[Link] Op-Ed on Brussels Attacks

post by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T17:38:18.943Z · score: -4 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 52 comments

Trigger warning: politics is hard mode.


"How to you make America safer from terrorists" is the title of my op-ed published in Sun Sentinel, a very prominent newspaper in Florida, one of the most swingiest of the swing states in the US for the presidential election, and the one with the most votes. The maximum length of the op-ed was 450 words, and it was significantly edited by the editor, so it doesn't convey the full message I wanted with all the nuances, but such is life. My primary goal with the piece was to convey methods of thinking more rationally about politics, such as to use probabilistic thinking, evaluating the full consequences of our actions, and avoiding attention bias. I used the example of the proposal to police heavily Muslim neighborhoods as a case study. Hope this helps Floridians think more rationally and raises the sanity waterline regarding politics!

 

 

EDIT: To be totally clear, I used guesstimates for the numbers I suggested. Following Yvain/Scott Alexander's advice, I prefer to use guesstimates rather than vague statements.

52 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-03T04:53:05.180Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This shouldn't be down-voted if for no other reason then it shows that a regular contributor to LW got an article in a major paper that contains the following paragraph:

"Recent research shows that after any emotionally powerful event, our brains tend to assign too much weight to that event compared with what is really important to us, a thinking error called attentional bias. To fight this thinking error, we should consider what are our actual goals and how best to reach them."

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-05T00:22:33.326Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't that the point of the Monthly Bragging Thread? Why do you consider the article to be valuable to be in discussion?

comment by Chriswaterguy · 2016-04-05T04:41:43.837Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed - the article is remarkably rational for a mainstream media op-ed.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-02T18:57:52.093Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider two theories:

(1) Our "angry rhetoric, intimidation and surveillance" of Muslims in western countries benefits ISIS by giving them more recruits.
(2) Our soft response to terrorism compared to, say, how Saudi Arabia deals with terrorists who threaten it, benefits ISIS by signaling that the West is weak and by not providing sufficient disincentives to potential terrorists.

How do you determine which is right?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-02T21:33:08.920Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you determine which is right?

Why, you look at what France and other European countries did. We know that whatever they did led to Paris and Brussels. Do you think they radicalized the Muslims by heavy-handed patrolling of Muslim neighbourhoods and being generally oppressive toward them? Or did the European policy involve averting their eyes and issuing proclamations about how Muslims should feel welcome (the term "appeasement" isn't terribly popular)?

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-05T00:32:37.847Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Paris isn't excatly a European city that did a good job at trying to integrate it's Muslim populations. Even before the terrorist attacks there were riots in Paris's suburbs. France is also one of the countries that did the most surveillance.

comment by Plasmon · 2016-04-03T13:23:57.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We know that whatever they did led to Paris and Brussels

Correlation / Causation?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-03T22:45:19.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Evidence.

But do note that the OP explicitly asserts causation between police presence and radicalization.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T21:46:20.030Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I suppose other countries that treat terrorists more harshly never experienced suicide bombings?

But just saying that would not be getting to the meat of your point. The question to ask is not whether what they did led to Paris and Brussels, but whether if doing something different would have prevented Paris and Brussels, or led to Berlin, Milan, and other prominent cities being bombed.

As always, I'm ready to update my beliefs, and if you can show that me sufficient proof that a heavy police presence would be more optimal than not for the sake of decreasing the resources flowing to ISIS and its ability to do suicide bombings, I'll be happy to update.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-04-02T20:06:15.371Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you assuming they're mutually exclusive? Why?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-02T20:14:25.278Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was, but perhaps I shouldn't have.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-05T00:38:35.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you consider it to hard on Muslims or soft on Muslims if France would head the call of it's Muslim community to require Imam's to have a license to preach?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-05T02:27:54.990Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hard on them since with limited competition the Imam's would put less effort into their work.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-05T08:53:16.701Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically limiting competition of a trade means being hard on the trade?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-05T12:56:25.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The government licencing practitioners of industry X helps incumbent practitioners of industry X while harming industry X's customers. The licencing should raise the price and lower the output and innovation of the industry.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-05T00:32:06.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our soft response to terrorism compared to, say, how Saudi Arabia deals with terrorists who threaten it,

Saudi Arabia pays the terrorists to move their operations to other countries. That isn't exactly being soft on terrorism.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T20:02:56.205Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hear you, but I don't think the theories are opposite to each other.

Let's take them one at a time. First, would you agree that angry rhetoric, intimidation and surveillance contributes to ISIS getting more recruits? If so, then it's a true statement, independent of the other statement.

Regarding the second, I'm not sure the word "soft" is warranted here, as it prejudges the question in advance. The question you seem to be asking is whether our current response to terrorists signals that the West is weak and thus does not provide sufficient disincentives to terrorists. When using the word terrorists, it seems that you are speaking about the people carrying out the acts. Those people generally are prepared to die - many are either suicide bombers, or make suicide-style attacks expecting to die. Thus, using tactics such as police surveillance of neighborhoods as Cruz proposed is unlikely to provide a disincentive at all. Heck, even jailing them for life will not, or taking 10 years to kill them as our current death penalty laws stand.

Now, I can try to steelman the second theory, and talk about the people behind the suicide bombers, those who incite them - so not terrorists themselves, but ideological leaders. Having police patrol Muslim neighborhoods will do nothing to deter ideological leaders, natch - they are the radical imams in mosques, the bloggers on the internet, etc. So my point still stands on Cruz's solution being, to say it mildly, unhelpful.

Can we do something about the radical imams? Sure! However, this is not a topic I chose to focus on in the article, and I haven't given it sufficient consideration to make a strong and clear statement about it. I'd welcome thoughts from LWs about what can be done.

comment by Viliam · 2016-04-02T20:57:26.513Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can we do something about the radical imams?

Put them in prison. Assassinate them. Discredit them. Make fun of them publicly. All of the above.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-02T21:19:14.438Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

First they came for the radical imams and I didn't say anything because I wasn't an imam...

comment by Viliam · 2016-04-02T21:49:18.352Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feel free to suggest a better strategy. (Note: It must work reliably, and it must be morally flawless.)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-02T22:07:46.457Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note: It must work reliably, and it must be morally flawless

Interesting conditions you set.

comment by Viliam · 2016-04-02T22:15:32.280Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are minimum conditions to avoid being immediately criticized here. I probably forgot something, such as the strategy should only be a short inferential distance away from the average reader, etc.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-02T22:26:27.800Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are minimum conditions to avoid being immediately criticized here.

Ah. No, I don't think they would help you much with avoiding criticism :-/

But I'm not sure what you expected when your suggestion for dealing with people who speak words you don't like is "Just kill them".

comment by Viliam · 2016-04-04T07:53:13.324Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, now we have at least two options: (1) kill the radical imams, and (2) do nothing and keep the status quo. Anyone is free to suggest more options.

Each option has some disadvantages. You hinted at the problems with 1, which are that if the strategy works, it is likely to go down a slippery slope. First we assassinate Osama bin Laden, then we assassinate our local jihad preacher Abdullah, then we assassinate everyone who criticizes Hillary on Facebook, and then we start building concentration camps for all wrongthinkers. A few times in history a similar thing actually happened, so it is a useful outside view to have.

But there are also problems with 2, and thousands of people are already dying as a consequence of militant islam, to say the obvious.

If you suggest that the option 2 is better than the option 1, I am interested in hearing your arguments. If you have a better option 3, I am also interested in hearing arguments for it.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-04T14:37:05.842Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, now we have at least two options

Imagine something is wrong with your leg. You come to a doctor and tell him about the weird pains in your leg, and how it cramps up occasionally, etc. The doctor thinks for a moment and says: Well, now we have at least two options, (1) cut off your leg, and (2) do nothing. Would you feed that was a reasonable approach to the situation?

I hope you don't think that the problem of dealing with a subversive movement is new. Ruling elites had to figure out what to do about them since time immemorial with regular successes and regular failures. There is no universal answer, never mind a simplistic one. Treating them with kid gloves has been tried (ask the Germans how well did that work with respect to the brown shirts), treating them harshly has been tried (ask the Romans how well did feeding Christians to the lions work). It's complicated.

I am not going to develop a strategy for fighting islamists here, but I strongly suspect that a successful strategy would have the following attributes:

  • Not expressible in a single sentence. Or a single paragraph.
  • Has many parts, in particular both carrots and sticks
  • Changes with time, specifically in response to feedback
  • Somewhat localized -- the US solutions are unlikely to be exactly like the European solutions.
  • Is patient and doesn't expect to fix everything in a month

Why do you expect trivially simple solutions to complex problems?

comment by Viliam · 2016-04-06T07:57:42.445Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect that in order to solve any complex problem, there must be an actionable first step. Otherwise, the problem is likely to get unsolved. (Unless some solution appears randomly in the future.)

In this situation, as the first step I would probably try to establish an organization aimed at reducing islamic terrorism. Maybe just a department within some existing secret service.

Maybe it already happened.

Saying "it's difficult" may be perfectly true, but doesn't bring us any closer to solving the problem.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-06T14:45:33.657Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect that in order to solve any complex problem, there must be an actionable first step.

Sure. Usually it should be "understand what's happening".

Saying "it's difficult" may be perfectly true, but doesn't bring us any closer to solving the problem.

Who is "us"? I am not going to solve that problem. Neither are you. The appropriate national security agencies aren't terrible interested in your or mine (or the whole LW's) opinions.

One of the reasons why politics is discouraged on LW is that in almost all cases you just talk about it, but do not actually do (and cannot do) anything.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T21:52:32.290Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed with Viliam here. No strategy is going to be morally flawless. We need to figure out what strategy will optimize for the best balance of utilons.

I suggest we talk in numbers here, as opposed to generalities. Give your estimates for what will happen with your theory, and see what other people think.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T21:03:57.522Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be careful of the first two - there are trade-offs to making them into martyrs. Doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but we need to consider carefully the trade-offs and evaluate the pros and cons of doing each.

Totally on board with discrediting them and making fun of them publicly.

Between these two - what we can call the "hard" pole and the "soft" pole - I'd suggest a "middle" course of putting up barriers to their ability to make an impact. For example, if a radical imam is identified, we can have super-steep fines for each instance of radicalizing speech. Or we can revoke permits for them to have a mosque. Or we can have attacks on the blogs of radical muslims. This has the benefit of making it much less likely for them to be perceived as martyrs, and if they complain they can be easily portrayed as whiners and sore losers.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2016-04-03T22:32:55.374Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think can finally state what is it about many of your arguments makes me go "sigh, here we go again". (And I suspect a lot of people, given that your political posts tend to be negatively received by a lot of people).

Your arguments take a general form that is something like the following. State that A could have beneficial effects B, C and D. Dismiss any suggestions that A could have negative effects E, F and G. Insistently state that since A could have beneficial effects B, C and D, then the expected utility of A is positive - throw some made up numbers and probabilities to justify said expected positive utility of A, so therefore we should do A.*

This is incredibly annoying. It is even more annoying because, (and I'm sorry to be blunt), you're way out of your depth on most of the things you write. You don't know how ISIS works (not that I think that the average person should spend time figuring out how ISIS's ideology works), you don't know how politics works, and your model of rationality is out of touch with how human knowledge is actually furthered.

*Also ignore suggestions that A could have a net negative effect on B, C and D via other casual pathways. See here to see what I'm talking about:

http://freakonomics.com/2013/10/23/what-makes-people-do-what-they-do/

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-04T02:07:05.005Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dismiss any suggestions that A could have negative effects E, F and G

Can you clarify where in the piece I "dismiss any suggestions that A could have negative effects E, F and G"?

you don't know how politics works

I'd say the fact that a major newspaper published a political op-ed I wrote is pretty good evidence for me having some knowledge for how politics work

how human knowledge is actually furthered

I actually have quite a bit of knowledge about how to further knowledge, both in teaching and in research

However, I'm always happy to learn new things about ISIS, politics, and furthering human knowledge, and look forward to hearing any insights from you about them :-)

comment by gjm · 2016-04-05T00:46:50.301Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the fact that a major newspaper published a political op-ed I wrote is pretty good evidence for me having some knowledge for how politics work

I'm not as certain as pianoforte611 is that you don't know how politics works, but while I agree that having a political op-ed published in a major newspaper is evidence that you understand politics, I don't think it's tremendously strong evidence. If you write something that will appeal to the paper's readers, or that will arouse controversy and draw in readers (or, online, clicks on advertisements), then that may be all they care about. There is some pretty stupid stuff published in major newspapers.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-05T02:28:28.511Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that having a political op-ed published in a major newspaper is evidence that you understand politics, I don't think it's tremendously strong evidence

I agree it's not tremendously strong evidence. Having multiple op-eds published in multiple papers, as I have, provides more evidence, of course.

If you write something that will appeal to the paper's readers, or that will arouse controversy and draw in readers (or, online, clicks on advertisements), then that may be all they care about. There is some pretty stupid stuff published in major newspapers.

Yup, there is stupid stuff, but it's most often by specific writers who they know and specifically frame as controversial, for example a prisoner on a hunger strike in California. They generally don't publish stupid stuff by people who are positioned as experts. Papers do have a reputation to uphold.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2016-04-04T23:02:00.612Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I skimmed two of your papers. I'm honestly shocked that you're the same person. They were both precise, carefully argued and with none of the pseudo-rigor or tunnel vision that I've found in your other writing. I apologize for misjudging you.

Unfortunately, I'm not interested in debating the specifics of this argument, and I never claimed to be an expert on ISIS. However I maintain that you are going beyond your scope of expertise when you claim to know what "ISIS would love to see".

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-05T02:23:51.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm glad you took the opportunity to skim my papers. My writing is highly varied depending on the audiences for whom I'm writing. Unfortunately, op-eds have to be a certain kind of format that is not given to the kind of precise and carefully-argued style in which I would much rather prefer to write. Pieces I specifically write for LW are also written in a more rigorous style, although not the level I would write for a peer-reviewed journal.

I hear you about "ISIS would love to see" - this was a rhetorical maneuver. It's one of those stylistic things needed to get an op-ed published, as I learned over much trial and error. While "love" is rhetorical, the bigger point still stands. ISIS has specifically described its goal as attacking the notion that Muslims and non-Muslims can live together, and specifically aims its attacks to result in creating a hostile environment for Muslims in western countries so that they would turn to ISIS.

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-08T02:14:14.296Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, two of your recommendations are.

Our top political figures can make powerful, courageous and politically unpopular statements that all Muslims are not to blame for this attack, and that we should not radicalize the rest through unthoughtful policies. We can reach out to Muslim leaders who condemned the Brussels attacks and work together against the radicals.

Of course, this is what western leaders have been doing for the past 15 years, and it doesn't seem to be working. Turns out Muslims are more inclined to get their theology from their own imams then from western politicians, and reaching out to "moderate" Muslim leaders results in Muslim leaders that are moderate in English but radical in Arabic.

Original thread here.

comment by Lamp2 · 2016-04-08T02:13:57.886Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you wrote an article that starts with a false premise, namely the implicit claim that the primary cause of radicalization is western police presence. It then proceeds to use numbers you appear to have taken from thin air in an argument whose only purposes appears to be signalling "rationality" and diverting attention from said false premise. It final reaches a conclusion that's almost certainly false. This is supposed to promote rationality how?

Original thread here.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T20:03:23.035Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See my answer to James_Miller

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T18:24:31.618Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I said, politics is hard mode. I am willing to make a bet that nowhere in the article did I state or implicitly claim that "the primary cause" of radicalization is police presence. Are you willing to take on that bet?

comment by Lamp · 2016-04-02T18:35:08.694Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're analyze the affect of police presence entirely based on the direct affect on radicalization. You don't even analyze the intended effect of the police presence, or it's effect on the main causes, e.g., radical imans in mosques, social pressure from more radical Muslims.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T19:49:24.845Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't it interesting how you're not willing to answer the question I posed, but instead are veering away. I suggest you answer the question. I'm willing to make a $100 bet, with 1/1 odds. Are you going to take me up on it? If not, withdraw your original claim. Thanks!

comment by Dagon · 2016-04-02T20:03:09.060Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This line of defensiveness is even less interesting than the original topic, I wish I could downvote more than once.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T20:39:18.820Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I prefer to not engage with people who ascribe to me things I didn't say, then steer away when I call them out on it, and then suggest banning me. And you can downvote this as well if you wish.

comment by Lamp · 2016-04-02T20:12:48.410Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We already have evidence that Gleb has been hiring meat puppets from third world countries to help promote his organization on LW. Can we just ban him already?

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-04-02T20:38:31.310Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, you're really triggered by this politics topic, aren't you? Consider calming down before engaging :-)

Also, if I used "meat puppets" or "sock puppets," do you think my comments would be so downvoted? Be rational, please.

comment by beatricesargin · 2016-04-02T22:39:54.112Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rationally speaking this article can help us figure out how to derive a plan on how to solve these terrorists issues if we look at it from the writers angle or point of view