Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Politics of Batman: Chaos Part Deux

The previous post on the new Batman movies started with an idea about chaos from chemistry: entropy. This post is partly inspired by an idea of chaos from mathematics: chaos theory. I first heard of chaos theory from the writings of William Dembski, an intelligent design proponent who briefly mentioned it as an interest of his in the 80s. He was initially impressed with it, but said it failed to live up to its lofty expectations of being the next big thing. It has some applications, but by and large it failed to materialize as a genuine scientific revolution. Chaos theory has made it into pop culture sporadically, particularly in the form of "fractals" and "fractal geometry" which have the advantage of having cool visual representations. I must tread carefully here because I am a biochemist by training, not a mathematician, and I do not have any sort of professional understanding of chaos theory, but my only purpose is to illustrate the idea and immediately use it as an analogy for progressive politics. If I am wrong in some details about chaos theory, it won't affect the point of this post.

Chaos theory is the idea of mathematical models that are unpredictable because of high sensitivity to little details, such as a minor change in initial position.  From the outside, chaotic systems look completely out of control, but in reality are completely deterministic. Once you can build an accurate model you can get the right outcomes and predict its behavior to a certain degree. Weather is a good example of a chaotic system. Current weather models allow us to predict the weather about a week in advance. The reason we cannot predict much farther into the future is the chaotic nature of weather systems. Part of this is probably a deficiency in our computer models of weather. Another part, even more important and a problem which is unlikely to be solved, is our lack of complete knowledge about initial conditions. We can't know the position and, just as important, the velocity of every last gas molecule in the entire atmosphere of the earth. We can't know every last characteristic of those molecules at a single instant in time. In fact, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle it may be impossible even in principle to know all the details of initial condition in any system. But we can model systems, even chaotic systems, to a certain degree using complicated sets of mathematical rules and algorithms. There is a reason chaos theory did not develop until the 70s and 80s. Understanding and modeling chaotic systems requires computers powerful enough to handle them. They can sometimes be modeled very accurately with computers. The question is: Which systems can we model and how accurately can we model them? The key variant regarding the current topic, progressive politics, is can we model human behavior?

Let's assume for a minute that both these problems with predicting the behavior of chaotic systems could be solved. Let's say that we could know all the initial conditions of 6-7 billion human brains, not to mention the weather and all sorts of other chaotic systems which influence the economies of the world. Let's say we did have a completely accurate computer model of human behavior, able to model all economic behavior since the beginning of the human race until now. Could we then use this information about initial condition and this model to predict human behavior into the future without limit, or even with a limit?

No, because human beings have free will. But as I have pointed out not only on this blog but also in my book, progressives don't believe humans have free will. Now of course many of them may say they do, but the political tradition of progressivism is based on the understanding that human beings are essentially machines that can be programmed to do whatever one wants. The economy is one big, very complex math problem, in other words a chaotic system, that can be solved. For a conservative, the economy is the sum of everyone's free choices and cannot be "solved" or programmed to do what anyone wants. This is one of the biggest differences between real progressives and real conservatives. Now just like progressives, many conservatives may say they don't believe in free will, but practically speaking conservatism is based on the idea that humans are free and attempting to deny them this freedom, politically or economically, is folly. It should not be attempted not only for moral reasons but also because it could not possibly ever succeed. Freedom is part of the unalienable rights of Man, given him by God Himself, and can never be undone.

Assuming conservatives are correct, which I do, what would this world of freedom look like to the progressive who doesn't believe in freedom? It would look very much like a chaotic system. Remember chaotic systems are not free or random; they are deterministic. They look very complex and chaotic, but at bottom they are deterministic. A conservative looks at the economy and sees free wills making free choices according to their various interests, or not, and there is nothing illegitimate about any of it. A progressive looks at the economy and sees a chaotic system which, with enough knowledge, can be manipulated to produce any desired outcome.

A conservative such as myself can therefore formulate a general prediction about what will happen when a progressive leaves the ivory tower or whatever cocoon he has managed to put between himself and reality and collides with the real world. The progressive will believe that he has finally solved the chaotic system and will ask for the world's permission to implement this solution. If he receives this permission, he will form THE PLAN and if things go very well he will implement it. Inevitably, THE PLAN will fail not just because it's terrible but because nobody can predict or control all relevant variables, and thus no "plan" no matter how good could ever really work right. Now the progressive has a problem. Why did THE PLAN fail? There are really only two answers: either the progressive will realize he has made a major mistake in his world view and becomes a conservative, or he believes that THE PLAN was faulty in the particulars, not doomed from the start. In the latter case he goes back to the drawing board to make a new plan, and the cycle repeats.

And on and on we go. Each failure constitutes only evidence of progress through the elimination of ever more esoteric errors in management. Ever onward and upward! Failure is not evidence of any sort of fundamental misunderstanding of reality and human nature, and all those retrograde conservatives who claim that it is are not just wrong. They are morally corrupt for opposing economic justice simply because a few economists didn't carry a "2" or something. Just give it time, progressives say, and we'll figure it out, just as a chaotic system can be figured out by switching around a few formulas and changing some initial conditions slightly. Thus we can save the planet by forcing car companies to make cars that get a certain gas mileage. Thus we can reduce our energy requirements by forcing people to buy certain kinds of light-bulbs. Thus the mayor of New York City believes he can reduce obesity by restricting the sale of large soft drinks. According to progressives, there is no problem that cannot be solved by making more rules because society is just one big equation that needs constant tweaking. And who gets to do the tweaking? Who gets to screw around with all our lives? Politicians. No wonder politicians love progressivism. It provides them with a justification for unlimited power.

Let's return at long last to our epic tale of the Batman and the Joker. The Joker's goal, by his own admission, is to "show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are." He is "an agent of Chaos." Now I'm not identifying The Joker with conservatives when he kills people indiscriminately and robs banks. But I do identify with him here. Conservatives are often put in the unenviable position of speaking the Truth that nobody wants to hear: THE PLAN didn't work. To much of the world, especially progressives, we are the bad guys who cannot be reasoned with. Of course we cannot be reasoned with by those who won't accept reality! To engage in rational discourse with someone you must first accept common principles. Progressives and conservatives are arguing over precisely those things which depend upon our differing principles. Conservatives accept reality as a premise and progressives accept utopia as a premise. Conservatives accept human free will and progressives don't. The progressives who remain progressives despite the continued failure of THE PLAN insist that what we need is a new plan. Conservatives insist that the best course of action is to do away with THE PLAN altogether and give individuals the power to solve their own problems as they come up. Unfortunately there is nothing for it but to solve our dispute with political force. And even if conservatives lose, we will never stop pointing out the inevitable failure of THE PLAN, and thus we will be an increasing irritation to those who believe in it, a burr under their saddle, a bad guy to be dismissed and fought against not because he is wrong (because we demonstrably aren't), but because he is EVIL. He is EVIL because he keeps challenging our deeply held beliefs and if we could just get rid of him the world, meaning the mental fantasy progressives use as a substitute for reality, would be a better place. I have no doubt this is true. Undoubtedly the progressive fantasy world would be a better place without conservatives bringing the real, objective world into it. I personally am not afraid to be called evil by a gaggle of geese putting all their hope and trust in the collective execution of some demagogic savior's "plan". So bring it on! Here is a photograph I took of myself just this morning. Let out your two minutes of hate. Good! I can feel your anger. Emotion is a great way to drown out reality.

Now that's whack.