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Home > Politics
Libertarians: Unbalanced & Deranged
by Bob Powell, 3/31/08
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A libertarian sent me the e-mail below and the commentary, "The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness," by Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD. I've included it below because it's such a distorted view of what it is to be liberal, that I don't want it to disappear. It continues decades of efforts by libertarians and economic conservatives to pervert the meaning of the word, liberal.

Rossiter's dream is to construct a grand, idealized libertarian, nightmarish, dystopia that creates hardships and inflicts wounds. This is dangerous, tragic, and sick.

The libertarian sent the commentary after I sent this to my distribution:

Fascist "FreedomWorks", 3/20/08, "FreedomWorks" promotes the Alice-in-Wonderland idea that liberals and the "left" are fascists. Organizations like "FreedomWorks" are irrational to an extent that makes them, quite literally, insane. The root of that insanity is that they don't believe this: The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This means that, at times, taking individually-logical actions can be collectively (for the whole) irrational. Tragic and dangerous.

He wrote:

Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 14:54:25 -0700
From: J Wright
Subject: RE: Fascism, The Invisible Hand, & Econ 101
To: Bob Powell

Your particular form of dementia is, as always, humorous from one perspective while being tragic at the same time. However, forwarding your various diatribes for others to marvel at does provide a certain entertainment value I don't get from other sources.

Please tell me when the "collective" voices in your head reach the point where you can never mute them? There is a cure for that. Have you seen the recently released book on liberal dementia? I provided a review below.

;>)
Jeff W.

Links to:
Dr. Lyle Rossiter's commentary
My e-mail to Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr.
E-mail from Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr. and my responses

________________________

Initial Comments on Rossiter's Commentary

This "Liberal Mind" commentary he sent is just too good (read "bad") to not pass along. It's a ludicrous caricature. That said, it's also dangerous, because these guys are serious; policies based on their worldview is destroying our nation and the world. That's evil, meaning it "causes harm, misfortune, suffering or destruction."

Both Jeff and Dr. Rossiter are charitably described as unbalanced.

There are no liberals who have the one-sided view of the world portrayed by Rossiter's caricature. The essense of what it is to be liberal is to be balanced (Explaining Liberal Principles). "Balancing" is one of Scott Peck's four needed disciplines. See the paper on "Escaping The Crisis Syndrome" at Addiction and The Crisis Syndrome.

Rossiter wrote:

... the modern liberal mind is not passionate: his agenda does not insist that the individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit; it does not idealize individual liberty ...

This is of course "black and white" thinking that has no concept of balance. Specifically, he has no idea of balance between the individual and the collective. This thinking says that, because liberals understand there's a collective dimension of reality, they do not value the individual. That's illogical and a lie. Also related to "balance," Rossiter wrote:

None of the victims’ plight is caused by failure to plan for the future or learn from experience.

To the contrary, liberals know we must also balance between concern for the present and concern for the future.

Mention the word, "collective," and these guys only have the mental capacity to peg you as a "collectivist" no matter how often you say we're both individuals and part of a collective. The battle between the individual and the collective is one of humanity's Fundamental Sources of Conflict. The mistake is to think it's one or the other. It's not.

Rossiter wrote:

... [the modern liberal's] agenda does not insist that the individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit ...

This is the one thing he wrote that's true. To think that the individual is the "ultimate economic, social and political unit" is crazy. To do so ignores the reality that there are families, communities, and nations. The liberal "agenda" is to have a world that actually works to improve the lives of everyone; it's not an agenda based on a dysfunctional libertarian or communist ideology.

The struggle between those who see it has to be either the individual or the collective has created bitter wars between the extremes of communism and laissez-faire capitalism. "Either-or" thinking is extremist, no matter which extreme one chooses.

At either extreme, people have little or no value. In the former people are cogs in the machine of the state and in the latter they are factors of production, commodities to be bought and sold. In neither are they humans with intrinsic value. Evil is found at both extremes. Note that slavery is perfectly compatible with libertarian ideal of laissez-faire capitalism and still exists to this day. I submit that their Libertarian Menace is more dangerous than the Communist Menace ever was.

For where the U.S. is now, see the diagram at Capitalism, Socialism, & Dictatorship; Republicans and other "conservatives" have taken us well toward the fascist extreme. Note that even the Democrats are on the "right." Liberals? Hardly.

Systems principles require that we must give major weight to the collective aspect of reality because systems have “emergent” properties … properties that are not associated with any of the parts.  An example is that human consciousness itself is an emergent property -- examining individual neurons in a brain doesn’t reveal consciousness -- it's an aspect of the whole (see Primacy of the Whole).

Liberals acknowledge we are individuals (despite what's asserted below). The disagreement is on whether there is such a thing as a collective. Economic "conservatives" and libertarians say there's no such thing. They see any mention of a collective aspect of reality as being totally "collectivist." That's why they're unbalanced, irrational, insane, demented or whatever similar appellation you'd like to apply.

Virtually all of our societal problems are dynamically complex; that is, there are multiple feedbacks with long delays. (Note that libertarians say that only individuals have problems; there is no such thing as society; see Problems: A Society's or An Individual's?).

Factor Thinking ... simple, one-way thinking
To realistically examine dynamically complex problems, we must give up “factor thinking.” For example, factor thinking assumes, as shown in the diagram, that individual factors influence population and a mathematical multiple regression approach can be used to estimate future population growth.

The fact is that the societal messes with which we have difficulty require complex considerations of cause and effect, not simplistic, unidirectional causality. For such problems we must use systems thinking as shown in the stock and flow diagram below. Population is a stock, the accumulation of the difference between the flows (births - deaths).  Examples of the links are and “S” (Same direction link), more “kids per couple” gives more “births,” and greater “longevity” gives fewer deaths (Reading Systems Diagrams explains the language). Considering feedbacks and delays (the time required to fill & empty stocks) in the system is vital if we're to understand what's happening.

The problem is that humans have not evolved to do this naturally. We are linear thinkers; feedback in our mental models is mostly absent.

The textbook, Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, by John Sterman, Director of the MIT System Dynamics Group, describes the problem.

Systems Thinking ... stock & flow, feedback thinking
1.3.5 Flawed Cognitive Maps

Causal attributions are a central feature of mental models. We all create and update cognitive maps of causal connections among entities and actors, from the prosaic -- if I touch a flame I will be burned -- to the grand -- the larger the government deficit, the higher interest rates will be. Studies of cognitive maps show that few incorporate any feedback loops. Axelrod (1976) found virtually no feedback processes in studies of the cognitive maps of political leaders; rather, people tended to formulate intuitive decision trees relating possible actions to probable consequences -- an event-level representation. Hall (1976) reports similar open-loop mental maps in a study of the publishing industry. Dorner (1980, 1996) found that people tend to think in single strand causal series and had difficulty in systems with side effects and multiple causal pathways (much less feedback loops). Similarly, experiments in causal attribution show people tend to assume each effect has a single cause and often cease their serch for explanations when the first sufficient cause is found (see the discussion in Plous 1993).

The heuristics we use to judge causal relations lead systematically to cognitive maps that ignore feedbacks, multiple interconnections, nonlinearities, time delays, and other elements of dynamic complexity. The causal field or mental model of the stage on which the action occurs is crucial in framing people's judgments of causation (Einhorn and Hogarth 1986). Within a causal field, people use various cues to causality including temporal and spatial proximity of cause and effect, temporal precedence of cause, covariation, and similarity of cause and effect. These heuristics lead to difficulty in complex systms where cause and effect are often distant in time and space, where actions have multiple effects, and where the delayed and distant consequences are different from and less salient than proximate effects (or simply unknown). The multiple feedbacks in complex systems cause many variables to be correlated with one another, confounding the task of judging cause. However, people are poor judges of correlation. Experiments show people can generally detect linear, positive correlations among variables if they are given enough trials and if the outcome feedback is accurate enough. However, we have great difficulty in the presence of random error, nonlinearity, and negative correlations, often never discovering the true relationship (Brehmer 1980).

Rossiter wrote:

They bear no responsibility for their problems. None of their agonies are attributable to faults or failings of their own: not to poor choices, bad habits, faulty judgment, wishful thinking, lack of ambition, low frustration tolerance, mental illness or defects in character. None of the victims’ plight is caused by failure to plan for the future or learn from experience. Instead, the “root causes” of all this pain lie in faulty social conditions: poverty, disease, war, ignorance, unemployment, racial prejudice, ethnic and gender discrimination, modern technology, capitalism, globalization and imperialism.

It's not that they bear "no responsibility," it's that, as Sterman continues:

A fundamental principle of system dynamics states that the structure of the system gives rise to its behavior. However, people have a strong tendency to attribute the behavior of others to dispositional rather than situational factors, that is, to character and especially character flaws rather than the system in which these people are acting. The tendency to blame the person rather than the system is so strong psychologists call it the "fundamental attribution error" (Ross 1977). In complex systems different people placed in the same structure tend to behave in similar ways. When we attribute behavior to personality we lose sight of how the structure of the system shaped our choices. The attribution of behavior to individuals and special circumstances rather than system structure systematically diverts our attention from the high leverage points where redesign of the system or governing policy can have significant, sustained, beneficial effects on performance (Forrester 1969, chap. 6; Meadows 1982). When we attribute behavior to people rather than system structure the focus of management becomes scapegoating and blame rather than the design of organizations in which ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results.

So Sterman is pointing out that we humans are severely handicapped in understanding how the world works.

And those like Rossiter and Wright would rather totally scapegoat and blame individuals than acknowledge they're making the "fundamental attribution error" and not recognizing the importance of system effects: that "different people placed in the same structure tend to behave in similar ways."

This does not deny at all that some individuals can at times be irresponsible. What's irresponsible is being unwilling to address how to change system structure to stop reinforcing irresponsible individual behaviors.

What Rossiter wants is to ignore that we live in a society that ensures over 12% unemployment that ensures many will be destitute and many others live on subsistence wages, that is, it assures we have an over 12% poverty rate. Never mind, just ignore that.

Rossiter ignores that, once one gets behind financially, it's easy and natural to get even further behind because of the path dependence dynamic. Just ignore all that ... it's purely the fault of individuals.

Sterman describes in his section on "Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and the Feedback Structure of Markets" that Smith understood the importance of some fundamental feedbacks in markets:

Smith was thus one of the first systems thinkers to show how the local, intendedly rational self-interested behavior of individual people could, through the feedback processes created by their interactions, lead to unanticipated side effects for all.

This societal benefit is an emergent property ... the result of the whole, the (gasp) collective, being greater than the sum of its parts. Another example is that, unless you're in on an IPO (Initial Public Offering), "investing" in the stock market, isn't "investing" at all; it's speculation. The justification for such speculation is that a market for stocks provides market liquidity. This liquidity benefit is ... wait for it ... an emergent property of the collective action of market participants.

 

It's incredibly ironic that libertarians and economic "conservatives" deny the existence of collectives (... there are only individuals). Yet, the core tenet of their ideology depends on just such emergent properties of the collective. What they ignore are other dynamics (described at Invisible Hand Drops Ball & Economics 101) that complicate Adam Smith's (correct as far as they go) simplistic, invisible hand, market dynamics (see The Invisible Hand).

Now there's nothing wrong with being ignorant ... that is, having ignored certain bodies of knowledge. After all, we're all ignorant about many things. But when ignorance is willful ignorance, it enters the realm of irrationality, dementia and insanity.

Rossiter wrote:

... under careful scrutiny, liberalism’s distortions of the normal ability to reason can only be understood as the product of psychopathology. So extravagant are the patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating that characterize the liberal mind that its relentless protests and demands become understandable only as disorders of the psyche. The modern liberal mind, its distorted perceptions and its destructive agenda are the product of disturbed personalities.

To the contrary, Sterman points out that flawed thinking is a result of our human difficulty in "Learning in and about complex systems" (this is essentially Chapter 1 of Business Dynamics" another link). Rossiter's thinking is therefore that of psychopathology, psychic disorder, and disturbed personality.

Rossiter wrote: "In his efforts to construct a grand collectivist utopia ... the radical liberal attempts to actualize in the real world an idealized fiction that will mitigate all hardship and heal all wounds." Again, to the contrary, Rossiter's dream is to construct a grand, idealized, nightmarish, libertarian dystopia that generates hardships and inflicts wounds. This is dangerous, tragic, and sick.

Libertarians persist in their agenda despite its madness. Below is his commentary. Below that are:
My e-mail to Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr.
E-mail from Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr. and my responses

____________________

Dr. Lyle Rossiter's Commentary:

The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness
By Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD
Monday, December 4, 2006
Send an email to Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD

Dr. Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr.,a forensic psychiatrist, explains the madness of liberalism in his new book The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness. You can read an excerpt below, and read more at his website libertymind.com.

Like all other human beings, the modern liberal reveals his true character, including his madness, in what he values and devalues, in what he articulates with passion. Of special interest, however, are the many values about which the modern liberal mind is not passionate: his agenda does not insist that the individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit; it does not idealize individual liberty and the structure of law and order essential to it; it does not defend the basic rights of property and contract; it does not aspire to ideals of authentic autonomy and mutuality; it does not preach an ethic of self-reliance and self-determination; it does not praise courage, forbearance or resilience; it does not celebrate the ethics of consent or the blessings of voluntary cooperation. It does not advocate moral rectitude or understand the critical role of morality in human relating. The liberal agenda does not comprehend an identity of competence, appreciate its importance, or analyze the developmental conditions and social institutions that promote its achievement. The liberal agenda does not understand or recognize personal sovereignty or impose strict limits on coercion by the state. It does not celebrate the genuine altruism of private charity. It does not learn history’s lessons on the evils of collectivism.

What the liberal mind is passionate about is a world filled with pity, sorrow, neediness, misfortune, poverty, suspicion, mistrust, anger, exploitation, discrimination, victimization, alienation and injustice. Those who occupy this world are “workers,” “minorities,” “the little guy,” “women,” and the “unemployed.” They are poor, weak, sick, wronged, cheated, oppressed, disenfranchised, exploited and victimized. They bear no responsibility for their problems. None of their agonies are attributable to faults or failings of their own: not to poor choices, bad habits, faulty judgment, wishful thinking, lack of ambition, low frustration tolerance, mental illness or defects in character. None of the victims’ plight is caused by failure to plan for the future or learn from experience. Instead, the “root causes” of all this pain lie in faulty social conditions: poverty, disease, war, ignorance, unemployment, racial prejudice, ethnic and gender discrimination, modern technology, capitalism, globalization and imperialism. In the radical liberal mind, this suffering is inflicted on the innocent by various predators and persecutors: “Big Business,” “Big Corporations,” “greedy capitalists,” U.S. Imperialists,” “the oppressors,” “the rich,” “the wealthy,” “the powerful” and “the selfish.”

The liberal cure for this endless malaise is a very large authoritarian government that regulates and manages society through a cradle to grave agenda of redistributive caretaking. It is a government everywhere doing everything for everyone. The liberal motto is “In Government We Trust.” To rescue the people from their troubled lives, the agenda recommends denial of personal responsibility, encourages self-pity and other-pity, fosters government dependency, promotes sexual indulgence, rationalizes violence, excuses financial obligation, justifies theft, ignores rudeness, prescribes complaining and blaming, denigrates marriage and the family, legalizes all abortion, defies religious and social tradition, declares inequality unjust, and rebels against the duties of citizenship. Through multiple entitlements to unearned goods, services and social status, the liberal politician promises to ensure everyone’s material welfare, provide for everyone’s healthcare, protect everyone’s self-esteem, correct everyone’s social and political disadvantage, educate every citizen, and eliminate all class distinctions. With liberal intellectuals sharing the glory, the liberal politician is the hero in this melodrama. He takes credit for providing his constituents with whatever they want or need even though he has not produced by his own effort any of the goods, services or status transferred to them but has instead taken them from others by force.

It should be apparent by now that these social policies and the passions that drive them contradict all that is rational in human relating, and they are therefore irrational in themselves. But the faulty conceptions that lie behind these passions cannot be viewed as mere cognitive slippage. The degree of modern liberalism’s irrationality far exceeds any misunderstanding that can be attributed to faulty fact gathering or logical error. Indeed, under careful scrutiny, liberalism’s distortions of the normal ability to reason can only be understood as the product of psychopathology. So extravagant are the patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating that characterize the liberal mind that its relentless protests and demands become understandable only as disorders of the psyche. The modern liberal mind, its distorted perceptions and its destructive agenda are the product of disturbed personalities.

As is the case in all personality disturbance, defects of this type represent serious failures in development processes. The nature of these failures is detailed below. Among their consequences are the liberal mind’s relentless efforts to misrepresent human nature and to deny certain indispensable requirements for human relating. In his efforts to construct a grand collectivist utopia—to live what Jacques Barzun has called “the unconditioned life” in which “everybody should be safe and at ease in a hundred ways”—the radical liberal attempts to actualize in the real world an idealized fiction that will mitigate all hardship and heal all wounds. (Barzun 2000). He acts out this fiction, essentially a Marxist morality play, in various theaters of human relatedness, most often on the world’s economic, social and political stages. But the play repeatedly folds. Over the course of the Twentieth Century, the radical liberal’s attempts to create a brave new socialist world have invariably failed. At the dawn of the Twenty-first Century his attempts continue to fail in the stagnant economies, moral decay and social turmoil now widespread in Europe. An increasingly bankrupt welfare society is putting the U.S. on track for the same fate if liberalism is not cured there. Because the liberal agenda’s principles violate the rules of ordered liberty, his most determined efforts to realize its visionary fantasies must inevitably fall short. Yet, despite all the evidence against it, the modern liberal mind believes his agenda is good social science. It is, in fact, bad science fiction. He persists in this agenda despite its madness.

Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD is the author of The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness. He received his medical and psychiatric training at the University of Chicago and served for two years as a psychiatrist in the United States Army. He is currently in private practice in the Chicago area.

_____________

E-mail to Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr.:

Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2008 13:15:09 -0600
To: "Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr." <info@libertymind.com>
From: Bob Powell <scuba@usa.net>
Subject: Pathetic

In case you didn't get via Townhall ...

Your asserted caricature of liberals is ludicrous. See "Libertarians: Unbalanced & Deranged" at  for my response to your irrational nonsense. Also see "The Invisible Hand" and "Invisible Hand Drops Ball & Economics 101".

Sincerely,
Bob
_________________

In response to sending Fascist "FreedomWorks", The Invisible Hand, and Invisible Hand Drops Ball & Economics 101 a libertarian send me a commentary. Here it is with my response.

Libertarians: Unbalanced & Deranged Collectives

_________________

E-mail from Dr. Lyle Rossiter, Jr. and my responses (indented):

Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2008 22:33:35 -0600
To: "Dr. Lyle Rossiter" <info@libertymind.com>
From: Bob Powell <scuba@usa.net>
Subject: Re: Pathetic

Dr. Rossiter,

At 02:04 PM 4/3/2008, you wrote:

Doctor Powell,

Thanks for your note. I am responding to you on the assumption that most of the time you prefer an exchange of ideas in a spirit of inquiry, not an exchange of insults in a spirit of contempt.  I would like to join you in the former, but not the latter.

You sign your note 'Sincerely.' If you are sincere in communicating rather than sincere in castigating me and my ideas, I invite you to read the book, not judge it from an excerpt on Townhall.  That, after all, is what you would surely do if you were analyzing some other work in good faith for a discerning audience.

Yes, I'm sincere. As that "excerpt" on Townhall was written by you, it's appropriate to judge you on that. What's amazing is that you express nothing but insults and contempt for me, and yet you object to a response from me in which I explain exactly why your view of reality is distorted and, therefore, why I have contempt for your views and your portrayal of liberals, which is nothing but castigating.

Accordingly, I would be happy to forward to you an Ebook version with my compliments. If you read it and would like to trade ideas, that might be enlightening to both of us.  If not, that's fine too.

I have explained quite explicitly why your worldview is distorted and why you are the source of "stagnant economies, moral decay and social turmoil"  in this country ... Europe is doing quite well in comparison. I invite you to read what I wrote based on sound social science founded on systems thinking principles.

I have many links to detailed explanations of the principles. For more, I suggest further that you read Sterman's book (at least his paper on "Learning in and about complex systems" or, for a less technical treatment, The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.

Had I your limited perspective on reality, I would likely have many of the same opinions ... to my shame I did hold many of those views and was a registered R in this state for 17 years ... purely out of ignorance. Thankfully, I no longer have that limited, individually-logical, collectively-irrational perspective.

Note that I do give exposure of your views to liberal groups and on my site ... just as you have written it ... see #25. The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness (April Fool edition). Would you do the same?

Just on the one issue of property rights, I do not know any liberals who approve of the right-wing attempt to take by force from residents a three-mile wide strip of property for the proposed "super slab" highway in Colorado. This is an outrage pursued by those of a so-called "conservative" Republican bent ... who betray so-called "free market,"  property rights principles when there's profit to be made.

Your for better ideas, LR Jr.

Frankly, I doubt this. I have not met one libertarian or economic "conservative" even willing to address the concepts I describe (adverse selection, externalities, path dependence, inelasticities, delays, etc.), except to deny their validity without explanation. From them there's a total blindness to the reality of emergent properties of the whole, of collectives. None have been willing to engage on these issues. Can you?

I do not write what's on my site in an effort to convince those like you. I've found that to be quite impossible and, quite frankly, a waste of time ... see my many responses to Libertarian Objections. I write for those who understand intuitively that your views are unsound, but don't have the background to explain technically and logically why that's the case.

Sincerely,
Bob


URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/libertarianunbal.shtml

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