Keeping up with the FITs, No. 10

Two superstars, Glenn Loury and Robert Wright, took part in a podcast.

Wright says,

We don't need an arms race in space. We don't need an arms race in artificial intelligence or a cyber war. There are a lot of things it would be in our mutual interest to control. And I think to control them, you're going to need a lot of policy at the international level. But for that to even become realistically thinkable, I think you're going to have to get the psychology of tribalism under control, not just within this nation so that we can propose coherent policies that we would actually abide by. But tribal tensions, you might say, divide the nations, right? We seem to be moving from one kind of war—war on terror—back into a new kind of cold war. And if that is too riven by tension and hostility, that's going to make it very hard to solve these problems.

Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein released their book, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century. They might say to Wright that the rate of change has accelerated to the point where it is generating too many new threats for humans to be able to adapt successfully. In the past, we had time to adapt to new technologies and new ideologies, although not without some major catastrophes. Now, we should worried.

I keep coming back to what I see as the central problem: the process by which people rise to elite roles in academia, business, journalism, and politics is malfunctioning. What were once prestige hierarchies, that operated on the basis of earned respect, have turned into dominance hierarchies, that operate on the basis of power politics. If we cannot fix that, then cultural adaptation will be at best inadequate and at worst detrimental, portending a grim future.

Speaking of cultural futures that look grim (to me), Wesley Yang writes about the new “abolitionism” that foresees an end to police and prisons.

We will to some degree undertake policy experiments in the coming decade that will put that faith to the test. We will find out if "reimagining safety" in practice means tent cities, squalor in the streets, spiking crime, and another cycle of political reaction, or if the caring professions have indeed evolved to the point where they can have transformative effects on societal macro-phenomena at an unprecedented new scale. (Since this faith in therapeutic intervention infused with a sectarian and politicized ethos is fundamental to the Successor Ideology, I'll be examining these various claims in subsequent posts. For now we can say that the prison and police abolition literature all suffers from the defects of failing to give due consideration to trade-offs or to weigh in the balance the harms done to black communities by lawlessness against the harms done to by law enforcement. )

I am open to the idea of alternatives to police and prisons. But I take a conservative view of human nature, so that I think any viable alternative is likely to include elements of deterrence and prevention of criminal behavior, not simply “curing the root causes.”

Speaking of a conservative view of human nature, Quillette editor Claire Lehman interviews evolutionary psychologist David Buss. Buss says,

But the more extreme forms like sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking and so forth—the more extreme you get, the more that males have a monopoly on it and the more women are the victims. But as you rightly point out it’s [only] a subset of males that do this.

We know empirically who that subset of males are. And they are men high in Dark Triad traits. These are narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Narcissism is a sense of grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, these are the guys who think that they're hot, but they're not—is one way to phrase it. They overestimate their intelligence, their attractiveness, etc. They think they’re god's gift to women.

And then Machiavellianism describes people who pursue an exploitative social strategy. So these are the liars, the cheaters, and the deceivers. And then psychopathy is marked by a lack of empathy.

He adds that a psychopath is able to realize that other people have feelings—he just doesn’t care. My thoughts:

  1. I prefer to think of personality psychology in terms of degree rather than kind. Rather than say either someone is a narcissist or is not, say where the person is on a narcissism scale that goes, say, from 0 to 100.

  2. The “dark triad” strikes me as the personality that the Pickup Artist “self-help” gurus would try to get you to become.

  3. It strikes me that successful politicians, at least nowadays, are very high in “dark triad” traits. It seems obviously true of Clinton (both of them), Obama, Trump, and Biden (does Biden feel an ounce of remorse over Hunter Biden’s graft, the misguided drone strike in Afghanistan, or anything else?). Probably not true of George Herbert Walker Bush (who lost to Clinton). Probably not true of Jimmy Carter. Probably true of Kennedy and Johnson.

  4. Are there realms that select against “dark triad” traits? Or does getting to the top of any hierarchy require some degree of narcissism and ruthlessness?