Sunday, January 24, 2010

We Win!

Outside the music school and theater in Be’er Sheva two representatives of the Ministry of Defense of Israel came by where I was sitting with my computer in my lap and asked me what I was doing. The whole of the last week I had been reading Santayana online.

In fact that I was reading about fanaticism in religion. And to tell the truth, the interruption by the the secret forces of order amused me more than anything else, whereas I am intimidated by Santayana’s fluidity of expression. In comparison I can hardly talk at all.

Before I’d been reading the news, about the U.S. Supreme Court allowing business to make investments in politicians’ careers. That made me feel smart, like reading about our American wars. But then I felt stupid again. How much of this political stupidity is irrelevant? In other words, is there somebody smart, smarter than me, that is profiting by my thinking I am smart because I am wise to the stupid politics of my country?

Surely I am not smart. I’m always uselessly getting angry at my wife, I can understand Santayana but would run away if he looked the wrong way at me….

Chess master Kasparov wrote in the New York Review of Books that the best chess player now is a team of human who is creative and intuitive, plus computer that looks ahead to a huge number of alternative moves, plus a human-planned process that relates the two faculties together, that sets the rules of how the computer tests the suggestions of the human, and the human makes use of the data the computer produces. He discovered that most important of the three contributions to winning was discovering the better rules of relation between human and computer: when the procedures were good, a poorer human player would win against the better player if both used the same computer program.

We think we are smart because we know the whole country is dissolving in idiocy, and we understand just how our opponents are thinking, but the idiots may have the better rules for using technology against us.

We know, from reading books by law professors (see former Obama colleague Posner) that there is a theory that only immoral special interests in balance can run a democracy, and this gives the background we need to understand the Supreme Court decision allowing purchasing of politicians.

If nothing else I am well read, much better educated that my opponents. But they like Santayana are masters at something I am not good at. They know when the machine of human society is giving them an opening for profit, and they are in a perfect position to use the machine to test their innovative ideas.

For example, the theory of the superiority of open markets, free trade, no regulation of business, is a human idea our politicians have sent into the computer of real political life and experience to test. The results are: good for the particular class of people who asked the question of the computer, but in fact not a success in doing what was predicted, improve the general economy for the majority of citizens. The machine has tested the human idea, proved it wrong, but given the human a better idea to innovate with.

So our politicians use that discovery and continue with policies that seem idiotic. Same goes for the wars. They are started as tests of human political ideas: impress other countries with our power, protect ourselves against terrorism, etc. All are proved wrong by the computer of history. But along the way our human politicians using intuition and invention realize there is something good in all this: in fact a lot good, good for friends in oil, in defense contracting, in banking, good for everyone who is good to us!

The politicians in our government might be saying to themselves, Yes we're idiots, everything we do is wrong. We’ve got the same computer as you, but we’re in a position to use it better than you. We win!