Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Are We Stronger Together?


By George Templeton
Rim Country Gazette Columnist

The Individual     
What has happened to our moral leadership?  Imprisoning innocent children to deter immigration is wicked.  We should not use people as a means to an end.  Individuals know instinctively that it is cruel.  Republicans cannot tolerate 1,000 undocumented children, though there are 11.3 million illegal immigrants already living here, of which 1.8 million are innocent DACA children.  Republicans want “no amnesty”.  What is it that changes individuals in their group?  Is it that they become less responsible because they rely on others in the group?
Philippa Foot’s trolley problem gives us further insight into the transition from individual behavior to group behavior.  In it, you are allowed to divert a run-away trolley from a track where five workers would be killed, onto a track where only one would die.  Many people would do this.  But when there are asked if they would push a fat man off a bridge that the trolley travels under, into the path of the trolley, to stop it and save the five, they would not.
Our president claims that America has been treated unfairly, laughed at instead of admired.  His Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, explained that our Tariffs are intended to increase free trade.  Trump tweeted that “Tariffs are the greatest”, but is there something deeper, more fundamental, that should not be ignored?
In evenhanded negotiations everyone comes out a winner.  In the trolley example everyone loses.  Five people die, or one person dies, and another may suffer guilt.  What is just?  For you to win, do others have to lose?  When Trump explained, during the 2016 campaign, that the police were great dealmakers, he was trying to identify himself as the “law and order” candidate.  He sees a world filled with tough, vicious people, which he personally loves to win against.  He is always on the offense, attacking without regard to nuances.
Uncooperative trading partners develop a bad reputation.  We choose to trade with those we like.  Goodwill is beyond tangible assets.   It can take years of hard work to build, but is destroyed by a moment’s disrespect.  Lost customers are hard to win back.
We can extrapolate, using commerce numbers, but they can’t predict our interactions with one another.  Expectations can have far greater consequences than tariffs predict.  An apprehensive world where everyone is out to take advantage of us is not one with the dream, trust, hope, and security that prosperity requires.
Group delusion fed by a charismatic leader influences behavior.  The 1962 electric shock experiment, by Stanley Milgram, showed that individuals would obey authority instead of their conscience.  Bias that accepts confirming information while ignoring or rationalizing disconfirming information strengthens group identity.  There is nothing more convoluted than human consciousness.  Our brain networks contain more than 100 trillion connections.  They dynamically change depending on our life experiences.  It is no wonder that we cannot understand ourselves.
A mousetrap catches mice.  The approach that scientists use to understand the mind is based on how the brain functions, just like how the mousetrap does.  Inputs to the brain are at the computational level.  They include sight, smell, hearing, and touch.  The algorithmic level deals with strategies and comprehension.  The implementation level is analogous to the components in an electronic circuit that are purposely selected to provide an output or action.  Given this, computers could become intelligent.  
Computers follow the rules set by programmers who are at the whim of their business bosses.  You may have found a situation where your success, or even your life, required you to break the rules.  So what is at stake is the balance between the individual and the group.
Humanity is complex.  In science, we are concerned about simplifying things so we can see them.  Easy things explode into long equations when there are interactions between variables.  That is why it is important to reduce things to their simplest form. 
Stable Groups
Groups evolve toward stable equilibrium.  It is like the drop of cream in your morning coffee that spreads throughout.  It exists when each individual in a group makes his best possible decision while taking into account the decisions of the others in the group.  It is a consequence of the interaction with the other decision makers in the group.  Behavior cannot be predicted by the analysis of how isolated individual decisions might be made.  One must ask what each individual would do, taking into account the decisions of the other group members.  Of course, thinking about how others are thinking adds complexity and requires empathy.  It illustrates how stable groups make self-defeating decisions or conversely how unstable policies that are best for a group might not be good for individuals.
Loyalists to Donald Trump are self-interested individuals.  Assume Mueller has two isolated co-conspirators in custody.  He simultaneously offers an identical deal to both.  Both individuals are aware of the deal.  They have to make the best decision for themselves based on what they think the other conspirator will do.
If both prisoners remain quiet, and keep their facts from Mueller, they will get one year in prison.  If either one of them betrays the other by squealing, he will be set free, but the quiet prisoner will be held in custody for life.  Who knows what he is hiding?  If the prisoners betray each other, each will get ten years in prison.  What is the decision that will lead to group equilibrium?
It is never a good idea to remain silent.  If your friend remains silent as you do, you will both get a year in prison.  But your friend might not care that you will get life in prison, if he gets off free.  The only stable equilibrium is when both squeal and get ten years in prison.  Mueller gets his wish, (ignoring the House Freedom Caucus Resolution to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein).
From the viewpoint of their group, the best decision is for both conspirators to remain silent.  But it is not up to the group to decide.  That is for the individuals.  This is for only two individuals, but it can be extended to any number of people. 
Unstable Groups
Tulips became popular in 17th century Holland.  At the top of the craze, a single tulip was worth one’s life savings.  But then people discovered the truth.  The price of a tulip became the same as the price of an onion.
Imagine that you are the CEO of company “A”, but you can’t see that your employees are crooks because you hired them and know that they are “good” people.  Dishonesty is profitable.  Likewise, the CEOs of competitor companies can’t see that their employees are cheating, but they think they can see if you are.  They are envious.  It is only themselves that they are blind to.  Assume that there are twenty companies.  No company can prove that any other is crooked.   They would implicate themselves.  Besides, they respect the CEOs of the other companies.  It would be disloyal to squeal.  So, nobody knows that anything is wrong and it is business as usual, even though the ethics policy of your industry requires that CEOs must immediately fire all proven cheaters.
Suppose that a credible third party informs everyone that at least one company has employees that are breaking the law.  This piece of information turns the mutual knowledge, the interaction between individual companies, into common knowledge possessed by the group.  But it requires a trusted independent authority.
Imagine that there are only two companies, A and B and only A is cheating.  Being smart, company A realizes that it would know if B was cheating, so it concludes from the new information that its own employees must be guilty and it fires them immediately.
Now suppose that both A and B cheat.  Company A knows only about B’s cheating. Likewise company B knows only about A’s cheating.  Neither knows about itself.  Company A learns nothing from the independent authority’s announcement, but when company B fails to immediately fire its cheaters, company A can see that there must be a second cheater, themselves.  The same holds for company B, who infers from A’s failure to fire its cheaters on the first day that it must also fire its cheaters.  Both companies fire their cheaters on the second day.
Now suppose there are 3 cheaters A, B, and C.   They would each infer from the inaction of the other two that they were also guilty and so they would fire their crooks on the third day.  If there were twenty cheating companies, none of them would be able to prove guilt until the twentieth day, when they would all simultaneously fire their employees.  This shows the velocity of propagation of the truth within a group.  It is the way a group comes to a new stable operating point.
Could Muller’s Russia meddling investigation work like this?
Paranoid Groups
Assume that there is one terrorist in ten million people.  It is probably less than this, given population sizes.  Assume that vetting is 90% accurate, a figure that would not be possible even with lie detectors, brain scans and psychological tests.  Out of ten million people, one million would be identified as terrorists, but only one person would be one.  We would slander a million people in order to identify one bad guy.
Suppose the police, notified to be on the watch for a terrorist, have arrested a man having a beard, brown skin, a copy of the Quran, and an instruction manual for bomb making.  What is the probability that an innocent man would meet this description?  What is the probability that a man who looks like this is innocent?
Assume there are four million people in your city, and one guilty one.  Also assume that there are only 10 people including the terrorist with these things.  The probability that an innocent man would be like this is 9/4,000,000 or about 1/400,000.  How could someone who looks so guilty be innocent?  The probability that our innocent man has these things is 9/10.   People are different.  They could be studying violent fundamentalism.
Looks matter.  Groups matter.
 World Groups
Why do some countries become wealthy while others fail?  Stability, peace, and affluence go hand in hand.  We know that free markets are helpful, but they are not the whole story.  There are many countries, rich in natural resources, which are not prosperous.  The most important thing is that governments, politics, institutions, and economies must be inclusive, and not greedily extractive. 
Combined, groups are anarchy, because their self-interested rules are within themselves.  There is no universal global rule, and rules are harder to agree upon than interests, but most people feel that institutions help to ensure stability.  Their force comes from knowledge, expertise, and respect.  Important groups include the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, EU, G20, UN, and NATO.  There are twenty free trade agreements (FTAs) such as NAFTA and the TPP.  Can our “stable genius” force his will on the world?  The truth is that tariffs are never for economic advantage.  They are always political.  It is as James Madison wrote, “… You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next step oblige it to control its self.”

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