and half centuries ago Adam Smith had demonstrated how efficiently commodity-money relations work in sphere of distribution. Why he has no followers using commodity-money relations in sphere of production? It would be too far-fetched to classify so methods of Taguchi (Japan) or their simplified variant — Lapidus method (USSR). What is the problem? Point is that is impossible in principle.

In production firm property is indivisible irrespective of its ownership (private, state, joint-stock company, cooperative). Within the bounds of one enterprise, on single territory, there can be no private property. This is dictated by united technological chain, assigning successive division of labor. That is why commodity-money relations are impossible in production process. All-encompassing planning and administrative management, strict chain of command and undivided authority are obligatory there, the principle of hired labor (do what is required and take what is given). Technical documentation is the law, without choice. Instead of freedom and democracy — working discipline and regulations. If you do not like it, quit (in Stalin days, go under tribunal). And right to strike also exists, but only in democratic countries. How to describe this order? This is ordinary socialism, though local, and every firm has its own peculiarities.

This is so not only everywhere, but always, to begin with the first manufactories. Long before utopian or “scientific” socialism, long before historical materialism, before even coinage of the very word “socialism”. Formal slogan “from everybody by abilities, to everybody by labor” is slyness, it does not specify who really estimate these abilities and this labor; and objective estimation is not possible here, only subjective opinion of bosses, as in army.

Apart from abovementioned duality of person as producer and customer, the company employing him is also dualistic by its nature. It is like two-faced Janus: in relations with other firms it behaves as private-property agent of market, but in internal customs there is complete domination of socialism. Marxism has trained us to see as antipodes, antagonists market and socialism. But in reality they are two faces of one medal — capitalism, the two of its integral parts. One of them usually is associated with chaos, another with order, but together they represent unity of antipodes. Synthesis of these two principles ensures the maximal effectiveness of communal activity of humankind. It seems that this approach can help to cast a fresh glance at psychological problems of economics and management, and also on roles and function of political parties — left or right.

In conclusion, the author came across a strange phenomenon: inside any industrial company, in bowels of commodity producer, along technological chain there are no commodity-money relations, nobody ever sell anything to anybody. This fact does not require any substantiation or quotes from classics, it exists objectively and independently of our will, intents or emotions. And attempt to discover the root cause of this fact leads to conclusion that it is indivisibility of property inside firm. And social community without private property since old times is called socialism.

It only remains to paraphrase Mayakovsky:

– and socialism is so nasty thing — exists, and don't care a straw!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mathematics as a tool of deception and self-deception

As a mathematician, I have a deep contempt of the whole world of modern "quantitative" psychology. This is, at best, self-deception, futile attempt to measure non-measurable "quantities", which really are not quantities at all. Many times in my professional life I was invited "to do math" for some psychological study, and in final analysis it inevitably happened that quality of the data made impossible unambiguous interpretation. The very concepts of this "science" are so elastic and even fluid, that they positively defy any math rigor. By very slight manipulation, which is unavoidable for any formalization, you can shape your conclusions to any desired outcome. Does it mean that psychology is not a science? Certainly not in the sense in which physics, chemistry or even biology are. This is “humanitarian science”, that is more philosophy and art, and this is hypocrisy to pretend that in this field any “hard” facts independent on world-view are possible. This is another illustration and interpretation of Orwell”s statement that “any humanitarian is hypocrite”.

I can add some recent experience. Two or three month ago in “Science” there was an article comparing men’s and women’s cognitive skills by comparing their respective IQ on a vast, ostensibly representative sample. Authors get two nice bell-shaped curves, so close to each other, that superimposed on the single graph they virtually coincided. But after cutting through three pages of dull technicalities, I burst with laugh. The whole trick was the definition of measured quantity. Such thing as intellect can not, of course, be quantified by single number. That is, when the procedure of measurement is defined, you get one of myriad of possible definition of what intellect is, depending on what type of task included into tests. Some deal with logic reasoning, some with pattern recognition, some with common sense and linguistic skills, and all are relative to “scores” that other people got on the same set of tasks. Every block contain many repetitive variation on the same theme. No wonder, that in such tests on any large sample a normal Gaussian distribution is obtained. The mean value is normalized to be 100 points; but really on different types of tasks different people get different results. Some are better in logic, some in geometry, some in arithmetic; proportion of different type of tasks is arbitrary, just as amount of time for every block. This arbitrariness means that any concrete “recipe” of the test is a definition of the measured quantity. Recipe by definition is adjusted so that the results were independent on sexual composition of the sample. If they are not, your recipe is turned down as “gender biased”. This means that in reality, the definition of intellectual capabilities by IQ is arbitrary chosen so it can not differentiate between the two sexes, and completely non-fit to study any real differences if they exist. But the next blunder in this study is even more egregious. Authors normalized experimental curves for male and female sub-samples by their respective standard deviations — for males by standard deviation for males, and for females by standard deviation for females! As every statistician know, Gaussian distribution has only two free parameters — mean and standard deviation, so when you normalize it by both you have the only one possible result — The Normalized Normal Distribution! It simply can not be different for different samples, irrespective of the nature of the set under study, and this has not anything to do with psychology, men and women, and with any physical reality at all. This is statistical artifact — Central Limit Theorem. It neither proves nor disproves anything, except complete mathematical illiteracy (innumeracy?) of the authors and ideological blindness of editorial board of this, in the old days reputable journal (“Science”), which, after its hijacking by Leftist Donald Kennedy, became a laughing-stock and megaphone of Leftist Agitprop.