The following comment from Glenn Reynolds’s most recent column in USA Today gave me thought:
Over the past few decades, Washington has gone from a sleepy town with restaurants and real estate priced to fit a civil servant’s salary to a glittering city with prices that match a K street lobbyist’s salary.
This is just a tiny comment, almost throwaway in the larger article. As Mr. Reynolds himself would say, read the whole thing. But this is what I want to focus on – mostly because I can confirm it.
My grandparents – on both sides of the family – lived in the suburbs of D.C. In my very early childhood I lived in northern Virginia. Until about the mid 1980s I spent rather a lot of time in the city. The huge variety of museums, monuments and memorials – nearly all of which are free admission – made it an excellent place for a family to take children. Even after we moved to Alabama in 1985, we made regular trips back to the area. We spent almost every Christmas there, and more than once I spent a week or so visiting grandparents in the summer.
My maternal grandfather passed away in 1992 and my paternal grandmother passed away in 1995 (my paternal grandfather passed away before I was born). At around the same time, my cousins were rapidly graduating from high school, then college, then starting families of their own. As you can imagine, our trips became less frequent. But my maternal grandmother still lived in the area until she passed away last weekend, so we still made it up there.
Long story short: I can tell you from firsthand experience that Mr. Reynolds statement is absolutely true. In fact, we were in DC just this March for the first time in a couple of years. My wife and I distinctly noticed how the city had changed even in that short time. The city, even the touristy areas, are distinctly less family friendly than they used to be. Police are more common – far more common – and less friendly. Security theater is more omnipresent (I was denied entry into the Air & Space Museum over a MacGuyver/Boy Scout style Swiss Army Knife).
But these aren’t the only changes. As Mr. Reynolds notes, the city is considerably more expensive than it once was. This change is less recent. My own anecdotal experience says that the big increase came in the late 1990s and early 2000s – especially during the run-up to the housing crisis of 2008. Beyond my grandparents, I’ve had other family in the area. One relative recently sold their home, and I peeked at the listing price. It was mind-bogglingly high – yet not out of line, given where there house was. Yet I also know what kind of house the same price would get you here in North Alabama, and the difference is staggering.
I also know that there’s no way this particular family member could have paid that kind of price when the house was originally bought decades ago. In line with Mr. Reynolds’s comment, this was a dual-income family but both were civil servants. It’s a good house, and always was. Even when they bought it, it was probably a stretch on their income. But the new price simply isn’t one that a young civil-servant family could afford, even on dual income (an older civil service couple, nearing the top end of the pay scale, perhaps). The cost of living in the area has simply changed that much.
Washington D.C. and it suburbs are now truly the home of elites – serious elites. Not the top 10%, not likely even the top 5%. The only people who can comfortably afford it are the top 3%, or maybe higher.
It’s not a good thing that our capital has turned into that. The residents of the city are decision makers for the entire nation, yet they live a life that is completely divorced from what the rest of the nation experiences. Brexit, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are all symptoms of a populace that’s tired of being ruled by people who don’t know and often don’t like us.
We don’t like you, either. And we’re more numerous, and we can vote.
Don’t let the title of this post throw you off. This is the day when I take off my Catholic Christian hat and return to my undergraduate roots. I’m putting on my philosopher’s hat. Even so, I’m going to make a strong claim that many secularists will take issue with. You see, we can best understand all of the major ideologies of the modern secular world as heresies of the Christian faith. This isn’t a theological claim. It’s a historical claim.
Christian heresies all follow the same general pattern. They either take a general tenant of Christian theology or dogma and overly simplify it or they take a single Christian virtue and elevate it above the others. Take for example the ancient heresies. Arianism, for example, overly simplified the doctrine of the Trinity by claiming that God and Christ were not consubstantial. Gnostic Christianity (distinct from but heavily influenced by the raw gnosticism that predated Christianity) claimed that the material world was fully evil. The claim is far simpler than Christian doctrine that the material world is fallen yet inherently good. Heresy begins as an attempt to simplify, but becomes heresy when it oversimplifies.
Or, as Ross Douthat put it in his most excellent book Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics:
The goal is always progress: a belief system that’s simpler or more reasonable, more authentic or more up-to-date. Yet the results often vindicate the older Christian synthesis. Heresy sets out to be simpler and more appealing and more rational, but it often ends up being more extreme.
The major modern western ideologies have all managed the exact same kinds of oversimplification. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other.
In each and every case, the movements behind the ideologies were historically founded by Christian communities. No other communities could have founded them. The virtues at their base are not to be found in the same ways in other major world religions. Even Judaism, from which Christianity evolved, does not view these virtues in quite the same way. Without that base view there is no intellectual foundation upon which to build these ideologies.
And yet each and every one of these ideologies also warped the Christian virtues upon which they were founded. In the end they have distorted the virtues so badly that it’s difficult for an outsider to even recognize them. Socialism looks like theft. Libertarianism can’t shake the appearance of hedonism. Progressivism morphs into something grotesque and intolerant in its own right. Capitalism looks for all the world like raw greed. In the end, oversimplification brings all of these ideologies to their knees.
Yet the virtues they are founded on are good virtues. We should care about them – and most of us do, even if we call ourselves “secular” instead of “Christian.” We fail only when we forget that all of the other virtues are also, well, virtuous.
It is time to put my Catholic Christian hat back on. We fail because we have turned to heresies in the modern age. We would be far better served if we returned to the source.
The biggest reason this isn’t immediately and painfully obvious is because modern westerners are so horrendously ignorant of history. This was not always the case. Westerners – and Americans in particular – have a long history of actually being relatively well self-educated on the subject. And I don’t mean “long history” in the sense of “back in my day.” I mean that going back to pre-revolutionary days, Americans knew their history. Yes, somehow they managed to have a good knowledge of it despite (or is that because of?) their lack of schooling.
But the last fifty years have seen a steady erosion of historical knowledge. We can pretty much lay the fault of that squarely on our “deteriorating” (working as designed) schools. But whatever the fault, the ignorance is growing.
“Right side of history” is not a logical phrase. It’s a rhetorical device. It’s intentionally designed not to further discussion but to shut it down. It’s designed to foster two thoughts in your mind. First, that history is “progressing” toward a particular end. And second, that this is somehow a moral good.
It’s wrong on both counts. Let’s work backwards, though. In order to accept the phrase, you must first accept the idea of “right.” It’s a moral statement. But by whose morals? The phrase is intentionally left vague. It’s a rhetorical technique called “assuming the sale.” By agreeing to the phrase itself, you’re implicitly accepting the morality chosen by the speaker. But should you? Christian morality is slightly different from Jewish morality. Both are quite a bit more different from Islamic morality. None of them are really all that close to Hindu or pagan morality. Buddhist morality is in a weird zone all of its own that kind of overlaps with all of the above but never quite matches any of them. And modern secular morality is a beast all of its own.
So which one should you accept? In this case, the phrase was coined by the progressive movement – and coined for a specific purpose. The progressive movement has a specific ideology of it’s own – the idea that history is “progressing.” Historical ignorance is the only reason we don’t see this for the utterly absurd concept that it is. Anybody with any actual knowledge of history can debunk this idea in about five seconds. There is no linear progression of history.
First, in order to define progress itself you have to pick a metric. But what metric? Pick any metric you like and then plot it over time. There is no linear progression toward improvement. It does not matter which metric you pick. History doesn’t move that way. It’s ups and downs and ups and downs. There is no long term trend.
The idea that there is one is a peculiarly western – indeed, almost a peculiarly American – idea. It’s largely an artifact of the last 300 years of material improvement, due largely to the industrial revolution. But the industrial revolution itself – and that material improvement – brought a lot of other issues with it. And that’s where we see the second issue. Progress in one area almost always means regress in another. Material progress in the western world has been huge since the industrial revolution began – but it brought huge social costs with it. We’re still fighting through many of those issues, and we still will be in another hundred years.
But the third issue is almost tautological. There can’t be a right side of history when history has no sides. History itself is a harsh master. It doesn’t care one whit about your morality – or mine, for that matter. History simply is.
The idea that there is a “right side” of history necessitates concepts that many of those who use the phrase would find themselves very uncomfortable with. The concept itself requires an objective standard of reality. What those who use it don’t realize is that the idea itself is Christian in origin (if heretical), and it shows in the statement itself. The phrase was deliberately designed to invoke the feeling of “the right side of God” – only that word was deliberately changed to be more amenable to the less religious. Yet it should always be remembered that those who coined the phrase believed it as my re-phrasing.
When you drop the idea of God, however, the statement itself falls apart. Who chooses the “right side?” Without God in the picture, the phrase forces us to imagine that all of humanity is moving toward a shared goal. If you actually believe that is happening, then you’re simply not familiar enough with the way people actually behave in the real world. Also, I have a bridge for sale. E-mail me and we’ll work out a deal.
There is no right side of history. Anybody who tries to tell you that there is has lost interest in rational debate – they are instead trying to shut you down. Don’t let them. Force them to actually debate the issues on their merits.
When the Catholic and Orthodox churches speak of Tradition, most of us in the modern world get the idea that they’re stuck in some ancient world and just can’t get with the times. This is a modern misunderstanding, not the misunderstanding of the Church itself. We have failed to understand the difference between Tradition and tradition – a distinction that the church understands quite well.
To put it simply, the position of the orthodox (small ‘o’) churches is – and always has been, for two thousand years – that the written New Testament is not everything that Christ taught. If you take a moment to think it through at all it becomes readily apparent that this must be the case.
We don’t know if Christ himself was literate. There’s no mention of it in the bible, one way or another. We do, however, know that no actual writings of his survive today. We also know that he lived and preached in a highly illiterate society. And the descriptions we have of his actual teachings don’t tell of him passing out textbooks. Instead we hear quite a bit about him speaking.
That’s right. Christ’s actual teachings were all oral.
The four gospels were written later, years after he died. Two of them – the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John – are attributed to direct disciples of Jesus himself. But the other two aren’t even that. Longstanding Christian tradition says that Mark was a student of Peter, not Christ himself. And Luke is at least twice removed – he was a companion of Paul, who wasn’t one of Christ’s direct disciples either.
Bear with me for a moment and assume that the Christian tradition that these books are accurate is correct. It still seems incredibly unlikely that these four books alone contain everything about Christ’s life. What if we include the remaining 23 books?
Let me tell you something about writing and teaching. I’ve been a martial arts teacher for more than fifteen years. I can tell you definitively that there is no existing collection of books, articles, videos, audio recordings, or any other recorded medium that contains 100% of the knowledge that I’ve collected in that time. I have friends who have been teaching for far longer than that – some with literally half a century of teaching experience. The gap between their knowledge and what’s written is even larger. I know of one specific Kung Fu instructor who deliberately leaves things out of his instructional videos. That way he can always tell who learned it from one of his students and who learned from the video.
This isn’t limited to the martial arts. When I was earning my master’s degree in computer science I noticed the same phenomenon at work. The text books and journal articles we studied were nice. But at that level, a fair amount of instruction came straight from the professor’s lectures and simply wasn’t in the books at all.
This is simply how the passing of knowledge works among human beings. And the Catholic and Orthodox churches have never claimed any differently. When they use the word Tradition (big ‘T’) they aren’t referring to, “well, this is how we’ve always done it.” They’re referring to, “this is what we’ve learned from the sum total of what Christ actually taught us.” That includes the bible as its core component. But it also includes teachings that have been passed orally from bishop to bishop for two thousand years. This is a large part of what is meant by the term “apostolic succession.” The church claims that not only have we inherited the written Word of God, we’ve also inherited his spoken word that has been passed down to this day.
Unlike fundamentalists or some protestants, the church’s view is not that the bible is 100% correct in a literal sense. The church’s view is that the bible is 100% correct and inerrant when it is interpreted correctly – and correct interpretation requires knowledge of the oral traditions handed down by the apostles.
When Nate Silver’s weighted polling average model accurately predicted 49 of 50 states in the electoral college in 2008, he became a household name overnight. A few years later, he launched fivethirtyeight.com, and with it the new trend of “data driven journalism.”
In 2012, his critics charged that his models were wrong because the polls he relied on were skewed in favor of Democrats. The actual election proved that his critics were wrong. But it didn’t necessarily prove that Silver was right. The thing is, there were good reasons for the critics to believe that the polls were skewed. The put forth historical models showing how and why they probably were, and the models made sense. But making sense isn’t the same thing as being right, and when election day dawned, we learned that the model was broken.
The problem for Silver and other data driven journalists is that their models aren’t right, either. I wrote a few months ago that Silver’s modeling method would eventually fail, and fail spectacularly. By any honest measure, it has done so in this election cycle. His “polls plus” model, billed as the newer, better, more accurate model simply wasn’t. It actually performed worse in this cycle than his “polls only” model, worse than general weighted polling averages (such as the RCP average), and even did worse than a fictional pundit.
This destined to eventually happen.
Mr. Silver made three cardinal mistakes.
First, he confused the map for the territory. He built a model of the past. His model fits the past with high accuracy. But the past is not the future, and the model is not reality. He found variables with high correlation. Those variables seemed to have a logical causation effect that made sense. So he made a model out of them. But as we noted above, making sense isn’t enough to be right.
Second, statistical models of his sort simply can’t account for Black Swan events such as Donald Trump’s candidacy. Yet the one thing we can say with certainty about Black Swan events is that they will eventually happen. Donald Trump happened, and Silver’s model couldn’t account for it.
Third, Silver let his own opinions and feelings get in the way. He was accused of this in 2012, but the election results vindicated him. This time, Silver simply couldn’t accept that his own model was actually wrong. It happens to the best of us. But it hit Silver hard in 2016.
To be somewhat fair to Mr. Silver, he has acknowledged that this cycle threw his model off. On the other hand, his model is off by far more than he – or most – understand.
First of all, we have to accept that with good polling data, which we’ve mostly had, predicting an election the night before isn’t actually all that hard. The single exception to this is if the polls show a very close race. There are occasional upsets to this, but Nate Silver’s method (basically an advanced weighted polling average run through a Monte Carlo simulation) wouldn’t catch most of those. Still, Silver has done pretty well with this. His polls-plus method called 50 of 56 primaries this way. But his polls-only method, without his extra factors, still did better – 51 of 56.
But this isn’t even very interesting. You could have done just about as well by simply using the RCP polling average the day before the races and looking at who was ahead. Silver seems to be including a few more polls than RCP and weighting them based on past performance. Both techniques are useful and probably provide him with a small edge over RCP. But in both cases, you’re still essentially just looking at the polls the day before a race.
What about before a race? Predicting the race the day before just isn’t very useful. By then, most anybody can do it if they have good poll data available. How did Nate Silver’s polls do a week before each race? A month before each race?
I don’t have the data right at hand, but the answer is “very poorly.” I spent a lot of time checking his forecasts this cycle – which means I watched an awful lot of his predictions swing from “heavily favors someone who isn’t Trump” to “90%+ chances of Trump winning.” Sometimes these forecasts took a month or more to change. Sometimes it happened over the course of a few weeks.
In other words, his “forecasts” were completely and utterly useless more than a week or so ahead of any given race.
And here is where Silver – and data driven journalism as a whole – breaks down. Psychohistory simply isn’t a real science yet. That far in advance, “data driven journalism” doesn’t give any better answers than experienced pundits. It can’t. The science of data analytics simply isn’t good enough, especially in cases like presidential primaries where past data is sparse. Over time we can actually expect these forecasts to do somewhat worse than experienced pundits. Like their conventional brethren, the data driven journalists can’t help but let their biases step in. We saw this very clearly this cycle with Silver, who was certain that Trump couldn’t win the nomination. This is often worse for “data driven journalists” because they are so convinced that their approach is purely analytical. Furthermore, the data driven journalists, although excelling in statistical techniques, lack the experience with the political system to make intuitive calls. When the data isn’t good, or the model isn’t good, their fallback intuition simply isn’t there the way it can be with a seasoned pundit.
On the other hand, we just sat through an election cycle where all the seasoned pundits called it wrong, too. Because seasoned intuition also has trouble with Black Swan events. Except for one thing: many of the seasoned veterans, although predicting a different outcome, did acknowledge that something seemed to be “different” about this cycle. Experience can give you that feel in a way that data often simply can’t.
Data driven journalism is not useless. It has its place. But it will never be the revolution in news that Silver and others have tried to make it.
Much ink has been spilled over this year’s Hugo awards. Rabid this, sad that, puppies abound, George R.R. Martin is crying. Take your pick and read the latest media outrage. And then forget all of it.
The 2016 Hugo Awards are important, and not for any of that. There is a critical message this year that far exceeds anything else to do with the Hugos. It boils down to two specific works, both of which have been nominated in the “Best Related Work” category:
The first is “Safe Space as Rape Room: Science Fiction Culture and Childhood’s End.” Written by Daniel Eness for the Castalia House blog. The second is “The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland.
These two works are not just the most important published works of the science fiction community of 2015. They are the most important works of this millennium. Both essays are painful. If you are a normal human being, they will make you cringe and possibly cry. If you love science fiction and fantasy as much as I do, they will burn even deeper. But they must be read. And we must get the word out, even more. These essays must get every bit of attention that they can.
Because sci-fi and fantasy fandom has a problem.
I love sci-fi and fantasy, and I love its fans just as much – maybe more. But the pedophilia scandals exposed by these two essays are very real and very tragic. They must not be allowed to continue. Fandom must open its eyes and face these problems head on. It is not an easy problem to face, but we must no longer let these deviants, these degenerates, these criminals use us for cover for their perversion.
These two essays are not easy reads. They will not make you happy. But they must be read, reread, and shared. There is no place for this in the world of sci-fi and fantasy fandom.
“Safe Space as Rape Room” recounts the way pedophilia has been swept under the rug for many big names in the science fiction community, including Arthur C. Clarke and more. It is available on the Castalia House blog in five parts with three additional supplements. Read them all.
“The Story of Moira Greyland” is almost more disturbing. Moira Greyland is the daughter of famous fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley. The tale recounts her years of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, her mother, and their friends – and the way in which it was covered up by the science fiction community and fandom around them.
I love fandom. I’m proud to be a part of it. But in order for us to continue loving it, we must bring these issues to the light of day, we must flush them out, and we must put an end to it. That is why I am proud to have voted to nominate both of these works. And that is why I will be voting for these two essays to win the 2016 Hugo Award for “Best Related Work.” I encourage everyone else to do the same.
Shine the light of day on it – the burning, cleansing, disinfecting, glorious light of day.
More and more people are starting to worry about something that’s trouble me for some time: Zero Marginal Product workers. The short definition: workers whose maximum output simply isn’t worth the minimum cost of employing them. They literally will lose you money if you employ them.
Every industry has these people, and always has. The beauty of the free market has been that these people eventually get pushed out and reshuffled until they find their way into a position where they have value to the employer and produce more than they consume.
But what if that is breaking down? What if we have a growing number of workers who aren’t just unemployable in good industries… they’re simply unemployable? What if we’re growing a new subpopulation that literally isn’t productive enough to be worth hiring in any industry?
Dan Holm warns against this exact thing. Forgive the lengthy excerpts below… but then, you really should read the whole thing anyway.
Few of the very bright have have ever had to make the unhappy calculation: Forty times a low minimum wage minus bus fare to work, rent, food, medical care, and cable. They have never had to choose between a winter coat and cable, their only entertainment. They don’t really know that many people do. Out of sight, out of mind.
Cognitive stratification has political consequences. It leads liberals to think that their client groups can go to college. It leads conservatives to think that with hard work and determination…..
It ain’t so. An economic system that works reasonably well when there are lots of simple jobs doesn’t when there aren’t. In particular, the large number of people at IQ 90 and below will increasingly be simply unnecessary. If you are, say, a decent, honest young woman of IQ 85, you probably read poorly, learn slowly and only simple things,. Being promoted, or even hired, requires abilities that you do not have.
By the definition of IQ and the normal distribution that it follows, half of the population will have an IQ below 100 and a full third of the population will have an IQ below 85. In other words, Mr. Holm is arguing that one third of our population is already becoming unemployable.
He ends his piece by getting to the real heart of the matter:
The question arises: What does the country do with the large and growing number of people whose labor is worth nothing? Or, perhaps more accurately, whose labor isn’t needed? We see this in the cities today. An illiterate kid in Detroit has no value at all in the market for labor. Assuming that he wants to work, a questionable assumption, what then? Endlessly expanding welfare? What about the literate, averagely intelligent kid for whom there are no jobs? If people working in McDonald’s can barely live on their wages, and strike, or the state institutes a higher minimum wage, McDonald’s will automate their jobs, is automating their jobs, and conservatives will exult—the commie bastards got what they asked for.
I don’t have an answer – only more bad news. The problem is far worse than even Mr. Holm’s dire picture, because we’re looking at a future of more and more automation. We’re far further from true AI than most people think – perhaps no closer than we were 30 years ago. But we’re far closer to automating your job than you probably think. Even most “knowledge worker” and “creative sector” jobs are approaching automation.
My fellow software engineers seem to believe that computers will never be able to do what we do. But they’re almost certainly wrong – even programming other computers will probably be automated 50 years from now. Our industry has already hit the point where 80% of “software engineers” are doing nothing more than putting a glorified GUI on top of a database that was already written years ago by Oracle, Microsoft, or a team of open source engineers.
On the far end of the scale, my oldest son flew out to Kansas last summer to visit some distant relatives. One of them still owns and operates a major farm. I remember traveling out there to visit them when I was the same age he was last spring. My fondest memory was of getting to drive the tractor. When my son came home, I asked him if he had fun driving the tractor. His response?
“The tractor drives itself, Dad.”
(H/T to Vox Day for the link)
Every time I see a Donald Trump rally, speech, or debate I’m reminded of the following scene from the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:
If you’ve never seen the film, or if you can’t watch the video for some reason, the context is that each student at San Dimas High School has to give a major presentation as their final exam in history class. The student in the clip above is one of the school jocks. His presentation is poor, his grasp of the history appears to actually be even poorer, and any sane teacher would give him an equally poor grade. A generous teacher might be able to squeeze him into a D.
This, in a nutshell, is why Donald Trump is winning the race for the GOP nomination. It’s why a Donald Trump type will always win in our current system, and it’s why he’ll win the general election in the fall. The vast majority of voters don’t care about the history lesson. It doesn’t matter who is giving the history lesson – they will always find it boring and tune it out, just as the audience did above.
Trump understands this. His entire campaign has been to cut out the history lesson and focus on the only part voters care about. To the typical voter, Rubio and Cruz and Hillary and even Bernie sound like the history lesson. Trump just wants everyone to know that San Dimas High School Football Rules!
There are only two ways to defeat Trump. The first is to out-Trump him, which might well be impossible. The second is to turn the history lesson into an epic multimedia entertainment spectacle. Unfortunately for those who want to stop Trump, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are not among the 2016 crop of candidates.
One of the more interesting data points to come out of the South Carolina Republican primary is how well Donald Trump did with self described evangelical Christian voters. Interesting – but not surprising.
First, the data: Trump pulled 34% of their vote, compared with 26% for Ted Cruz and 21% for Marco Rubio.
The reason this isn’t surprising? Donald Trump’s following is a cult of personality. Trump’s major selling point isn’t his policies. It’s not his ideology. It’s not even his good looks, his business sense, or his wealth. Trump’s major selling point is his personality. Voters are attracted to an alpha male who leads the pack with swagger and assuredness, charisma and vitality. Most of all, he’s entertaining.
Evangelical Christianity functions the same way. What draws evangelical Christians to any given church? You’ll hear lots of answers, ranging from the atmosphere to the style of worship to the particular beliefs being espoused. But what you’ll also see, almost universally, is that when the pastor of the church changes the makeup of the congregation also changes dramatically.
Tellingly, when people leave the congregation of one church to join another after a pastor change, the church they choose almost always puts the lie to any other reason they’ve given in the past for choosing. The ideology will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The style of worship will be different. Sometimes all of it will be different. Quite often the spectator will choose an entirely different denomination. And yet the congregationalist will once again use one of these reasons to justify his choice.
Sometimes people are honest enough to acknowledge that they just like (or dislike) the pastor. Most of the time they’re not. We all seem to inherently know and accept that that’s a poor reason to choose a pastor, and a far worse reason to choose a different denomination. It’s even worse for someone to admit that the pastor is the reason they chose to become Christian at all – but that happens, too.
Donald Trump may not be an evangelical Christian. But he appeals to them for the same reasons their pastors do. He’s energetic, bold, assertive and strong. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t back down. But above all, he’s interesting.
In any competition against actual human beings, winning is seldom about utterly destroying your opponent. Granted, utterly destroying your opponent almost always will grant you the win. But it’s seldom necessary. Rather, the necessary condition for victory is destroying your opponent’s will to fight. Once your opponent stops fighting, it’s done. Sure, there’s often a bit of cleanup left. But once the enemy breaks it’s over.
Toward that end, elite players in all kinds of competitions – from chess to sports to war to politics – make heavy use of head games. Getting inside your opponent’s head – and keeping him out of yours – is crucial to competition. It is not sufficient, but it is absolutely essential in every respect.
First, maintaining your own confidence is important. If you do not have confidence in your own ability to win, you will not act decisively. Lack of decisive action is deadly. So you must maintain confidence. On the flip side, you will work to destroy your enemy’s confidence. One aspect of this is projecting your own confidence outward. If you do not appear confident to your enemy, it will embolden him. Conversely, an external appearance of supreme confidence can often cause your competitor to doubt his own.
For the most part this is not a rational process. The heavy part of it is instinctive. With that said, elite level competitors of all kinds know the game and exercise conscious techniques to honestly maintain their own confidence, project a higher confidence than they feel, and defend against attempts by their opponents to undermine their confidence. They will also exercise other techniques deliberately designed to sabotage their opponent’s confidence: deception, misdirection, intimidation.
Often it isn’t even your opponent’s confidence you must destroy. Quite often destroying the confidence of his allies is sufficient. Destroy their confidence and they withdraw their support. Without their support, quite often your opponent honestly cannot win.
For a concrete example we’ll turn to – where else? – the current Presidential election. Yesterday I pointed out that Donald Trump does not need to hit 51% of the popular vote in order to win a majority of delegates and secure the nomination. I covered the delegate math in excruciating detail to hammer home the point.
But the reality is even harsher for his opponents than it seems, because there’s one more key detail that I didn’t cover: funding. Donald Trump doesn’t have to worry about funding. He can self fund his campaign for as long as he needs to. And his spending levels have been so low that he doesn’t even really need to spend all that much on it (measured as a percentage of his actual income and assets).
His opponents, on the other hand, need cash. Lots and lots of cash. They can’t provide it themselves, so they must raise it from donors. And this will be the final nail in their coffins. Trump doesn’t have to destroy the other candidates. All he has to do is destroy their fundraising.
Nearly a dozen candidates have already dropped out of the GOP race. Ultimately their decision to leave came down to funds. Look at John Kasich today. His poll numbers are now actually measurable – not because he suddenly became more popular but solely because he managed to survive long enough to have a smaller field to compete against. Do you honestly think that Christie or Jindal or even Scott Walker wouldn’t have found a similar polling boost if they’d found themselves in Kasich’s survivor shoes? Of course they would have. But they didn’t survive this long because ultimately they ran out of money. Their donors no longer saw them as having a viable path to the nomination and so the money dried up.
By all accounts, Jeb Bush is very close to a similar fate. I hedged yesterday and assumed he’d stay in the game longer. I still think he would if the choice were solely his. His confidence is, at this point, supremely irrational and apparently unflappable. But his donors feel differently, and they appear to be jumping ship. Odds now look extremely good that he’s out after a resounding defeat in South Carolina tomorrow.
Where does this leave yesterday’s analysis? Not much altered, frankly. But there is one extra wrinkle. Today Nate Silver is again insisting on the mathematical fallacy that Trump needs to hit 51% of the electorate to win.
Perhaps the single most important question in the Republican race is how high Trump’s ceiling is and whether he can eventually get to 50+ percent of the GOP electorate.
Here’s his path to 50%, Nate: intimidate the donors until his opponents can’t afford to continue in the race. Gather enough delegates before the winner take all states to ensure that his opponents can’t amass a majority, and then scare away the donors with head games. The candidates would love to take the fight all the way to the convention floor. Their donors will be far more reluctant to bankroll it. Most of them will find themselves far better off making their peace with Trump instead.
By Wednesday, March 2nd – the day after Super Tuesday – this will officially be a three man race. By March 15th we will know for certain if either Cruz or Rubio still has a realistic path to the nomination. My suspicion is that both will be out by the end of March due to donor support drying up.
Look for Trump to continue playing the head games he’s already become famous for. Why? Because they work.