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Can Science and Math Fix Democracy? – Santa Barbara Edhat

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By Robert Bernstein
“Narcissism Broke Our Democracy. Can Science and Math Fix It?” This talk by Dr. John Wathey was the latest presentation at the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara. Very appropriate as we are in an election now.
John C. Wathey is a retired computational biologist whose interests include evolutionary algorithms, the biology of nervous systems, and electoral reform. He earned his PhD in Neurosciences at U.C. San Diego and has spent most of his career working on computer simulations of protein folding.
Wait. Computational biology and electoral reform? Yes.
Wathey explained that the title of his talk was meant to be provocative, but he worried that it might also be confusing, so he elaborated on it. He is not talking about voter fraud. Because there is none.
He is saying that our electoral rules are mathematically wrong. And they lead to candidates that most voters dislike.
Charismatic, narcissistic candidates warp the minds of their followers. They will always be with us. Fixing the math problem can help with the latter problem.
Wathey emphasized that this is a non-partisan issue. He showed a photo of the January 6 insurrection. It is about defending democracy. But he will have to refer to candidates by name.
Starting with 2016 candidates Trump and Clinton. They were tied as the two least popular candidates in polling history. 60% rated them unfavorably.
His eyes were opened by someone named Danny Kleinman regarding electoral flaws.
Wathey made a full disclosure: He is a left-leaning centrist. A pragmatist. He just wants society to work better. He is an engineer, not an ideologue. He cares about the truth. And his top issue is protecting the Earth.
He quoted the late Senator Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Wathey reminded us that Biden and Harris won the 2020 election. It is an empirical fact that was documented, verified, certified and adjudicated in multiple court cases.
False claims of election fraud began in April 2020 and continue to this day. It is a denial of reality following one self-serving man.
How are people so easily fooled? Narcissism. He showed an image of Narcissus from Greek mythology. He died of an overdose of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
Wathey learned the term in 2009 when he heard an interview with Carol Shelton, the daughter of preacher L R Shelton. He was Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Algiers, a section of New Orleans. He was so abusive that he was eventually excommunicated from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Wathey looked into reports by survivors of other cult leaders and saw a pattern. They are charismatic, domineering, project confidence, crave attention and admiration, have a grandiose sense of importance, achievement and entitlement, boast and lie pathologically, lack self control, lack empathy,  ask for costly sacrifice, have fits of rage, have shallow unstable relationships. And they have a secret feeling of insecurity and shame.
Wathey notes that the God Yahweh of the Old Testament checks all the boxes for NPD! With statements like “You shall have no other gods before me” and “I am a jealous god” and “Don’t take my name in vain”.
Yahweh was probably modeled after narcissistic leaders of the time.
Biologist EO Wilson notes the similarity of gods and cult leaders to alpha males in other primates. Primates are easily seduced by charismatic leaders. Such leaders often end up in careers in politics, acting or business. Is this a bug or a feature?
A 2008 study by FS Stinson found that NPD is found at some time in the lives of 4.8% of women and 7.7% of men. This is ten times more prevalent than schizophrenia.
A twin study showed that NPD is the most heritable of all personality disorders, with 64% of the variance due to genetic factors.
Why aren’t we all narcissists if it has such an advantage? Because of frequency-dependent selection. In plain English, it would not work if there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Evolution selects the right proportion of leaders and followers.
NPD is only half the issue. Followers are the other half. They have a need to belong. They fear ostracism. They are willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.
How does narcissism break democracy? Wathey showed a video of travel expert Rick Steves explaining it. Steves was in Munich and thought about the rise of Hitler to power. Steves showed a 1932 photo of a hall of Hitler and his followers.

Most of Europe went down the same road of seeking strong leaders at that time. There was a global Depression and people were eager to follow anyone who offered jobs. The NPD leaders stoked fear of Communists and hatred for immigrants “cutting in line”.
The society was just waiting for “9-11 moment”. In Germany, someone burned down the Capitol building. The incremental rise of the Nazis then snowballed. We see the same more recently in Turkey, starting with a failed coup.
Back to the present, 29% of US adults believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” by “voter fraud”.
We can teach children to be better critical thinkers. But we need something now. We need to fix bugs in the electoral system. A partial bug list:
But he wants to focus on the primary defect in American democracy: The primary system. Ideally, it should be abolished. But he suggests stopgap measures to allow more incremental change. But only as part of a grander plan to abolish them.
Turnout in Congressional primaries is just 20-35%. This brings out more extreme voters, polarizing the parties. Candidates fear a primary challenge more than they fear the general election.
Presidential primaries are the worst. Anyone can play. In the last Presidential election, six had never been elected to any public office. All were unqualified. One was temperamentally unfit.
The primary schedule is staggered, with Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina being early states that are unrepresentative, yet have disproportionate influence.
First past the post voting just gives the wrong answer. Elections are often compared to horse races, but that is not valid. Want to know which is the fastest horse? Line them all up and go. The first past the finish post is the fastest.
But this does not work for voting unless there are just two candidates. With multiple candidates you can get a candidate with the most votes (a plurality) who is hated by most voters.
This is part of how Hitler came to power. The Nazi party only got 37% in 1932. Hitler’s charisma and narcissistic appeal made him stand out just enough to win. But 2/3 of the voters voted against him.

What is the mathematically best way to decide an election with multiple candidates?  Nicolas de Condorcet offered a solution in the late 1700s.
But his solution was impractically complex. A race with 17 candidates would need 136 pairwise votes. But there is an easier way to get the Condorcet solution: Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The idea is to let people rank their choices among multiple candidates.
But that still leaves open how to use that information to decide a winner. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is one solution that is actually used in a number of places.
But IRV ignores most of the information on the ballots. It is not guaranteed to find the Condorcet winner. And it does not allow a voter to allow “tied rankings” on the ballot (where maybe Smith and Jones are tied for fourth choice.)
IRV also can be “gamed” by voting strategically in ways that don’t reflect honest rankings. It turns out that there is a version of RCV called the Baldwin method that has three desirable features:
    1) It gives the Condorcet winner
    2) It is simple to understand
    3) It is difficult to game it
This was advanced by Joseph M. Baldwin in 1926. It involves counting votes in a series of rounds. In each round, the candidate with the fewest points is eliminated, and the points are re-counted as if that candidate were not on the ballot.

Would Baldwin voting have saved Germany in 1932? Probably yes, but we will never know for sure. The Nazis never won a majority in the five elections they ran in.
Would the Baldwin method save US democracy now? One problem is that it would eliminate the Electoral College. Meaning it would require a Constitutional change. Is there a way around this?
It is first worth noting that there is nothing in the Constitution about parties or primaries. The primary system has only existed in its current form since the 1990s. Before that, candidates were chosen by party bosses in smoke-filled rooms.
RCV would weaken the stranglehold of the two major parties. For most of us this would be good. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has said that two is the second worst number of parties to have. It triggers tribal emotions.
Big changes are best made in small steps. One such step would be to move to one national primary that uses the Baldwin method. It would leave the Electoral College in place. Turnout would be greater and more representative. Moderates would win and polarization might reduce.
Wathey closed with this reference to his idea: https://www.watheyresearch.com/electoral-reform-redux/
and to this explanation of voting theory: https://www.princeton.edu/~cuff/voting/theory.html
He then took questions. I started by asking if “moderates” are a good choice when we have a problem like the Climate Crisis that requires drastic solutions.He said that it is still safest to honor the will of the voters. In the case of gay rights to marry we saw a rapid change from fringe idea to mainstream.
Jim Balter noted that money buying elections is at least as big a problem as voting methods. Wathey suggested that the influence of money could be reduced if it is made anonymous. The opposite of transparency. The point would be to keep the source of the money a secret from the politicians so that their votes on legislation would not be influenced by it. Balter was not satisfied. Wathey said there is no perfect solution, but agreed that we need to find the best solution we can to this problem.
Harold Hill suggested starting at more local levels. Wathey agreed.
Bill Cook suggested that tribalism must have some adaptive value. Wathey noted that hunter gatherer societies will depose a leader who gets too out of line.
Why would RCV eliminate narcissism? Because most people do reject the kind of thuggish behavior that the Nazis used.
Marian Shapiro would like to see RCV applied to our County Board of Supervisors.
I will add that I became aware of these issues after reading the Scientific American article “Fairest Vote of All” in March 2004. I have written two related articles for my Montecito Journal column that you can read here:
https://www.montecitojournal.net/2020/03/26/voting-paradoxes/
https://www.montecitojournal.net/2020/12/03/better-than-democracy/
For more information about upcoming events with the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara or to become a member, please go to https://www.sbhumanists.org/

I'm not sure anything can fix the GOP – Cynical, propagating downright lies and dehumanizing opponents. It's a far right attempt at a power grab. When the GOP can't win legitimately, it pushes it's broken platform with lies and deception. When the political party speaks in absolutes it is time for that party to split and or disappear.

I'm not sure anything can fix the GOP – Cynical, propagating downright lies and dehumanizing opponents. It's a far right attempt at a power grab. When the GOP can't win legitimately, it pushes it's broken platform with lies and deception. When the political party speaks in absolutes it is time for that party to split and or disappear.

You call people who disagree with you “domestic terrorists”…

You call people who disagree with you “domestic terrorists”…

If you swap GOP for Dem and right for left you would have two true statements. They are both power hungry liars that put their party and their special interest / corporate backers ahead of their constituents. This fact is indisputable.

If you swap GOP for Dem and right for left you would have two true statements. They are both power hungry liars that put their party and their special interest / corporate backers ahead of their constituents. This fact is indisputable.

I don't remember the Dems lying about the election outcome – or trying to change votes or decertify electoral votes – or storm the seat of government looking to execute congress and the VP.

I don't remember the Dems lying about the election outcome – or trying to change votes or decertify electoral votes – or storm the seat of government looking to execute congress and the VP.

hmm, guess you forgot about Hillary's response to the 2016 defeat, how she still claims it was stolen, and 4 years of the Trump/Russian collusion hoax shoved down our throats. Not to mention the actual collusion between Hillary and DNC to squash the nomination of Bernie and other more appealing candidates. The amount of corruption, lying and cheating on both sides is so great trying to claim one is "better" than the other simply isn't possible. Looking to execute congress and the VP? You can find horrible statements from the idiotic extremes of both parties, and I think the number of people that called to execute (or worse) Trump is longer than them all (but when it's him apparatenly it's encouraged) . Oh, of course ignore the Bernie supporter who actually tried to execute GOP politicians by shooting up a baseball field full of congressmen and left-wing extremists that burned cities and federal buildings across the country last summer including a police station after barricading the police inside. Ignorance is bliss I guess..?

hmm, guess you forgot about Hillary's response to the 2016 defeat, how she still claims it was stolen, and 4 years of the Trump/Russian collusion hoax shoved down our throats. Not to mention the actual collusion between Hillary and DNC to squash the nomination of Bernie and other more appealing candidates. The amount of corruption, lying and cheating on both sides is so great trying to claim one is "better" than the other simply isn't possible. Looking to execute congress and the VP? You can find horrible statements from the idiotic extremes of both parties, and I think the number of people that called to execute (or worse) Trump is longer than them all (but when it's him apparatenly it's encouraged) . Oh, of course ignore the Bernie supporter who actually tried to execute GOP politicians by shooting up a baseball field full of congressmen and left-wing extremists that burned cities and federal buildings across the country last summer including a police station after barricading the police inside. Ignorance is bliss I guess..?

Its amazing that you claim to be a man of reason but parrot right wing media to a T… Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking laughs at you and your posts. But by all means, keep posting. Its def working… You're doing a heck of a job VOR. Heck of a job!

P.S. – This is what happens when people only consume political theater masquerading as news. They never actually hear the facts, see the video, hear the words, read the documents. They only hear "opinions" masquerading as fact and presented by talk show hosts. Its not really their fault, they're just dumb. But the sad truth of the matter, there are millions of dumb people who are unable to decipher fact from fiction. They're the ones who are easily manipulated by classic propaganda tactics, disinformation and conspiracy theories. Facebook has made this infinitely worse as its most active users are the dumbest of the bunch and are also the easiest to manipulate.

Its amazing that you claim to be a man of reason but parrot right wing media to a T… Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking laughs at you and your posts. But by all means, keep posting. Its def working… You're doing a heck of a job VOR. Heck of a job!
P.S. – This is what happens when people only consume political theater masquerading as news. They never actually hear the facts, see the video, hear the words, read the documents. They only hear "opinions" masquerading as fact and presented by talk show hosts. Its not really their fault, they're just dumb. But the sad truth of the matter, there are millions of dumb people who are unable to decipher fact from fiction. They're the ones who are easily manipulated by classic propaganda tactics, disinformation and conspiracy theories. Facebook has made this infinitely worse as its most active users are the dumbest of the bunch and are also the easiest to manipulate.

Look in the freaking mirror!

Look in the freaking mirror!

No SBO…the true (and truly sad) fact of the matter is that while you are right to question, lampoon and lambast the far right as insane, the same is true of the far left. The problem is that both edges of the party think they are absolutely right and the other is absolutely wrong. The truth of course is that both sides have fundamental problems and have turned into narcissistic echo chambers. Faux news should be shunned…in equal measure to Slate and MSNBC.

No SBO…the true (and truly sad) fact of the matter is that while you are right to question, lampoon and lambast the far right as insane, the same is true of the far left. The problem is that both edges of the party think they are absolutely right and the other is absolutely wrong. The truth of course is that both sides have fundamental problems and have turned into narcissistic echo chambers. Faux news should be shunned…in equal measure to Slate and MSNBC.

VOR, get over it man, the whole red team blue team thing is for idiots.

VOR, get over it man, the whole red team blue team thing is for idiots.

WAIT, WHAT!? ==> "Where am I? What am I supposed to say? I absolutely don't remember. Oh wait, GT told me not to speak in absolutes… (darn, I'm going to get in trouble now…) Come on man, China's no threat. Tricycles have 2 fenders for a reason.

WAIT, WHAT!? ==> "Where am I? What am I supposed to say? I absolutely don't remember. Oh wait, GT told me not to speak in absolutes… (darn, I'm going to get in trouble now…) Come on man, China's no threat. Tricycles have 2 fenders for a reason.

NO. (answer to your question/headline).

NO. (answer to your question/headline).

Yes 1
No 2
The Yes wins!

Yes 1
No 2
The Yes wins!

Yup, that's pretty much how progressive logic works these days. "My [$3.5 Trillion] Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars " – Joe Biden "The reconciliation package will cost zero dollars" – Jen Psaki

Yup, that's pretty much how progressive logic works these days. "My [$3.5 Trillion] Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars " – Joe Biden "The reconciliation package will cost zero dollars" – Jen Psaki

Just think how much better things would be if the GOP did not control the Whie House, Senate, House of Reps and the entire State of CA.

Just think how much better things would be if the GOP did not control the Whie House, Senate, House of Reps and the entire State of CA.

Forgive me, and all due respect, but it is a bit hard to not have a grain of salt at the ready when I see the author of an Edhat piece with SBROBERT, as he was the same gentleman who decried "AN ASSAULT ON OUR LIVES!!" when, after many years of living in a rent controlled/cheaper than SB's COL residence from a personal relation of his, the property was in the process of sale leading to his eviction, as he chose not to pay the going rate of rent for his location to the new owners, practically whining about how he would no longer be able to afford the residence as it the rent/lease amount would be far more than he was willing to pay, which was in line with what the majority of us renters/leasers pay to live in this beautiful section of California's central coast. .

Forgive me, and all due respect, but it is a bit hard to not have a grain of salt at the ready when I see the author of an Edhat piece with SBROBERT, as he was the same gentleman who decried "AN ASSAULT ON OUR LIVES!!" when, after many years of living in a rent controlled/cheaper than SB's COL residence from a personal relation of his, the property was in the process of sale leading to his eviction, as he chose not to pay the going rate of rent for his location to the new owners, practically whining about how he would no longer be able to afford the residence as it the rent/lease amount would be far more than he was willing to pay, which was in line with what the majority of us renters/leasers pay to live in this beautiful section of California's central coast. .

None of you Yo-Yo's who have provided comments, have actually read the article, and/or reviewed the information within (so one-sided, all you had to do is skim through to see/realize (as I did) that it's just a bunch of Hog Wash, that could/will never amount to anything possible… the only thing it invited us to do, is share what our thoughts are, and vent a bit… It's simply an platform to promote an ideology that no one cares about (look at the amount of reads, and unrelated post). I actually love and care for our country, but this is a Nothing Burger, at most.

None of you Yo-Yo's who have provided comments, have actually read the article, and/or reviewed the information within (so one-sided, all you had to do is skim through to see/realize (as I did) that it's just a bunch of Hog Wash, that could/will never amount to anything possible… the only thing it invited us to do, is share what our thoughts are, and vent a bit… It's simply an platform to promote an ideology that no one cares about (look at the amount of reads, and unrelated post). I actually love and care for our country, but this is a Nothing Burger, at most.

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