GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

March 25, 2016

Playing the Odds

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:29 am

The world presents itself to us, through our signs, as an array of probabilities and thresholds. If there is a genuinely postmodern mode of thought, that is, one that comes after modernity, and is qualitatively different than modern thought, it is a radical probabilism that is incompatible with thinking in terms of rights, justice, progress and good vs. evil. Probabilism is deeply embedded in the information technologies that now govern our lives, and it may very well be that much of the victimary hysteria we see today is a panic over the irreversible consequences of more readily available probabilities regarding more areas of life. Here is a tweet by someone named John Rivers (which I came across in blog post by Steve Sailer on VDare):

I dream of a world where a mid-level manager in a mid-level company can accurately quote FBI crime statistics on Facebook and not be fired.

Ultimately, the SJWs must try to get the people in the middle fired for transmitting information about probabilities, because such information is devastating in its implications for the anti-discrimination ideology upon which they are parasitic. At a certain point, you’d have to demand that the FBI stop compiling statistics, and then you’d have to demand that police not ask victims and witnesses for identifying information on assailants, because someone would be able to gather such descriptions and create statistics out of them. But, then, you’d have to demand that victims and witnesses not report on crimes at all, even to other agencies than the police, in which case you’d have to focus all your attention on retaliating against those who report crimes, meaning, of course, that you’d have to name and describe them and thereby produce a kind of negative image of the statistics you wanted to suppress in the first place.

Left unhindered, employers, bankers, schools and other institutions would rely even more heavily on probabilities that they already do. How do you decide to whom you should loan money, whom you should employ, whom you should admit, other than by markers reliably (statistically) associated with paying back loans, competence in the work place, and academic achievement. We all operate this way individually as well: when we meet someone, we do a rough calculation of dangers and advantages, usefulness, interest, etc., associated with markers such as dress, manner, speech, and, to varying extents, demography. These calculations are continuously refined based on new information, information itself elicited by further, more precisely targeted “searches” we perform in our interactions with people. They are, furthermore, guided by risk thresholds: the guy I’m talking to might seem very likely to insult me, but I’ll get over that quickly and if he seems otherwise interesting I’ll have a fairly high risk threshold; much less so for walking through a high crime neighborhood during high crime hours.

It may be that the most radical thing one can do today is act, and proclaim that one acts, upon probabilistic reasoning. On the simplest level it seems one would be stereotyping all the time, but probabilities resulting from more refined searches are highly context-dependent: a member of a group statistically associated with astronomically higher crime rates may be only marginally, if at all, more dangerous in an office or academic setting than anyone else. In that case, it is rather improbable that that individual matches the stereotype one might construct based on mega-data (although one might leave open the possibility that local probabilities skew towards the global ones). But for a probabilistic reasoner, it would be impossible to speak about broader social questions without speaking in group terms, however qualified. One would thereby be generating resentments all the time, and, then, one might ask how the generation of resentments flows into the pools of information we draw upon. Victimary thinking tries to strangle such questions in their cradle: that members of an especially vulnerable group might be well-advised to take added precautions, that members of an especially dangerous and therefore feared group might take measures to advertise their own, individual, harmlessness, is anathema.

The originary scene itself should be understood as an array of probabilities, differentially grasped by those in the process of introducing the very data they are simultaneously processing. We can speak about the originary sign as creating reciprocity, and it might sound cynical to suggest that each member of the group engages in a cost-benefit analysis predicated upon an assessment of the respective physical attributes of the members, proximity to the object, likelihood of getting a larger chunk of the object post-sign than in a direct struggle sans sign, and all of this as the sign spreads through the group (affecting the probable results of abstention), but the “cynical” approach has certain advantages, both analytical and moral: after all, as a “sign-maker,” we are better off knowing where we are within the circulation of signs, which means having a sense of the differing degrees of deferral and discipline likely to result from the iteration of the sign by varying members. You can at least take responsibility for your own contribution to the information pool, in that case.

Political arguments would, in a more probabilistic world, concern refinements of search terms rather than sterile foot stamping over principles. The extension of rights-talk can probably be directly correlated with the increasing precision and availability of data: no one would make bizarre claims about limiting immigration for specified groups being some kind of human rights violation if we didn’t all know which groups an honest disclosure of risk thresholds and assessment of probabilities would dictate we exclude. In a sense the same is true for, say, gun ownership advocates in the US, who insist upon said ownership as a fundamental right in the face of comparative statistics of gun violence in the US and other equivalent countries. There is a powerful argument for gun ownership as a self-evident extension of the self-evident right to self-defense, and as long as that argument is the one most likely to succeed, it’s hard to fault it. But against arguments, bolstered by the statistics just referred to, to the effect that we all concede some of rights in the name of social order (an argument with the same natural rights pedigree as the pro-gun one), it might be better to counter with more sophisticated search terms: probabilities of guns being used for criminal violence in some areas, among some demographics, under specific legal regimes, as opposed to others. It might very well be that the information generated by such targeted searches flows nicely into larger pools of information generated by crime statistics, statistics regarding family breakdown, regarding resentment towards the inculcation of civilized behavior, and so on. Maybe it will turn out that the most fundamental right, from which all others flow, is the right to note the differences that make the acquisition of knowledge of probabilities possible.

It is possible to see not only “PC,” and not only liberal democratic anti-discrimination ideology, but the entire edifice of civilized behavior as designed to guard against unrestrained probabilistic reasoning in social life (even if liberal democracy and then victimary thinking involve first an incremental and then an exponential increase in that restraint). Imagine what it would mean to interact constantly on explicitly probabilistic premises: it wouldn’t involve the kind of crude stereotyping I referred to above, but it would involve assuming, acting upon, and announcing the assumption that person A is x% more likely than person B to act in ways detrimental to a particular project. Of course there are already performance reviews and other assessment procedures that gather such information—but always in ways that separate it from the direct interaction of individuals. And with good reason, because at a certain micro level such assessments come to rely upon tacit information that cannot be made explicit, much less defended publicly. Part of the discipline of civilization is the ability to become aware of and suspend such tacit assessments where they would interfere with a project and hence with the gathering of information that would enable the refinement and sharing of those assessments. (In a sense, then, the suspension of tacit assessments simply involves a higher order mode of probabilistic reasoning.) But an equally essential component of civilized discipline lies in refraining from the demand that others disavow their tacit judgments even though we are all aware of being, at times, their targets. The totalitarianism of “social justice” is in its demand for such a disavowal, for the complete replacement of the density, fragility and extensiveness of tacit judgment for ideologically approved and implanted doxa. It is a demand that we not think or even notice things. Which, I suppose, makes it fairly easy to be a revolutionary in these times: just keep noticing things, and give others, however minimally, to notice them as well.


  1. More than a half century ago Eric Hoffer noticed your probabilism as a guiding ideology, as something new:

    “Our present addiction to pollsters and forecasters is a symptom of our chronic uncertainty about the future… We watch our experts read the entrails of statistical tables and graphs the way the ancients watched their soothsayers read the entrails of a chicken.”

    If Hoffer is right about uncertainty underpinning probabilism, then GA’s originary scene offers us the antidote. The antidote is as Arendt worded it:

    “The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises.”

    When this ceases to be, when the originary sign which defers violence (i.e. promises) no-longer works because people can no longer make and keep promises, and some other human invention arises to replace it (like your probabalism where we all act like unregulated insurance companies) then we might speak of this new ideology as being “post-” Until then the PRINCIPLE of making and keeping promises is the ONLY solution- in the originary scene and in current politics.

    Comment by tommy704 — March 26, 2016 @ 8:46 am

  2. Yes, but what is a promise if not the mutual provision of signs indicating a high probability of completing the action in question? Promises always include, at least implicitly, some consequence in case of failure, in other words, some collateral–at the very least in a lowering of my “credit rating” the next time I undertake to make a commitment.

    Comment by adam — March 26, 2016 @ 10:02 am

  3. I don’t believe that the originary scene began with an intended action that the participants sought to complete.

    I can believe the event of the originary scene when the sign, and the abstract idea it represents, takes on a sacredness of their own. At the originary scene I spoke and was surprised that I became obligated to what those words mean’t. I really didn’t understand the meaning of the words I spoke until the others imposed that obligation upon me. I spoke not to complete some action, but came to understand that speaking was the action, divorced for the moment from real world of probabilities. “Humans are the only creatures who have this second universe in which to dwell, divorced for the moment from the conflicts of the world.” CLR 495

    But given a group of sociopathic liars who all do nothing but calculate “If I say this, then this will probably happen. If it doesn’t happen then I will say something else, until what I want to happen, happens.” I can’t believe that such an event would kick-start humanity, let alone defer violence for any longer than the time required to speak the next lie.

    Now you might be right. And whenever I enter the marketplace I begin to believe you are right because I deal with sociopathic liars all the time – those who say whatever is required to achieve their ends. In this period of electing the next sociopath to lead our country I ask adherents of one group or another if they believe what their man or woman says. No one believes them, and if they say they believe them then they are only saying what is required to build-up their man/woman. If you are right, then we are in a post-originary era and GA no longer has anything to contribute except for an interesting anecdote of how we began.

    Comment by tommy704 — March 26, 2016 @ 12:03 pm

  4. In the unfolding of the originary scene, I agree, each is overwhelmed by the rush to the center and hesitates, and would then be surprised by the hesitation of the others, at which point surprise lessens and each becomes more certain that the hesitation of the others is a response to and, as you say, obligates his own.

    We do the same now, and no one can begin with an abstract calculation because everyone already has a tacit sense of the field of probabilities produced by the entire history of previous actions–a history that constraints one’s wants. Even the candidates for office and their followers have a relation different than the one you describe, because if the candidates lie and everyone knows they lie, everyone at least believes, with some reason, that their candidates lie to others and allow them, the followers, to be in on the lie.

    Comment by adam — March 26, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

  5. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics observed Mark Twain. This perceived ‘fault’ in statistics is not necessarily for the sins explicitly committed brandishing numbers about, but for the truths obscured. If you are not being deliberately deceitful, there is still a very good chance you are mismanaging your data to lead astray both yourself and your audience.
    Putting data aside for a minute, our brains are evolved to weigh the odds, based upon both real and learned or imagined experience – even birds and insects develop habits based on good and bad experiences. Our senses likewise play to the odds by biasing our perceptions weighted upon our ancestors’ survival. Biased to favor survival and opportunity over any rationally discerned ‘truth’. The challenge to rational decision making is distilling the biases out of the data.
    The exercise of PC is not to restrain probabilistic reasoning, but to reject all data perceived to be tainted by the bias du jure.

    Comment by Alan — April 14, 2016 @ 6:56 am

  6. It seems to me that rejecting all data perceived to be tainted is indistinguishable from opposing probabilistic reasoning.

    Otherwise, I don’t have much to add, other than in public, explicit (as opposed to natural and tacit) probabilistic reasoning, the solution is obviously to keep generating new data sets, from different inquirers, posing different questions.

    Comment by adam — April 14, 2016 @ 4:53 pm

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