Monday, September 23, 2019

Into the jungle: Yesterday's walk in Liberty State Park

Should there be a limit on how much income a wealthy person can hold?

Ingrid Robeyns asks that question at Crooked Timber, The most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse?, Sept. 21, 2019:
I have no idea how he found it, but George Monbiot read an (open access) academic article that I wrote, with the title “What, if Anything, is Wrong with Extreme Wealth?’ In this paper I outline some arguments for the view that there should be an upper limit to how much income and wealth a person can hold, which I called (economic) limitarianism. Monbiot endorses limitarianism, saying that it is inevitable if we want to safeguard life on Earth.

As Monbiot’s piece rightly points out, there are many reasons to believe that there should be a cap on how much money we can have. Having too much money is statistically highly likely to lead to taking much more than one’s fair share from the atmosphere’s greenhouse gasses absorbing capacity and other ecological commons; it is a threat to genuine democracy; it is harmful to the psychological wellbeing of the children of the rich, and to the capacity of the rich to act autonomously when it concerns moral questions (which includes the reduced capacity for empathy of the rich); and, as I’ve argued in a short Dutch book on the topic that I published earlier this year, extreme wealth is hardly ever (if ever at all) deserved. And if those reasons weren’t enough, one can still add the line of Peter Singer and the effective altruists that excess money would have much greater moral and prudential value if it were spent on genuine needs, rather than on frivolous wants.

Monbiot wrote: “This call for a levelling down is perhaps the most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse.”

I agree that mainstream capitalist societies operate on the assumption that the sky is the limit. But it is important to point out that the idea that there should be a cap on how much we can have, is not at all new. Historically, thinkers from many corners of the world and writing in very different times, have either given reasons why no-one should become excessively rich, or have proposed economic institutions that would have as an effect that no-one would become superrich (I suppose Marx would be in that latter category). Matthias Kramm and I have joint research on this that I’ll happily post on this blog once it is published. But to give a flavour of the range of support for the view that there should be upper limits, here are three very different sources. (I’ll leave out any comments on Socrates and Plato, since John and Belle are the obvious experts on those thinkers).

And so forth.

I posted the following comment:

A book that has influenced my thinking quite a bit is David Boehm's Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (1999). Boehm is interested in accounting for the apparent egalitarian behavior of hunter-gatherer bands, the most basic form of human social organization. While individuals can assume a leadership role for specific occasions, e.g. a hunt, there are no permanent leaders in such bands. Boehm does not argue that such bands are egalitarian utopias; on the contrary, primitive egalitarianism is uneasy and fraught with tension. But it is real. Boehm finds this puzzling because, in all likelihood, our immediate primate ancestors had well-developed status hierarchies. Boehm ends up adopting the notion that the hierarchical behavioral patterns of our primate heritage are overlain, but not eradicated or replaced, by a more recent egalitarian social regime. Other than suggesting that this more recent regime is genetic Boehm has little to say about it.

What I like about this is the idea that our social behavior is mediated by (at least) two behavioral systems, which are organized on very different principles: hierarchy and dominance vs. equality and anarchy (in the sense of self-organizing w/out orders from above). So let's accept that as a premise. That is in our 'nature'. I'm also going to postulate our 'nature' has no way of giving priority to one of these systems. Rather, than is something that is done by 'culture' according to local social circumstances.

In this view, one of the things we're working out over the course of history, then, is the relationship between these two systems. The (phylogenetically older) hierarchical system is perfectly happy with extreme wealth because the resulting inequality is consistent with it. But the (phylogenetically newer) system doesn't like it at all. I don't see any inherently 'right' way to resolve this interaction, but I note that neither system is going to disappear. Both 'make demands' on our behavior.

So, it's all well and good for the economists to tell us that a rising tide floats all boats. But there's going to be a point where the peasants in the little rafts and zodiacs are going to be angry with the plutocrats and oligarchs in their megayachts sailing around the sea like they own it.

* * * * *

We can see this two-systems dynamic on display in Shakespeare. Consider Much Ado About Nothing. We've got two couples. Claudio and Hero interact through the hierarchical system. How does Claudio pursue Hero? Without speaking to Hero at all, he approaches his military commander to broach the matter with her father. Her father accepts on her behalf, all without conferring with her. Beatrice and Benedick, on the other hand, confront one another as equals, and one of the joys of this play is their wit combats. While both are aristocrats (as are all the principals in Shakespeare's plays), neither is rigidly fixed in the aristocracy. And so the play moves back and forth between the stories of these two couples. Of course, the play has a happen ending; both couples are to be married. But that ending has required the interaction of both of these plot lines.

Speech as computation [Trump's speaking]

If I might indulge a current hobby horse, I've been playing with the idea that language is the simplest thing humans do that requires a computational account. From this premise it follows, for example, that however the minds/brains of chimpanzees, dogs, bees, ants, or c. elegans work, it's not through communication. Something else is going on, complex dynamics, for example. OK.

I'm thinking that all these bumps, hesitations, fillers, whatever, of conversation betray the inner workings of these mechanisms. We've got, say, a dynamical system implementing a computational process, speech. And it doesn't always go smoothly. The right word or phrase isn't always available; it's not like they're all queued up just waiting to be entered into the speech stream. So the system has to hunt around looking for them. That is, we're listening to and making sense of our own speech via the auditory system even as the motor system is placing words into the speech stream.

Now, when we write, he can clean things up so it appears perfect. The language computer can parse those sentences readily (that is, map words and phrases onto semantic structures) and it all makes sense. But we all know that writing can often be quite difficult. We have to do quite a bit of reworking to produce computationally fluid prose.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Splish splash

The value of handwriting, it's good for memory, mind, and soul

Hetty Roessingh, Why cursive handwriting needs to make a school comeback, The Conversation, August 23, 2019:
Beyond a nostalgia for the pre-digital age, there are good reasons why cursive handwriting needs to make a comeback. As a researcher who has studied the relationship of handwriting to literacy, along with other scholars, I've found that developing fluency in printing and handwriting so that it comes automatically matters for literacy outcomes. Handwriting is also an elegant testimony to the human capacity for written literacy and an inspiring symbol of the unique power of the human voice. [...]

But touching a "d" on the keyboard, for example, does not create the internal model of a "d" that printing does. [...[

Evolving research in the neurosciences underscores the importance of developing automatic skills in relation to what educational psychologists call the cognitive load.

Lessons learned from sports or the performing arts highlight the importance of establishing neuronal connections that promote fluid movement. With reading and writing, too, the keys to unlocking creativity or interpretation of story elements are also related to being able to write automatically.
Markham Heid, Bring Back Handwriting: It's Good for Your Brain, Elemental, Sept. 12, 2019:
Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that “the writing cure,” which normally involves writing about one’s feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there’s evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

A commonly cited 1999 study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that writing about a stressful life experience by hand, as opposed to typing about it, led to higher levels of self-disclosure and translated to greater therapeutic benefits. It’s possible that these findings may not hold up among people today, many of whom grew up with computers and are more accustomed to expressing themselves via typed text. But experts who study handwriting say there’s reason to believe something is lost when people abandon the pen for the keyboard.

“When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different sort of task — one that doesn’t involve these same brain pathways. “It’s possible that there’s not the same connection to the emotional part of the brain” when people type, as opposed to writing in longhand, Berninger says.

Writing by hand may also improve a person’s memory for new information. A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

The fact that handwriting is a slower process than typing may be another perk, at least in some contexts. A 2014 study in the journal Psychological Science found that students who took notes in longhand tested higher on measures of learning and comprehension than students who took notes on laptops.

“The primary advantage of longhand notes was that it slowed people down,” says Daniel Oppenheimer, co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. While the students who typed could take down what they heard word for word, “people who took longhand notes could not write fast enough to take verbatim notes — instead they were forced to rephrase the content in their own words,” Oppenheimer says. “To do that, people had to think deeply about the material and actually understand the arguments. This helped them learn the material better.”
Language Log's Victor Mair concurs and goes on to offer some observations about the writing habits of personal acquaintances, noting:
Recently, however, I have discovered a third type of writer, one that fascinates me greatly. They have those tablets with a cover that you flip back and you're ready to write on it. They can compose or call up a text on the tablet and they can handwrite on it too. What really blows me away is when they draw lines and circles around different parts of the text or add handwritten notes to it — in different colors for emphasis or to signify categories of meaning! If they don't like what they wrote, they can effortlessly erase it. I love to watch them work dexterously; they seem to have the best of both worlds: typing and handwriting. As such, their thinking, creation, and analysis operate in multiple modes — and it shows when they scintillatingly start talking about what they've been writing.
He concludes with a list of posts on writing, most but not all are about writing Chinese characters.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Four questions in the study of cultural evolution

Bumping this to the top just to remind myself of these questions.
One of these days I might write a post or two using these questions to compare and contrast existing proposals. At the moment I’m simply going to state my position on them.

1. What is the target/beneficiary of the evolutionary dynamic?

The direct beneficiary a cultural entity, which is what Dawkins had in mind we he posited the existence of memes. Of course human beings, biological entities, have to benefit indirectly and in the large, otherwise cultural evolution would have no biological (adaptive) value.

2. Replication (copying) or (re)construction.

I suppose both, sorta. The gene-like entities, which I’m now calling coordinators, are replicated, or something like it (think of phonemes in language as a central example). But the phenotype-like entities, which I’m calling cultural beings, are reconstructed of course. (See my page, Cultural Evolution Terms, for a bit more about these.)

3. Is there a meaningful distinction comparable to the biological distinction between phenotype and genotype?

Of course. The genetic entities (coordinators of various kinds) consist of observable features of objects and events. The phenotypic entities, called cultural beings, exist in the coordinated minds (linked through various processes of communication and participation) of a population of humans. If the humans like a given cultural being it will persist in the population, and thus the coordinators on which its construction depends. Otherwise it will die and any coordinators that are unique to it will die as well.

And then there is a fourth, over-arching question:

So what?

That is to say, what can an evolutionary account of cultural history tell us that isn’t captured in a pile of narratives of the more standard kind?

I would think so, but that requires an argument. I’ve not yet created one, though others may well have done so. For example, I think that Matthew Jocker's depiction of influence in 19th century Anglophone novels is best explained by an evolutionary account rather than a blither of individual narratives:


I've discussed that figure several times, most recently in Notes toward a theory of the corpus, Part 1: History [#DH].

Friday Fotos: From Jersey City to Hoboken via the light rail

Have Republicans decided it's do or die, that if they can't hold on to power now, they'll never win again?

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, Why Republicans Play Dirty, NYTimes, Sept. 20, 2019:
Why is the Republican Party playing dirty? Republican leaders are not driven by an intrinsic or ideological contempt for democracy. They are driven by fear.

Democracy requires that parties know how to lose. Politicians who fail to win elections must be willing to accept defeat, go home, and get ready to play again the next day. This norm of gracious losing is essential to a healthy democracy.

But for parties to accept losing, two conditions must hold. First, they must feel secure that losing today will not bring ruinous consequences; and second, they must believe they have a reasonable chance of winning again in the future. When party leaders fear they cannot win future elections, or that defeat poses an existential threat to themselves or their constituents, the stakes rise. Their time horizons shorten. They throw tomorrow to the wind and seek to win at any cost today. In short, desperation leads politicians to play dirty.

Take German conservatives before World War I. They were haunted by the prospect of extending equal voting rights to the working class. They viewed equal (male) suffrage as a menace not only to their own electoral prospects but also to the survival of the aristocratic order. One Conservative leader called full and equal suffrage an “attack on the laws of civilization.” So German conservatives played dirty, engaging in rampant election manipulation and outright repression in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the United States, Southern Democrats reacted in a similar manner to the Reconstruction-era enfranchisement of African-Americans.
The only way out of this situation is for the Republican Party to become more diverse. A stunning 90 percent of House Republicans are white men, even though white men are a third of the electorate. Only when Republicans can compete seriously for younger, urban and nonwhite voters will their fear of losing — and of a multiracial America — subside.

Such a transformation is less far-fetched than it may appear right now; indeed, the Republican National Committee recommended it in 2013. But parties only change when their strategies bring costly defeat. So Republicans must fail — badly — at the polls.

American democracy faces a Catch-22: Republicans won’t abandon their white identity bunker strategy until they lose, but at the same time that strategy has made them so averse to losing they are willing to bend the rules to avoid this fate. There is no easy exit. Republican leaders must either stand up to their base and broaden their appeal or they must suffer an electoral thrashing so severe that they are compelled to do so.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Facebook announces new 'values'

Evelyn Douek, Why Facebook’s 'Values' Update Matters, Lawfare, Sept. 16, 2019:
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, has released periodic “manifestos” in the form of blog posts laying out his vision for the company—or, as Zuckerberg prefers to call it, the “Community.” But this latest update written by Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, is far more substantive than mere corporate buzzwords. It may have a significant impact for the platform and, therefore, for online speech.

Under the heading “Expression,” the new values set out Facebook’s vision for the platform and its rules:
The goal of our Community Standards is to create a place for expression and give people voice. Building community and bringing the world closer together depends on people’s ability to share diverse views, experiences, ideas and information. We want people to be able to talk openly about the issues that matter to them, even if some may disagree or find them objectionable. In some cases, we allow content which would otherwise go against our Community Standards—if it is newsworthy and in the public interest. We do this only after weighing the public interest value against the risk of harm, and we look to international human rights standards to make these judgments.
The update then goes on to note that there are four values that may justify limiting expression: authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity.

There is a lot to unpack in this very short post. A few things are especially worth noting: the prioritization of “voice” as the overarching value, the understanding that the purpose of this voice is to “build community and bring the world closer together” and the explicit incorporation of international human rights standards.
The Oversight Board:
Bickert’s post does not give any clues as to the reason for the update. But the post comes as Facebook is finalizing its plans for an independent Oversight Board, which will be able to review and overrule Facebook’s content moderation decisions. When Facebook released its Draft Charter for the new board, it noted that the board would base its decisions on Facebook’s Community Standards and “a set of values, which will include concepts like voice, safety, equity, dignity, equality and privacy.” As I wrote at the time, “This sounds good, but a list of priorities that includes everything prioritizes nothing.” Facebook had to make difficult choices about what the point of Facebook is in order to guide the board in cases of ambiguity. The quiet update to its values last week represents this important step.

As Facebook readies itself to outsource ultimate decisions about its rules to an independent, external body, these values represent both a set of instructions to the board about the ambit of its role, as well as a commitment to bind Facebook to the mast of the implications of these values expressly laid down.
Of course, none of the values Facebook has set out are technically binding. Facebook could theoretically change its values the day after it gets an Oversight Board decision it doesn’t like. [...]

But the point of the Oversight Board experiment is to garner greater public legitimacy for Facebook’s content moderation decisions through a commitment to transparency and explanation of Facebook’s decision-making. The board’s existence is fundamentally a bet that this kind of legitimacy matters to users’ perceptions of the company and their decisions on whether to keep using the platform—as well as to regulators pondering what to do about the tech giants. [...] it will be the public’s job, too, to hold the company and its new Oversight Board to a fair and justifiable reading of what these commitments entail.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Early bird, saturated color

Rote learning, an extreme example

William Langewiesche has a long article in the NYTimes Magazine about the malfunctions in the Boeing 737. It contains an example of rote learning that I'm parking here just to remind myself of the phenomenon.
At the start, civil aviation in China was a mess, with one of the highest accident rates in the world.

Dave Carbaugh, the former Boeing test pilot, spent his first 10 years with the company traveling the globe to teach customers how to fly its airplanes. He mentioned the challenge of training pilots in Asia. “Those were the rote pilots,” he said, “the guys standing up in the back of a sim. They saw a runaway trim. They saw where and how it was handled in the curriculum — always on Sim Ride No. 3. And so on their Sim Ride No. 3, they handled it correctly, because they knew exactly when it was coming and what was going to happen. But did they get exposed anywhere else? Or did they discuss the issues involved? No. It was just a rote exercise. This is Step No. 25 of learning to fly a 737. Period.” I asked about China specifically. He said: “The Chinese? They were probably the worst.” He spent every other month in China for years. He said: “They saw flying from Beijing to Tianjin as 1,352 steps to do. Yet if they flew from Beijing to Guangzhou, it was 1,550 steps. And they didn’t connect the two. It would get so rote that they just wouldn’t deviate. I remember flying with a captain who would never divert no matter how many problems I gave him. I asked him, ‘How come?’ He said, ‘Because the checklist doesn’t say to divert.’”

That changed over time. With the support of the Chinese government, which went so far as to delegate some regulatory functions to foreigners like Carbaugh, the manufacturers were able to instill a rigorous approach to safety in a small cadre of pilots and managers, who in turn were able to instill it in others. The effort was made not out of the goodness of the manufacturers’ hearts, but out of calculations related to risk and self-preservation. It is widely seen to have been a success. Today the Chinese airlines are some of the safest in the world.

Red bush, dry grass

Non-state actors and the implications of the recent attack on Saudi oil infrastructure

That brings us to my next point, one you probably also thought to yourself when this happened—this was an unprecedented attack. Welcome to the murky world of unmanned warfare that I have been warning about for many years. I almost take this issue personally because people use to blow it off or even snicker at it. Now all the predictions I wish were wrong are coming true and at an alarming pace.

The Department of Defense was ridiculously asleep at the wheel regarding this threat and is now scrambling to play catchup. Anyone who says differently is straight-up lying. It's well established what non-state actors can already do with relatively low-end unmanned aircraft technology—Houthi rebels alone have been using suicide drones for two and a half years—just imagine what a peer state will be able to do in the very near future. Instead of a mass of individual suicide drones layered in with other weapons, like cruise missiles, attacking a target simultaneously, imagine a swarm that is fully networked and works cooperatively to best achieve their mission goals, including jamming or killing air defenses in order for the swarm to make it to its final destination. America's adversaries are all too aware of this game-changing potential and the lack of defenses to counter it in any robust manner.

Here's a cold hard reality that most people just don't understand, including many defense sector pundits—air defense systems, no matter how advanced and deeply integrated, aren't magic. They have major limitations, especially considering most primarily rely on ground-based sensors.
Satellite imagery and GPS:
The cold hard truth is that counter-unmanned aircraft and counter-cruise missile capabilities are not 'sexy' to develop, field, and maintain operationally, but it will increasingly become absolutely essential to divert more funds in this direction. And no, I am not talking about some guys running around with wonky, sci-fi looking electronic warfare rifles. I am saying dense and layered counter-UAS capabilities will be required to even counter domestic threats in the years to come, especially against VIPs and critical infrastructure.

We live in an age where everyone has access to high-resolution satellite imagery of nearly any point on the globe. This is something that was unthinkable even following the end of the Cold War. A single individual now has the capabilities that entire government intelligence agencies were built to produce, all on their smartphone or laptop computer. And it's entirely free!

GPS is even more of a revolutionary capability. It's incredible pinpoint accuracy really has become more concerning since the hobby drone industry exploded and now components to control drones via GPS are somewhat off-the-shelf in nature and are supplied from manufacturers around the globe. With these two things combined, a bad actor has both the targeting intelligence and the precision targeting capabilities available for a minuscule fraction of what they cost in the past and without any major barriers of entry.
H/t Tyler Cowen.

Segmenting the language stream [words are tricky]

It is sometimes useful to reflect of the fact that, aurally, the speech stream is continuous, not segmented. The segmentation is something we impose on the stream through cognitive mechanisms – that, I argue, is the computational foundation of language. Thus early forms of writing often consisted of a continuous stream of characters, with no segmentation into separate words. Victor Mair has a post at Language Log that speaks to this, The challenging importance of spacing in Korean:
Who'da thunk it? – spacing is the most difficult aspect of Korean writing. One might have thought it would be a simple task, that word spacing / separation is innate for all speakers of a given language. Apparently that is not so.

In Hanyu Pinyin, it is called fēncí liánxiě 分詞連寫 ("word division; parsing"). Of course, it has its problems, but we do have rules to guide us, viz., zhèngcífǎ 正詞法 ("orthography").

This morning in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" course, I embarked on a discussion of the difference between zì 字 ("character") and cí 詞 ("word"). Although this seems like a simple, straightforward question, it is always one of the most difficult topics encountered in the course — especially for students of Chinese background. It took me a whole semester to get the idea across to the 72 very smart students in my language studies class at the University of Hong Kong in 2002-2003. Even at the conclusion of the semester, there were still some of the students who just couldn't comprehend the distinction.
Be sure to read the comments.

Addendum: In fact, I'll reprint one of them in full. Victor Mair, who started the thread, posts this on behalf of an unnamed colleague
Spacing–word division–assumes shared knowledge among users of what constitutes a language's words. This is not a trivial matter, and Korean linguists, lexicographers and publishers have been working the issue for decades.

The basic problem, as one of the commentators intimates, is that words, like (morpho)phonemic spelling, are an artifact of writing. They are not a given to be plucked from someone's brain. Orthography takes it upon itself to regularize (adjudicate) the intuitions users have about what constitutes the lexical units of their language, which are far from uniform and constantly shifting. Korean lacked that tradition and is catching up, although in a sense all written languages that use word division are continuously "catching up." I don't see it as a major problem, or a problem at all.

What I do find problematic in Asian languages is fluid "standards" for sentence representation, namely, where the period goes. This is not an issue (for me) in Korean, probably because the language does use word division, which enforces a discipline on writers that carries beyond the identification of (agreement on) word boundaries to one's whole approach to sentence structure. Chinese sentences–the text between periods–are often by western standards two sentences, five sentences, or partial sentences. Japanese writers also seem to have more liberty in this regard than a westerner would expect. Vietnamese sentences, in earlier novels at least, end or don't end seemingly at whim. And I question if Tibetans even have the concept of "sentence."

I've been out of this field for too long so my thinking may be dated. But there may be psycholinguistic issues at play here that merit serious study.
This too is relevant to the issue of computation in the mind. And so: I've just been thinking about this. And I'm wondering if the problem isn't similar to the problem that adolescent and post-adolescent second language learners have with pronunciation. I don't know what the current literature says about that, but in the past I've seen it attributed to a lack of neuro-plasticity. I don't find that terribly convincing. My intuition – and it's no more than that – is that the problem is more like conscious access. For some reason conscious access to (something in) the aural-motor channel has been, if not lost, somewhat degraded.

Could the same thing be going on in the transfer of segmentation from the aural-motor channel to the visuo-orthographic?

Two under an umbrella

Climate change is urgent, but it is a mistake to us war-fighting rhetoric to urge people to action

Roy Scranton, Climate Change Is Not World War, NYTimes, Sept. 18, 2019.
When Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced their Green New Deal proposal in February, they chose language loaded with nostalgia for one of the country’s most transformative historical moments, urging the country to undertake “a new national, social, industrial and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era.” [...] Two years later, Bill McKibben wrote an article arguing that climate change was actually World War III, and that the only way to keep from losing this war would be “to mobilize on the same scale as we did for the last world war.”

Yet much of this rhetoric involves little or no understanding of what national mobilization actually meant for Americans living through World War II. As a result, the sacrifices and struggles of the 1940s have begun to seem like a romantic story of collective heroism, when they were in fact a time of rage, fear, grief and social disorder. Countless Americans experienced firsthand the terror and excitement of mortal violence, and nearly everyone saw himself caught up in an existential struggle for the future of the planet.
Scranton then quickly runs through the changes:
...30 million Americans were uprooted from their homes [...] 16 million service members among them were stripped of their civilian identities and then shuttled through a vast national bureaucracy in the greatest experiment in social mixing and mass indoctrination in American history. [...] More than 400,000 were killed, and 670,000 more were wounded.
Women entered the workforce; a million+ African-Americans served in segregated military units, others migrated north; race riots; industry retooled for war; "free speech and labor organizing were curtailed"; internment camps for Japanese Americans; mass media was consumed by war propaganda.
Total mobilization during World War II also led to the birth of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower would in 1961 define as the “military-industrial complex.” Annual military spending (adjusted for inflation) skyrocketed from less than $10 billion before the war to nearly $1 trillion during it, and except for a brief dip between the end of World War II and the Korean War, has never sunk below $300 billion, whether the United States was at war or not. The country now spends more on its military budget than the next seven nations combined, and maintains the largest number of military bases on foreign soil of any country.

Such is the legacy of America’s mobilization during World War II, which inaugurated a long-term transformation in American politics, permanently shifting power from the legislative branch to the executive, and gave birth to the national security state, the nuclear arms race, and a culture of militarism. As the journalist Fred Cook wrote in 1962, “No break with the traditions of America’s past has been so complete, so drastic, as the one that has resulted in the growth of the military-industrial complex.”
Climate change is different:
First, climate change is not a war. There is no clear enemy to mobilize against, and thus no way to ignite the kind of hatred that moved Americans against Japan during World War II. No clear enemy also means no clear victory. [...]

Second, as opposed to World War II, when national mobilization meant a flood of government money that truly did lift all boats, the transformations required to address climate change would have real economic losers. [...]

Third, mobilization during World War II was a national mobilization against foreign enemies, while what’s required today is a global mobilization against an international economic system: carbon-fueled capitalism. It took President Franklin D. Roosevelt years of political groundwork and a foreign attack to get the United States into World War II. What kind of work over how many years would it take to unify and mobilize the entire industrialized world — against itself?

[And] ... the fact is that climate change is just one of several progressive concerns. [...] Finally, national climate mobilization would have cascading unforeseen consequences, perhaps even contradicting its original goals, just like America’s total mobilization during World War II. [...]

Nevertheless, total mobilization may be our only hope. [...] Nevertheless, total mobilization may be our only hope.