Three Negotiation Tips

Monday, June 18, 2018

An FBI hostage negotiator recently offered three tips for "bargaining with anyone," along with his thoughts about why each is effective. I found all to be thought-provoking, but probably limited in usefulness without some independent thinking by the reader. A good example of this is his second tip, which might seem counterintuitive at first. After urging his readers to consider getting the other party "to say no," he explains in part:

Image via Pixabay.
"We're all taught that 'getting to yes' is the goal in negotiations, but 'yes' is always a trap," [Christopher] Voss said. Everyone knows they're being manipulated when someone tries to get them to say yes -- if you can get someone to agree to small things, you can probably get them to agree to bigger ones.
While the idea that attempts to win agreement are always manipulative sounds like hyperbole to me, enough people are manipulative that there can be a level of suspicion to overcome. This strategy can show respect for the intellectual sovereignty of the other party, ultimately helping them focus on the message more, and on wondering about your motives less.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, June 15, 2018

Four Things

1. We often joke that Little Man may look like my father-in-law, but he is all me inside. He often has a firm idea of what he likes and will make sure we all know. I have two examples.

First, before Christmas, Mrs. Van Horn wanted to get a real tree since we'd be home for the season, rather than going out of town. As we were getting ready to go out to buy one, my son piped up. "We already have a tree." Upon hearing that, Mrs. Van Horn decided to go along with the artificial tree. Every morning during the season, he'd go in and switch on the lights once he got up in the morning.

Second, we're moving out of state some time in the next six months. I told each kid as I picked them up the Friday we made our decision. My daughter was excited about meeting new people on the other end. But my son immediately said he was going to miss his school and his friends. This didn't sit well with him.

2. In light of the previous post, accuse me of self-flattery if you wish, but nothing gets by my son, who has just turned five. He has Spanish lessons once a week, but I was surprised one day when, glasses in our hands, he raised one and said, "¡Salud!" I didn't think he got that from class, so I asked him how he knew that. It turns out he remembered it from a scene in Coco.

Obviously domesticated. (Image via Pixabay.)
3. Pumpkin recently amused me with the following formulation, which I overheard her use while playing with her brother: wild shark.

Accept no substitutes.

4. My daughter, nearly seven, has finally learned to snap her fingers. Upon learning of her interest in picking up this valuable skill, I remembered how long it took her to pick up whistling. So I warned her that finger-snapping might be like whistling in terms of taking a long time to figure out.

But then I decided to see if I could teach her, and got her to do so successfully a couple of times. (It's a little harder to explain than you might think.) With some practice over a few days, she became able to snap reliably, so I guess I was wrong about that.

-- CAV

"Effective Altruism": A Contradiction in Terms

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Economist recently carried an article on "effective altruism" [sic], an explicitly utilitarian fad. (If you wonder why I describe it so dismissively, keep reading.) I was thinking about commenting on it -- until I realized that Ayn Rand had covered the topic quite thoroughly in 1946:

The phrase "human sacrifice" is redundant. (Image via Pixabay)
"The greatest good for the greatest number" is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.

This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.

What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number.

If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.

There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory.

But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn't. Because "the good" is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. [bold added]
So much for "utility-maximising automatons" -- and no wonder "Effective altruism can be a hard sell, even [!] for the rationally minded."

There is one aspect of this movement that merits further comment: If one wishes to give money to a cause -- and there are many valid, selfish reasons to do so; altruism does not own charity -- one obviously wants more bang for the buck. Counting lives saved by one donation is a poor metric (even if one grants improving large numbers of lives as an imperfect metric, albeit better than the one proposed by utilitarianism). Anyone with an ounce of sense can see this by considering whether it would be better (on such grounds) to save a thousand indigents from malaria vs., say, educating a Jonas Salk (whose research could save magnitudes more) or an Aristotle (who would make countless great men and even civilizations possible, by improving their minds). Even then, quantifying the impact of a donation might be difficult, to say the least.

"Effective altruists" should spend less time quantifying their results and more time considering what those results should be. It's ridiculous to ask, "How well am I doing?" when one doesn't really know what one is supposed to do, or why.

-- CAV

When You Must Speak to a Troll

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

We've all heard advice like "Don't feed the energy creature," regarding online forums. There are certain types of people who thrive on confrontation, and learning to recognize them and act accordingly is a good way to help keep a good discussion from getting derailed, not to mention saving time and emotional energy. Generally, the same goes for email.

But what if circumstances -- like an email chain at work -- dictate answering one of what therapist and attorney Bill Eddy calls "High Conflict People?"

That's when one crafts what he calls a BIFF response -- Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. Eddy walks through why each element is necessary after helping the reader determine whether to reply at all. On that score, Eddy starts out with his reasoning:

Image via Pixabay.
Much of hostile e-communication does not need a response. Letters from (ex-) spouses, angry neighbors, irritating co-workers, or attorneys do not usually have legal significance. The letter itself has no power, unless you give it power. Often, it is emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety. If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without satisfaction, and just get a new piece of hostile mail back. In most cases, you are better off not responding. However, some letters and emails develop power when copies are filed in a court or complaint process – or simply get sent to other people. In these cases, it may be important to respond to inaccurate statements with accurate statements of fact...
The rest of this how-to explains why each element of the response is important, and gives examples. The twin goals in such situations are (1) making sure any rational readers learn the facts or know how to get them, and (2) minimizing the amount of time dealing with the hostile sender.

-- CAV

Slick PR or Slippery Concession?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The long-anticipated news of the Bayer-Monsanto merger has me concerned that innovation may suffer -- but for not for the reasons Jaana Woiceshyn ably debunks at How to Be Profitable and Moral. Rather, my concerns stem from the same hope she expresses in her closing paragraph:

One can only hope that Bayer will continue to take the moral high ground and vigorously defend its right to produce and trade both agrochemicals and GMO seeds.
While my background in academic science might make me a poor interpreter of corporate-speak, Bayer's plans to drop the venerable Monsanto name, coupled with the following statement, give me pause:
Image via Pixabay.
"We aim to deepen our dialogue with society. We will listen to our critics and work together where we find common ground. Agriculture is too important to allow ideological differences to bring progress to a standstill," Bayer Chief Executive Werner Baumann said in the statement.
Alone, dropping the Monsanto name -- although I wouldn't do it -- is understandable: Like Haliburton once was, it's a name leftists use to evoke all their stereotypes and misunderstandings about capitalism and progress. But dropping the name sounds weak to me, and it won't do Bayer any good if its enemies sense weakness come time to stand up for its intellectual property rights, or its freedom to market genetically-modified seeds. Baumann's conciliatory words, directed towards an audience ignorant of (or indifferent to) the great good genetically-modified organisms represent, do not instill confidence in me, a grateful consumer of same.

Here's hoping that any dialogue Bayer has with society includes those of us among the general public who realize that capitalism is a win-win game.

-- CAV

Yes. Socialism Has Ruined Venezuela.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary O'Grady argues against the notion that socialism doesn't deserve the blame for the dire situation in socialist Venezuela:

Wars are the second greatest evil that human societies can perpetrate. (The first is dictatorship, the enslavement of their own citizens, which is the cause of wars.) -- Ayn Rand (Image via Wikipedia)
If anything was more predictable than the mess created by Hugo Chávez's Marxist Bolivarian Revolution, it is the pathetic effort by socialists to deny responsibility. The Socialist Party of Great Britain tweeted recently that Venezuela's problem is that socialism has yet to be tried. It blamed the crisis on "a profit-driven capitalist economy under leftist state-control." Even more preposterous is the claim by some academics that economic liberalism in the 1980s spawned the socialism that has destroyed the country.

Learning from history is impossible if the narrative is wrong. So let's clear the record: By the time Chávez was elected, Venezuela already had 40 years of socialism under its belt and precious little, if any, experience with free markets. [link omitted]
O'Grady then walks through the attempts by various regimes over the years to run the economy, most notably starting with the suspension of Article 196 of the 1961 constitution by President Romulo Betancourt, an "avowed socialist." And what was that?
All can freely engage in the profitable activity of their choice, without any limitations other than those provided for in this Constitution and those established by law for security, health or other reasons of social interest.
Although hardly on a par with Judge Narragansett's pithier solution (near end) to the problem of central planning, this speaks volumes. But in case that's not enough, O'Grady's brief synopsis of how the predecessors of Hugo Chávez ran things should help anyone see that the current regime is a continuation rather than a change.

-- CAV

P.S. Related: Polio is making a comeback in Venezuela, which is hemmorhaging refugees. There have been cases in 17 of 23 states there this year, decades after it had been eradicated.

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, June 08, 2018

Blog Roundup

1. I, too, was disappointed for the same reasons as the folks at the Texas Institute for Property Rights, but they beat me to the punch. The recent Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling is indeed a travesty:

If each individual has a right to associate with those of his choosing, then gays have a right to marry. And businesses have a right to refuse service to those they don't like. It is wrong to deny gays their rights as individuals. It is equally wrong to deny [Jack] Phillips his rights as an individual, and that includes his right to be irrational. The travesty of the Court's ruling is that it didn't defend these rights on principle.
Or, as they would say -- before giving no credit -- in Naval Nuclear Power School: RAWR.

2. Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute writes a post that should be required reading for anyone interested in women continuing to enjoy control over the decision to reproduce:
"I have mine" sounds like [Ruth Marcus] is describing, at best, a question of taste. At worst, it sounds like she's staking her claim as a matter of secular faith, backed up by a secular priesthood (the Supreme Court). If she had gone on to argue for her belief and against the opposing view, she might have cancelled this implication. But she does not.
Bayer is absolutely correct that the more the left allows itself to sound like the right -- by evading the need to offer actual arguments in defense of a woman's right to have an abortion -- the less credibility they have.

3. "Manhattan Contrarian" Francis Menton reports on a Cato Institute study authored by a former government official who knows how the government computes poverty statistics and who provides good citations:
[T]he government's data on poverty and income inequality are systematically fraudulent. For starters, they define "income," for purposes of determining both poverty and income inequality, in a way to arbitrarily exclude well over a trillion annual dollars of government transfers and benefits, leading to results that are entirely misleading. And then those intentionally misleading results are used to advocate for yet more government programs and transfers, all of which will again be excluded when measuring poverty and inequality in the next round...
To this I'll make a couple of comments. First, I'd be curious as to Menton's take on the position taken by Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute that "the egalitarian notion of equality is inherently unjust." Second, the above causes me to remember seeing conservative arguments to the effect that the so-called War on Poverty has failed to move the needle in decades. (i.e., Someone could take this piece to mean that the programs are working.) This isn't to say that the "beneficiaries" of those programs are doing well, but one thing it does do is underscore the importance of making a moral argument against the government taking money from the productive in the first place.

4. Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress offers a new tool to use when seeking to clarify one's thoughts, and a video on the topic.

The video is about twenty-five minutes long, and the template can be had by following Epstein's link to the 10X talk.

-- CAV