Machine Learning (Theory)

10/29/2018

Please vote

Tags: General jl@ 2:45 pm

This is not at all related to Machine Learning.

I lived in Squirrel Hill as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon so the massacre there is feeling particularly immediate. While the person who did it is obviously culpable, the pattern of events makes it clear that others bear responsibility as well. This pattern includes an attempted bomber of Democrats and Trump critics by a Trump fanboy. It also includes a more general cross section of Republicans and their leaders pushing anti-semitism and more general xenophobia about migrants.

I don’t believe that stochastic terrorism is the goal here. Instead, I have a rather pessimal view of politics in which politicians do pretty much anything to get re-elected, at least in aggregate. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign showed how to do this with a platform of populism, nostalgia, xenophobia, and anti-abortion voters.

The populist angle is looking fairly broken now between anti-populist tax cuts and widely publicized efforts to allow preexisting condition discrimination by insurance companies via Obamacare repeal. About the only populist angle which works is the economy, which is doing fine. On the other hand, there is no obvious change in employment trends since 2011 and no change in wage trends since 2014 so the case for responsibility is clearly tenuous.

Alliances in a two-party system tend to be fragile since winning with a smaller constituency enables better serving that constituency. Losing the populist angle leaves a double-down on the remaining agenda as the most plausible choice. Xenophobia is much older than democracy and psychologically potent so it has obvious value. It’s historically used by leaders who pick some characteristic to divide people and position themselves to thrive on the conflict or distraction that creates. Almost anything will do—if you take away religion, birthplace, skin color, and ethnicity, it would just change to hair color, nose size, or left-handedness. In a democracy, the goal with this approach is simply convincing people to vote according to their activated xenophobia.

For people embracing xenophobia to retain power, stochastic terrorism is just an unfortunate side effect. In this sense, inciting xenophobia about a caravan of refugee Guatemalans at the other end of Mexico is rather clever since most of them won’t even make it to the US border months after the election plausibly leaving only electoral consequences. Yet xenophobia is known to be hard to control. Given this, it’s difficult to imagine stochastic terrorism as anything other than deliberately accepted by the Republican party leadership as an observed consequence of this behavior. The Squirrel Hill massacre and the attempted bombing campaigns are precisely the sort of thing that can happen when you dial up the rhetoric just before an election.

This is part of a pattern of moral collapse across the Republican party. By any reasonable measure Donald Trump is a serial liar with Republican politicians now mimicking this behavior. A remarkable set of people around the Trump campaign are confessed or convicted criminals with members of the Republican party variously tolerating, condoning, and perhaps mimicking.

In this context, the upcoming midterm election seems particularly important. If politicians in aggregate behave as if they will do anything to get reelected, then voters must vote for the behavior they want at the ballot box rather than relying on or appealing to it at a later date. In most situations, this is about picking and choosing the better candidate. I’ve been registered as an independent for this reason—I want to decide for myself.

This is not most situations. Do voters rebuke the Republican party or not? If the answer is not (a 37% chance according to bettors at present) then the slide into corruption likely accelerates as confirmed control of the government erodes the remaining institutional checks on corruption. We are several steps away from a state of deep corruption and it takes time for the consequences of corruption to really seep into society. But every step on the path makes the situation worse and we are on the wrong path now as evidenced by bombing attempts, a xenophobic massacre, and the wider context creating them.

I want to particularly encourage those who are eligible to vote in the United States midterms November 6th.

One Comments to “Please vote”
  1. Anonymous says:

    I all ready voted.
    love those mail in ballots. Difficult to tamper with.
    I vote indepent.
    Love Dad

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