Politics, Psychology

Brexit as an example of failure to comprehend conditional probabilities

It’s been 2 years 5 months 12 days 12 hours 25 minutes since my first post about Brexit, and I still don’t really know what will happen.

Almost everything is conditional probability: “If there’s a hard (no-deal) Brexit, then the traffic jams from Dover, Harwich/Felixstowe, etc. will be about as long as is physically possible given the number of trucks in the UK.”

Conditional probabilities suck for human-human interactions.

Any pro-Brexit person who reads that will tend, I think, to remember that prediction without the “if” clause; and if there is a deal, they will be much more likely to crow about it as “yet another Remoaner failure”. (Also often missed: “much more likely” doesn’t mean “will”, but I keep seeing people read it that way).

This sort of prediction tends to be used by propagandists as a modern-day Cassandra: the worst case scenario is so bad that everyone strives to prevent it — in this case by not countenancing a no-deal scenario — and so it becomes just another reason to distrust experts who fought against a no-deal scenario. In turn, this increases the chances of something as bad as a no-deal scenario next time. I see the same thing with the Millennium Bug, and as a kid with global warming (no, it wasn’t scientists who told you we were heading straight into an ice age, it was newspapers; any scientists actually talking about an actual ice age were talking about the end of an interglacial warm period and were even then outnumbered 6-to-1 by those concerned about things getting warmer).

I can only think of three post-Brexit-Great-Britain (yes I do mean GB, not UK, I know too little about NI) predictions that are not conditional on the final form that Brexit takes:

  1. The UK population will still be arguing about it
  2. These arguments will involve at least one large march (≥10,000 people)
  3. At least one building will be set on fire (or an attempt will be made: they’re designed to not be on fire)

I put at least 1-in-3 odds that events 2 and 3 will be performed by both angry Leavers and angry Remainers.

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Politics

Falsifiability

The 2-4-6 game is there to teach falsifiability. It’s an important skill, because otherwise you just get confirmation biases.

For the entirety of my life, never mind the Brexit negotiations, I have assumed “the EU is good” — at least, as far as ‘good’ can be attributed to any government. Nothing the EU have done during these negotiations has changed that, as all the things pointed to by Very Angry Leavers are things which I would also do in the EU’s place (that is: it decided what its objectives were, told everyone, and focused its negotiations around them). However, this doesn’t actually prove anything, as it has all the usual problems that come with any other ‘confirmation’.

In order to test the morality of the EU, I have to predict what an Evil Moustache-Twirling Union would do, and see how the EU’s behaviour differs from that. So:

  1. EMTU would seek to punish and harm the Other, meaning that it would not focus on maximising its own strategic interests but rather on causing negative outcomes to the Other. They would disregard any advice from their own economists and business groups if they say the EMTU’s response is not the best (or least-bad) option available, given those strategic interests.
  2. EMTU would not attempt to negotiate with the Other, or if it was forced to negotiate it would have red-lines which the Other cannot ever accept. It would not provide the Other a range of options and ask the Other to choose which it would prefer. It would highball any and all estimates of payments due from the Other, and not consider counterclaims from the Other. It would not be open and blunt about its strategic interests and demands, just in case the Other could figure out a way to meet them. It would move the goalposts and threaten to go back on any deals it had already agreed to.
  3. EMTU would insist that leaving the Other requires leaving all associations connected with EMTU, anything where the EMTU had clout. This does not mean ‘trade deals’ given the explanations I’ve read tend to agree such matters are entirely down to the third parties, but rather things like Euratom, EEA membership, fishing rights, etc.; I don’t know if it would or would not include aircraft safety certificates, mutual recognition of pilot licences etc., as I don’t know how complex those are to agree on, nor if those generally require things like “both parties agree to follow judgements of the other party’s courts” — heck, I don’t even know how to characterise that, given one of the problems with the real-life version of this is that although the EU/Remain position is that EU courts are neutral international courts for sovereign countries to resolve their disputes in, the UK/Leave position seems to be that the EU is the sovereign entity and those very same courts are domestic courts.
  4. EMTU would continuously denigrate the Other, comparing it to dictatorships that half its members remember fighting to overthrow; they would then follow this up with bombastic militaristic references.

So far, the EMTU as I’ve described appears to be closer to the UK than the EU.

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Politics

Voting: do or do not?

The four boxes of liberty is an idea that proposes: “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”Wikipedia; ‘Four boxes of liberty’

Voting certainly has an effect on your society, and is certainly a way to keep your leaders in check. On the other hand, it’s also used as a way to bully society, at least in the UK and USA (I’m not sure about, for example, countries like Germany which have more than two main parties).

Consider: Who did you vote for?

The winner? “Then it’s your fault.”

The loser? “Suck it up, you lost.”

A minor party? “You wasted your vote.”

Spoiled your ballot? *blank stare of non-comprehension*

Didn’t vote? “You lost the right to an opinion.”

Not allowed to vote? “Nobody cares what you think.”

I’m not sure what to think about that.

I’m glad of one thing though: to be in a place and time where I have never needed to seriously worry about people reaching for the ammo box. I hope I never have to worry about that.

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Politics

Open borders

There are endless straw-men arguments about borders, at least from the loudest voices on the topic. Those loudest voices are, from my point of view, all on one side: The side of wanting more restrictions imposed.

I am aware that the loudest voices do not represent all, and I don’t want to nut-pick, so here is also a link to YouTuber Lindybeige who also thinks the arguments are straw men but whose position is so different to mine that they think my position is one of the straw men. (TLDW: He’s inviting people to come up with a number between 0 and ∞ as an answer to “how many immigrants should there be?”)

I’m going to write something most of you will consider madness: I think the borders should be open. Totally open. No restrictions.

You may be flabbergasted by this. Possibly even as speechless as I was when someone I had previously respected had gone on an anti-immigration rant — he hated immigration and wanted the UK population to fall (he’s British, voted UKIP and Leave, and I don’t think he ever really grasped that that meant people like me moving out of areas like his, but no matter). One of his arguments was, and this is just paraphrasing despite my best effort to quote him: “Clearly a quadrillion people couldn’t fit in this country, so we shouldn’t accept any immigrants.”

(As an aside: not only are there not a quadrillion people in total, not only is population growth going down so there may never be, but if you extrapolate growth from current annual changes to the point where there are a quadrillion, then a quadrillion people happens about the same time humanity’s energy use is enough to make a new Earth-mass planet in about 6-7 days by matter-antimatter pair production — bonus irony points as the guy had recently become Christian and that’s a nicely biblical timeframe).

Quite a lot of the newspapers think my position is somehow common amongst their political opponents — it isn’t, and I’m sad about that. Most of the politicians seem to be happy to point to a random unimportant group (currently refugees, previously single mothers, before them the disabled, who in turn followed after ethnic groups including Irish and Jewish) and blame all their own failings on that group, so the majority blaming immigrants isn’t going to change until some other conveniently weak scapegoat emerges. (In the UK many Leave politicians seem to want to blame Remainers, but that’s not likely to work with such a narrow margin… at least, I hope it’s not likely to work).

Are these papers nut-picking when they talk about me, or not? (I don’t think I’m mad, just eccentric and independently minded, but who would call themselves mad?) Depends how well I can justify myself.

So, analogy time: Right now, anyone British can move freely across the England-Scotland border, and anyone American can freely move across the California-Nevada border. The laws are different in both these examples. Imagine that Scotland declared independence from the UK and California from the USA: Now the default is nobody with Scottish/Californian citizenship can cross the border to England/Nevada respectively — further arrangements have to be made first, before any crossings are allowed again, and even then at the whims of the governments on the other sides of those borders.

What’s changed? What about the situation means that it is now important to stop people crossing that border? Anything that applies to an existing border applies to that border, and vice-versa.

Military? You can spot an army, and use your own to defend yourself.

Criminals fleeing from you? Extradition is a thing. Even if it wasn’t, the USA already has different state-level and federal-level laws, and Scotland already has a different legal system from England-and-Wales. I don’t know if/how extradition gets involved in a dispute between states, nor between Scotland and England; only that in an extradition beyond the UK border, a Scottish judge doesn’t do exactly the same thing as an English one.

Criminals entering your country? Ditto, and if you’re sharing police records internationally this should be easy to do: use the current A.I.-driven surveillance (already present at UK border controls!) in normal CCTV cameras. Although, for some things, you might explicitly want to let them come without fear of extradition — Gay men fleeing nations where it’s illegal, for example.

Voting dominated by migrants? Same as the EU: tied to citizenship, not residency.

Service-tourism? (E.g. unemployment benefits, NHS)? Same as Germany: Demonstrate you can support yourself (“pay for your own health insurance” seems to be the main one) in order to get the ID card you need for basically all civil functions.

Locals not being able to get things because of all the migrants? (E.g. school places, hospital beds, jobs, houses)? The fear represents a total misunderstanding of economics, as migrants supply both sides of supply and demand equally, just like natives.

Overcrowding? Same as literally every country larger than a city-state: the same (free-market and other) economics that also stops the entire population of countries like the USA or the UK moving internally to “where the jobs are”. Yes, there is some movement, but this leads to the next criticism…

Brain drain in the countries people leave? Yeah, the best and the brightest move, while those who stay behind are those unable or unwilling to move. Generally asked in bad-faith, because those asking show no other interest in the well-being of these places, but that doesn’t mean I can dismiss it without thinking about it.

Actually, I’ll go further: every reason one country* would want immigration is also a reason it would want to prevent emigration. (*This applies to any geographic region, including a city within a country; Detroit, for a famous example.)

Is that your problem, as an immigration nation? I don’t know — but it’s a thing. Perhaps it’s a good thing, because it will force shrinking nations to make themselves more attractive to reduce departures? I can’t predict it, and this is just a thought.

It’s also where I’m going to stop this blog post and get on with updating my CV. I’m busy looking for work in a foreign country.

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Politics

Irish border, WTO rules, Brexit

Disclaimer: I’m neither a lawyer nor involved in international trade, this is based on what I assume to be a massively over-simplified understanding of world trade rules.

The UK wants to leave the EU customs union. They are allowed to do this.

Leaving the EU customs union necessarily means that any goods crossing from the UK into the EU customs union will need to pass through customs checks. To stop this, the UK and the EU would have to agree (some sort of) trade deal — the UK does not have the power or the right to prevent this alone.

The UK has an agreement with the Republic of Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement, which reportedly means neither party is allowed to install customs checks on the border (does it? I’ve seen people claim that but I’ve not seen details). The terms of the Good Friday Agreement do not make it illegal for the UK to leave the EU customs union regardless, as there are ways to meet both requirements:

  1. The UK could blindly accept all goods from the EU.
  2. The border between the EU customs union can be somewhere other than the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border:
    1. The Republic of Ireland could leave the EU.
    2. Northern Ireland can become independent from the UK.
    3. Northern Ireland can remain within the EU customs union even after the rest of the UK leaves.
    4. There could be a new internal border within Northern Ireland.

All of these have problems, the question is which problems you’re willing to deal with.

The UK could blindly accept all goods from the EU

World Trade Organisation rules say that (outside of free trade agreements), all trade must be on the same terms as the most favoured nation: if you drop tariffs for one nation, you must drop them for all; if you accept goods from one nation without checking them, you must do so for all; etc.

If the UK accepts all goods from the EU without checking them, then the UK is obliged to also accept all goods from everyone else, also without checking them.

This does not oblige the EU to accept goods coming from the UK, but would allow the UK to be following all the rules.

The Republic of Ireland could leave the EU

The Republic of Ireland has no desire to do this. (It might happen).

Northern Ireland can become independent from the UK / Northern Ireland can remain within the EU customs union even after the rest of the UK leaves

The UK government will probably fall if this happens. (It might happen).

There could be a new internal border within Northern Ireland

I don’t know enough about the politics of Northern Ireland to be sure, but isn’t this sort of thinking exactly what caused all the fireworks between India and Pakistan, between and inside seemingly half of the nations in Africa, the reason the Berlin Wall was a symbol of the Cold War, and one of the main reasons Northern Ireland didn’t immediately become peaceful the moment the Republic of Ireland became independent from the UK?


Obviously, the only acceptable course from the perspective of the UK government is to try to force the Republic of Ireland to leave the EU. Fortunately for the Republic of Ireland, the UK government is wildly incompetent.


Oh, one more problem:

The Good Friday Agreement wasn’t just with the Republic of Ireland, it also involved the total disarming of all paramilitary groups. The paramilitary groups reportedly dragged their feet with that disarming, so even if the governments agree, there may be an undesirable fan-feces interaction.

Advice? I suppose you could invest in armoured reinforcement manufacturers, but this isn’t going to be fun for anyone.

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AI, Software, Technology

Automated detection of propaganda and cultural bias

The ability of word2vec to detect relationships between words (for example that “man” is to “king” as “woman” is to “queen”) can already be used to detect biases. Indeed, the biases are so easy to find, so blatant, that they are embarrassing.

Can this automated detection of cultural bias be used to detect deliberate bias, such as propaganda? It depends in part on how large the sample set is, and in part on how little data the model needs to become effective.

I suspect that such a tool would work only for long-form propaganda, and for detecting people who start to believe and repeat that propaganda: individual tweets — or even newspaper articles — are likely to be far too short for these tools, but the combined output of all their tweets (or a year of some journalist’s articles) might be sufficient.

If it is at all possible, it would of course be very useful. For a few hours, until the propagandists started using the same tool the way we now all use spell checkers — they’re professionals, after all, who will use the best tools money can buy.

That’s the problem with A.I., as well as the promise: it’s a tool for thinking faster, and it’s a tool which is very evenly distributed throughout society, not just in the hands of those we approve of.

Of course… are we right about who we approve of, or is our hatred of Them just because of propaganda we’ve fallen for ourselves?

(Note: I’ve seen people, call them Bobs, saying “x is propaganda”, but I’ve never been able to convince any of the Bobs that they are just as likely to fall for propaganda as the people they are convinced have fallen for propaganda. If you have any suggestions, please comment).

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