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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Trouble with Bernie Sanders Part II Hanlon's Razor

Hanlon's Razor

Bernie had the opportunity to bring transformative change to the Democratic Party and he's blowing it. I was going to put all this in one book length post and then I realized it was too unwieldy. The subject is too big, and there is too much to talk about. And one cause of this failure is the paranoia and anger of his so-called movement. And what is driving that movement is Hanlon's Razor.

Hanlon's razor basically states that one should avoid ascribing to malevolence what is more likely caused by stupidity. It's a corollary to Occam's razor and this is so because in observing human affairs complex narratives usually involve elaborate conspiracies or hidden motives. But human stupidity is usually the more likely cause for failure or even conflict. People misunderstand each other.

The Berner Corollary to Hanlon's Razor

All this is fed by misinformation, disinformation and confusion by a variety of activists. For example, there was a voice vote to end the convention. The Bernie followers were very loud "nay" but the chair carried the motion. Why? Because the majority in the room were Hillary supporters, and while they weren't loud, voice vote doesn't mean "loudest vote" it means majority.

In Politics never ascribe to innocent motives what can incite people

In heated political times knowledge of Hanlon's Razor (or the truth) doesn't stop folks from deliberately misinterpreting events to fan the flames of anger or push an agenda. So I guess we now have a corollary to Hanlon's Razor --> when politics is heated people will believe the worst even when the real cause is more prosaic. The Left Wing, including people who ought to know better like Cenk Uighur responded to the hubbub over Nevada's convention with hyperbole and condemnation. Things like "Democracy died in Nevada" came out of mouths I normally can rely on to be truthful. All this is nonsense but understandable, if incredibly cynical.

Berners Razor: "Never ascribe to innocent motives what can incite people

renamed to "Berner" as it is older than Bernie

... driven by Hanlon's Razor and the Berner Corollary

In my previous post, What Bernie is doing Right I covered what I like about Bernie. I can agree that the Democratic Party has serious issues but I also have a pretty good idea of what we need to do to do something about them. Unfortunately fanning the flames of paranoia, distrust and talking about fighting and attacking the "establishment" are not on that list.

Issues Driven by Dysfunction not Venality

If we were talking about the GOP and the so-called "neo-liberal" ideology I'd be including greed, hubris and malevolence as causitive.

But when I'm talking about Democrats and our parties, I have to talk about Hanlon's Razor and other principles of modern life such as the "Peter Principle" and "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished."

Yes, I can talk about the influence of neo-liberalism on our political process and our party. But the driving force for that is the cons and con artist arguments, not the intentions of Democratic politicians. Neoliberal ideas when preached by Democrats have always been preached as "win/win" concepts. We don't want people unemployed, or to punish the poor.

We may be gullible, naive, stupid even; but we aren't malevolent as a party. Democratic leader individual corruption might result in misery for people, but that is never its purpose. It's not part of our fundamental ideology. If we thought balanced budgets were required, it wasn't as a tool to excuse holding people down, at least not on our part. If we are working with the Cons or with business it's to accomplish our goals, not because we are crooks. Even our crooks pursue these things on the premise of Win Win. They just aren't monks and if they think they can get an extra home out of the deal, well they figured they earned it.

Faulty Assumptions

The Berner Corollary could be named after any left wing (and many right Wing) politician who is trying to build or keep a base of supporters. The narrative of victimology and persecution is the old Ass-U-Me result of faulty assumptions and ascribing the worst motives to the decision making of opponents. Often it leads to folks betraying their own motives. When people are seeking attention, saying nice things about enemies is boring.

The Good Cop, Bad Cop, Guilty til proven innocent beyond any doubt

Activists, some politicians and muckrakers are trained in the mindset of bad police officers; "everyone is guilty until proven innocent (cleared)." The "us versus them" talk between the two camps is an US thing due to ascribing the worst motives to each other. It gets people's attention but it also leads to negative politics.

Dueling Faulty Assumptions

We have dueling faulty assumptions going on. Bernie and other activists have taken a general narrative of what went wrong in the past 35 years and used it to broad-brush the Democratic party and well meaning people as a whole. This is a function of people who ASS-U-Me(d) that things that are in fact due to Situation Normal All Messed up (SNAFU) or to Hanlon's Razor (the proposition that the most likely explanation for events is more often stupidity than cupidity), are the product of intentionality and corruption. Rather the corruption is usually a function of self interest and delusion. And the broad-brushing that results leads to hypocrisy and three fingered errors.

It also leads to self fulfilling prophesies as it antagonizes potential allies

Political Revolution?

Thus when Bernie says:

"you need a political revolution. And that is you need these young people to understand and working people and low income people, if they are not involved actively in the political process, it will be the billionaire class who makes decisions for them and not necessarily in their interest." Transcript

...Bernie is half right. We need people involved in the process means running people for office, participating in the process and voting regularly and often. We need democratic controls on our elected and unelected officials alike; both to keep them on the virtuous straight and narrow path that is what their roles should be. And to give them a set of eyes and a voice to warn them when they stray from common sense and greater good into private, separate advantage. We need a lot of things.

Gets Attention, but doesn't produce Revolution

It gets attention. But a political revolution assumes a level of malevolence that is not there, and since this sort of thing has been going on for years and has dismantled previous political revolutions, a "revolution" without getting the causality right and functionality correct, is just destructive. If the problem were really only malevolence then his next comment to Chris Matthews would almost make sense.

Faux Revolution

Does he really think that Mitch McConnell would be impressed by a million demonstrators on the mall?

“Hey, Mitch, take a look out the window. There`s a million young people out there who don`t want to be in debt for half their life for the crime of going to college. If you want to antagonize those million people and lose your job, Mitch, if you don`t want to lose your job, you better start listening to what we have to say.” That`s the point. That`s how change takes place." Transcript

Obama probably has already said similar to Mitch McConnell. That argument might work with Obama but McConnell doesn't give a rats Petutty about those "young people." That is why we have a Democratic party rather than only one happy family single party. So if he fails???

Then What? Shooting???!

Berner's Razor at work is all sturm and drang.

It takes a Party to Do Revolution

The Democratic Party was constituted as a vehicle for taking political action. Ascribing the worst possible motives to it's activists, leadership and politicians is offensive. It just alienates us and makes it hard to get at the kind of arguments that can really move us. Those attacking our motives don't realize it takes a functional party to move things along and democracy in a federated republic requires lots of leaders at all levels. Not all those leaders will be naturally serious about the party's collective goals -- so it takes leadership from behind to keep them so.

Part of Democracy is Stepping Up

Yes the risk of having leaders is of creating aristocracy. But the risk of not having leaders is that otherwise things descend into chaos. They are necessary. And in fact we, as potential leaders, need to step up and make ourselves leaders if we want the party to work.

It takes a functional Democratic party to envision, create and sustain a functional democracy because participative institutions like the Democratic party are democracy in action. Demos = people and kracy = rule. So when we have self governed institutions we are expressing democracy. The principles of representation depend on whether people show up and vote. If you want oligarchy or plutocracy don't show up. The wannabe oligarchs and plutocrats will. It's easy to have democracy in a single room. Much harder to get it across lands and peoples.

Berner's Razor and Party function

The result of seeing the worst possible motives in any less than perfectionist stance is that people who are that way are not able to work with others well when it matters most. When Sanders:

complains about how closed primary states won't let "independent voters" vote in them,
or blasts the party for and claiming the process is rigged.

He's ascribing malevolence to decisions that aren't malevolent. We don't run closed parties to prevent Bernie Sanders from becoming POTUS. We do so to prevent Donald Trump from picking our candidate.

There is a strong argument for closed primaries. We have more than one ideology in this country. Some of those ideological groups have compatible ideas and can work together. Others do not and are at odds with the rest of us. For example Libertarianism (actually neo-liberals) is at war with us Democrats. When they vote in our primaries it's not to elect Bernie Sanders. It is to defeat the party.

Yes we should open the registration for the party to any who want to join it, but closed primary rules are not intended to sabotage Bernie's election. If the process is rigged, that can be fixed, but first you have to differentiate between it being "rigged" because you don't like it and where it can be improved and isn't being improved because of the self interest of those who benefit from the current rules. You have to make the case. Bernie is not doing that. He's using a process with a good reason for being as a tool for getting attention.

Thumbing your nose at rules is counter-productive

The result of ascribing the worst possible motives is usually completely messed up results. For example he wrote to Ms Shultz:

"I believe the composition of the standing committees must reflect the relative support that has been received by both campaigns," and he insists that if Ms Schultz doesn't accommodate him "he would have his delegates move to change the platform on the floor of the convention." [Politico]

Which presumes that the "reforms" he insists on are actual reforms. But we've been through this before. Assuming the process is rigged, leads to confirmation bias. If his own lieutenant steals information from the Hillary Campaign, that is a plot to sabotage his campaign. If the rules say people have to register by a certain date and they don't, that is a plot to stop "independents from voting." Of course it is meant to stop non-party members from voting. We Dems want to run our party, not to have Libertarians or other outsiders do so. We know we need political activism to accomplish our goals. We don't need Bernie to tell us we need a political revolution --> most of us have been trying to accomplish that our whole lives.

You don't fight Corruption by Bashing your allies

And the result of the Berner corollary is not only counterproductive but threatens violence. The complaints against Ms. Lange for her angry chairing of last Saturday's Nevada Convention have led to death threats against her. We can only hope nobody acts on them.

It takes a Party to do a Revolution

It takes a Political Party to do a revolution. And a successful revolution creates and reinforces an establishment that is virtuous, works or the greater and general good and doesn't engage in "private, separate benefit" at the expense of others. If you want to change such organizations you have to get involved in them. If you see the world as a "us against them" place and demonize those you are struggling with, you will fail.

The Berner corollary results in the Wrong Narrative

Bernie did a good job as Mayor because he was able to work with people and get them to see that his solutions were win/win for everybody. POTUS is a more frustrating position. It's more like being the judge or captain of a nation of cats than a cohesive army. The President is constrained by laws and the power of the purse held by the legislature. A narrative that attacks the Democratic party will fail. The narrative we need is of, yes, reform. And indeed dumping the Zombie ideas of neo-liberalism and their corollaries from our politics. But that is not a narrative that is so personal or directed against the party and it's leadership.

The election seems to increasingly be about grudges, faulty allegations that the game is rigged and complaints about the Democratic Party that he admits he only joined because otherwise he'd only otherwise get maybe 3% of the vote.

Making us Feel Used

Bernie and other lefties seem to believe that the Democratic party is a criminal organization and to blame it for the reversals common folks have endured recently. The result of ascribing malevolence to FUBAR is that friends of mine are having a near civil war based on whether we support Hillary or Bernie, with the Bernie folks convinced that anyone who supports Hillary is supporting a Con who is completely unreliable and can't be trusted. And their evidence? that she raises money for other democrats and from wealthy donors. That makes us feel used. We liked Bernie before he started running.

Ascribing the Worst Possible Motives

And unfortunately the narrative that Hillary is evil is one that has been carefully cultivated by our Con friends working with allies on the left, for years. Any effort to fight the cons that fails feeds into that narrative. Any effort that succeeds only by compromise also does so. There is a level of borderline perfectionism that makes the far left never satisfied with "better" but willing to destroy the good for the sake of pursuing the perfect. Perhaps that contributes to the far left's willingness to ascribe the worst possible motivations to everything we do. I just found out I'm a corrupt Hillary Shill for defending her. Where is that money??? I wish.

Blaming Obama

Cenk Uighur, Thomas Fran and a host of pundits, muckrakers and activists all believe pretty much the same thing. For example last week there was an article titled THOMAS FRANK ON HOW DEMOCRATS WENT FROM BEING THE ‘PARTY OF THE PEOPLE’ TO THE PARTY OF RICH ELITES. It is a great example of Berner's Razor at work. The article manages to blame Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton for deregulation and other GOP projects, and for the cycle of bubbles and collapses that ensued. For example Thomas Frank manages to blame Obama for failing to reign in Wall Street:

"Obama played it the way he wanted to. Even when he had a majority in both houses of Congress and could choose whoever he wanted to be in his administration, he consistently made policies that favored the top 10 percent over everybody else. He helped out Wall Street in an enormous way when they were entirely at his mercy."

The article is based on a half truth. Obama appointed insiders from Wall Street to key positions and these insiders took a lackluster approach to enforcing the laws broken by Wall Street and reregulating things that had been legalized previously. However, the notion that there was intentionality there, is a slander, completely lacking facts to support it. The reality is that the Federal Government is a juggernaut and reforming it has to start with legislation, which will be hard to pass because Wall Street has both expertise and money. One without the other would not be enough.

Blaming Jimmy Carter!

The article is an example of a whole slew of articles that blame deregulation on us Democrats. But this one is even dicier, it tries to blame the whole mess on Jimmy Carter! Now the GOP has been blaming Jimmy Carter for everything that happened on his watch, before his watch and up til Clinton was sworn in, so I expect that they'd write things like this. But this is supposedly a progressive! These narratives pretty much leave out Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes and instead focus on us Democrats.

Alfred Kahn as Dictator of Democratic Doctrine

The Article focuses on process improvement maven Alfred Kahn and his belief that functionality can be engineered using de-regulation. Now this was a Democratic delusion for a time, but it was a point of faith for the Reagan Revolution.

Kahn was a conservative individual. He was anti-Union on functionality and pricing reasons. The author quotes him:

“I’d love the Teamsters to be worse off. I’d love the automobile workers to be worse off.” and says "He then basically says that unionized workers are exploiting other workers."

But Kahn worked for Jimmy Carter. He didn't express Jimmy Carter's beliefs and we know that people like Kahn and Brezhinsky weren't always on the same sheet of music as their bosses. Instead of being an example of how dysfunction works, Kahn becomes part of a narrative that ascribes malevolence to the party's evolution.

"When he took over the Civil Aeronautics Board for President Jimmy Carter in 1977 air travel was regulated to the hilt, with prices, routes and returns all fixed and aircraft, which could compete only on the number of flights and the meals they served, flying half-full. Mr Khan, furiously resisted by companies, pilots and unions, removed the rules. As an academic, author of “The Economics of Regulation” in two stout volumes, he was eager to see those elusive and fascinating things, marginal costs, brought into play: to let prices follow the constantly shifting value of an aircraft seat as demand changed or departure time loomed, or indeed as shiny new jet planes depreciated above him, just “marginal costs with wings” [Alfred Kahn]

When he proposed that idea it made sense. And to a certain extent it is valid. Unfortunately, deregulation has some serious side effects that Kahn didn't anticipate, but rather than look at the subject in terms of mistaken assumptions and failure, the authors treat it as a case of malevolent change. Kahn wanted to deregulate the airline industry to make it act more like a market. He made some serious mistakes in his analysis, but deregulation, for a time, brought down prices and improved the function of the airline industry. Fran's narrative is an example of Berner's Corollary at work.

Yes Son, we had a Civil war

Yes, there was a civil war within the Democratic Party. They fought with each other all the time in the ’70s and the ’80s. Indeed it took extraordinary effort to unify the party enough to elect Jimmy Carter and even more effort to elect Bill Clinton. Some Democrats defected from the party to support Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter was a moderate. He wasn't conservative enough for them. The "right to life" issue, hyper-patriotism and other authoritarian ideas were used to recruit blue collar workers. White Collar workers were divided by whether or not they believed in Horatio Alger or FDR principles. Seeing what happened next as an oversimplified plot distorts the narrative, which is complex, nuanced and in many cases a cause for self reflection.

Most folks I know bought Kahn's arguments at the time he was making them. They seemed common sense. If I'd known the history better I'd have argued with them -- but I didn't and they seemed self evident. They were a reversion to the early days of Airlines and if the logic had been carried to its absurd extreme we'd have been back to barnstorming and wing walking. Most fallacies take a reasonable argument and turn it into such absurd extremes by stripping them of nuance, caveats or refusing to learn from why things got to be the way they were in the first place. That is what happened to Kahn and the Democratic party's efforts to deal with the Cons. It also happened to the cons. In the 60's and 70s many now obviously absurd con arguments sounded reasonable. They might have stayed there had the cons been more moderate. Or maybe we might have known better if we'd been doing better communication.

Yet a lot of my fellow Lefties now see a narrative of paranoia and conspiracy in the Clinton years, and some push that back to the Carter years. There were a lot of bad decisions. But ascribing intentionality to them violates Hanlon's Razor.

And the Result is Needless Conflict

If Bernie Sanders didn't confuse FUBAR, Bureaucracy and normal dysfunction with intentional malevolence he would have already dropped out of the race. He'd already refuted the narrative of budget constraints and 911, the Second Gulf War and 2008 have provided ammunition to refute the claims of the value of unfettered markets and international mischief as being all for the betterment of the world. Hillary went to great lengths to accommodate him. And instead of them coming to agreement, he's just gotten more angry, aggressive and now his followers are disrupting her events and threatening people. And of course the other consequence is that many of Hillary's followers and mainstream democrats are vulnerable to attacks on those ideas that Bernie has that were part of our core platform! We too are seeing the worst possible motives in his behavior! What comes around goes around.

I have a lot more to say but this is enough for now. But the corollary here ought to be "if you are willing to see the potential for the best possible motives and understand your opponents enough to make them common goals --> you will succeed.

"I don't like bashing people. But it struck me what the problem was and I had to get it out. I truly believe that all of our problems as human beings are always 3 fingered things and that if we use all 5 fingers to work together we can solve problems rather than break our forefinger all the time."

Sources and Further Reading

Note I renamed it from "Bernie's corollary" to the "Berner corollary" to make it more universal. As I see it at work among other activists and radicals all the time.
Death Threats over Nevada Delegates:
Chris Matthews Interview [HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS 2/25/16]:
Cenk's Interview
Huffington Post Citing Cenk's interview:
Sanders on the Convention:
Maddow's Inteview
Daily Kos:
What Bernie is doing Right
Building A Democratic party that can "be all it can be
Lakoff Review:
Article: Democratic Strategies Lost Big. Here’s Why and How to Fix It. []
An account of
Alfred Kahn Bio:
Nation Article
Dolores Huerta endorsed Clinton
[The Hill excerpt]

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