Are there natural laws in politics?

To start with less ambition: Are there even facts in politics or are there just subjective fantasies? After years of debating the Iraq war issue with people who oppose it, I am more inclined to the view that in politics, like in religion, all that matters are subjective fantasies. Facts are recognized as such by almost no one from the respective outgroup. Especially in the case of leftys, as it seems to me. Every single counter-source I offered, no matter who wrote it, was considered to be untrustworthy by the people on the other side of the debate. The whole world is mad. No news there.

Politics is not actually even politics, it is a secular form of religion. And it is governed by six laws that are related to human nature. These shall be exposed here.

At least this means that I came to believe in Dawkins’ view of memetics. This is actually a rather fine explanation for what goes on in politics. There are competing ideas or sets of ideas whose strength does not depend on their truth at all but it depends on peoples’ psychological need to believe certains things and to not believe other things and it depends on what other people in their social group believe.

For example, in the Arab world it’s no problem to believe that Israel is the “Little Satan” and the US is the “Great Satan”. In fact, it’s no problem to believe this here in Germany, either. In the US and in Israel, obviously, you would be challenged more often if you shared any such memes.

Actually, of course, there are objective facts in politics and I would even propose that there is such a thing as an empirical political science. People have different ways to understand and interpret these facts depending on their cultural context. But people also make stuff up and hardly anywhere is there so much made up stuff right now that is simply not compatible with empirical facts, that is simply false independent of interpretations, than on the Iraq war issue. Just one example: It is widely believed that there was no connection at all between Iraq and Islamic terrorists. Just read the evidence provided on this website that was written by political scientist Deroy Murdock. Don’t you trust him because he is a libertarian? Case in point.

The fact is that it doesn’t fucking matter who writes about facts if they really are facts. Christian fundamentalists could write that Darwin and Wallace came up with evolution by natural selection and this is still true no matter if creationists wrote it or not. A holocaust denier could write that Hitler governed Germany during the time of WWII and this is quite true no matter if their main thesis is crap.

Evidence matters. A decent interpretation of this evidence has do be guided by logic.

Mark Humphreys has identified five “universal laws and paradoxes of human nature” and one empirical law of international relations. Given that these apply mostly to politics, I will call them:

The Six Laws of Politics

1.) Moynihan’s Law: The most criticised societies in the world will be the least criminal societies

In societies where there is a free press, there is maximum criticism of free societies. In countries where journalists get shot, there is not so much criticism of the regime in question. We could of course criticize these regimes in the free world, yet the mistakes of our own societies are just so much more interesting for our people because they live here.

See my defense of neoconservatism on Moynihan’s law.

2.) The Paradox of Cruelty: The greater the hatred, the less the reason

The more violent that people are in pursuit of their hatred, the more unjustified their hatred usually is. The greater the hatred people have, generally the less reason they have for that hatred. The greater the violence and cruelty they use against their enemies, generally the more innocent their enemies are.

Germany rounded up 6 million Jews – men, women, children, crying toddlers, babies – and shot them in pits and gassed them in camps in scenes from hell. Yet what did the Jews ever do to Germany to deserve being hated? Hitler’s complaints about the Jews are fantastical, imaginary, hallucinatory, and simply pathetic compared to the unbelievable violence he carried out against them.

3.) The Corollary of Great Suffering: All great suffering is always for worthless causes

The major consequence is that when we see massive deliberate killing of civilians, we know the cause is worthless, without knowing anything else. For example, on September 11th 2001, a group killed thousands of civilian men, women and children in cold blood in New York. Without knowing anything else about this group, we know their cause is worthless. If their cause made any sense at all, their killing would be far more restrained.

And indeed their cause did turn out to be worthless. Their cause is imaginary, based on dreams of ending the west and restoring some kind of 7th century utopia that nobody wants. All that killing for nothing.

This is the norm in human history. The people who carry out genocides and atrocities like Sept 11th are not rational people. It would be very surprising if their complaints actually had any basis in reality. It would be simply incredible if their causes were actually worthwhile.

4.) The Law of Protest: Protests and demos do not represent public opinion

In the west, people often take to the streets in marches and demos. With their colourful banners and street theatre, these often get a large amount of media coverage. It is often implied that the government should actually listen to what these people have to say (instead of, say, completely ignoring them).

Governments however, being more sensible than journalists, do frequently completely ignore demos as if they had never happened. Governments realise that demos are simply another form of speech, no different to (apart from being ruder and more aggressive) and no more privileged than the usual collection of various points of view one can find in blogs, newsgroups or letters to the paper.

One fact governments understand instinctively: Demos do not represent public opinion.

5.) Democratic Peace: The law of international relations

Democracies don’t go to war with each other. Non-democracies go to war with other non-democracies all the time. And non-democracies go to war with democracies. But democracies never (or rarely) go to war with other democracies.

As soon as every country is a liberal democracy, there will be world peace.

6.) The Law of Media Diversity: The more expensive media have less intellectual and political diversity

Politicial donations to the 2008 US presidential election. From opensecrets.org.

Politicial donations to the 2008 US presidential election. From opensecrets.org.

There seems to be a basic law that says: As media gets more expensive and inaccessible, its intellectual and political diversity decreases. The lack of diversity at the expensive end – radio, TV and cinema – is disgraceful compared with the richness and diversity of intellectual and political voices at the cheaper end – the Internet and print. We can rank media from the most to the least intellectual and political diversity:

The Internet – The most diversity of all media. All views can be read in great detail. You can read directly, for example, from the U.S. military, the Project for the New American Century, or the Israeli military. You don’t need to read a journalist’s spin, or selective quotes. And of course you can read directly from their opponents as well, including directly from Islamist websites and directly from foreign tyrannical government websites.

Print (books, newspapers, periodicals) – Less diversity than the Internet – at least in terms of what you can access unless you are sitting in a national library. Only something like a national library contains similar diversity to the Internet – a bookshop doesn’t. Neither does any one periodical. But still there is a reasonable amount of diversity in print in a country like Ireland, say. Many of the views on this website can be found periodically in print in Ireland somewhere, though in much smaller numbers than online. It costs little for a basically liberal-left newspaper to add the occasional neo-con column, for example. It can be easily ignored by their readers – whereas the cost on radio or TV is much higher since it takes up time.

Radio – Some diversity in America. Almost no diversity in Ireland or in Britain.

TV – Some diversity in America and Britain. Almost no diversity in Ireland.

Cinema – The least diversity of all media. There is almost no political diversity in cinema in the world.

Source: Mark Humphreys

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4 Responses to Are there natural laws in politics?

  1. Leir says:

    I claim exception to your 3rd Law. While plenty of genocidical actions are just motivated by plain hatred (well, see 2.), history does not lack examples of “successful” genocides. Expelling germans form eastern europe after WWII solved a millenia-old problem (for those countries) completely. Likewise, genocidical acts (though at a small scale) in the Americas and Australia very much helped at colonizing those regions.
    At the same time, there are cases when self-inflicted or accepted suffering may well be worth it. The French Revolution, e.g., while going quite out of hand, was without alternatives in bringing down the absolutistic regime. Or the suffering of the soviet soldiers, that saved the lifes (if not the freedom) of maybe a hundred million people. These were causes that could have been helped at a lesser cost, but were still worth it.

    • terryrotter says:

      True. There are some exceptions, the nuclear attacks on Japan come to mind.

      • Leir says:

        Exploding the bomb might have been more humane than fighting the Volkssturm, japanese style and the regular army, and for both sides. What the Japanese willingly endured is actually more of an especially egregious example for suffering brought about for useless causes.

  2. Ingo Bading says:

    You’re looking for “natural laws” in politics? Very simple: “Group evolutionary strategies”. Lobbyism in the interest of religious or ethnic groups.

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