Saturday, September 1, 2018


Beasts and their young in travel cages.
From the Greek, meaning 'rule by the obstreperous.'

It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minority –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. 
-- Nassim Nicholas Taleb, "The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority"

Note that the lion is not shown pouncing upon the zebra.
Although the zebra warily keeps the elephant between them.
RECENTLY, FROM THE NOOZ, TOF learned that the cover art on boxes of animal crackers has been changed to remove the cage bars (and the baby animals). This was not because a great wave of artistic preference swept through the body politic. Ask anyone the day before to list their top ten concerns -- indeed, their top 100 concerns -- and chances are that the package art for Animal Crackers would not have ranked very high among them.

This change came about at the behest of PETA, which apparently believed the old retro circus art was somehow double-plus ungood and possessed the causal power to entail extinctions. It did not come about because of a groundswell of grassroots demand. This illustrates a curious point:

Change comes about from instransigant minorities within societies, not from the majority or the "consenseus." This is not because the minority convinces the majority, but because there is frequently an asymmetry in choices.

Ratchets permit motion in only one direction.
The animal cracker artwork mattered terribly to the snowflakes at PETA, while everybody else didn't care much at all. Therefore, PETA (which is not concentrated in a mountain compound, but spread throughout the country and inexplicably not yet in cages. That makes it like a ratchet, permitting motion in one direction and blocking it in the other.

One example of the Ratchet is kosher soft drinks. Almost all beverages are kosher. The reason is that those who keep kosher will drink nothing else, while those who do not don't care one way or the other. Since the cost differential in minimal and those who insist on kosher are scattered throughout the population, bottlers find it much cheaper to just make everything kosher than to keep two inventories. (That is not always true for other rules; or for intransigant minorities who are concentrated in a few areas, or if the cost differential is large.)

National Helium Reserve
 ONCE AWARE OF THE RATCHET, we see its appearance everywhere and realize its explanatory power. Government subsidies and boondoggles, for example. Suppose a bill is passed -- remember when bills had to pass through Congress before we discovered the excellently swift power of the Executive Order and bureaucratic Regulation? -- and it provides lunches and conferences and salaries for the sugar industry, or advertisers, or Head Start, or someone else. We now have a minority -- say, the sugar growers -- who are intransigently opposed to cutting the subsidy, because National Security! (or the Children!™ or whatever rings the bell) The majority abides because it only costs them pennies at a time. That's why they are seldom repealed -- there is always a lobby to support them, not always a lobby to repeal them. That's how the national helium reserve, set up to ensure the Navy would have plenty of helium for its blimps, outlasted the Age of Airships itself. By 1996, it was evident that zepplins were not making a comeback and the use of helium was almost entirely private, so th ereserve was ordered privatized. But in 2013, lo!, the need evidently returned like the Walking Dead and federal control was reasserted. Similarly, the ATF was not disbanded when Prohibition was repealed. They just found other stuff to do. The telephone excise tax, enacted in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War was renewed and revised repeatedly to pay for other wars or depressions and shortfalls in government revenue, until 2000, and only because the internet had mooted the concept of a "phone call." Even so, Clinton vetoed the repeal bill and it lingered unto 2011 or so.

Some folks don't trust GMO foods
Much is explained by tarachódocracy, from the trivial to the portentious. Taleb notes that transgenic-GMO eaters will eat nonGMOs, but not the reverse. Those who don't like GMO food, will usually not eat it. Therefore, much food is marketed as "Contains no GMO incredients." Likewise, books don't get banned by majority vote, but because a minority feels so strongly that they won't back down or compromise on it. The National Socialist Worker's Party never won a majority in any vote, and in fact lost seats in the Reichstag in the last election before the Machtergreifung; but Hitler was appointed chancellor nonetheless because shouting down speakers, rushing the platform, and the like were so effective and the Christian Democrats just wanted the disturbances to stop. "Once you have ten percent or more women at a party," says Taleb, "you cannot serve only beer. But most men will drink wine. So if you serve only wine, you only need one set of glasses."

Islam prevailed in the heartland of Christianity because of a Ratchet. If a Christian [or other non-muslim] man married a muslim woman, he had to convert. (Christian woman could be kept by muslims without converting.) But any children would have to be raised muslim, and no convert could revert under pain of death. This ensured that all changes in religion were one-way; and even if the original converts had done so cynically to avoid taxes or some other burden, their grandchildren were likely to be sincere.

In the US, the "minority rule" is still largely compartmentalized. On most issues, the several states must decide for themselves. If, as some wish, the country became a unitary state rather that a federation (often expressed by "reforming" the Electoral College) then tarachódocracy would preveil acoss the nation and a stubborn minority could impose their desire on the whole country rather than on say Texas alone.

Nicholas Rashevsky, the "father" of mathematical biophysics, also wrote a book applying mathematics to historical processes, including what later became "tipping point" theory and incorporated the idea of "partisan" groups who could never be won over. But Warren Weaver, in his discussion of complexity in science, wrote that "organized complexity" consisted not only of many individual units but also the interrelationships among them. Readers my recognize thia as matter and form. Such systems were beyond the organizing power of mathematics or statistics or even human intuition and had to be grasped through models. But "all models are wrong," and the outputs of them are likely to be Wrong. Taleb points out that "in complex systems the ensemble behaves in way not predicted by the components." These are called emergent behaviours, or formal causes. That's because the connections among the units matter more than the units themselves. [See Warren Weaver, "Science and Complexity," American Scientist, 36:536 (1948)]

All good ideas originate with some small initial group that will not take No for an answer. The trouble is, all bad ideas start the same way.

All of this bodes ill for the long-term survival of the Republic. Tolerance of free speech means tolerating even those calling for the banning of some speech, and tarachódocracy means their views will come to dominate. Such minorities cannot or will not ever concede.

Rashevsky, Nicholas. Looking at History through Mathematics, The MIT Press  (1968)
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. "The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority,"
 Weaver, Warren. "Science .and Complexity," American Scientist, 36:536 (1948)


  1. RE: the Taleb article, actually the ascendancy of linguae francarum (?) is thoroughly visible to even amateur linguists. (Also Aramaic was first spread by the Assyrians, and only further popularized by the Persians. The Assyrians adopted it because it was used for trade by Aramaean peddlers, which would actually be where the minority rule would come in—people wouldn't speak Assyrian but they did speak the peddlers' language, which the Assyrians also spoke.)

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  4. In other words Catholics need to rediscover intolerance

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  8. In other words, as Chesterton put it:

    "In practical politics the survival of the fittest frequently means only the survival of the fussiest."

    -GKC, "Illustrated London News", August 8, 1925


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