“Trust in Govt” DoubleQuote from John Robb

[ by Charles Cameron — I’d like to define “thinkers” as those who make us think, John Robb being a prime example ]

.

Trust in the US government is inversely proportional to the number of bureaucrats it employs. pic.twitter.com/WTiq2ABDbh

— John Robb (@johnrobb) December 6, 2014

**

Assuming that in this case correlation just might be evidence of causation, what remedy would you suggest?

I imagine a wide swathe of people will think reducing the size of the bureaucracy could well increase confidence in government — but my own hunch, perhaps counterintuitive, would be to increase confidence in government & watch it cleanse itself of those in various offices who serve no helpful purpose.

Of course, there may be feedback loops involved, so I don’t consider this a sure-fire remedy. I’m foolish, I was being just a tad optimistic. And besides, correlation doesn’t prove causation, though it may alert us to its possibility.

**

John juxtaposes two images there, though, in a thought-provocative way, as is his wont. From a DoubleQuotes point of view — and this is a fine example of what I call “DoubleQuotes in the wild” — the juxtaposition neatly demonstrates the potential benefits of reading DQs both from left to right and from right to left, or more generally, of checking analogies for possible meanings both ways, despite the fact that they often have their own directionality, real or implied.

**

What I mean to imply when I say “my own hunch, perhaps counterintuitive, would be to increase confidence in government” is that we need to increase the actual trustworthiness of government, the degree of alignment between words and deeds, the sincerity of its practitioners, the degree to which that Gettysburg phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” is reflected in actual practice.

That must work primarily at the level of the human individual elected to govern: honesty, decency, and humility rather than self-serving, surely, are the primary values called for — a little dignity would be appreciated, too.

10 comments on this post.
  1. T. Greer:

    The problem with the juxtaposition is that he is measuring bureaucrats in terms of total numbers, not per capita. U.S. population has grown considerably over that time. A smaller % of U.S. public is bureaucrat today than in the 50s and 60s. See here.

  2. Charles Cameron:

    Aha, interesting catch, more to think about.

    Thanks.

  3. larrydunbar:

    “Assuming that in this case correlation just might be evidence of causation, what remedy would you suggest?”

    *
    How about suggesting, to follow the narrative of the quote from the late great POTUS George W. Bush: “you are either with us or against us”.

    *
    If the US government is really that large of an employer, including the military.

    *
    It’s at least something to think about.

    *
    I suppose it’s a wonder they haven’t gotten rid of those who don’t support the people, who are paid by the US government, sooner.

    *
    After all, targeting is getting extremely easy. 🙂

  4. Cheryl Rofer:

    Hi Charles –
    .
    I’m not sure I’m getting your discussion, so let me focus on Robb’s tweet.
    .
    1) The two graphs do not cover the same time periods. The “trust” graph is 1958 to 2013; the “All Employees” graph, 1930 to 1990.
    .
    2) The “trust” graph does indeed decrease from 1963 to 1978, but the rest is sort of a hash. And think about what was happening from 1963 to 1978: the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement. Plenty for people of many different political persuasions to distrust the government on.
    .
    3) Absolutely no reason, except for prejudgements, to conclude that a single factor accounts for declining (if that’s even what it is) trust in government.
    .
    4) Might be interesting to look at those bumps up in “trust” to see what common factors might be.

  5. Charles Cameron:

    Hi Cheryl, TGreer —
    .
    I think this long response is now ready to go, and hope you will let me know if it still lacks clarity.
    .
    You have both shown me ways in which John Robb’s tweet may in fact be a unsound juxtaposition — a flawed DoubleQuote, in my terms. I won’t argue with those assessments.
    .
    But to answer the question implied in the first half of Cheryl’s first comment — “I’m not sure I’m getting your discussion, so let me focus on Robb’s tweet” — I have to say that my emphasis is the reverse. It is not Robb’s tweet so much as the act of juxtaposition than interests me.
    .
    Putting that in other terms, John’s tweet caught my eye not so much for its content as for its form — its implications in terms of thinking by juxtaposition, analogy, metaphor.
    .
    That’s the “real” topic of a great many of my posts: I spend a lot of time discussing form, and using examples which naturally enough contain content — but I seldom know much about the content, whereas I seem to have an enthusiasm for form that few others share.
    .
    Perhaps I could say “I’m not sure I’m getting Robb’s discussion, so let me focus on the tweet’s form” to indicate my priorities, and how I may well be wrong about the content of his tweet.
    .
    The formal point I am deriving here is that both sides of a comparison are worth investigating for possible illumination.
    .
    Just the other day in Brief brief: religion and story, I quoted a poem by Kikaku and another by his master, Basho, with the suggestion that metaphors should “lift us from the lesser to the greater” — it’s a theological and poetic issue, that in comparing God with the sun, or mercy with rain, it is rain that should give us a deeper insight into mercy, the sun that should open our understanding of God, rather than the reverse. That analogies should have directionality if you like.
    .
    In this post I was arguing, effectively in counterpoint to that one, that each side of a metaphor, intuited resemblance or juxtaposition has the potential to illuminate the other. In the case of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture relating elliptic curves and modular functions (and hey, I am no more a mathematician than I am an economist, sociologist or statistician), as I understand it, the conjunction is mutually illuminating.
    .
    In that case, the resemblance can now be considered to be an identity, and whereas many metaphorical resemblances may “lean” one way or the other, with identities the parity of the two sides would presumably be exact — and mutual illumination often if not always possible.
    .
    Again, what I am trying to do here and in so many other posts is to think through the ways in which analogies — HipBone or Sembl moves — can be interpreted and misinterpreted. It is my sense that we know a great deal about rigorous causal thinking, but very little about the demands of rigor in thinking analogically, which our civilization appears to have relegated to the minor leagues.
    .
    In this case, I made a less than rigorous choice of juxtaposition to illustrate a point — it was the trigger for my making that point today, but not the point itself.
    .
    Lesson learne: the first rigor in using analogies is to check their validity.
    .
    Many years ago, I heard Murray Gell-Mann speak at Caltech on the need for analogical thinkers who could “bridge realms” conceptually. He felt CalTech and other such institutions were weak on educating thinkers of that type. But he also said that every analogical bridge builder needed two experts, one at each end of every bridge, to check the soundness of their respective disciplinary foundations.
    .
    I’m the analogist, the bridge builder, and your respective & respected expertises will help me build sounder bridges.

  6. Cheryl Rofer:

    Ah – okay. I don’t even think about juxtaposing two graphs, so much is that a part of what I’ve done as a scientist. It’s just something one does, like reading or writing. That’s probably why I didn’t get what you were saying. (Also that it’s the end of a busy day!)
    .
    In terms of form, correlation and causation are always problematical and need careful examination. Frequently what is found is the reverse of where the investigation started.
    .
    And form for the two graphs: my instant expectation for “X decreases as Y increases” would be that the graphs were mirror images. Hardly the case for Robb’s graphs.

  7. Charles Cameron:

    Fair enough, Cheryl.
    .
    To give you an idea where my head has been at recently, the Sembl game — which is currently a visual implementation of my HipBone ideas focused on museum collections — is now in final testing prior to opening in alpha state. In a game I playd last week, the opening move was a picture of a sailor boy. It must be part of some museum collection somewhere, but I haven’t been able to locate it, so the version you’ll see here is pretty small.

    Each of the players then had to find another image — either among the 200 or so currently in the game archive, or out of their own memory and research — to “pair” with this one, the idea being to come up with the most interesting pairing.
    .
    The three of us chose the following pairs — again, the images are pretty small:

    Each of us then added a brief explanation of the “semblance” as we perceived it, and evaluated the two other contributions for their interest. The explanations of the semblences were, respectively:

    naval uniform image in circular frame
    innocense of youth (Mossy and tangle)
    boys

    These are early attempts with a very limited database of images indeed, but you can glimpose just how subjective comparisons between artefacts can be, ranging from the fanciful an even ironic to the more exact but perhaps more pedestrian.
    .
    One ultimate aim of Sembl is to form a database of humanly-generated semblances, using materials drawn from the world’s galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (codename: GLAM), for the pleasure of play, but also for use in developing a human-like, aesthetically oriented AI.
    .
    My own interests would in fact take this further, to include cross-media analogies such as this one, which you have probably seen before, analogizing von Kármán and van Gogh:

    **
    .
    Obviously, critical thinking about comparisons between two graphs is liable to be way ahead of critical thinking about comparisons between museum artefacts — or between parallel or opposing concepts across all media and disciplines!
    .
    I’d very much appreciate any pointers you can offer us.

  8. Charles Cameron:

    Phew, I think I’ve finally gotten comment #7 complete and in a form that satisfied me. I do a whole lot of editing on these things!

  9. Cheryl Rofer:

    Thanks for the explanation, Charles! I have not taken the time to learn your hipbone or glass bead games, but this I understand. Stuff like this pops up in my head all the time, sometimes across media – I suspect that I suffer from mild synaesthesia. I need to get away mentally from distractions to do it deliberately. And then I may think it out of existence!
    .
    Do you follow Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) on Twitter? He comes up with some interesting stuff. And Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice uses classic art in ways that touch on this.

  10. Charles Cameron:

    Thanks! I am now following the Trilobite.
    .
    A HipBone or DoubleQuotes blank board is like a stave for notating such things, and serves both to evoke and discipline (curb) the associative faculty — evoking by inviting us to scan for such things in memory, curbing by exacting an explanation of the nature of the perceived analogy.