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Fear & Loathing (and Freedom & Skepticism)
in Las Vegas

by Michael Shermer, Jul 14 2009
photo by Daniel Loxton

TAM7 boasted over 1000 attendees.

The Amazing Meeting 7 and Freedom Fest were both held over the same weekend in Las Vegas, the former at the new and beautiful South Point Hotel and the latter at the classic old Bally’s hotel and casino. I spoke at both and attended as many talks as I could fit in while shuttling back and forth between events. Some impressions:

Business is definitely down in Vegas. Every taxi driver I asked put the downturn at about 35% lower than normal, and between the two casinos we passed the new MGM-backed casino under construction but now abandoned due to lack of funding to complete construction. There were never any taxi lines and room rates at both hotels were well below the normal too-high rates. Nevertheless, there seemed to be plenty of folks at the slots and tables, trying to recover their 401K losses, obviously having never taken a basic course in probabilities (my system: I give the casino $500 and ask if I can play for a couple of hours: “you’re going to get the money anyway and I just want to have some fun.” I’ve never had success with this sytem.).

TAM had about 1000 people in attendance, while FreedomFest had about 1500. Shortly after I arrived I was called up for a private meeting with Randi, who later announced to the group that he had recently undergone a serious medical procedure to rid his body of something that wasn’t suppose to be there, and it looks like they got it all but just in case he’ll have to undergo chemo treatment after TAM, just to insure that there are no renegade cells floating about. When I saw Randi in his hotel room, his voice was a little weak and he seemed frail, yet the next morning when he stood at the podium to address his fans, he came to life, energized by the standing O he received, and suddenly his voice switched to his rich sonorous self as he regaled the audience with tales of his latest exploits among medics and psychics. Randi is such an experienced and professional entertainer that he just comes to life when there’s an audience. At age 80, I know that Randi is going to have a tough time of it (chemo is nasty business indeed), but he’s one of the toughest guys I know so I’m confident that we’ll have Randi around for many more years.

Randi, Penn, Teller, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss. Only the scientist has two names; the magicians have either one or three names. Um…

Randi, Penn, Teller, Ray Hyman, Jamy Ian Swiss. Only the scientist has two names; the magicians have either one or three names. Um…

On Friday afternoon I spoke at FreedomFest on myths about Darwin, including: that Darwin was an atheist (he was an agnostic); that acceptance of evolution theory leads to atheism (obviously not since 40% of American scientists — all of whom accept evolution — believe in God); that Darwin was always an evolutionist and got that from his grandfather Erasmus (Darwin was a creationist before and during the voyage of the Beagle and didn’t become an evolutionist until nearly a year after his return); that Darwin was a racial egalitarian (he was against slavery, and although he was very progressive in his social attitudes about race compared to his contemporaries, compared to people today Darwin, like his birthday twin Abraham Lincoln, did not believe that the races were biologically equal); that evolution is progressive and is “leading” somewhere (it isn’t leading anywhere — there are certain convergences in evolution, such as locomotion, hearing, seeing, etc., but there is nothing inevitable about, say, human intelligence); that evolution is “red in tooth and claw” and is nothing more than nasty, competitive, brutish, and bloody (a successful strategy for survival among social animals is pro-social, cooperative, and involves mutual aid among members of a group); and that conservatives should not accept evolution because it doesn’t explain human nature as Christians see it (in fact, as I argued in Why Darwin Matters, the Christian view of human nature is very similar to that of a Darwinian human nature). My talk seemed to go over well, perhaps because I share similar political and economic beliefs as the conservatives and libertarians at FreedomFest, so to have “one of their own” explain why it’s okay to accept evolutionary theory perhaps makes it all easier to swallow.

diagram by David Nolan

diagram by David Nolan

Likewise, I think that my talk at TAM Saturday morning, entitled “Rise Above: Toward a Type I Civilization,” was equally well received. At least everyone who said something to me afterwards seemed positive about it (perhaps my critics will just email me later). Even the famed magician Jamy Ian Swiss, who is most definitely not a libertarian, said he liked my talk. When I said “really?”, he responded, “yes, absolutely; of course, I still disagree with you on many points,” which I took as a compliment. During my talk I put up a side of a well-known heuristic diagram for classifying yourself politically, that moves beyond the traditional left — right spectrum.

I then asked for a show of hands among the 1,007 people in the audience of who identifies themselves as left of center (I estimated about 80%), libertarian (I estimated about 20%), and right of center (a grand total of 4 people raised their hands!). I then reviewed the standard left-right stereotypes of what liberals think of conservatives, and vice versa:

Conservatives are a bunch of gun-totting, Hummer-driving, hard-drinking, Bible-thumping, black-and-white-thinking, fist-pounding, shoe-stomping, morally-hypocritical blowhards.

Naturally, this received a huge round of applause, along with hooting and hollering in agreement. But, to my surprise, so too did my characterization of what conservatives think of liberals:

Liberals are a bunch of tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving, sandle-wearing, bottled-water-drinking, ACLU-supporting, flip-flopping, wishy-washy, Namby Pamby bedwetters.

I then suggested that we need to “rise above” such stereotypes, and proposed a solution based on the research by the University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his model of morality that allows us to avoid being trapped by such linear left-right thinking in which one side is right and the other side is wrong. You can read my summary of Jonathan’s research in last week’s blog, but recall that Haidt argues that there are 5 foundations of morality:

  1. Harm-Care (do not harm others, people should be cared for)
  2. Fairness-Reciprocity (justice for all)
  3. In-group Loyalty (we live in a dangerous tribal world so we need group unity)
  4. Authority-Respect (a free society depends on the rule of law and law-and-order)
  5. Purity-Sanctity (conservatives: sex, drugs, rock’n’roll; liberals: food, environment)

Instead of one side being right and the other wrong, I think we would all be better served if we recognize that liberals and conservatives emphasize different moral values: Liberals are high on the Harm-Care and Fairness-Reciprocity dimensions, but low on Loyalty, Authority-Respect, Purity-Sanctity; whereas conservatives are about equal on the 5 dimensions (although slightly less on Harm-Care and Fairness-Reciprocity, slightly higher on Loyalty, Authority-Respect, Purity-Sanctity).

photo by Daniel Loxton

Volunteers Jason Loxton and Jillian Baker staff the Skeptics Society table.

As an example of this difference between emphasizing individual v. group morality, I showed a clip from one of my favorite films, Rob Reiner’s 1992 A Few Good Men, in which Jack Nicholson’s character — the battle-hardened Marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup — is being cross-examined by Tom Cruise’s naive rookie Navy lawyer Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee. In the context of Haidt’s moral dimensions, I think of Kaffee as the liberal and Jessup as the conservative. Kaffee is defending two Marines accused of killing a fellow soldier named Santiago at Guantanamo base on Cuba. He thinks Jessup ordered a “code red,” an off-the-books command to rough up a lazy Marine trainee in need of discipline, and that matters got tragically out of hand. Kaffee wants answers to specific questions about the incident. Jessup wants to lecture him on the meaning of freedom and the need to defend it. The ensuing dialogue includes Jessup’s penetrating testimony about the true nature of human nature:

Jessup: You want answers?!

Kaffee: I want the truth.

Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!

Jessup (continuing): Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.

You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty … we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d prefer you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to.

Who is the man and what is he thinking? Write your answer in the comments section.

Who is the man and what is he thinking? Write your answer in the comments section.

The fact is we need all five moral dimensions. Personally, I tend more toward the liberal emphasis on individual fairness and justice and freedom, and I think our inner tribalisms are divisive and set people against one another, and so overemphasizing loyalty to group and nation can be dangerous. But ever since 9/11 I’ve come to see that we do live in a world with walls, and that those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. And when it comes to religious tribal fundamentalisms I think liberals agree with me on this point (certainly Sam Harris in The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion make the point that fundamentalist religions are dangerous, and both are liberals).

In the long run, however, we need to rise above all this tribalism, and that’s what I mean by my lecture subtitle: “toward a Type I Civilization.” Next week I’ll outline the Kardashev scale of typing civilizations and suggest how we can move from where we are now to a global Type I civilization.

125 Responses to “Fear & Loathing (and Freedom & Skepticism)
in Las Vegas”

  1. Lauren says:

    I object, sir! I do not wear flip-flops!!!

    Oh, and it’s Adam Savage and he’s thinking “did anyone just hear me burp?” followed closely by “burps are like little explosions in my belleh!”

  2. Ranson says:

    Nah, he’s thinking “Oh crap, I gave Rebecca and Sid the exploding rings!”

  3. Max says:

    How many people identify themselves as centrists?
    To me, extremist intellectuals seem trapped in a spiral of confirmation bias. In such cases, education may do more harm than good.

    • White Rabbit says:

      I think I might be a centrist.

      I took that morality test Jonathan Haidt had up and I actually scored fairly High on all but purity. This isn’t very normal for a Liberal. I don’t vote conservative though so it’s all a bit odd.

      I’m a bit pragmatic when it comes to politics so yea that’d be centrist.

  4. aaron says:

    Best efforts to attend next year will be made. I’m wondering how many people consider libertarianism a fundamentalist position..

    • Max says:

      If I could control language, I’d make words like left, right, libertarian, and authoritarian indicate directions on the heuristic diagram, like East, West, North, South.
      Then, append -ism for the extreme corners: leftism, rightism, libertarianism, authoritarianism. Or use different words: anarchism, fascism, etc.

      • Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation, no virtue. Or something like that.

        I am a libertarian in full bloom. In other words, an anarchist. Not a “nihilist” like those jackholes who toss molotov cocktails through store windows, but someone who realizes that self government is the only kind that has ever worked or ever will.

  5. Max says:

    That 2D heuristic diagram should have at least one more dimension for legislated security, which is different from legislated morality. Profanity is not the same as shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

  6. Max says:

    To both the stereotypes of liberals and conservatives, you could add “baby-killing” ;-)

    Ok, so where does the Pope fit in?

    The pope is not a Democrat or a Republican, and his vision doesn’t fit the normal categories of American politics.
    But Benedict’s encyclical is nothing if not political. “Caritas in Veritate” promotes a vision of economic solidarity rooted in moral conservatism. It links the dignity of labor to the sanctity of marriage. It praises the redistribution of wealth while emphasizing the importance of decentralized governance. It connects the despoiling of the environment to the mass destruction of human embryos.

    Legislating both equality and morality. Well, that settles it. The Pope is a Communist Fascist :-p

  7. LovleAnjel says:

    You forgot to add “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” to the description of liberals.

  8. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    TAM7 was a very enjoyable event. The main speakers were interesting. The SBM conference was great (would have liked the CME though). The highlight was meeting people from all over the world who share a reality based, rationalistic world view.

    Another highlight, at least for me, was the paper presentation portion on Sunday. This was kind of set apart from the main TAM events as it was on Sunday morning and did not have as big a crowd as the Friday and Saturday stuff. In this portion, anyone could have submitted a talk proposal and, if accepted, given the podium for 20 minutes or so to present their stuff. Some core topics near and dear to the hearts of die hard skeptics were presented. Among the topics was the teaching of critical thinking to troubled children (perhaps the population that needs it the most). Others included strategies for dealing with the perceived negative image of the ‘brand’ of the skeptical movement (I particularly enjoyed this one given by author and marketing expert, Steve Cuno). There was a talk given by the “What’s the Harm” website dude on how to run skeptical websites. These talks, in my opinion, should have been sprinkled throughout the conference among the more flashy talks by skeptical celebrities.

    The million dollar challenge really displayed what happens when perceived, seemingly paranormal phenomenons are attempted with proper observational controls. Well, actually nothing happens. The test was done under conditions agreed upon by the challengers and the challengee. I think that the challengee, Ms. Sonne, sincerely believed that her crystal on a string could find things on its own through paranormal means. Turned out that when the dowser is blinded to the usual visual cues, the ideomotor effect produces random noise.

    The challenge also demonstrated a tremendous amount of professionalism on the parts of the JREF, Banachek (the test administrator), Ms. Sonne and the audience. Throughout the tedious and laborious process of the test, not a word could be heard. Ms. Sonne received a courteous round of applause after the test and she graciously acknowledged the fairness of the test and her failure of the test. People watching on the live internet stream commented that they were surprised to learn that there was such a large audience (I estimate about 500 people) was present when the lights were turned up at the end and the camera panned over the crowd.

    Overall, a great experience.

    Great talks by Orac too!

    • TBW: “The challenge also demonstrated a tremendous amount of professionalism on the parts of the JREF, Banachek (the test administrator), Ms. Sonne and the audience.”

      Yup, she’s done what all ‘professional’ psychics do – claimed she was cheated.

      JREF Forum:

      Originally Posted by connie sonne

      Hi out there…now I know why Banacheck was “the card handler”. I have been cheated. I did find the right cards. And there is one more thing. At the stage, Banacheck said to me BEFORE he even looked in the envelope I had cut…and here is spade ace, the one you looked for!!!! I first hit me now about that ….but maybe you can see it yourself if someone get the video. I don`t care about the money, that wasn`t the reason why I came. So no matter what you think out there……I was CHEATED!!!!!


      • tmac57 says:

        As soon as I saw that Banachek was the test administrator, I knew that her excuse was in the bag. (Not that I thought that there was anything amiss myself).

  9. Sir, I have to say I am relieved to see this kind of post from you.

    This being said, you might be replacing one set of stereotypes with another (although one that is probably just a little fairer).

    For example, while legislated morality and personal freedom are two ends of one relatively clearly defined dimension, it may not be as clear for economic freedom and legislated equality.

    I’m suspecting conservatives would have some objections of their own about where they are on this diagram, but it should also be said that very few people on the left today are in favor of a controlled economy where prices are fixed by government. This has more to do with totalitarianism. We know that more constraints than degrees of freedom just breaks the system.

    I was reading an old SciAm column of yours this morning where you were talking about the economy being an adaptive system similar to evolution. I’m suspecting many liberals understand that. But can’t you keep the selection feedback loop working while still altering the feedback point so that the blind system naturally evolves to a direction that is more aligned with what we as sentient beings call “the greater good”?

    For example, on its own the economy can and has lead to environmental disasters because cost (and thus offer and demand, your feedback point) is a local quantity (in the mathematical sense). If you alter the feedback point so that cost includes non-locally available quantities such as the environmental cost, that is a governmental intervention, but it doesn’t upset the nature of the feedback loop that keeps the system efficient, the system will just naturally evolve to its new optimal configuration.

    The metrics by which you evaluate efficiency has changed though from that intervention.

    And that may be a better definition of political views: it’s what quantities we use to measure the efficacy of a system, not how this system is implemented. Which is back to those five foundations of morality.

    • Tom says:

      You said: “For example, on its own the economy can and has lead to environmental disasters because cost (and thus offer and demand, your feedback point) is a local quantity (in the mathematical sense). If you alter the feedback point so that cost includes non-locally available quantities such as the environmental cost, that is a governmental intervention”

      However, talk to the locals around the Three Gorges Dam and they may disagree about the wisdom of government and its suitability to set prices on environmental cost.

      I’m not trying to be overly argumentative, but assuming that any actor in the system (whether a private corporation or a government) will always act rationally or intelligently (or even for the greater good) is a big mistake.

      • Fine. Let’s admit for a second that no government can ever get anything right no matter what scientific experts it commissions to determine the facts behind any specific problem.
        How do you solve the problems that the market won’t?
        We know the environmental price exists. Who or what determines it?
        I’m not being argumentative either, I really want to know.
        By the way I agree that it’s best not to assume any actor to act rationally. But talking about feedback loops that naturally solve that kind of issue, let’s not forget that the government itself is subject to its own feedback and selection loop. It’s called democracy.

  10. Ken says:

    I may have misunderstood the brief descriptions of the five foundations of morality, but I don’t think I can agree with Haidt’s choices or his delineation.

    I remember while watching the lecture (at TAM) that a few of the foundations’ topics seemed to overlap quite a bit, with some covering broad or vague topics that seemed to bleed into other topics, and other foundations appeared relatively narrow in scope. Despite this, each topic, on the face of it, seemed to be given equal weight.

    e.g., “Authority-Respect” seems to be a superfluous category, as “Law” and “justice” might overlap, “order” and “sanctity” definitely seem to overlap, as well as “loyalty” and “authority-respect”. Both “Don’t Harm” and “Care” also seem to overlap with both “Fairness” and “justice”.

    The fact that the topics seemed to overlap would also go a long way towards explaining why the topics’ importance seemed to track so reliably (that is, in such an apparently parallel manner) in polls for liberals and conservatives, regardless of where polls were taken.

  11. flawedprefect says:

    Savage is thinking “Oh NO. That Myth we busted was actually TRUE! Good thing we exploded away any evidence, or there’d be hell to pay”.

  12. Savage photo caption:

    “One more word about libertarianism and I… will… BARF.”

  13. Brian M says:

    I think its fairly telling how there is the statue of liberty on the libertarian side of the graph. Funny how the symbol of freedom has now become the symbol of oppression by corporation…

  14. The Machine says:

    “…between the two casinos we passed the new MGM-backed casino under construction but now abandoned due to lack of funding to complete construction.”

    The project that you passed between South Point and Bally’s is MGM’s City Center. Construction is still going full-bore and the casino, adjacent hotels and residences will open on December 16th this year.

    The economy is pretty bad here in Vegas, but if City Center had shut down earlier this year, the employment rate in the Valley would have jumped a full percentage point or more.

    As for your article on the Kardashev scale, where will this be available? It seems that, as a whole, our planet is sliding further from achieving Type I civilization status. Although there are many voices, such as yours, leading the march towards this status, there are exponentially more fanatics that want nothing more than the annihilation of rationalists, freethinkers, humanists and/or atheists.

    The gentleman in the photo above looks like Jon Voight… and I have no idea what he is thinking.

  15. epicurus says:

    I wonder how Haidt came up with these 5 foundations of morality. What’s the basis? It seems arbitrary. A more scientific approach is to identify universal human traits (those that transcendent cultures) that probably evolved to survive in individual competitions and those to survive in group competitions. We can call these two sets of universal human traits as individual morality and group morality. We can then look at the different political views (liberal, conservative, libertarian, authoritarian) and identify what combination of universal human traits they emphasize. This does not prescribe what political view is “correct.” I think the appropriate political solutions, not necessarily a particular political view, depend on the specific social problems a society is facing.

    Hey that’s Adam thinking if Shermer starts talking libertarian again I’ll blow up the stage.

  16. Max says:

    Adam Savage is thinking about the Maltese Falcon, or a dodo bird skeleton, or some other obsession of his.

  17. gwen says:

    It looks like Adam Savage and he is rejecting MY reality and substituting his own.

  18. Bill Morgan says:

    I’m a Skeptic and I think most Skeptics do a great job exposing frauds and hoaxes! I continue to be amazed at how many Skeptics do this so well, except when it comes to critical thinking about government cover-ups and lies. Here they accept what the government tells us as the truth. Pearl Harbor, JFK, Gulf of Tonkin, 9/11, Political Assassinations, you name it. They think anyone who doubts the government version of events is a “Conspiracy Theorist”. I could name some of these Skeptics, but if you don’t know who they are, then you are not paying attention to what they are saying about government cover-ups and lies. Could the answer be that some Skeptics have connections with some of the Intelligence Agencies? I wonder?

    • William Patrick Haines says:

      Most of the conspiracy theories dealt obscene levels of incompetency/ negligence . Pear harbor guess what they expect levels of sabotage from the Japanese nationals residing so the lined them neatly so they picked off by the Japanese naval air force . there was at least a previous decade of tensions of with Japanese aggression and Billy Mitchell predicted a possible Japanese attack . Oswalld wrote threatening leaders was a lose cannon every regarded as harmless . 911 warnings from countless intelligence agencies and Clinton required persons to show an idea to show boarding an you would if got warnings he would coordinated and cooperated with various and really check for suspicious people before they boarded an airplane

      • Bill Morgan: “Could the answer be that some Skeptics have connections with some of the Intelligence Agencies? I wonder?”

        DAMN IT. I’m busted. At this time I am duty-bound to admit that I am in fact deeply connected to Intelligence Agencies.

        Bill, you’re just too smart for us.


        Lt. Col. Dave L. Advocat, Retired
        President’s Council On Maintaining Conspiracy Secrecy

      • Bill Morgan says:

        Lt. Col. Dave L. Advocat, Retired, Thank you for your honesty in outing yourself. Many Covert Intelligence Officers do this once they are retired and collecting their Pension and feel safe to come in from the cold. I’m sure your conscience feels much better now. You are not alone. Many have done as you have done. Your countrymen thank you.

      • tmac57 says:

        You should know that Lt. Col. Advocat is well known for running a disinformation campaign on UFO sightings in an effort to discredit Ufologists.

      • Huh? In from the cold? My conscience? Are you kidding? We had a ball with this stuff. Ask around here, Bill. They’ll tell you I’m a rather large fellow – and it was me in that Patterson bigfoot film. Gulf Breeze? Yup – me again. I’m a little too young for Pearl Harbor, wasn’t even born yet, just don’t ask me anything about… uhhh, maybe I need to just hush up right there. If I told you any more I’d have to kill me.

      • Bill Morgan says:

        William Patrick Haines. Your reply is non-sense and babble. Your post is incoherent. Help yourself by taking an evening class in composure and grammar.

  19. William Patrick Haines says:

    I do not think extolling the virtues of the corporations can hardly be taken as a moderate or a reasonable position .It is still idealistic and thus a disaster when implemented into the real world .Yes if this was never land were you could trust business to be honest with competency and compassion libertarianism would work .Of course looking out for the interest of workers the consumers and the environment would be considered blasphemy and acknowledging the concept of rugged individualism and total self reliance in a industrial society is an out dated concept and the need for a safety net is heresy Of course instead of mythical saints that were believed to have enacted miraculous works that are replaced by unscrupulous incompetent CEOs ( corrupt erratic oafs ) believing that an unbalanced unfair system is supposed to miraculously trickle down . How many Brooklyn Bridges or prime swamp land can you sell ?
    Feudalism is a nice back ground for Lord of the Rings ,Narina and Brothers Grim fair tales . I do not think reenacting feudalism via the corporate Barons ,Dukes ,Earls, Counts and other Libertarian titles that fit nicely in the Dungeon and Dragons board games but not in the day to day . Of course the average workingman in this libertarian feudalistic utopia would be reduced to beneath that of some peasant serf due to the scared raving of social Darwinism the gross pseudoscientific misinterpreting of scientific Darwinism .Libertarianism still extols the idea of faith much like faith healers try to state you do need not medicine the Libertarianism say you do need government . Healthy people do not need a physician in the same way the way the wealthy do not need the government as much or like to think they do not need a doctor until it’s almost too late

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      TAM 7 was well organized and the South Point was the best place yet for The Amazing Meeting. I have attended four meetings and have always been concerned about the political bias of the audiences to the left and greatly appreciate your perspective and presentation on the subject. Political manipulation and government overwhelmingly affects our lives and should be discussed openly….especially by skeptics and critical thinkers!

      You continue to demonstrate your great skills of reason and logic on all subjects. Bravo!

      Your panel discussion on religion at Freedom Fest was great…too short….give us more!


    • Bill Morgan says:

      William Patrick Haines. Your reply is non-sense and babble. Your post is incoherent. Help yourself by taking an evening class in composure and grammar. Wow, you just keep writing non-sense and political mumbo-jumbo. Learn how to better express yourself. Get some training.

    • badrescher says:

      This comment is rhetoric, not substance, and it offers nothing useful to a rational conversation on the subject except your last line, which supports Shermer’s argument rather well in that government’s hand in the market has played a large role in the crisis we face today.

    • Steven Nunn says:

      Mr. Hains, Thank you for pointing out an obvious conflict of purpose with Mr. Shermer. Can a “skeptic” endorse engineered worldviews? Is idealism compatible with doubt? What about intellectual integrity? And friends, does Mr. Hains deserve such disrespect? Another disappointing feature of this blog, I guess. In retrospect, Mr. Shermer, I never really liked your Sci Am feature. The rest of you know where you belong. Right?.

  20. norfolk peasant says:

    oh s***
    how did i get started drinking again…

  21. John says:

    Dr Schermer as you try to work out the intricacies of political opinions, please note that a lot of very clever people get paid to manipulate public political opinions. These confounding factors will make your work *much* more difficult – if not impossible.

  22. Steven Nunn says:

    Thanks for reminding us why science needs a firewall from the humanities. Political Science and Economics are properly considered the domain of human invention, systems not supported by hard science but rather manipulated crafts. Economic Theory is particularly offensive in this regard, as it’s proponents wrap themselves in science for credibility. This is an expected behavior, not intrinsic to Homo Sapiens. Many other species find advantage in disguise.
    I seriously hope the Skeptic is not conflating science and engineered belief systems. We don’t need another Discovery Institute.

  23. Gene Johannsen says:

    Adam Savage is thinking, “Why did Penn just ask Randi to pull his finger?”

  24. Savage photo caption: “Hmmm, Teller never says a word. I wonder if I can get Jamie to shut up like that…”

  25. badrescher says:

    There were actually 5 hands in the audience for “conservative”. You couldn’t see the 2 in the back and the shouts were inconsistent… =)

    Great talk, btw. I hope you publish those maps somewhere!

  26. SDR says:

    Mr. Shermer, you’re supposed “myth” that Darwin was an atheist is almost as laughable as your unskeptical thinking when it comes to economics. How can you say he wasn’t an atheist, and then claim he was agnostic. Agnostics by definition are atheists: they “a” – lack “theism” religious belief. They just go a step further and give the reasoning that it is impossible to know. Saying you can’t know by definition means you must not have – lack – the belief.

  27. Beelzebud says:

    Once again the assertion is made that the only conclusion a rational thinking person could make about politics is to be a libertarian… Are you going to actually back this idea up with some scientific facts at some point, or are we supposed to take this as the gospel?

    Also, if Libertarians are so rational, then why did they have none other than Richard C. Hoagland appear as a speaker at their last national convention?

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I think the assertion is being made that Liberals, Conservatives and Libertarians should be able to have rational discussions about government and freedoms by using critical thinking and rational thought. If Liberalism [assuming you are not a Conservative] is so great and unchallengeable, why don’t you give us facts and data to prove your view conclusively and then we can quit discussing all other “faith based” political opinions?


      • Beelzebud says:

        You see, I’m not the one hijacking a blog about scientific skepticism with my brand of politics. I don’t need to defend my views to you, because I’m not trying to impose them on anyone.

        I’m not coming from an argument that my political ideas are the only correct ones to have, and then not offering up any scientific proof as to why that is so.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        My statement “Liberals, Conservatives and Libertarians should be able to have rational discussions about government and freedoms by using critical thinking and rational thought” is not imposing my ideas on anyone nor hijacking this blog.

        I joined in on a discussion started by Michael Shermer. Your continuing opinion that there is no scientific data to warrant these politcal discussions is bogus. What scientific data can you offer to warrant stopping these important conversations? There are plenty of theories developed by Social Scientists, Evolutionists and Historians to inspire conversations about the workings of governments and varying degrees of freedom.


  28. harrycanyon says:

    Photo caption:

    “Oh my god! Someone get Jamie some clothes.”

  29. Paul T. says:

    Adam Savage is thinking. “I shouldn’t have eaten that South Point launch.”

  30. Nice talk at TAM Michael. It might have been nice if you included attribution for the political diagram, both in the talk and in the comments here. It was developed by one of the founders of the Libertarian party, David Nolan. People interested in finding out where they fall on the graph can take a short quiz here, and instantly discover their political identity.

    • Sara says:

      David Richards, thank you very much for this link. I was bothered by the lack of proper citations during Mr Shermer’s talk, as most of the graphs were very vague and he never explained Haidt’s methodology, and when I asked him about it afterward he was unable to provide even a paper title for me. I see he has not provided citations here either, so thank you. Here also is a link to what I’m supposing Mr Shermer based is talk on, for those who are interested:

  31. John Draeger says:

    I’m done listening to Shermer on anything because he’s clearly suffering from a serious case of confirmation bias. He does NOT believe that political persuasions and different economic models for how societies should be run are moral value judgements, not science. Social services can be paid for in different ways, and in a democratic society it’s up to the majority to define how that is done.

    The heuristic DIAGRAM IS HIGHLY OFFENSIVE! It puts libertarianism as the opposite of the evil Nazis and defines it as equal to a symbol of liberty. Problem is that by getting his individual (selfish) liberty he necessarily takes liberty away from others. In fact he listed the rights of others he does not wish to support in his last post, the same rights that many have fought and died for in most developed nations.

    Shermer is criticizing liberals and conservatives while stating that his libertarian ideals are SUPERIOR. This is the same self-righteous indignation that one can get from the other political parties. Since he cannot apparently perceive that, he’s maybe even a little bit delusional. But he’s so emotionally invested in those ideals (teaching them for a living and writing a book about them) that it may be impossible for him to see things objectively.

    By inserting a photo of Skeptics Society volunteers alongside his political opinions he is clearly indicating that his organization is not apolitical, and he does not respect the volunteers (no doubt he didn’t ask for their permission to be associated with his political ideology). I doubt Pat Linse wishes to have his political beliefs associated with the Skeptics Society either.

    Shermer is not uniting skeptics, he is dividing them. His obsession with his particular economic model for a utopian society, and his force-feeding of his political ideals is repulsive to anyone who understands what it means to be tolerant of the value judgements of other people.

    • Jeff Kendall says:

      First of all, democratic societies can still be evil, as the famous saying goes: “democracy is two wolves and one lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” And then in another famous quote (attributed to several), “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

      Thus our founding fathers gave us a republic…if we can keep it.

      The thing about political persuasians is that you are welcome to have yours. I don’t care what it is. I just ask that you not push your persuasion on me. Not ever. Let all the liberals in the world join together and frolic in their mutual love for all things liberal. But don’t include me. Thats all I ask. But thats where it breaks down. You see, libertarians just want to be left alone. We say live your life however you want so long as you respect the rights of others to to do the same. But liberals, by definition, can’t do that. Don’t talk to me about self-righteous indignation when my philosophy, libertarian, recognizes your right to live your live how you want, yet conservatives and liberals REQUIRE that I comply with their wishes.

      Libertarian ideals ARE superior.

      • tmac57 says:

        “I have lived in this world just long enough to look carefully the second time into things that I am the most certain of the first time.”

        Josh Billings (1815-1885) American humorist and lecturer.

      • Max says:

        I told TryUsingLogic in another thread that the posters who oppose democracy are not the socialists but the extreme libertarians, and I rest my case.

        Historically, anarchies are followed by a dictatorship, as people get fed up with instability, insecurity, and crime. You don’t feel free when you’re afraid to leave your house. People join tribes, gangs, and warlords for protection, and eventually the strongest warlord takes over.

      • Mike V. says:

        Historically, authoritarian systems threatened by anarchist movements used the tools at their disposal (mainly the media) to “re-brand” the term “anarchy” to mean the opposite of its actual definition. As a result, everyone now thinks that anarchy and lawless chaos are one and the same, but in fact they are completely opposed.

        Taking the Spanish Civil War as an example, Max’s (ahem) maxim is superficially accurate. The anarcho-syndicalist government in revolutionary Spain was indeed followed by Franco’s fascist dictatorship. However, this was not due to anyone being “fed up with instability, insecurity, and crime”, but due to the loss of the civil war against the fascists, partly caused by Soviet sabotage.

        I’m with Kent McManigal up above. As he says, “self government is the only kind that has ever worked or ever will”. I urge my fellow skeptics to be skeptical of those who perpetuate the idea that anarchism is lawlessness. Take a look at wikipedia for more information:

        Mike V.

      • tmac57 says:

        Uh, Mike, did you actually read the Wiki article that you linked to? I counted at least 12 different types of anarchist schools, so it is pretty difficult to see any coherence of theory,and as regards lawlessness,this from the article:”…while others have supported the use of some coercive measures, including violent revolution and terrorism, on the path to anarchy.”
        Elephant.Blind men.Just sayin’

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Interview with Prof. R.J. Rummel…personal backgound

        Q: Are there any examples of anarchies (of whatever kind, anarcho-syndicalist or anarcho-capitalist) that have survived the test of time, or have they all collapsed into mob rule?

        A: The simplest and most obvious answer is that the entire world lives in anarchy – which best characterizes the international system. Since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the major European nations, and gradually all nations, have been at the highest level of political architecture, interacting in a global anarchy. In the international relations of nation-states, groups and organizations, and individuals, there has been no law with force, and no government with a monopoly of force, or any global force at all. This is the definition of anarchy. Strange to say, that this has been missed by most everyone who has actually lived under this anarchy for all their lives. R.J.Rummel

    • DR says:

      1) Libertarianism is not utopia. I don’t know who advocates this, but critics should stop perpetuating this straw man.
      2) Libertarianism is the exact opposite of fascism and communism. There is no other way you could rationalize the diagram. It is simply 2 axis a) economic freedom and b) personal freedom. As one becomes more permissive of economic and personal freedom you slide toward the libertarian end. As you become more interested in social and economic control you slide toward the statist end – which was and is fascism and communism.

      • Max says:

        As one becomes more permissive of economic and personal freedom you slide toward the lawless, uncivilized, savage, might-makes-right end. No democracy, no government to protect property rights and enforce contracts, no common currency, just law of the jungle and social Darwinism.

      • Pat says:

        This is a fallacious assumption, although probably an honest mistake, by critics of libertarianism. Libertarians, even anarchists, do not assume that being permissive of economic and personal freedom means an absence of rules or morality. In fact freedom requires a minimal set of rules, you can’t be free if a tyrant steals from you -whether the tyrant is the state or your neighbor. A common currency isn’t a requirement – our current world already does just fine without one.

      • tmac57 says:

        Now, you see, that’s how it all starts. One rule here, another one there, then the next thing you know, you end up right where we are now. Apply, rinse, repeat.

  32. DR says:

    I enjoyed JREF, my first time, and I enjoyed hearing you speak. Sadly, there is a lot of hatred toward libertarianism at JREF. I can be an atheist, believe gay marriage is ok, think nothing of smoking pot, and I won’t get half as much grief from a conservative that I do from an American liberal who reels and squirms when I say that the welfare state is immoral or that free trade and voluntary transactions in capitalism promote fair and just outcomes. It’s like the only reason why I have rationalized this set of morality is because I’m a supremely evil person and must be wrong. I can be wrong, I have been wrong and I admit it. I’m not a god or a mind reader, but a human with limited knowledge about the world and about others (a good reason for being a libertarian – we don’t know what is best for everyone so why have a monopoly on violence decide it). Few critics of the libertarian position at JREF admit they are wrong, even when they clearly are. So while I think there are a lot of supremely intelligent people here, I think the critical thinking goes out the window when we jump from the hard to soft sciences.

  33. James says:

    Damn, I hope to make it to TAM some year.

    I am glad there is finally a skeptic willing to try to make some sense out of politics and rise above the typical Left-Right/Green-Libertarian bullshit.

    I’m disappointed, but not surprised by the large group of liberal skeptics. I’ve talked to too many Democrat-card-carrying skeptics that spout the same unoriginal, canned rhetoric and continual spewing hatred of Republicans. For a group that supposedly supports tolerance, they’re anything but tolerant. I do not identify with any political party, and I don’t understand how a skeptic can put such blind support behind any politician or party out there right now (or past).

    Good article.

  34. Vanillablack says:

    He’s thinking: “Maybe if I watch Penn in slow-motion, I can figure out his magic tricks!”

  35. TryUsingLogic says:

    I hope to see you at TAM next year.

    At my first TAM meeting I felt like I was at the Church of The Almighty Left and would be condemned to some awful place if I stood up and confessed I did not believe in that particular Almighty!

    Tam is a great event and because of people like Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller and other interesting critical thinking presenters, it gets better every year. This was a great year!

    It is not about which side you are on. It is about discussing important issues and topics that affect all of our lives in an atmosphere of reason and logic. It was great to see the show of hands by Libertarians attending….too bad there were only a few [4] who had the courage to admit they were Conservatives.

    James Randi has a great organization and I can see where more balance will help TAM and and the skeptic movement really come alive!

    I really thank Shermer for opening the door to discussion….


  36. I’ve three times over twenty years joined local skeptic groups and all three times there was a presumption that if I was a skeptic, then of course I’m also liberal in my politics. Two times I tried to be what I am but was marginalized, treated like a Goldwater (or Reagan, or Bush) mole. The third time I tried to avoid political discussion, but it was not possible, so, unwilling to lie, I left. My refusal to come over to pure liberalism clearly wasn’t going to be tolerated. All I wanted to do was examine UFO claims and crop circles, but..

    I’m unaffiliated as a voter since the mid-70s, when Jimmy Carter cured my of my former Democrat affiliation. I’ve come to ignore political wrangling and decide my positions on a case by case basis, writing those decisions down mentally, and in pencil. I’m liberal on this, conservative on that, iindifferent to the rest. but it’s the same sort of pointless wrangling and mud slinging seen in these fora that make me keep my distance from skeptical groups in and around my community. I’ll just do the long distance thing.

    When it comes to personal politics, it is rare to see anyone who realizes it is virtually impossible to be objective because of the necessarily heavy emotional investments involved, and the most of us rant on fully convinced we are being objective and only The Other Guy is subjective and therefore wrong.

    • DR says:

      From what I gathered, the skeptics of the left believe science is objective but politics, economics, morality, and human rights are absolutely subjective.

      • Max says:

        Karl Marx thought that his economic and political theories were scientific.

      • Pat says:

        And he’s been scientifically proven wrong. Elements of libertarianism have, so far, been proven correct. Capitalism is much better than central planning. Free trade is much better than autarky. Crime does not run rampant when people smoke pot, and gay marriage hasn’t destroyed society…

  37. DR says:

    On Saturday (at TAM) I sat next to two nice ladies who spent the morning breakfast badmouthing private schools, suggesting that they were elitist and racist institutions that also failed to properly educate kids. I couldn’t take anymore and interjected to explain that science, yes science, has actually proven most of their points wrong.

    My favorite is the voucher studies. By chance (rather Democrats wanted to limit the opportunities made possible by vouchers) politics gave us a near perfect lab setting establishing voucher programs by lottery giving us randomly selected students to get the treatment (private school) and randomly selected students to get the control (public school). As earlier this year, I believe there were just 10 studies that used this gold standard 6 find statistically significant learning advantages among the students assigned to the private schools 3 find statistically significant learning advantages among subgroups or in some areas (like reading but not math) and 1 says no statistically significant difference at all. The secretly buried, then quietly released D.C. voucher program study showed a statistically significant 3 month reading gain among students who were awarded the voucher (whether they attended the private school or NOT!!!). The reading advantage grew to 18 months, I believe, for students who had been on the voucher program for 3 years and attended a private school for those 3 years. Democrats all but killed the DC program, despite evidence suggesting that it works, by refusing new entrants until the program is dead for good.

    So the American left doesn’t have some monopoly on scientific evidence and they are likely to ignore the science if it fits their ideology…in this case at the expense of low income kids.

    • Max says:

      …a statistically significant 3 month reading gain among students who were awarded the voucher (whether they attended the private school or NOT!!!)

      That just screams “selection bias”.

      • Pat says:

        Students were randomly selected to win the voucher. This particular study decided to set the bar really high and look at voucher winners instead of students who accepted the voucher and went only to the private school. There isn’t a selection bias here, but it does show systemic effects – meaning vouchers put competitive pressure on public schools to do better.

      • Max says:

        Didn’t they have to apply for the voucher lottery? Those who applied probably valued education more than those who didn’t apply.

      • Patrick says:

        The problem is, everyone who is in the treatment or control group signed up for the voucher – only a few got the voucher. No selection bias.

  38. John Draeger says:

    Funny how most of the people calling themselves libertarians think anyone who criticizes them is a liberal. I found this to be fascinating and revealing. I didn’t indicate whether I was a liberal or a conservative (see comment 31)–they just assumed I was a liberal. It indicates that those people really do side more with conservative ideals–or at least they hate the term liberal more (Rush Limbaugh did a good job of changing demonizing the word in the minds of millions of Americans via talk radio). Right now the term conservative has gotten a bad name in the U.S. because Bush spent more money than anyone could have imagined-on things many didn’t want it spent upon. So lots of people want to be associated with some other name. And the liberals now call themselves progressives because even they don’t like the name. PZ Myers is about the only guy with guts enough to stick with terms that nearly all U.S. citizens don’t like–godless liberal. I like him for that sort of integrity.

    All three categories (we can add social democrats and Greens just so I’m not leaving anyone out) are like the names of opposing gangs–all seem to dislike the others without anyone even defining what the terms mean and a set of tenets. If I say conservative, does that mean fiscal conservative or social conservative? Only Max and DevilsAdvocate seemed to get my point.

    Everyone should see Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit video–it’s excellent, so I hated to have to criticize him on this political/economics stuff. Shermer isn’t paying enough attention to the last of the 10 questions on the list–is letting his personal beliefs bias his observations (confirmation bias).

  39. TryUsingLogic says:

    The most interesting thing about this thread is that a growing number of Skeptics are telling their story about how they became alarmed of the Libereal/Left bias in events about skepticism. And then Liberals come back with “How dare you contaminate are pure and reasonable scientific environment!”

    The point many of us are trying to discuss hear is that with the critical thought, reason and logic pertaining to science based discussions, many of us should not be constantly distracted by the obvious political rhetoric inserted into discussions by any political group. At TAM, as Shermer stated,about 80% of the audience said they are Liberal. If you are not a Liberal it is as plain as day that a great amount of Leftist bias and comments are mixed into the “pure science discussions.” Shermer seems to believe in a true non-political skeptics conference there should be much more political balance….he’s right!

    It seems to me, Shermer is actually using his abilities for critical thought, reason and logic to investigate and discuss this issue.

    It also get’s tiring to hear those who say there is no science available to discuss government or political issues. Those guilty of that opinion should re-evaluate their critical thinking skills.


  40. Beelzebud says:

    When the American conservative movement has spent their time promoting fundamentalists among their ranks, and rejecting science every step of the way for the past two decades, don’t act shocked when you’re around people who appreciate critical thinking, and science, and a majority of them are liberals.

    The right-wing has embraced anti-intellectualism.

    For every reason you can think of about why libertarianism is the most logical and reasonable conclusion a skeptical thinker can make, there is someone else who can make the case for their own biased brand of politics.

    • tmac57 says:

      Well said.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        I couldn’t resist…..

        When the American socialist movement has spent their time promoting oppressive government among their ranks, and rejecting reason every step of the way for the past seven decades, don’t act shocked when you’re around people who appreciate critical thinking, and science, and a meaningful amount of them are not liberals.

        The left-wing has misused intellectualism.

        For every reason you can think of about why liberalism is the most logical and reasonable conclusion a skeptical thinker can make, there is someone else who can make the case for a more rational brand of politics.

        Well said….right!


      • tmac57 says:

        Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say ” I know you are, but what am I?” (Sticks out tongue)

      • Beelzebud says:

        So you’re honestly suggesting that the conservative movement HASN’T embraced fundamentalist religion, and turned their backs on hard science?

        You may not like it, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

      • Max says:

        I don’t know if the conservative movement embraced fundamentalist religion or vice-versa, but one certainly doesn’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to embrace conservative values.

  41. Scott Carnegie says:

    Skepticism and critial thinking lead me to libertarian thought.

    • One thing that dogs these political arguments is the presumption that all political philosophies have the same goal(s). It’s sort of like watching people argue over the best road directions, where one guy’s arguing the best way to get to San Francisco while another says no, your wrong, the best way to get to Phoenix is…. and yet another says, you fool, the only way to get to Miami is….

      While I have my political opinions and might share them in the appropriate venue, I am not so grandiose as to think they are based on or constitute scientific fact. I acknowledge there is zero way for me to remove from the intellectual experiments that produce my political positions the one element most likely to taint and bias those opinions. That element is me.

      Opinions yes, but political fact? It takes a considerable hubris and the sort of pride that should precede a fall to consider one’s own political opinions to be fact.

      Many look to political opponents and accuse them of confirmation bias and they are one hundred percent correct.
      Every political position is a case of confirmation bias.

      • tmac57 says:

        “Many look to political opponents and accuse them of confirmation bias and they are one hundred percent correct.
        Every political position is a case of confirmation bias.”
        Very true. It reminds me of the the old joke of the conjugation of the irregular verb ‘firm':
        I am firm
        You are stubborn
        He is a pig-headed fool
        Where you stand depends on where you sit.(Of course, MY political beliefs are quiet inerrant) ;)

  42. Max says:

    Anarchy and totalitarianism have something in common, but you wouldn’t know it from the political compass diagram that puts them in opposite corners. Both systems have no democracy and no rule of law. Under totalitarianism, the leadership is above the law, the kangaroo courts conduct sham trials, the police are not much better than the criminals, and bureaucrats regularly extort bribes. That’s not a system that strictly enforces legislation.

  43. Max says:

    I then asked for a show of hands among the 1,007 people in the audience of who identifies themselves as left of center (I estimated about 80%), libertarian (I estimated about 20%), and right of center (a grand total of 4 people raised their hands!).

    What, nobody wants legislated morality? Are they just thinking about things like gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia which they do NOT consider immoral, or do they also want to legalize things they DO consider immoral like, say, racial segregation, ocean dumping, and Joe Camel ads?

  44. AndrewB says:

    I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members. So I guess that makes me a Marxist.

    I hate the trollish name calling and self righteousness in the comment section, especially when Michael Shermer’s stated goal is to “rise above such stereotypes.” I personally hate the bullshit in politics, so I want to applaud anyone who attacks it, but if I can judge Shermer’s approach by his comment section I don’t think it’s working.

    If I could make a suggestion to Mr. Shermer why don’t you move on from the big picture and move towards something more fine grain. Dissect some proposed legislation, or a law already on the books, or even claims being made by a politician. I think that would be more useful.

  45. TryUsingLogic says:

    Confirmation bias happens on any subject we choose to discuss. There is confirmation bias going on is every branch of science studied and like Global Warming it is most often political. By searching and finding solid facts and data the amount of disagreement on any theory should dwindle regardless of political spin.

    Shermer finds data from his research in Evolution and other sciences that point him in the direction of freedom and capitalism being better.

    Many may not agree with Shermer but it is bogus to say politics and government are strictly emotional and there is no facts or basis for these discussions. There are many social scientists researching governments, war,social structures, markets…etc and they gather data with the same care and logic that any scientist would use.

    One of the most referenced Social Scientists on these subjects is Prof. R.J. Rummel. He has researched and written extensively about the science of war, genocide, democide and government. Many here will challenge his findings and then simply revert to the confrimation bias or “emotions” argument.

    For those who would like to learn more…..look at the science…and skeptics should be interested in science…right?…….


  46. Good science controls for bias, of course. If bias cannot be controlled, it’s probably not science. I’d love to hear how anybody controls for their personal bias while determining their particular political philosophy is the ‘best’ philosophy.

    Thousands of years of human societal organization, all of it encompassing finance, production and distribution of product and service. Malevolent dictatorship, theocracy, beneficient dictatorship, totalitarianism, socialism, capitalism, communism, monarchies, despotism, feudalism, mixes of this and that, anything and everything tried at one time or another. And yet, at this end of those millenia of human attempts to devise the ‘best’ way, we can’t even eliminate half the list. Thousands of economists and political ‘scientists’, specific experts who nonetheless cover the gamut of choices and delineate no particular ‘best’ method of governing a society. Were there 21,974 of them, they’d offer 21,974 different opinions.

    And all along all they had to do, all any human society throughout history had to do, was simply apply skeptical principles and the rules of critical thinking – these would parse out the One True Philosophy of governance, the Unified Theory of Politics. The sum of all these Shermer articles and all these comments establish this as rule. Sure, despite everyone having applyied the same skeptical principles and critical thinking tools, all of them agreed upon, we’ve nonetheless eliminated virtually nothing and many different political philosophies are still held forth as the UTP, but hey, we all know those who found differently than we did must have screwed up the formula. Yeah, that’s what must have happened. The other guy keeps screwing up.

    Who among us will stand forth and declare themselves and their particular political construction to be the One True Philosophy? Who claims superiority over thousands of years of trial and error, over thousands of economists and political science ‘experts’, some of whom actually won prizes so gifted and insightful was their work?

    Not me. I’m too stupid to have possibly bested them all and figured out what none has figured out before.

    “The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” – Mark Twain

    • Max says:

      Here I have to agree with TryUsingLogic that history has given us some good experiments like East/West Germany and North/South Korea, where it’s pretty clear which side is superior.
      And if it’s true that democracies have never waged war against each other, that’s pretty good.

      I’d love to hear how anybody controls for their personal bias while determining their particular political philosophy is the ‘best’ philosophy.

      I’m no Marxist, but I took a class in Marxism to understand it better.

      • tmac57 says:

        How about North Texas versus South Texas?

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Max….Thanks for the input.

        For anyone to say that science and research data from history has not given us a solid basis to have factual discussions by skeptics on what are the best directions for better and more peaceful societies…is absurd.

        Even if someone nitpicks the definiton of what countries qualify as democracies [and some people do]…..the overwhelming data shows that democracies do not wage war on one another. Democracies spend their time trying to deal with totalitarian thugs.

        Science is about finding the truth on any subject.


      • History, as they say, is written by the winners of wars. It is very often subjective, rarely objective.
        Historical accounts also present multiple interpretations of the exact same events, again, tainted by someone’s personal biases. It is the generally held position of historians that the record is inaccurate, that parsing out the facts is the ongoing duty of objective historians.

        John Pope Franklin recently ided. He was a historian who also happened to be as far left in his politics. Newt Gingrich is a historian, taught history at U W. Georgia. He is a conservative. Do we suppose Franklin and Gingrich would research the same historical events and come up with the same ‘facts’?

        The record of history provides one with an opportunity to sort through the various interpretations and pick and choose which to consider ‘facts’. History is ripe for the practice of confirmation bias via data selection and other error-prone pathways.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        @Devils’s Advocate

        It is scientific research about historical events that eliminates the coloration of confirmation bias. Rummel began his research as a confirmed socialist in the 50’s because he saw errors, misinformation and deceitful bias in leftist Professors and associates.

        Through research he confirmed data and evidence that changed his life and has published 24 technical books on his research. He believes when all factors are examined it is clear that freedom, liberal democracy and free markets are overwhelming the best choices for societies.

        If you study his research methods it is clear that their are scientific ways to unravel important points about history and mankind. You may not agree with his data, but all branches of science disagree on data constantly and continue to search for the truth while leaning toward what seems best at the time. Global Warming for example…..

        I admire many of your comments on this blog, but to deny that science is useful and valid in discussions about determining the best forms of government is simply wrong!


  47. You’re not getting my drift and employing a bit of a straw man. Many a person has believed himself to be applying rigorous scientific methodology only to go ahead and data select, conf. bias, we all know the usual suspects. I did not say science is of no use in determining the best forms of government. I did say that after hundreds of years of it, no consensus emerges, that there are those who’ve studied the history and applied the science and determined that X is the best form while another did the same thing and determined that Y is the best form. This and other comment threads local to this blog are perfect examples of it. One poster cites his skepticism and respect for scientific applications and declares socialism is the best form. The next guy cites his skepticism and respect for scientific applications and declares free market capitalism is the best form. Obviously, they aren’t studying the same history in the same way and aren’t applying skepticism and science in the same way, which leaves everything right back where it started – each thinks it’s the Other Guy who botched the skeptical/scientific process. Ergo my comment ‘all political positions are a matter of confirmation bias’.

    Though I strongly suspect it wouldn’t change a thing, this is also one of those discussion topics where definition of terms is critical: What does it mean to each individual when they say “best”?

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      When do we listen to the facts and data by scientists like R.J. Rummel and others instead of “Many a person has believed himself to be applying rigorous scientific methodology?” Rummel was a confirmed socialist and data changed his life….sort of like data changed Darwin’s life….and many a person still don’t accept his theory of Evolution.

      With all due respect…I guess I don’t get your drift….


      • tmac57 says:

        “Rummel was a confirmed socialist and data changed his life….sort of like data changed Darwin’s life….and many a person still don’t accept his theory of Evolution.”
        This is to me a false analogy. Biology is not a soft science like sociology.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Remember…you could be wrong!


      • tmac57 says:

        I am well aware of my capacity to be wrong, but from your comments, I don’t see very much in the way of doubt. You seem cock sure of your philosophy. I think that was what Devil’s Advocate was trying to get across to you. We all like to think that our view of the world is accurate, and that we are following the correct path. But sometimes that kind of certainty is just a comforting illusion based on limited knowledge. To grasp that reality is both disconcerting and liberating. We can just decide to do the best that we know how, and if we are proven wrong, accept it with grace and humility.

  48. Of course one may be wrong. The trick is how to control for it.

    Given the hundred years and more of modern era science examining millenia of history, is there an explanation for why the science of determining the best method for governance has not reached anything resembling a consensus answer?

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      After posting the response below I had an important thought…

      Hopefully you do agree that some form of government that embraces freedom, democracy and trade is better than a thug totalitarian/socialist regime or Islamofacism where everyone is enslaved with no rights?

      If you do, what critical thought did you use to come to that decision or is it from pure emotion? If you come to that conclusion based on data….obviously data is out there and can be refined. Would you rather live in the USA or North Korea? What thought process do you use to arrive at an answer to that question?


      • That is exactly what is not working in this debate. It is not about choosing which is best, USA or North Korea. I haven’t read everything and may have missed something but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone arguing that a communist totalitarian regime was best or arguing against democracy and free trade. There are a little less than 200 countries in the world, each with a different culture and its own variation of regime type and economic rules so there is not need to be that bipolar. There is plenty of data to be subtle and rational. I think the debate should be on what criteria we use to judge the success or failure of a given system and then on what works best to optimally reach a successful state. If that is through removing rules, so be it. If that is through adding rules, so be it.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        @Bertrand Le Roy
        “I think the debate should be on what criteria we use to judge the success or failure of a given system and then on what works best to optimally reach a successful state.”

        That is exactly what this debate is about. We have been debating if there is scientific research available to refine our data about governments.

        I say there is and give references to true scientific research studies…..others say there is no data and simply repeat personal opinion and say there is no research available or it is biased.

        And if you can tell me for sure that a Communist totalitarian regime is not as good as democracy and free trade that must be based on data that can be further refined. But there are people on this blog that do not think free trade is a good thing or that poereful government is oppresive.

        There is much to argue here using the science and facts available to us! I believe that is the case Shermer presents in “The Mind of The Market.”


      • So what are your criteria? GDP per capita? Happiness? Level of education? Average buying power? Cultural and scientific production? Commercial balance? Individual freedom? Number of registered patents? Average revenue?
        What is the one metric you would pick to measure success and efficiency of a regime?
        As a side note, I can tell you for sure that a communist totalitarian regime is not as good as a democracy not just based on measures of success that I care about (although they pretty much all point in the same direction) but also because freedom is something I value as an fundamental virtue (as well as the rest of Human Rights), which is an opinion but I think it’s all right to have and defend opinions of that type.
        As for powerful government, it must also be defined. What do you call powerful government? Would you say for example that the federal government is powerful (and thus according to you oppressive)? Would you say the EU commission is? The Russian government? Where do you draw the line where it becomes oppressive?
        It would be interesting to draw a map of the world according to metrics that liberals, conservatives, centrists and libertarians respectively care about. Is there any overlap for example?

  49. TryUsingLogic says:

    Your seem to dodge the science that is being presented to us based on research of the previous few hundred years by totally relying on your own confirmation bias that it doesn’t exist.

    It’s like a Doctor is telling you that your cancer has no sure cure but that research and science clearly shows that surgery, chemo and radiation can improve your chance for a better life and survival. The Doctor will even say it doesn’t work perfectly for everyone but it is your best overall choice based on scientific fact and you can still refuse to accept that.

    In the same sense all world organizations [including the UN] have defined the basic rights of all individuals [and it would be meaningless to print them here again as I have in the past] and they include the basic rights to pursue freedom, liberty and happiness. If you will read Rummel’s book Power Kills and not see that better lives are clearly a product of freedom, liberal democracy and capitalism, then it will be obvious that for some reason you choose to deny science and will continue to make your unreasonable stand based on your own confirmations bias. If you can’t define the concept of of what “better” isbased on all the info available about one’s basic rights…..I can’t help you there!

    “Power Kills sums up Rummel’s research on violence and reaffirms and extends his earlier work. In theory and fact, democracies do not (or virtually never) make war on each other; the more democratic two regimes, the less likely violence between them; the more democratic a regime, the less its overall foreign violence; and the more democratic a regime, the less its genocide and mass murder (which in this century has killed about four times the battle dead of all its foreign and domestic wars).”

    There are many other scientists that concure with his stance and data icluding Michael Shermer. The data is there…do you deny it because of your own bias? Go to the link and enlighten yourself.

    What else do you need?

    I am very skeptical of your comments because the research data is extensive and critically reasoned. Your rejection of it is not.


    • Eeee, strawmanning me again, that’s not what I’ve been saying. Let me state this and then I’ll leave you alone:

      “…the research data is extensive and critically reasoned.”

      Which research data? It can’t all be extensive and critically reasoned, for too much of it contradicts each other. Therefore, a choice must be made as to which set of extensive and critically reasoned research data is selected. How is that choice made? There enters the risk of data selection, confirmation bias, and the other usual suspects.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        All paths of scienctific research have contradictions. That is what it is all about. How would you answer the response I made to #48. You have given me no evidence that projections made by social scientists using modern research methods are less valid than other sciences.

        It seems to me you are judging this issue based on your own confrimation bias!

        I have enjoyed the discussion and think it needs to be
        taken more seriously by all sides.



  50. I only advise that you review why you pick one set of historical data over a set that opposes, when both have been rigorously researched.

    I enjoy banging these ideas around too and laud you for not LTD-ing me like so many do.

    LTD: “Label Then Dismiss” – when someone in an argument or discussion will strive to label the opponent as a liberal, conservative, whatever, and then dismisses their arguments because they emit from a liberal, conservative, whatever.

    You see it in skepticism – remember skepticism, the topic of this blog (lol)? – when some Ufie objects to proffered evidence: “Oh, that’s just a Humbert Q. Farzensloggen article – he’s a known skeptic! You can’t believe him!” LTD.

  51. TryUsingLogic says:

    “Bertrand Le Roy says:
    July 22, 2009 at 12:27 am
    So what are your criteria? GDP per capita? Happiness? Level of education? Average buying power? Cultural and scientific production? Commercial balance? Individual freedom? Number of registered patents? Average revenue?
    What is the one metric you would pick to measure success and efficiency of a regime?”

    You must live on a different planet that I do. All of those things. The criteria is all things that affect our individual liberties, universal rights freedom and happiness. These things are well defined.

    Government by definition is oppressive. What matters is to what degree a government oppresses or controls our actions to benifit their power. There is an obvious sliding scale from socialism and government control on the left to capitalism, freedom and less government intervention on the right. If one cannot recognize the factors that describe the differnces then it is probably worthless to discuss this. Wouldn’t you agree that a totalitarian socialist government that prevents free and fair elections is all powerful and that a democratic government that changes constantly thru local and national elections every 2 to 4 years is limited power subject to control of its citizens? Obviously our Presidents aren’t all powerful because they serve for 8 years…if they are lucky!

    My criteria are all the things that scientists study that pertain to quality of life as recognized by the definitions of the universal rights of man.

    There are some things about life that should be more obvious than many skeptics want to see!


    • Why so mean? what did I do to deserve the “live on a different planet” thing?
      The problem with answering “all of those things” is that those are not strictly correlated. Countries with various regimes succeed better or worse on some of those, not on others. For example, most European countries do better than the US on number of people under the poverty line, Russia does better on higher education, I could go on. Point being, there is no single country that is leading on all fronts, and also no single factor that perfectly correlates with all criteria. Things are a lot more complex and subtle than that. Democracy and free markets? Duh, those are prerequisites.
      “Government by definition is oppressive”? Nope. Oppressive means “tyrannical, unreasonably burdensome or severe”. That doesn’t apply to any true democratic government I know, by definition.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        Common sense is mean? Most people in America do much better than EU countries on prosperity. Simply compare the per captita income of Russia and the lack of freedom as compared to the US.

        Look at stats on quality of life…..

        Your argument does not hold up on the big picture since Russia is near the bottom and most EU countries are below America.

        It is foolish to deny that America has been the most successful nation that has ever existed for the good of most of the people…….Especially when you add in that it has taken our prosperity and strengths to defend others agains totalitariansim and fascism.

        “unreasonably burdensome or severe” is what we are facing right now with Hugo Obama’s government takeover. If you don’t see that…..keep wearing those rose colored glasses!

        Our education falilure is caused by failed government management and regulation.


  52. You’re making my point exactly without even realizing it. It is very hard to have any meaningful conversation with you because you start with assumptions on what people’s position must be. Someone could agree fully with you, you would still be looking for ways to prove them wrong. For some reason you seem to assume I’m defending the Russian or even North Korean system. Probably because you’re actually not listening to anyone but yourself.
    The US has indeed been very successful on many accounts, I don’t remember saying otherwise. It doesn’t mean that it’s perfect and can’t be improved. Quality of life is indeed an interesting metric (and one I’d pick myself) where the US do very well but France does a little better. It also does a lot better in terms of number of poor people according to OECD and on many unexpected criteria such as productivity. Which proves that there are many factors that contribute to all those metrics: France does not have any less regulations or a weaker government than the US, its public educational system is much better than its private system, it has universal healthcare that is not privately owned, I could go on.
    Your rhetoric about Obama just shows how out of touch with reality you are. “Takeover”? Are you saying he used the force to take hold of power? that is an extraordinary claim that will require some extraordinary evidence…
    Then again, I’m not expecting you to use any form of logic to answer this…

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      @Bertrand Le Roy
      My statements are based on comments you make. You said…”
      For example, most European countries do better than the US on number of people under the poverty line, Russia does better on higher education, I could go on.” I said, overall America is far better off than most countries if you look at the stats.

      If you think taking over General Motors and Chrysler instead of letting them go through our our regular bankruptcy process and then jumping into the trillions for budgets and the largest deficits we have never even dreamed of, is not overwhelming government control…..dream on. If you think a government appointed Special Master for Compensation to monitor and regulate private companies finances is not government control….dream on. It is fact that Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, the Post Office, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac…etc… are all failures and have gone bankrupt or soon will be….a view of government management. It is fact that IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, are strong companies still showing profits and security for employees and investors.

      There are adequate facts and data to inform any critical thinker that it is a bad decision to trust management of healthcare and other services to goverment.

      Obama is using his popular mandate to impose more government on us if he can. It appears that more and more people every day recognize this and his favorable polls are falling. We should hope that democracy and our freedom to vote will eventually stop or turn around his plans for a government Utopia. We do have the power of democracy on our side…it has effectively removed failing presidents in the past.

      We were once the world’s shining light for freedom. liberal democracy and capitalism….as we try to become more socialist like the EU we will fluctuate and fall to some mediocre standing. By becoming like the EU we are simply lowering the bar!

      The best way to help poor people is to have an economy that can offer them jobs…if they want one. That should be a fact!

      You say my rhetoric is out of touch and then you make statements like…”Your rhetoric about Obama just shows how out of touch with reality you are.”….and then present no facts.

      I’m not judging you, I’m discussing important issues with
      you…..and I appreciate the debate.

      Then again, I’m not expecting you to use any form of logic to answer this… maybe you are the one not listening?


  53. It could be an interesting discussion without the rhetorical tricks you use to rathole the debate. I love to debate, but there is sometimes a point in a discussion where one has to realize that someone is just there to distort and troll:
    TUL: “Government by definition is oppressive”
    BLR: “Nope. Oppressive means “tyrannical, unreasonably burdensome or severe”. That doesn’t apply to any true democratic government [...], by definition.”
    TUL: ““unreasonably burdensome or severe” is what we are facing right now with Hugo Obama’s government takeover”
    BLR: ““Takeover”? Are you saying he used the force to take hold of power? that is an extraordinary claim that will require some extraordinary evidence…”
    TUL: “[you] present no facts.”
    Well, you’re making the extraordinary claims on Obama (“takeover”), so the facts are yours to present. It is ok to say you shouldn’t have used those words.
    There’s also how you cite evidence from a source, but cherry-pick the data, then ignore the questions that raises. I have not been advocating at any time that the EU or Russia (or US) had the best system or that they were a model to follow. I was just pointing out -repeatedly- that by the same metrics that you were citing, other countries that have different systems were doing just as well or even better, which begs for a better explanation than the one-dimensional one you’ve been hammering. Again, that’s not an endorsement of a particular system, just an encouragement to look at all the data, and then accept and embrace its complexity. Another thing that has been discussed very little here is the cultural aspect, because most commenters are from the US but that is one more source of complexity. Not to say that we should shy away from analyzing the data, but acknowledging the complexity is necessary to understand and harness it.

  54. TryUsingLogic says:

    Webster’s..Government…. 1: the act or process of governing ; specifically : authoritative direction or control.

    Government control is a matter of degree and hopefully in a free liberal democaracy it would be at a minimum.

    “Nonetheless, socialism as an ideology and a program is a route to power, regardless of its universal failures and technical impossibilities. People are eager to help others, be part of a movement to do good, and to feel involved. Disguise the program with feel good rhetoric—social justice, equality, shared responsibility, hope, change, and helping the poor (Sound familiar?). Raise consciousness by characterizing the status quo as in crisis with impending disaster; as unjust and unfair; and as a system of exploitation. Then, socialism can win, as it has with Obama, be empowered, and then utterly fail.”

    I’m sorry my style offends your sensitivities. I have noticed when someone disagrees with direction of a discussion on blogs they call the person on the other side a “troll.” The main topic of discussion in the news is if Obama’s agenda will be “unreasonably burdensome or severe.” Do you keep up with the news?

    Even though I have enjoyed this discussion I won’t further question your random opinons [backed up by amazing data and logic] on this very important topic.

    Have a nice day.