Bryan Caplan  

Rafat Channels Tullock, Kuran, and Sunstein

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My Facebook friend Matt Rafat posted an exceptionally insightful update.  Think of it as Tullock's paradox of revolutions meets Kuran and Sunstein's availability cascades:

I'll say it again in case you missed it the first time: It's fascinating to see the power of the media. In most places, about 30 to 250 people are rioting, and causing damage, but so many people are ready to attribute their actions to an entire country or religion. Think of it this way: do the Occupy Wall St. protests and rioters in Oakland represent all Americans? Of course not--they represent some Americans, but not all of us, and their actions do not reflect anything about a majority of Americans. Also, people who keep asking why Muslims, etc., don't counter-protest or condemn certain actions, 1) people have jobs and families to take care of--let's say you opposed any rioters who were part of the Occupy Wall St protests. Did you go to Oakland, etc. and counter-protest? If not, why would you expect anyone else to? 2) Also, let's say you did condemn the Occupy protests or damage in Oakland--so what? Do you think anyone who thinks America is a police state cares what you think, or that your condemnation accomplishes anything effective? At the end of the day, most people want the same things--to take care of their families and to have a job. Countries with many unmarried, unemployed, or uneducated men are going to have problems regardless of religion, race, or background.

My main quibble is that I suspect that, holding unemployment constant, education increases discontent by unrealistically raising expectations.



COMMENTS (10 to date)

Speaking of the power of the media, Reese's Pieces meets Obamacare (if they can pull it off);

Hollywood, an industry whose major players have been supportive of President Obama and his agenda, will be tapped. Plans are being discussed to pitch a reality television show about “the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage,” according to the Ogilvy plan. The exchange will also seek to have prime-time television shows, like “Modern Family,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and Univision telenovelas, weave the health care law into their plots.
“I’d like to see 10 of the major TV shows, or telenovelas, have people talking about ‘that health insurance thing,’ ” said Peter V. Lee, the exchange’s executive director. “There are good story lines here.”

Bostonian writes:

In majority Muslim countries it is usually a crime to insult Islam for a Muslim to renounce the religion. Majority Christian countries do not have such laws. It should be obvious that not all religions are equally tolerant of criticism.

Bostonian writes:

I suggest that Rafat read the NYT article Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I do agree that one has to be skeptical about the representativeness of rioters to an entire society.

However we should not kid ourselves about the mainstream views in new Islamic democracies. For example, Pew Research Center polls in Egypt show the majority there 1) agree with Islamic fundamentalists 2) favor gender segregation in the workplace 3) favor stoning people who commit adultery 4) feel suicide bombings can be justified at least rarely and 5) favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.

Also we should note that killing people for insulting the prophet is pretty standard stuff in hadith (such as what happened to Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf).

MikeDC writes:

I suspect there might be relatively sizable counter-protests in the US if a protest here culminated in the burning down of a foreign embassy and the murder of an ambassador and his staff.

Mr. Rafat concludes we shouldn't attribute the views of the protester to the general populace. However, lets unpack the point he generates this conclusion from:

1) people have jobs and families to take care of--let's say you opposed any rioters who were part of the Occupy Wall St protests. Did you go to Oakland, etc. and counter-protest? If not, why would you expect anyone else to?

But this equally applies to the protesters themselves. Why would they incur the risks of putting themselves in the midst of a violent riot in the first place?

2) Also, let's say you did condemn the Occupy protests or damage in Oakland--so what? Do you think anyone who thinks America is a police state cares what you think, or that your condemnation accomplishes anything effective?

Again, that should be equally true of the original set of protesters.

So what are we left with to explain the existence of protesters and absence of counter-protesters?

Thus, I conclude that the protests do, in fact, represent the views of the population at large. Protest is an act of political speech, and the comparison to the OWS movement here really falls flat.

The OWS movement was relatively mild protest and political speech (did I miss the murder of the CEO of Goldman Sachs or the burning of the Cayman Islands' embassy in the US?) and it was, in fact, met with plenty of opposing mild political speech in the form of people denouncing and calling the protesters a bunch of clowns.

Democratic protest is met with democratic protest. That does, indeed, say something representative about America.

The current protests in the Middle East, however, are pretty clearly much more intense in terms of the political violence they're unleashing. And there is no countervailing protest. So I have to think that that, too, says something representative about those countries.

And by the way, having literally brown-shirted guys show up and "voluntarily" taking a guy in for a midnight questioning because of a political statement he made.... is pretty unconscionable to me as an American and I hope that's not representative of where we're headed.

Matt Raft writes:

A person above said, "In majority Muslim countries it is usually a crime to insult Islam [or] for a Muslim to renounce the religion."

Such an analysis is incomplete. First, who needs laws when you can just burn down a mosque in America or prevent/delay one from being built? The Park51 center in Manhattan is one well-known example of delay, but so-called anti-mosque activity (more properly called anti-religious-exercise activity) exists across America. See here: http://www.aclu.org/maps/map-nationwide-anti-mosque-activity

Also, google "mosque" and "arson" for instances of violent attacks against mosques in Joplin, Murfreesboro, Wichita, Redditch, etc. While intolerance in some form is as old as mankind itself, most Americans or Westerners would not want to be judged by the violent actions of a small minority of intolerant actors. In short, the idea that the entire Western World is synonymous with religious tolerance for all is not necessarily true. People seeking to prove their country's tolerance tend to point to larger, relatively affluent cities and compare them with poorer, small cities of another country. Worse yet, many people fail to understand the selective bias involved in which events their media, newspapers, and televisions choose to display. (Hint: if you're in a Christian-majority country, you probably won't see many examples of bad actions being linked to Christianity, or if enough people in the majority have strong negative opinions about X, you probably won't see many positive examples of X generally displayed.) It is difficult to identify which particular factors cause or fuel intolerance, but we must understand that our initial reaction will usually be, "Something different from us (regardless of whether that difference is actually the cause)." As with most complex issues, the answer is not usually clear-cut and is subject to subconscious and/or institutional bias. My hope is that the more people understand the complexity involved in most "big picture" discussions, the easier it will be to guide against lumping billions (or even millions) of diverse people together for discussion purposes.

Second, to the extent any comparison between Country A and Country B is based on their laws, such an analysis is incomplete without examining their actual enforcement and/or motivation. For example, Country A may have no laws against public prayer on Sundays or may have a law allowing it, but if its police force and/or judiciary prevents such activity, then the presence or absence of such laws on paper would not mean much.

Another example: Country B may have laws against drug use, but if its police force, D.A.s, and judiciary choose to arrest, prosecute, and issue lengthy jail sentences for drug use mainly to one race within the country despite widespread drug use by all races, then analyzing the laws on paper, without more, does not provide a complete picture of freedom for all residents. Bottom line: a complete analysis of laws must include data on their enforcement, especially their selective enforcement.

Having said that, it's interesting that so many non-lawyers seem to accept as fact that Muslim-majority countries legislate against churches, Christianity, etc. In fact, if you google "churches in dubai," or "churches in turkey," "churches in iran," "council of churches of Malaysia," etc. you will see some interesting links.

Furthermore, if it's discrimination you're concerned with, then one relevant issue would be political and media representation, i.e., do minorities, religious or otherwise, have sufficient representation in high-level or influential political, judicial, media, etc. organizations within a country? If not, why not? What about upward mobility, financial or otherwise, in relation to a country's minorities, religious or otherwise? Rarely, however, do I see a discussion online approached from this angle, perhaps because such a discussion would require a speaker or writer to have personal knowledge about various countries, or to know more specific facts.

As for blasphemy (aka hate speech) or anti-incitement laws, they exist all over the world, including in Europe, Singapore, and here in the U.S. Such laws are not specific to Muslim countries. Moreover, a person who openly and actively insults Christ (or anything else important to local residents) in a small town in Kentucky may have a similar experience as a person who insults Mohammad (or anything else important to local residents) in a small town in Pakistan. See here: http://www.autoblog.com/2007/02/12/top-gear-crew-visits-u-s-a-will-never-return-again/

At the end of the day, violent extremism tends not to flourish in places where young men have reasonable chances of finding shelter, food, something to pass the time, and a woman to love. Unfortunately, by focusing on red herrings such as religion, race, etc., we take time away from discussions that may provide objectively useful answers, such as whether a link exists between the availability of contraception and economic progress, etc.

anonymous writes:

Since we have flying drones in several of these countries raining bullets on people with no warning, the question we should have been asking was, "Why aren't there people storming our embassies?" Now that they are, I am embarrassed to admit that my first reaction was, "How easily and irrationally violent would you have to be to storm an embassy over a youtube video?"

And, the irony landed on me like a stone. My country is killing people in new and unaccountable ways, and when those people rose up in violence against us, I believed, without question, that the uprising was an irrational reaction to a video, just because some people publicly announced this very improbable story. My strong instinct was to attribute the improbability of it to the irrationality of the uprising people! I just looked in the mirror, and it was not a pretty picture.

Phil writes:

If someone from my particular belief group started threatening violence against people who disagreed, I would definitely voice some objections. Maybe not via counterprotest, but Facebook, and letters to the editor, and friends at work, and websites.

For instance, if free-market libertarians protested the offices of socialist groups, and threatened to behead them, you can be darn sure I'd demand they be prosecuted. Don't want people thinking I'm like that.

I think there's definitely a reluctance of fellow Muslims to publicly condemn these evil ideas, as compared to what you or I would do.

Anomaly UK writes:

Your "Week 12" course notes look absolutely fascinating to me. Is there any more of it you can share with those of us who are not your students? Reading lists, more notes, anything like that?

Mike Rulle writes:

Just because drone kills may be wrong , does not make the fundamental distance beyween the west and the middle east go away.

For the purposes of Geopolitics, Islam is a political movement with many subparties, not a religion. This seems to be ignored. The nature of the various extreme and relatively less extremes of Sharia LAW makes it political. Objectively speaking, however it is characterized by its proponents, it is a political movement which governs many countries and causes violence among different factions within and across countries.

If we took our religion prism glasses off and just viewd the Laws, and called it by some other name, how many in the west would consider this something to not be concerned about?

Of course in the 20s and 30s both Fascism and Communism did seem like alternatives with merit to many. If they called themselves religions, would our reactions have been different? I dont know of course.

My point is by dealing with Islam as if it were not a religion whose basic position is to control the state is foolish.

Where are the modern Ataturks? There must be many, but please name one. I can then at least feel hope.

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