Theory on framework issues

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

15.1 Utopianism, Demagogism, and Managerialism are left, right, and center: Patterns of opportunism and rigidity

(Open taxonomy chart from 1st in series in separate window.)

Construal-level theory generates a taxonomy that amplifies rather than supersedes the left–right political spectrum. Managerialism corresponds to the broad center, Demagogism the extreme right, and Utopianism the far left. Monomaniacalism consists mainly of ideologies that seem to defy linear characterization. I expected exceptions to the correspondence between ideological types based on construal-level theory, but I haven’t found any; the reason for the correspondence isn’t generally obvious. Managerialism's centrist character is easy to explain, in that radical change is far (that is, subject to abstract construal) and Managerialism is near (subject to concrete construal) in both choosing issues and devising means, but explaining the other types will require additional insights.

Several aspects of the distinction between issues and means will be usefully kept in mind. Issues are what ideologists use to find common ground with people they’re trying to persuade. Even when an ideology commands little support, the issues it raises will concern many, so that the issues an ideology features may be a unique collection, but the various ideologies repeat the same individual issues. The means command narrower support because an ideology recommends its own means of solving an issue acknowledged by other ideologies.

To begin to understand why the ideological types fall in distinct segments of the linear spectrum, this essay will consider one way that construal-level processes differently affect different segments of the spectrum: the different weights ideologies place on their choice of issues versus their contrival of means, producing different forms of rigidity or opportunism. According to construal-level theory, we access our goals and values—future-oriented abstractions—in far mode. Since our goals define how we assess importance, what we construe abstractly will be more important to us than what we construe concretely. Our abstract construals often serve to express goals and values, and being their reflection, will be seen as important, since they’re measured by the same standards creating them. We value what we construe abstractly more avidly than what we construe concretely because the far mode serves to commit us to goals and values.

Managerialism and Utopianism find a relative balance between issues and means: Managerialism is only weakly committed to each; Utopianism is strongly committed to both. For these ideologies, issues and means fit together because they’re defined at similar levels of abstraction and work coequally. The modally mismatched ideologies can’t form a unified whole because issues and means are conceptualized at different levels of abstraction. In these types, the abstract prong is viewed as more important than the concrete prong.

Demagogists, who construe issues concretely and means abstractly, put little stock in their choice of issues, unconstraining issue choice. The Demagogist Tea Party can campaign against President Obama’s Managerialist regime as endangering senior medical entitlements and as refusing to cut the budget, despite the contradiction between these appetites. For Demagogists, the issues of the day aren’t fundamental. What is fundamental is the abstractly construed means: privatizing government functions.

Monomaniacalists are the mirror image of Demagogists, in that the former emphasize their unique choice of issues and demonstrate flexibility on choice of means. Libertarians make an abstractly conceived “liberty” the issue of choice. Ron Paul is sometimes accused of rigidity for his refusal to vote any appropriations bills, but he’s been accused of opportunism too, for supporting racists on the right in the early 60s and antiwar protesters on the left in the late 60s. But these means were mere vehicles for his commitment to an abstractly conceived liberty, and opposition to appropriations is strictly negative. A firm negative stance on particular means is likely to arise when issues are construed abstractly and means are construed concretely, because negation is concrete and affirmance is abstract.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

10.1.1. Another refutation of compatibilism: Newcomb’s paradox shows that free will is entirely illusory

 5th in free-will series.

Hard determinists (such as I)—maintaining that genuine free will is illusory—typically concede that genuine volition exists but claim the sense of free will concerns thoroughgoing agent autonomy: origination. (See T. Honderich, A theory of determinism (1998).) Previous essays defended hard determinism by reducing origination to the illusory sense of free will, consisting of the misperception that experienced deciding causes action. In this essay, I attack the illusion of free will at its home base: volition. It is not even the case, I contend, that our behavior is under voluntary control.

Newcomb’s paradox is incoherent
My starting point is the well-known problem in philosophical decision theory called Newcomb’s Paradox. I don’t claim to be a serious student of decision theory; my purpose is to turn the paradox to a different purpose—different but not entirely novel. Others have argued that the denial of free will is inherent in the paradox’s assumptions, but I take the argument a step further by contending that in relevant part the assumptions are true.

In the form I’ll use, Newcomb’s Paradox concerns a game organized by a faultless Predictor. The game’s set-up consists of two boxes, one transparent and the other opaque. Predictor places a thousand dollars in the transparent box but places an amount in the opaque box that’s contingent on the prediction. Chooser is to pick either the opaque box or both boxes. When Predictor knows Chooser will pick the opaque box, it places a million dollars in it, but if Predictor knows Chooser will pick both boxes, it leaves the opaque box empty. Chooser’s best outcome would be to pick both boxes when it contains a million dollars, but the infallible Predictor then will have left the opaque box empty, since being infallible, it has predicted the choice. But the Predictor goes exclusively with its prediction and makes no changes after Chooser's actual choice, and following this line of thinking, Chooser should pick both boxes. If Predictor put the million in the opaque box, then Chooser gets $1,000,000 + $1,000 = $1,001,000. But since Predictor is always right, it would have predicted that Chooser would choose both boxes, so Chooser is stuck with only a thousand.

Both sides have advocates because valid principles seem to support either decision. Supporting the both-box choice is the principle that we should choose based on the consequences of our choices, that is, based on what they cause. The maxim holding that correlation isn’t necessarily causation expresses this principle. We should choose both boxes because what's done is done. The other principle is that we can rely on lawful regularities when they—as opposed to relations of mere correlation—underpin our choice. Since the Predictor always rewards the choice of the opaque box with $1,000,000 and punishes the choice of both boxes by awarding only $1,000, we should choose the opaque box. The two valid principles lead to contradictory solutions because the puzzle itself contains contradictory assumptions: if you can choose something besides what the Predictor prophesies, the Predictor isn’t infallible, since Predictor then can be wrong. If you focus on the assumption that Predictor is infallible, you pick the opaque box. If you focus on the causal consequences of your ability to choose, you choose both boxes.

Re-evaluating volition
Commentators haven’t widely recognized the incoherence of Newcomb’s paradox because (as tacit compatibilists) they don’t see how a precise prediction derived without considering Chooser’s volition could be perfect: why can’t Chooser contravene a determinate prediction in willful pursuit of its self-interest? The problem is evident if Predictor were to announce beforehand that it predicts Chooser will pick the opaque box: what’s to stop Chooser from refuting Predictor by picking both boxes—netting a $1,000 increase in payoff? Predictor’s infallibility might be said to stop Chooser, but the question is how could Predictor be infallible (or how could the universe be suitably deterministic) when Chooser may want to thwart the prediction, if informed. What’s the outcome when Chooser—as seems entirely possible—wants to pick contrary to prediction? The answer must be that Chooser fails to pick what it wants. If Predictor forecasts the opaque box and Chooser wills the both-box choice, Chooser can’t act according to its will. It will have to act as if in a hypnotic trance when hypnotic suggestion conflicts with volition. (Post-hypnotic suggestion may be a useful model for hard determinism.) 

The weakness of this solution to Newcomb’s paradox is abruptness. Why should choice suddenly become impossible when prediction is complete yet occur when prediction is almost complete? The paradox should force us to reconsider the general proposition that genuine volition exists, and Libet’s findings provide a basis for re-evaluation. If we will our behavior, how do we know we do, given that we find out that we carried out a willful act only after our brains transmit the effective impulse? I’ve been calling that impulse the “decision,” but Chooser frames the decision after the act. Our predecision intentions comport with our actions only because of the formers' abstractness and vagueness, and strict volition is an illusion caused by our flawed perception of mental temporality. The conclusion holding that perfect-prediction’s logical possibility precludes choice is a dispositive claim against compatibilism, which—to deny any contradiction between free will and determinism—analyzes free will as volition. Our acts aren’t truly voluntary. 

Changed on July 2, 2012, 11 a.m.: Clarified that Predictor announces prediction in second-to-last paragraph. (See discussion with Joseph.)

I elaborate on the logic of the second-to-last paragraph in 10.1.2 Reflexive prediction, determinism, and the impossibility of free will

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SUPPLIER OF LEGAL THEORIES. Attorneys' ghostwriter of legal briefs and motion papers, serving all U.S. jurisdictions. Former Appellate/Law & Motion Attorney at large Los Angeles law firm; J.D. (University of Denver); American Jurisprudence Award in Contract Law; Ph.D. (Psychology); B.A. (The Johns Hopkins University). E-MAIL: Phone: 760.974.9279 Some other legal-brief writers research thoroughly and analyze penetratingly, but I bring another two merits. The first is succinctness. I spurn the unreadable verbosity and stupefying impertinence of ordinary briefs to perform feats of concision and uphold strict relevance to the issues. The second is high polish, achieved by allotting more time to each project than competitors afford. Succinct style and polished language — manifested in my legal-writing blog, Disputed Issues — reverse the common limitations besetting brief writers: lack of skill for concision and lack of time for perfection.