Why Trump won, and a calmer assessment of the situation

The filmmaker Michael Moore, who had predicted a Trump win several months ago, went on Morning Joe on Friday and discussed why Trump won.  It was painful to watch, but the main point that struck home was when Moore pointed out that many Trump voters were previously Obama voters.  What this tells me is that we on the left need to stop calling all of Trump’s voters racists or otherwise attempting to shame them.  Some definitely are racists and bigots, but many aren’t.

So why did many who don’t share Trump’s values vote for him?  Because they perceived that their economic situation was getting worse.  This is borne out by the exit poll data, which show that, of the 27% of the country who feel they are financially worse off than they were four year ago, 78% voted for Trump.

As I said a few posts back, universal democratic suffrage works because people know when their own situation is getting better or worse.  When your situation is getting worse, you often vote for change any way you can get it, all other details be damned.

It’s easy for those of us who are relatively comfortable economically to bemoan Trump’s values, but if my personal financial situation had been in decline, I have to admit that I would have been sorely tempted to vote for change, any change.  And if I couldn’t bring myself to vote for the change candidate, I might have stayed home, which is what a lot of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters did this election.

It’s incredibly painful that this led to someone like Trump winning, with all the damage he’s liable to do, particularly given that the economic problems of this group were largely a result of Republican caused gridlock.  But painting all of Trump’s voters with the same brush is a mistake.  Many of those voters will be the ones who might be convinced to vote for someone else in the future.  Attacking them now will only harden their attitudes.

So that’s how we got here, but what now?  Anyone who thinks they know what’s going to happen in a Trump administration is delusional.  At this point, I suspect Trump himself is still figuring that out.  But based on his campaign positions (such as they were) and his moves this week, I think we can take a shot at a tentative assessment of what will happen.

First, I’m not as sure today as I was on the morning after the election that the economy is doomed to suffer.  I’m sure Trump and the Republicans will pass a huge tax cut.  This will blow a hole in the deficit, but it will also stimulate the economy.  I’ve been saying for years that our economy needed more deficit spending to spur activity, and we’re about to get the Republican version of that.  I’d have preferred the Democratic version, but an economic stimulus is still an economic stimulus.

Of course, if Trump starts trade wars, any benefit from the stimulus might be more than offset by economic contractions from reduced exports and higher prices on consumer goods.  Still, a large enough stimulus, while it won’t bring back legacy manufacturing jobs, might still provide more opportunities for those who were effected by the decline of those jobs.

I’m also a bit less pessimistic about the social safety net.  Trump, in his populace positions, actually rejected orthodox Republican ideas of cutting social security.  The big exception was his position on Obamacare, but he now appears to be walking back that stance somewhat.  In truth, I always thought the Republican promise to repeal and replace Obamacare was rhetoric.  Given how conservative Obamacare actually is, I’m more expecting them to pass a “repeal” bill that mostly shuffles its components around and renames it, with probably some additional conservative tweaks.  Not that some of the changes won’t be painful.

I still can’t see any reason to be optimistic about climate change.  Trump naming a climate change denialist to head the environmental transition team is a bad sign.  So, I don’t expect any progress on this in the coming years.  Many are acting as though this will doom the Earth.  In truth, the Earth was going to get warmer with or without the US participation in international climate change initiatives, but now it’s going to get warmer than it otherwise would have.

I also still fear that science overall is going to take a hit in this administration.  The more natural sciences might not be compromised too much, but look for anything related to climate science, or to the social sciences, to see declines in funding.  I hope I’m wrong about this.

We probably will see some form of that idiotic wall get built on the Mexican border.  But I seriously doubt we’ll see mass deportations.  In truth, despite surrounding it with a lot of angry rhetoric, Trump walked back the mass deportation threats once the primaries were over.  Not that the situation isn’t likely to be more dangerous for many undocumented immigrants.

Trump was also not hostile to the LGBT community, and took some flack from other Republican candidates for it.  So while I doubt we’ll see any progress on LGBT issues in his administration, Republicans who want to reverse the recent gains may find themselves frustrated.

Race relations, unfortunately, may be a different matter.  Trump’s attitudes in the campaign and overall history are worrying here, and they are largely in sync with overall Republican attitudes.  I fear that people of color may see their position erode in the next few years.  Again, I hope I’m wrong.

On international relations, I really have no idea what’s going to happen.  Trump’s comments about NATO, his advocating for war crimes, and a lot of other bombastic nonsense he sprouted in the campaign, is pretty scary. We can only hope actually being in power and being responsible for the consequences makes him more cautious in his approach.

On the supreme court, again I’m not sure what’s going to happen.  Trump promised to appoint conservatives, but many of his own positions aren’t really conservative, particularly not on social matters.  Still, he’ll need his nominees approved by a Republican Senate, so it’s probably safe to assume they will be at least conservative leaning.  This may be the most lamentable result of this election, a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives for another generation.

All of this, of course, assumes that Trump is able to maintain a somewhat rational and coherent path in his administration.  Given how erratic he often was during the campaign, this seems like a big if.  It’s still quite conceivable that he ends up doing something wantonly illegal and gets impeached.

It’s painful to note this, but if he does manage some form of minimal administrative competence and manages to accelerate the economy, I see him getting re-elected in 2020.  The only way Democrats have a chance in 2020 is if he tanks the economy, which he may do if he’s not careful with his trade changes.

But regardless, Democrats have a reasonable chance of making gains in 2018, both in the House of Representatives and in state houses across the country, and again in 2020, which may put them in a crucial position to reverse some of the gerrymandering that has given Republicans such a lock on the House.  Given where the party is right now, in minority status across all levels of government, it’s a rebuilding they desperately need to do.  It will be a long slog.  Those of us on the left should prepare ourselves for a marathon, not a sprint.

So that’s where I see us being right now.  I may have very different views depending on what happens in the coming weeks and months.  What do  you think?

42 thoughts on “Why Trump won, and a calmer assessment of the situation

  1. Is yours the only calm head in the blogosphere as regards all this? It seems the rhetoric of the hustings at least in part comprised very hot air (no surprise there then) – e.g. the man Trump then called “the worst banker on Wall Street”, is now being sounded out for the position of Treasury Secretary! I have to say though, Mike, the world feels to me a darkened place far further still with this result. But I agree entirely, and we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out. Big business will do very well, and the environment and civil rights won’t, that’s for sure, but aside from that, who knows?

    Unfortunately (to say the least, and for the rest of the world), the pollsters, the corporate media, and Hillary’s nonsensical and rigged selection made potential Democrat voters either complacent or reluctant, even after pollsters’ demonstrating relatively recent abject failures in the Israeli elections, the Scottish referendum, the Conservative majority in the U.K., and of course, Brexit. I’ve read so many analyses as to the reasons for this result, but to me this seems the prime thing – complacency and reluctance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I don’t know about the only calm head thing. In truth, I’ve been trying to move past freakout mode since Wednesday. Last night was when I finally started to feel like I was achieving it. Avoiding cable news and partisan news sites seems to have helped. Most of the left appears to be in a self reinforcing anxiety loop right now, which I think isn’t helping us.

      I didn’t mention Wall Street reform in the post. Trump has actually called for a new Glass-Steagall type act (separating banking from investments), but who knows whether he meant it, or whether it’s something he might end up compromising on with mainstream Republicans, who certainly want to rollback any and all reforms.

      I do agree that the world is a darker place with this election. I didn’t mean to imply that it wasn’t. But it’s not all necessarily destined to be an apocalyptic dystopia.

      I disagree that Hillary’s nomination win was rigged. Certainly she was the DNC’s preferred candidate, but she also just received millions more votes in the primaries, including in many states that she eventually lost in the general, indicating that the voters who swung Republican had already done so by the primaries, or simply didn’t choose to participate in the primaries. Would Sanders have done better in the general? Maybe, but the voters he might have appealed to didn’t show up enough to get him nominated.

      Ultimately, I think Clinton was dealt a losing hand, although most of us didn’t realize it until the end, and played it as well as she could. In truth, the Democratic party was attempting to win a third presidential election in a row, and history shows that’s pretty difficult.

      But buyer’s remorse may well strengthen the Sanders wing of the party now. I agree with a lot of the views of that wing (although I also disagree with them on certain things), but I’m a little nervous what their ascendancy might do to Democratic electoral prospects. The purest party is usually the one in the political wilderness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ‘Rigged’ is admittedly too emotive a term – forgive me; I don’t mean to imply fraudulence as perhaps suggested by Sanders’ malcontents. But one has surely to acknowledge that the WikiLeaks releases confirm certain echelons within the party’s intent to promote Clinton over Sanders. And the fact that corporate influences were in play, a possible consequence of which was that the super-delegates went something like 13 to 1 in Clinton’s favour whereas the popular vote was more like 1.3 to 1. Why would that be?

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        1. No worries on “rigged”. Definitely the establishment preferred Clinton over Sanders. But they also preferred her over Obama in 2008, and it didn’t stop him from taking the nomination from her back then. If the ratio between popular support for Clinton and Sanders had been reversed, the super-delegates would have abandoned Clinton.

          Personally, I’d just as soon the Democrats got rid of the super-delegates. When they were instituted, people were more used to party officials picking nominees. But in practice, I don’t think they’ve ever gone against the popular will, and their existence always seems to be a controversial stink every four years. They know that if they did actually deny a popular candidate the nomination, their preferred nominee would be such damaged goods that the general election would probably be hopeless. Which largely makes them redundant, except perhaps as a reflection of what candidate the establishment initially wants.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been saying for years that our economy needed more deficit spending to spur activity

    What about our $20 trillion national debt? Doesn’t deficit spending have to eventually stop sometime, somehow?

    I’m curious of your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ideally we would do deficit spending during economic slowdowns and run balanced budgets, or at least deficits smaller than economic growth, when the economy is doing well. (Unfortunately, no one seems to really care about deficits when the economy is good and everyone freaks out about them during recessions, which is the opposite of what we should do.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t doubt that a portion of the Trump votes had that motivation, just as many liberals have historically voted against self righteous conservatives. In either case though, it’s not clear to me that we’re really talking about swing voters.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you are laying out a best case scenario. Honestly, I’m very concerned. Not with Trump himself (though he is bad news), but with the fact that I see racial identities hardening in the broader culture. Black pride is getting prouder, white pride is coming out of the woodwork.

    This reminds me so much of the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think these different identities have always existed, but with the ongoing demographic changes, as whites increasingly see themselves losing their status as the default American, it’s causing a backlash, which is causing a reaction among the other groups. The good news is that I think younger people aren’t nearly as subsumed in these identities as their parents were, so with any luck, we’ll grow out of it.

      On the Roman Republic, well, no republic lasts forever. At some point in the future, ours will fall. The only question is how far away in the future that fall is. But I think if you compare our current situation to Rome in the 1st century BC with all its assassinations and civil wars, we’re still a long ways off from that point.


        1. On the white side, young whites seem less attached to their status as the default American. They did go Trump (48% to 43%), but not nearly by the margins that older whites in my generation did (63% to 34%). Younger people in general seem to be more comfortable with interracial marriages and mixed race social gatherings. Not that we don’t still have a long way to go, but I do see a difference between the generations.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I can see that. I certainly hope you are correct.

            I’m actually having a discussion right now with people from one of my least favorite demographics – social justice warriors – because I feel I need to get out of my echo chamber.

            Granted, they are just one group among many, but the dominant message I take from them is “you need to shut up, because disagreeing with me is a form of oppression.” I’m trying really hard to a) not shut up and b) be respectful about the process of not shutting up but, man, it is hard.

            When it’s that easy to “oppress” someone, I kind of despair about building unity.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. I know what you mean about it being too easy to accidentally oppress some people. Yesterday I listened to the latest Writing Excuses podcast, a podcast that is normally pretty high quality, but the discussion was on colonialism, and when they got to the “evils” of cultural appropriation, and how even asking a member of a culture if what we were thinking about putting in a story would be offensive, would itself potentially be offensive, I almost ripped my ear buds out to finish my walk in silence, concluding that it might be inevitable that someone’s going to accuse me of being an evil cultural colonialist.

            Liked by 3 people

      1. I’m not sure about younger people. What you’re saying seems true for me and people my age (30s), but others seem to be getting a very different sort of education. Not to mention media attention to racial divides, which just wasn’t at this level when I was growing up. But these days, I’m really not sure how young people feel, especially since they’re growing up with technology in a way I didn’t.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I appreciate the ray of hope here. I just don’t know. That’s about all I can say about Trump and what will happen in the days to come. I worry that we’ll move on in our daily lives and certain injustices will creep up on us, and this will start to feel normal. Yet, I do hope he’s not as insane as he could be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting how many people are seeing this post as optimistic, when it actually includes quite a bit of darkness (possible trade wars, abandoned climate change efforts, worsening race relations, etc). I think I wrote it because contemplating probable events, as bad as they might be, was better than the vague fears of disaster I had in the day or two after the election, and that I still see a lot of people on the left experiencing.

      The Trump administration is going to be terrible at several levels, but I can’t really see any meaningful evidence that it’s going to be a fascist takeover. I’m moderately familiar with the historical situation in pre-WW2 Germany, and I think we’re still a long way off from anything like it.

      Not that we don’t have to be vigilant. There’s a lot to be said for donating to the ACLU and other similar organizations right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see this post as optimistic for sure. I imagine that whatever values he thinks he has can easily be taken from him. On social security, I can see him getting swayed to the dark side. And on those campaign promises like deporting Mexicans, I can see Republicans pushing him to fulfill those promises to whatever extent this is possible. And they have way too much power now.

        Also, just curious to know how you think cutting taxes will stimulate the economy? I admit to having a bit of a knowledge deficit in economics. I see the poorer people in society as the ones capable of stimulating the economy through spending, so that when they get a break in some form, they’re likely to use that extra bit of cash to pay off loans or buy things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. But rich folks keep their money in investments, right? If they get a tax break, I don’t see this really affecting them. The middle class might be apt to spend more because of a tax break, but how does this work? Or is the stimulation of the economy through tax breaks done through some other means besides consumer spending? Will small businesses actually create more jobs because they have less to spend on taxes, or will they continue with the status quo and pocket the break?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. On Trump not sticking to his guns, it’s definitely possible. I suspect what we end up seeing will be some compromise between his campaign positions (to the extent they can be sussed out) and Republican politician orthodoxy, and my thoughts in this post reflect that. I emphasized “politician” in the previous sentence because the ideology of the Republican rank and file voter is actually closer to Trump right now than that of elected officials. For example, the orthodoxy wants a worker program for immigrants, not deportations.

          Actually, any deficit spending stimulates the economy. But you’re totally right that the stimulus is much more effective if it’s a tax cut for poor people or targeted spending. In economic parlance, the multiplier effect is much higher. (That’s why I said in the post I would have preferred the Democratic version. It’s better economics.) But that doesn’t mean tax cuts for the rich do nothing. They definitely do pocket a lot more than poor people would have, but a portion of it does go into additional investment or spending, either of which provides a stimulus.

          The problem, of course, is that this isn’t necessarily going to help people in the rust belt. The opportunities they might get would be more service sector jobs, which don’t pay nearly as well as the old manufacturing ones. But most of those old manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, having been lost to automation rather than foreign workers.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I figured that’s what you meant by the Democratic version. I just wasn’t sure tax cuts did much good, but I guess if they do actually create some jobs, even low paying ones, that counts.

            That’s a good point about automation. There’s no stopping that, not so far as I can tell anyways. (Unless we’re talking about the annoying self-checkout lanes in grocery stores that people don’t seem to want to use, for obvious reasons.)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I actually like the self-checkout lanes if I only have a few straightforward items. It lets me get out of the store a lot faster. (Except when something goes wrong.) But I definitely prefer a cashier if I have a full cart, or something complicated that has to be taken out of security box or something.

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  5. Hi Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more with this, “Anyone who thinks they know what’s going to happen in a Trump administration is delusional.” One might say the same regarding our ability to know with any certainty what’s going to happen next at just about any time.

    While the image of Trump has dominated the national headlines for so long, I don’t think his election is really going to stop any of the good people of this land, and other lands, from doing the good things they were going to do, and it may wake a few more of them up. Perhaps my greatest difficulty with this whole thing was the way qualities of character seemed to be off the table–which I can appreciate. People get to the point where they know it’s a show–a pageant of sorts– to the point where it was viewed as expedient to overlook Trump’s demeaning treatment of those around him in the hopes it might actually produce the greatest opportunity for change. The logic of the argument seems flawed at first, but I’m feeling delusional and I’m really not sure how it will all pan out.

    I think you’re right many people were hurting going into this election, and that was missed. I’ve witnessed considerable hate and contempt on both sides, and I don’t think there is any high ground to stand on at the moment. Perhaps a moment of humility and identifying what is most needed will help, if we can see our way to it. I even felt at times a little embarrassed at the amount of focus placed upon our self-aggrandizement as a nation, and how little was put on how we invest our capability to make the world as a whole a better place.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michael,
      Good hearing from you!

      One of the many things that disturbs me about the result of this election is that it has probably permanently changed our politics, mostly for the worst. On the one hand, it might finally break candidates out of politician-speak, a sort of carefully calibrated but banal way of talking filled with vague platitudes that everyone knows is fake.

      But on the other, Trump’s success with pervasive, brazen, and unrepentant lying, coupled with all the vicious attacks, have probably signaled to a new generation of politicians that this is what they will need to do to succeed. Many already had a loose relationship with the truth, but this heralds an age where many of them won’t worry about actual facts at all.

      I can definitely understand the embarrassment with the self aggrandizement. I fear there will be many opportunities in the coming years to experience it more, although I hope I’m wrong about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike, I see in the paper here that he’s backing away from some of his most idiotic crap. He now says that he has doubts about waterboarding, an open mind to climate change, and won’t even jail his vanquished foe! Apparently he’s saying that he wants to bring America together. (Personally I don’t mind if his presidency earns his company billions, though I doubt it will. This isn’t Russia or some Banana Republic.)

    Hopefully he now has some aggressive PR handlers who call the shots. I like to imagine him getting slapped up and told, “You fooled them enough to win asshole, so don’t f*** this up!” That would be something to be thankful for as we enjoy our holiday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eric,
      He is backing away from many of his nuttier promises / threats, which is good. It’s not good that he lied so brazenly in the campaign, but in these cases, we should be grateful for the flip-flops. I anticipated some of the backpedaling when I wrote this post, although I didn’t expect him to abandon so many promises so soon.

      The climate change remark was surprising, but given that he has Myron Ebell, a climate change denier, in charge of his EPA transition, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

      At this point, I still haven’t seen anything to make me revise any of the predictions made in this post, although I’m sure at least some of them will be misses. I am marginally less alarmed about foreign policy but slightly more alarmed about the social safety net, and the nomination of Jeff Sessions confirms my fears about race relations.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike,
    Of course it’s good that that Trump is stepping back from some of his worst marketing nonesense, but I’d like to press you a bit regarding your following statement:

    “It’s not good that he lied so brazenly in the campaign.”

    Yes Trump tells lies in order to get what he wants, but I don’t think we should let ourselves become too idealistic when we’re discussing the dynamics of reality itself. Effective politicians lie in order for them to be effective politicians. Effective salespeople lie in order for them to be effective sales people. I’m not implying that we should condone lies, but rather that critical thinkers must understand that lying happens to be a required aspect of some, and perhaps many, walks of life.

    I suspect that you’ve seen the 1992 movie with Al Pacino and such called “Glengarry Glen Ross”? For anyone who hasn’t, I highly recommend it as a dark view into our nature, or something which seems to often go undetected given standard moral facades. I’m even more pleased to offer a modern and true story which provides a sobering perspective of how the Manhattan rental market functions. (I loved the first part as well.) To me it displays a great deal about our nature, though beyond sometimes highly censored public personas.


    I don’t mean to go through your comment with a fine tooth comb, but since my own ideas are neither moral nor immoral, I feel that it’s in my interest to cultivate an amoral sort of perspective. The danger I see, however, is that I’ll be tagged with a “Then you’re immoral!” label, when I actually seek conversations which exist beyond morality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eric,
      I’m not naive. I’ve read enough history to know that politicians often have to be less than forthcoming. They need to balance 1) the needs of their donors, 2) the immediate desires of voters, and 3) what might cause those voters to later turn against them.

      Ignore 1) and you never get the money to run (unless you’re a self-financing billionaire). Ignore 2) during the election, and you don’t win. Ignore 3) while governing (such as implementing a populist but dangerous economic policy that causes a recession, or starting an ill-advised war), and you lose the next election. That’s more or less the reality of democratic politics, at least in the US. Politicians often have to dance around these pressures with stretching of the truth and, occasionally, outright lying.

      Usually though, politicians pay a price for breaking their promises (see George H.W. Bush and his promise never to raise taxes), which keeps them from lying too brazenly. But Trump seemed mostly undeterred by that. If he gets away with it, expect to see a lot more of that kind of behavior from other politicians. Eventually we’ll become desensitized to it, until someone gets in office who actually implements their dangerous promises.

      That’s why I made that remark.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah, I suppose that I did paint you a bit more naive that I meant to there. Sorry about that! Instead you’re worried about the implications of America getting used to being lied to in general, and then finding out what happens when someone actually implements their populist plans. Well it would serve us right!

    It did perturb me when H. W. went so hard with that whole “read my lips…” pandering thing. I knew him to be a decent man who would do whatever his advisors decided was best for the country in the end. Of course that’s exactly what he did, as well as pay the political price for it. Will others like Trump observe such naivete and so have no choice but do whatever they tell the masses (to become elected) that they’re going to do? Yes that’s the worry, and still it would serve us right! To the extent that this occurs, I do at least expect us to learn some lessons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries Eric. I didn’t mean to come off in my previous reply as feeling aggrieved.

      Unfortunately, the public does have a tendency at times to be capricious in how we judge politicians and the promises we extract from them, but if they follow our wishes and it results in disaster, we punish them as though we were against it the whole time. Is it any wonder that many politicians feel the need to often be dishonest with us?

      I actually remember shuddering when H. W. made that pledge during his ’88 convention speech. Even to my 22 year old self, it seemed like blatant pandering. But conservatives took it very seriously, and when he violated it (in my view, quite responsibly), it resulted in him being primaried by Pat Buchanan in ’92.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Patrick Buchanan; yes that’s who Trump reminds me of! I recall him once being on the cover of Newsweek entitled “Bully Boy,” which of course wasn’t meant as a compliment, though they showed him posing with the magazine like he’d finally arrived. Somehow the Ross Perot comparison never reallyt felt right to me, even though Perot was a businessman like Trump, but Buchanan a politician.

    In truth by questioning you about the role of honesty, I suppose that I was angling towards a larger referendum on morality itself. I believe that our mental and behavior sciences have been too timid to explore the principles of what’s physically good and bad for us, instead leaving everything for philosophy’s “ethics.” My position is that without non normative good/bad theory (“is” rather than “ought”), fields like psychology won’t be able to harden up as other sciences have. But given that the “honesty” which you were referring to concerned pragmatics rather than value judgements, I’ll need to wait for a better opportunity to truly delve into this topic here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Buchanan is in a class often referred to as “pale-conservative”, since his views hearken back to pre-WW II Republican ideology. Perot seemed cut from a different cloth. It now seems evident, given Trump’s success, that for someone like him to win, they need to get nominated by a major party. Of course, that requires a base as utterly disaffected from its leaders as the Republican one was in this cycle.

      I haven’t done a post on morality in a while but I do have a whole category on it. Also the topic of Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears came up on the next thread. Maybe the opportunity you’re looking for?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Mike,
    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate a formal invitation to use the comment sections for your categorized “morality” posts to present my own theories. And while I’ve found these posts very interesting, my own ideas are neither moral nor immoral. Thus if I were to express my ideas through them, I’d worry about misleading contexts.

    The apparent solution would be to choose something more like a psychology post, but unfortunately I’ve never known any science to analytically explore the fundamentals of good/bad existence. Observe that if science were to develop an accepted theory from which to define descriptive good/bad associated with conscious existence, then we’d be able to use this theory to assess various practical issues of welfare for any given subject. This wouldn’t teach us how to lead our lives nor structure our societies “morally,” but rather how to do so regarding what “is” physically good/bad for any defined personal or social subject. In fact with such theory I’d expect scientists to progressively learn how to physically monitor such welfare, and thus be able to say things like “This subject is estimated to have had X units of welfare over the period of Y.” I’m talking about a scientific ideology from which to function that isn’t “moral,” but rather “real.”

    Furthermore because our mental and behavioral sciences don’t seem to have yet begun delving into these realities, this might help explain why they continue to remain so soft? Conversely with my own such theory I’ve been able to develop a wide set of models regarding the basics of our nature, including even a functional model of the conscious mind.

    Mike I’d love to interest you and your readers in my own renegade approach to these fields, though I also find it difficult to overcome longstanding academic traditions. Nevertheless I am at your service, and so will proceed in whatever manner that seems appropriate to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “This wouldn’t teach us how to lead our lives nor structure our societies “morally,” but rather how to do so regarding what “is” physically good/bad for any defined personal or social subject. ”

      I think this is the key point. Science can’t determine what is GOOD period or BAD period, but it can help with what is good for purpose X or bad for outcome Y. Whether X or Y are desirable will always be a value judgment, which we’ll arrive at through a combination of instinct and learned cultural background.

      But everyone’s instinctual makeup and cultural background is a little different, which means everyone will have different intuitions about what is or isn’t to be valued. For example, the perennial tension between freedom and security. Some people want security badly enough to forego a lot of freedom, others want more freedom and are willing to live with less security. I can’t see that there’s necessarily any fact of the matter on this.

      Society works because there’s a huge overlap in most people’s intuitions, enough that most of us are willing to compromise where we are different in order for society to work, although there is always a tension between those who want to change society’s values and those who want to stick with the existing or older values.

      My perception is that the above is what puts the softness in the social sciences. That and we’re dealing with subjects in which the very act of studying them can alter their behavior. For example, if economists figure out that markets always go down on X, and publish that fact, the next time X happens, markets factor in that knowledge and it may alter their behavior. This leads to what Alex Rosenberg calls an arms race, where the social sciences learn something, society incorporates that learning, which in effect alters the learned phenomena, which the social sciences then learn…and the cycle continues.

      This leads Rosenberg to conclude that the social sciences are just entertainment. I think that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it does mean that their findings will never have the timelessness or certainty of something like F=ma.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Mike I believe that I’ve heard you mention before that the social sciences will never have “F=ma” types of theories, and so wandered back through your site to find a dedicated post in this regard. I figured that such a post might be a more appropriate place for our current discussion, and so planned to link from here to my response there. Though my search through your site was interesting as always, I didn’t quite find what I was looking for. So unless you’d like to make a suggestion, I suppose that this “Trump” titled post will have to do.

    I see tremendous consistencies in our positions, and I can’t say that I disagree with yours from the context which I perceive. Most notably I’m pleased that both you and Alex Rosenberg believe that our soft sciences happen to remain this way, given that they do not understand what’s “good/bad.” While I do consider your position quite valid (or that what’s desirable will always be a value judgement based upon instinct and cultural background) to me anything that a subject desires, will only scratch the surface of its nature — for example I’m not interested in determining why any specific subject favors security over liberty. As you suggest, this shall merely based upon instinct and culture, and therefore will certainly never give us “F=ma” types of theory.

    I’ve mentioned to you before how impressed I am with Newton’s definition of force as the product of accelerated mass. Yes before him notions of force must have existed, though never in a way that presented such a useful relationship between associated constituents. By getting to a more fundamental conception of good/bad than a instinct/culture product, I mean to harden up our social sciences. (I think you know that I don’t mean anything like what’s “morally good” either.)

    The theory is that “utility” defines what’s good/bad for anything throughout all of existence. Thus without this stuff, existence remains perfectly inconsequential, and progressively good existence results from more utility on the positive side, with the bad being the opposite. I consider utility to come through the non-conscious mind providing such signals to the conscious mind (one of three varieties of input), which motivates the function of “the conscious form of computer.”

    While Newton’s force (with established units in “Newtons”) was extremely open to quantifiable measurement, my own utility (with potential with units in “Erics”?) is far less so. Nevertheless I do know that this stuff can be measured given that I do it all the time. In a subjective sense I know when something hurts more than something else, or feels better, and if pressed might even provide subjective numerical values. But to reference current technology for objective measurements, does the human face not reflect the utility which humans experiences to somewhat? Yes I think so. Therefore it’s quite conceivable that computer algorithms could be used to very roughly measure utility through the analysis of recorded facial expressions. Perhaps you could whip something up for us, in which case I’d love to call the positive and negative units “Smiths.” But once scientists notice chemical and/or electrical evidence that seems to correlate with experienced utility, surely a more rigorous measurements of objective utility (Eric’s?) will emerge. If so and continually monitored, then we’d know (somewhat) how good/bad existence happens to be for something for any given duration. But even before we have such tools at our disposal, I believe that the mental and behavioral models which I’ve developed by considering utility as the ultimate definition of good/bad, shall stand.

    So what do you think about using “utility” in this capacity?

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    1. Eric, I’m contemplating another consciousness post that might be a good candidate for this discussion. (I need to get away from politics for a while anyway.) Hopefully I’ll be able to get my thoughts together for it sometime soon.

      On Newton, definitely all the concepts that his theories addressed existed before he weighed in on them. (Robert Hooke in particular felt he had been robbed.) But Newton went down in history because he was the first one to work out the mathematics of things like gravitation.

      On utility, what would you say the differences are (if any) between your conception and the moral philosophy of utilitarianism?

      My biggest issue with utilitarianism, as well as cosnequentialism in general, is how to know how far we need to work out the consequences. For example, there’s the classic dilemma of whether a doctor should kill one patient to use his organs to save five others. Consequentialists usually say, well, the consequences for society would be bad if doctor’s routinely did that.

      But then, how do we know in each situation how far we should weigh those consequences? The unstated but implicit answer seems to be, as far as necessary to validate our moral intuitions. But if that’s the real criteria, then the reasoning is redundant and we’re just back to our intuitions.

      I think utilitarianism, deontology, contractualism, and game theory are useful paradigms to think through moral dilemmas, but ultimately they can’t solve moral problems. Morality is just irreducibly complicated. (I think I do have a post on that somewhere.)

      I realize you’re probably not talking about moral philosophy per se, but I think any science about values has to contend with the fact that what we value isn’t a scientific question (intermediate values for some goal may be, but ultimate values aren’t). The science can only begin once we agree on the values.

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  12. Mike I look forward to your coming post when ready, since there are few thing that I enjoy discussing more than consciousness!

    Now that you mention it, it does make sense that the great Sir Issac Newton might have borrowed quite a bit of what’s attributed to him. People with academic interests seem to enjoy talking with each other (as exemplified by us here). If some of Newton’s discussion partners gave him useful ideas over the years, in those days I’d expect it to be “winner take all.”

    On utility, the following should be a simple way to differentiate my ideas from the moral conception of utilitarianism: When we consider sentient life in general other than the human, we don’t generally consider morality to exist. Nevertheless we still believe that existence can be good and bad for such life given their sentience. So why can’t we also think of ourselves as subjects which experience good and bad existence? Why can’t we simply be sentient? This is “value” as a physical product of the conscious mind (as opposed to “values”).

    Furthermore if David Hume’s “is cannot derive ought” happens to be true, then it seems to me that a belief in the existence of “oughts” will violate naturalism. Naturalism surely mandates that all which exists must be derived by “is,” so “ought” must then be fabricated. Your arguments against moral utilitarianism are also what I’d ask such a disciple — they make no sense to me!

    But let’s say that my own “real” rather than “moral” ideology were to become believed. How would it work? It’s quite a selfish position in the sense that it suggests that what’s best for you, or me, or a society, is what makes the subject most happy. But if you became convinced, would you then function in more selfish ways? Perhaps, but I presume that your empathy would still exist, as well as your concern about what others think of you (theory of mind). Furthermore societies generally have enforced laws which are set up to selfishly (for society) counter individual selfishness. I agree with the philosopher Derek Parfit that utilitarianism can be amazingly repugnant, but only because reality itself can be amazingly repugnant.

    I’m mostly happy with your final sentence just above of, “The science can only begin once we agree on the values.” But then if values are the arbitrary product of instinct and culture, then basing science upon this may not be entirely productive. Let’s take the “s” off and say that our mental and behavioral sciences can only begin once we agree upon “value.” I mean to help these sciences learn that value is effectively represented by a product of the conscious mind which is formally known as “utility.”

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