Friday, May 14, 2010

The World Boole Made

George Boole (1815-1864) is, in large part, responsible for our current technological society. His studies and discoveries in mathematics and logic were the necessary precursors for the development of computers. Boolean logic is fundamental to computer science and can reasonably be inferred to represent our capacity, as humans, to think rationally, to make evaluative judgments and to choose logically.

Here follows an extremely simplified description of Boolean logic. If you remember this stuff, more power to you, if you’re rusty, this may help warm up your high school math muscles.
Boolean logic deals with logical operations on two items or values (A and B, for example). There are, basically, six types of operations you can do: AND, OR, NAND, NOR, NOT and XOR. The Venn diagrams help to illustrate the operations.

The AND operation – This set is both A and B
I take cream (A) and sugar (B) in my coffee.

The OR operation – This set is either A or B
I take either cream or sugar in my coffee.

The NAND operation – This set is both not A and not B
I do not take cream and do not take sugar in my coffee.

The NOR operation – This set is neither A and B, nor not A and not B
I take neither cream nor sugar in my coffee. (but I might take sweetener and/or soy)

XOR operation – This set is the exclusive difference of A and B
I’ll have either cream or sugar in my coffee, but not both

NOT is self explanatory, I think, and not really relevant to this discussion. As you can see, it is implied in the XOR set.

If you know this stuff does it mean you’re ‘smart’?

Well I’m not really sure what ‘smart’ is and Boolean logic isn’t really that arcane - you use it every day: all the search engines use Boolean algorithms to build their queries. In fact, if you come to really understand Boolean logic you can make your favorite search engine sit up, bark and roll over.

But that’s not the reason I brought it up. Being a technologist, I tend to look for solutions to my puzzles using the tools I’m familiar with. So I was thinking about why it is that people seem to get caught up with (to me) transparent frauds like Reagan and Bush and Obama. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it and in the end most people just throw up their hands and say “It’s a mystery”.

Well, maybe not so mysterious after all… Several studies have been done in Europe, on the internal effects of religious types of experiences on the brain. The results show that, for some people in the presence of charismatic figures, certain areas of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) apparently shut down – not surprisingly, these areas are the ones concerned with differentiation and logical constructs. To see abstracts of their findings, go: here and here.

Another part of my nascent theory involves intelligence. Now there’s a word that’s guaranteed to cause trouble. What is it? What’s it good for? Why do we have it and other animals don’t? Why do some of us have it and others don’t?

Intelligence is far too simple a word for all the uses we put it to. Usually it refers to the kind of intellectual activity that shows up well on so-called ‘intelligence tests’. Those who score well add a little swagger to their walk (if they’re complete idiots) those who don’t may be resentful, but I’ve come to believe that there are many kinds of intelligence, going all the way from the Stephen Hawking variety to my cat who treats me fondly even though I’m just a slow, clumsy giant who can’t smell worth a damn and is virtually blind at night.

In the real world, over the past forty years, we’ve seen a succession of charismatic idiots come onto the political scene, one after the other. Each one tries to outdo his predecessor in how much more he can screw up this country. Yes, I’m talking about Reagan, BushII and Obama. I don’t leave out Bill Clinton because I was a Democrat (he did a number of things I was furious about) but because the actions he took on his own generally worked for the betterment of the country while the actions he took under Republican pressure invariably worked against us. How did these mental and moral midgets get elected?

I think there has been a combination of planning and serendipity working for the enslavers. There is now no doubt that key elements of this ongoing train wreck were well thought through and detailed plans were made to be implemented whenever conditions were right. Others have written and spoken about this at length: Naomi Klein, James Galbraith, Simon Johnson, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader, just to name a few. The elitist movement called ‘globalization’ has been revealed as a horrific scheme to plunder the entire planet and recast the population as indentured servants to their own destruction – unions destroyed, national governments suborned and reduced to penury, impossible ’restructuring’ plans designed to subjugate entire populations to corporatist rule while shifting the blame to the very governments that should be protecting their populace.

In current events, Chris Hedges has a revealing piece on the moral cesspool of the “Ubermensch” mentality that permeates our culture. here. James Galbraith recently made this statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in reference to the serial pillaging of the American economy by ‘free’ market fanatics over the past thirty years. Yesterday, Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, incredibly, said “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” Even as it becomes clear that BP lied about the size of the spill: apparently not 2,000 bbl/day as originally stated or even 5,000 bbl/day as they revised upward. More like 25,000 bbl/day, possibly as much as 50,000 bbl/day… and the beat goes on...

How do we deal with these horrors? How can we protect ourselves against these predators? Is there a kind of intelligence that would enable us to navigate in the dystopian world of corporate political savagery? What kind of intelligence would that be? And: can we test for it?
The answer, thanks to Danish researchers and Boolean logic, is: maybe.

There may be a combination of brain dysfunction and an inherent inability to deal with cognition that beguiles and then enslaves what might otherwise be a perfectly normal human. The proclivity to unskeptical belief doesn’t seem to have much to do with any measures of intelligence. I had a dismaying experience, in 2008, of weekly meetings with a team of lawyers, all very accomplished and experienced, people you would normally expect to have a jaundiced view of the world and a fairly cynical opinion of politicians. Yet several of this hard-bitten crew just couldn’t stop gushing about how wonderful Obama was and when presented with evidence of outright lies and fraudulent political actions, they only grew more vociferous in their praise and more hostile to any criticism. My anecdotal evidence echoes the Danish results.
So, here it is: I think we need to abandon our long cherished belief that everyone should have the right to vote. Not everyone is qualified to make decisions about our republic, not everyone should vote.Voting should be an earned privilege, not a right.

We’ve had all kinds of suggestions over the centuries on whether and how to limit enfranchisement. Some of our intellectual powerhouses of the past had long and vigorous discussions about it. Jefferson didn’t want to make the vote available to just anyone, he thought that only landowners were responsible enough to be entrusted with voting – he also thought they were, in general, smarter than the normal run of folks and more likely to have thoughts and values similar to his own. Voting rights were one of the main subjects of the suffrage movement for women in the 1800’s and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. In fact, it’s become anathema to even speak of limiting voting rights. It’s one of those things we don’t want to talk about these days - there seem to be a lot of those kinds of ‘verboten’ subjects.

I think we need to talk about this one. We’ve gotten to the point where we can see the edge of the cliff for this culture: running out of resources, out of control greed, complete co-option of governance by money, the bottom dropping out of any concept of responsibility to one another. How can we put a stop to this slide?
It’ll take many ways and many actions over a maddeningly long timeframe, of course, but one of the things we can do is to start re-thinking our a prioris.

A lot of times these discussions only go over well-trodden ground. Everyone knows the arguments on both sides and, inevitably, we all just circle round and round until we’re exhausted and just drop the discussion. Every once in a while, however, there’s an opening.

The problem with limiting enfranchisement is twofold: why do you want to do it? And how do you do it in a way that everyone can recognize is fair?

Those of us who are ‘of a certain age’ can all recall (mostly apocryphal) stories about blacks being denied the right to vote on various absurd pretexts. Clearly these limits were put on by the Jim Crow south to prevent them from voting because they were black. All of the variants to limiting enfranchisement were vulnerable to the charge that they were just as absurd and were only mask for the intent to prevent the vote for blacks or women or Catholics or Jews or… pick your target. Even intelligence tests are vulnerable to the charge of ‘racial cultural imbalance’.

So what can we do if we’d really like to weed out the ‘sheeple’? And I would like to weed them out, for several reasons: First, they’re way too easy to fool, propagandists like Karl Rove and David Axelrod are detestable human beings but they are very, very smart and they have developed the use of their tools to a razor sharp edge. Their capability to determine election results with defamation, deception and outright lies, is deadly both in its accuracy and in its results. Second, I’m tired of my life being run by ‘sheeple’ (I’m being polite here, I usually call them something else), I imagine many of us are. It’s time to reset the rules.

Now there can be a lot of discussion about the rights of citizens who are denied the vote: why and who decides, is there recourse or remedy? How does this affect their other rights? What’s the relationship to the original tea partiers (“No taxation without representation”).
This is absolutely a discussion we should have, just not here and now – mostly because it’s huge and needs a bigger venue that one article in a blog.
And there can be a whole ‘nother discussion about other kinds of criteria for getting a voting card. How this would redefine our society: do we then have a two-tiered citizenry? What are the rights and obligations of those who fail to get their voting cards? Should they get a break on taxes? What if they’re in the armed forces? Would this lead to another kind of social stratification and discrimination (in the old classist/racist sense)? This also absolutely merits a thorough discussion but not here and now for the reason cited above.
Here I’m want to focus on how and why we can and should devise and use a test that determines your (or my) ability to think clearly and evaluate choices on the basis of reason, logic, horse sense, common sense… whatever you want to call it: just as long as you don’t use “the Force”.

In Boolean terms, everyone does AND and OR, a fewer number are comfortable with the concepts of NAD and NOR but the ones I want to screen for are the ones who ‘get’ XOR. These are the people I want for voters in this society. Everyone else should ‘live long and prosper’ but the XOR people should be setting the rules.

“Well, CDP”, you may say, “Isn’t this just another way of reserving the vote for smart people? Aren’t you just being an elitist?” My answer is that I think it would be great if we reserved the vote for smart people (the alternative seems counterproductive) but the last election shows us that ‘smart’ doesn’t necessarily mean smart. Look at the legions of dunces with degrees who voted for Obama – high IQ numbers and a bunch of letters after your name doesn’t guarantee you can think your way out of a paper bag.

What’s interesting about the XOR test is that it doesn’t purport to measure your potential or put a stamp on your putative relative value. It also doesn’t care whether you’re a liberal, a conservative, a stock broker or a Scientologist. It only tests whether you have discernment, the ability to evaluate the evidence and make a judgment: take this but not that.

The context of the XOR test is important too. We’re talking about politics so we should expect the test to measure deliberative capability in choices made in the political context: think of it as measuring your bullshit detector. And when you think about it: do you really want to share your right to vote with someone who obviously can’t tell a bald-faced lie when they hear one? (I won’t even bother to provide examples, I’m sure you all have plenty)

There is another way of presenting Boolean logic called the “Truth Table” (seriously, I didn’t make this up). Below is the truth table for XOR.

You can see here that p XOR q is only true when one, and only one, of the values is true. This is the kind of thought we should encourage, for example: listening to a candidate’s words and comparing them with past performance. For example: candidate Obama’s ringing words about the need for health care reform, contrasted with his actual record of derailing health care in Illinois. This might have been a clue that he was in the pocket of the insurance companies (he got a letter of praise from the insurance companies for his work in Illinois). Regarding political ads for what they are: propaganda (and therefore almost certainly untrue).

So, what would an XOR Voter Test look like? Well there are some models for a starting point: Situational Judgment Tests (SJT) have been used by many organizations, including the US Army, for decades. Employers often have their HR departments administer this kind of test to determine where prospective employees will best fit in the organization.

These kinds of tests are usually written for the specific situation and I would expect exactly that kind of thought and attention to be applied to a Voter Test. The Voter Test would come in the mail with your primary registration for every election (you get another chance to pass, or fail, at every election). It need not be long, perhaps a dozen questions, all designed to determine that the prospective voter is engaged in the process and has the capability of making a decision based on reason – whether they actually do make a reasoned judgment is another matter. We can’t control anyone’s actual behavior (nor should we want to) but we can do two things: first, make sure that our fellow voters are competent to make a decision and second, weed out the propaganda, i.e., political ads, political money, etc. Dealing with the second problem is another matter for a different discussion, right now, I’m thinking about the first problem.

Let me try to anticipate some objections.

Isn’t this just a disguised ‘intelligence’ test?

No, this type of test doesn’t measure your IQ or aptitude (like an SAT) or your knowledge competency (like a GRE, MCAT or LSAT). It measures your ability to judge a situation (or a candidate) using objective criteria rather than emotional attraction (or repulsion).

This is discrimination and besides, it’s unconstitutional.

Last charge answered first: it’s not unconstitutional. The Constitution only says “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” can’t prevent you from voting (Amendment 15), nor can gender: “on account of sex” (Amendment 19), or unpaid taxes: “by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax” (Amendment 24), or if you are 18 “on account of age” (Amendment 26).

On to ‘discrimination’. This is another loaded word, when people use it they generally intend it to be a euphemism for ‘racist’, but what the word really means is “to note or distinguish as different”.

[Sidebar here: be careful with dictionaries, Webster’s Third International, for example, defines words by their ‘common usage’. When in doubt, go to the OED for the actual meaning]

So, in fact, we do want people to discriminate, to measure, to compare, to test, to doubt, to evaluate. And we really don’t want anyone who can’t do those things to vote. There are a whole lot of people out there voting who aren’t interested in making their vote meaningful – they’re voting a party ticket, or voting for someone who has seniority or voting for the ‘kewl’ guy. Every one of those drone votes, every one of those thoughtless voters, damages you and damages me. They vitiate our ability to change the status quo, they dilute our power.

I want you to be very careful with your vote because your vote affects me – and mine affects you. This is one of the last things we all do together as a community and the oligarchs are doing everything in their power to make it superfluous. The barrages of political advertising that are nothing but lies. The incessant blaring of media hype of the chosen candidate, the absence of coverage of anyone else (or worse, the vitriolic savaging we saw in the Spring of 2008) and the utter vacuum of attention paid to anything that smells like real discussion or thought about actual issues.

They really don’t want you to vote, your apathy is a surrender to their onslaught. And if they can’t prevent you from voting, they want you to go for the cardboard cutout of the moment: the amiable old idiot, the stumbletongued cretin ‘who’d be great to have a beer with’ or the pretty, vacuous HopenChange clown, they don’t care about color or party, ideology or aspiration; if they can keep the electorate stupid and apathetic there’s plenty of money to spare for ensuring that the ‘vote’ goes their way.

Restricting the electorate to those who prove they can think would go a long way to preventing the continuing abuse we see all around and would also be a step towards repairing the damage already caused.


ProudMilitaryMom said...

Very intriguing. Since the blatant vote(r) manipulation of 2008, I have been wondering on this same subject. When working the polls I saw folks coming in with envelopes on the back of which was written "Obama." Most of those who had these envelopes required the assistance of an election judge to cast their ballots.
Their "votes" affected each and every one of us. Infuriating!

bluelyon said...

Your essay is intriguing, and I must admit, something I've given some serious thought to myself. I don't care if the person is of a different political persuasion than I am, but I do want them to know what it is to think critically!

Have you seen the research the shows that people are more likely to believe a lie after they've been told the truth? Those are the people I'd like to weed out. Criminy, if my neighbor can't accept truth when it rears up and bites them in the ass, I surely don't want them deciding MY fate.

We require more of our juries, for crying out loud.

Thanks for stopping by my blog so I now know you are here! I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

the answer to this mystery is in the nature of language and clearly exposed in you description of the NOR operation

"I take neither cream nor sugar in my coffee. (but I might take sweetener and/or soy)"

the logic does not work across terms of different orders of abstraction. sugar is a lower order than sweetener and contained by sweetener. so you example is a paradox: you won't have sugar but you will have sweetener ... which includes sugar

intelligence means trying tommake sense of the statement inspire of the contradictions or holes, and this works under duress because you usually get farther trying something and being wrong than giving up, but also leads to the
pathology of going in circles

this illuminates a pitfall for smart people: being unconscious of language and instinctive in responses

this is all covered in a 1933 tome Science and Sanity by Alfred Korszybski and his General Semantics

He looks at the features of semantics across the major discoplines and proposes a burdensome model he coined non-Aristotelian logic. Noam Chomsky remarked of Alfred's work that he skimmed it and found nothing of special worth, maybe because it all is completely obvious to Noam, but for me Alfred's ideas awoke in me a new inner process of understanding and gave me a central framework for understanding human affairs