Monday, September 19, 2016

the most intolerant wins: the dictatorship of the small minority

nntaleb |  By some coincidence, the day before the Boston barbecue, I was flaneuring in New York, and I dropped by the office of a friend I wanted to prevent from working, that is, engage in an activity that when abused, causes the loss of mental clarity, in addition to bad posture and loss of definition in the facial features. The French physicist Serge Galam happened to be visiting and chose the friend’s office to kill time. Galam was first to apply these renormalization techniques to social matters and political science; his name was familiar as he is the author of the main book on the subject, which had then been sitting for months in an unopened Amazon box in my basement. He introduced me to his research and showed me a computer model of elections by which it suffices that some minority exceeds a certain level for its choices to prevail.

So the same illusion exists in political discussions, spread by the political “scientists”: you think that because some extreme right or left wing party has, say, the support of ten percent of the population that their candidate would get ten percent of the votes. No: these baseline voters should be classified as “inflexible” and will always vote for their faction. But some of the flexible voters can also vote for that extreme faction, just as nonKosher people can eat Kosher, and these people are the ones to watch out for as they may swell the numbers of votes for the extreme party. Galam’s models produced a bevy of counterintuitive effects in political science –and his predictions turned out to be way closer to real outcomes than the naive consensus.

This idea of one-sidedness can help us debunk a few more misconceptions. How do books get banned? Certainly not because they offend the average person –most persons are passive and don’t really care, or don’t care enough to request the banning. It looks like, from past episodes, that all it takes is a few (motivated) activists for the banning of some books, or the black-listing of some people. The great philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell lost his job at the City University of New York owing to a letter by an angry –and stubborn –mother who did not wish to have her daughter in the same room as the fellow with dissolute lifestyle and unruly ideas. [5]

The same seems to apply to prohibitions –at least the prohibition of alcohol in the United States which led to interesting Mafia stories.

Let us conjecture that the formation of moral values in society doesn’t come from the evolution of the consensus. No, it is the most intolerant person who imposes virtue on others precisely because of that intolerance. The same can apply to civil rights.

An insight as to how the mechanisms of religion and transmission of morals obey the same renormalization dynamics as dietary laws –and how we can show that morality is more likely to be something enforced by a minority.