Monday, April 30, 2012

Soft Fascism & The Olsson Test

It's not possible to distinctly separate a belief a system into its epistemological and political components. If there are internal inconsistencies, then the political components have to give in to the epistemological base. For example, if a belief system holds that people are born with varying and measurable aptitudes for knowledge acquisition, then it could not reasonably insist that all children should receive exactly the same education. Therefore, the range of possible political systems can be extracted from a person's fundamental view of the knowable and how things can and must be made known.

Sam Harris advocates a very hard form of determinism and has a seemingly high degree of confidence in what we can (or will be able to) empirically know about causes for specific human behaviors. He also clearly makes the point that others can often better judge what determines why one acts as one does 1. Essentially, individuals are blind to knowledge about themselves that we are privy to. This is quite the same as saying that the individual is extraordinarily weak and can best overcome their weakness by seeking strength in groups. Political systems predominantly based on such an assumption have a name: fascism. The original Italian symbol for fascism is even a bundle of fragile rods tied into an unbreakable whole.



Saying that Sam Harris's views on knowledge and the human condition imply fascism is not the same as saying that he is wrong. For all I ultimately know, my strong federalist views may ultimately be incorrect. 20'th century Western fascism failed, its last enclave collapsing with the death of Generalissimo Franco in 1975. Yet to conclude that this means fascism is forever dead and proven faulty would be another mistake. Clearly the systems developed in Europe at the time were not stable and productive enough to survive across multiple generations. But it might just be that something was missing from how these systems were instituted.

Good ideas can be poorly implemented and sometimes they fail because some important technological innovation has not yet occurred. This makes me think of the oft adulated (but quite imperfect) systems of the ancient Greek city states. Modern democratic republics like to trace their roots to ideas formulated in these ancient unstable times. It's conceivable that some distant generation will similarly mythologize what happened in Fiume under Gabriele d'Annunzio in 1919, and the eventual 20 yearrule of Benito Mussolini over Italy. Though I very strongly doubt it, perhaps Mussolini's mistake was simply to associate himself with the delusional madmen of the Nazi regime and – in stark contrast with his initial beliefs – endorse some of their craziest and most monstrous ideas.

The future fascism implied by Sam Harris epistemological grounding would presumably not endorse the same crude and brutally violent methodology espoused by Mussolini. Yet it still implies a form inherent violence against the individual since the individual cannot be relied upon to understand their own motivations and the consequences of their actions. To justify protecting our corporeal sovereignty, such soft fascism would have to construct an elaborate argument around the socially erosive effects of lacking any rights to determine our selves how our bodies are to be used. Sam Harris has little problem with dismissing protective constitutional measures like the Fifth Amendment. So I assume he is prepared to quite radically encroach on our corporeal sovereignty.

The possibility that Sam Harris is correct holds. He argues his position because he claims that so far it's been vindicated by scientific evidence such as the Libet experiment and his own (f)MRI research. If he is indeed right, it seems to me that we would have to submit to instituting some form of soft fascism. But the evidence has to be rock solid. We have seen the extensive devastation fascism can cause. If we are to go down that path again, we had better make sure it's the right path and not base it on overly extended evidentiary indications.

Therefore, I have created a test that those who make bold claims like Sam Harris about their ability to understand human behavior should have to submit their predictive methodology to, and successfully pass. Call it the Test on the Knowability of Human Predetermination or something like that. The test goes as follows:
  1. Take two reasonably exhaustive demographic samples of the world's human population.
  2. Subject individuals in both groups – call them Team A and Team B – to the process by which their individual actions can be predicted and disseminated in near real time.
  3. Make sure that everyone in both teams has direct access to the disseminated predictions about all participants, including their own.
  4. Create a potentially constrained but not discrete nor turn-based game with objectives associated with actions for which the process can make predictions. The process should be able to predict which team will perform a winning action prior to any team actually winning.
  5. This game now has to be played repeatedly over a sufficiently long period of time (say half a year). The process has to continuously make accurate predictions about how the players are going to try to win. A prediction has to occur a sufficient amount of time ahead of an actual move to allow the other side to respond at least once prior to a winning move (say 500 milliseconds).
  6. If the process manages to continue making extremely accurate predictions towards the end of the test, it will be considered to have passed. If the accuracy decreases with time, the test will have failed.
If the prediction process works, ultimately it does not seem to me that the game should be winnable. An unwinnable game should be strong evidence that the predictive powers of the process are near 100% and that our inner causal chains can be objectively understood. But my conjecture is that any process will inevitably fail at some point and lead to a winner. I believe that the phenomena expressed through evolutionary ideas predict my conjecture. A living being that is locked into a predictable state is prone to predation (ultimate individual loss), whether biological or social.

The type of soft fascism implied by Sam Harris's views only functions when there's near perfect cooperative union between almost all individuals. Such a state is necessary with the level of predictability about human behavior foreseen by Sam Harris in the near future. Such a state would seem to imply a near impossibility to defy any prediction about whether Team A or Team B is going to win. Winning (in the zero-sum sense) becomes a meaningless term. There is no longer a me or you, only a perfect we.


1. "By merely glancing at your face or listening to your tone of voice, others are often more aware of your state of mind and motivations than you are." Sam Harris (Free Will, page 7)

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