I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
(Ariwara no Narihira)
I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
(Ariwara no Narihira)
Since it’s Christmas Eve, let’s use this opportunity for a holiday-themed economics lesson. I did a version of this back in 2012 by sharing a remake of Christmas songs. This year, we’re going to look at A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Let’s start with an analysis of the story from Jacqueline Isaacs. Many communist […]The Economics of Scrooge — International Liberty
If you’ve lived through it yourself, you know that The Turn doesn’t happen overnight, that it isn’t easily distilled into one dramatic breakdown moment, that it happens hazily and over time—first a twitch, then a few more, stretching into a gnawing discomfort and then, eventually, a sense of panic.
You may be among the increasing numbers of people going through The Turn right now. Having lived through the turmoil of the last half decade—through the years of MAGA and antifa and rampant identity politics and, most dramatically, the global turmoil caused by COVID-19—more and more of us feel absolutely and irreparably politically homeless. Instinctively, we looked to the Democratic Party, the only home we and our parents and their parents before them had ever known or seriously considered. But what we saw there—and in the newspapers we used to read, and in the schools whose admission letters once made us so proud—was terrifying. However we tried to explain what was happening on “the left,” it was hard to convince ourselves that it was right, or that it was something we still truly believed in. That is what The Turn is about.
You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. You are living through The Turn if you seethed watching a terrorist organization attack the world’s only Jewish state, but seethed silently because your colleagues were all on Twitter and Facebook sharing celebrity memes about ending Israeli apartheid while having little interest in American kids dying on the streets because of failed policies. If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you.
The Turn hit me just a beat before it did you, so I know just how awful it feels. It’s been years now, but I still remember the time a dear friend and mentor took me to lunch and warned me, sternly and without any of the warmth you’d extend to someone you truly loved, to watch what I said about Israel. I still remember how confusing and painful it felt to know that my beliefs—beliefs, mind you, that, until very recently, were so obvious and banal and widely held on the left that they were hardly considered beliefs at all—now labeled me an outcast. The Turn brings with it the sort of pain most of us don’t feel as adults; you’d have to go all the way back to junior high, maybe, to recall a stabbing sensation quite as deep and confounding as watching your friends all turn on you and decide that you’re not worthy of their affection any more. It’s the kind of primal rejection that is devastating precisely because it forces you to rethink everything, not only your convictions about the world but also your idea of yourself, your values, and your priorities. We all want to be embraced. We all want the men and women we consider most swell to approve of us and confirm that we, too, are good and great. We all want the love and the laurels; The Turn takes both away.
But, having been there before, I have one important thing to tell you: If the left is going to make it “right wing” to simply be decent, then it’s OK to be right.
I’ve encountered a number of items, including psychological research studies that show how hard it can be to buck a trend. This includes cases where the test subject is forced to choose between the crowd and his/her “own lying eyes”. I took these to heart, and as a result, I’m often the one who spots the obvious issue in a meeting, which no one else caught. I joke that “perceiving the obvious is my superpower”, but it’s really the willingness to speak up when I perceive it.
Here are 21 quotes on conformity and nonconformity that reveal the struggle to and the importance of remaining free in our own minds.FEE.org
My peoples, the time has come for a MEGATHREAD. In 40 tweets I will explain another 40 concepts you should know. Strap in. Here we go:
- Abstraction: There are scales of explanation. A human can be considered a person, mammal, collection of cells, collection of stardust. Sometimes the reason people can’t see eye to eye is that they’re unwittingly considering things at different levels of abstraction.
- Scope Neglect: We evolved for the small scale of tribal life, so we can’t comprehend the big numbers that recently entered human life. We can appreciate the difference between 50 and 100, but not a million and a billion. It’s why we often treat geopolitics like family politics.
- The Law of Very Large Numbers: Given a wide enough dataset, any pattern can be observed. A million to one odds happen 8 times a day in NYC (population 8 million). The world hasn’t become crazier, we’re just seeing more of everything.
- Benford’s Law: Numbers in natural sets of data are not uniformly distributed (e.g. 30% of numbers have 1 as their first digit). Used by the IRS and other tax agencies to determine if you’ve lied about your finances.
- Brandolini’s Law (aka the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle): It takes a lot more energy to refute bullshit than to produce it. Hence, the world is full of unrefuted bullshit.
- The Toxoplasma of Rage: The ideas that spread most are not those everyone agrees with, but those that divide people most, because people see them as causes to attack or defend in order to signal their commitment to a tribe.h/t: @slatestarcodex
- Network Effect: The more people using a network, the more useful it becomes. A phone gains utility as more people use phones because more people can be called with it. It’s why Twitter & Facebook are so dominant; we’re stuck on these platforms because everyone else is.
- Paradox of Abundance: Easy availability of food led to obesity for the masses but good health for the few who used the increased choice to avoid the mass-produced junk. Equally, you can avoid intellectual diabetes by ignoring junk info like gossip & clickbait. h/t: @david_perell
- Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time allotted for it. No matter the size of the task, it will often take precisely the amount of time you set aside to do it, because more time means more deliberation & procrastination.
- Flow States: You’re in flow when you’re so engrossed in a task that the world vanishes and the work seems to do itself. Flow is automatic, and it makes work much easier than you imagined. All you have to do is overcome the initial hurdle of beginning a task; flow does the rest.
- The Curse of Knowledge: The more familiar you become with an idea the worse you become at explaining it to others, because you forget what it’s like to not know it, and therefore what needs to be explained to understand it. Makes it hard to write threads like this!
- Status Quo Bias: Those who were unfazed by Covid because it had a ~1% fatality rate were suddenly concerned about vaccines when they yielded a 1 in a ~million fatality rate. People see the risks of doing something but not the risks of doing nothing.
- Semmelweis Reflex: People tend to reject evidence that doesn’t fit the established worldview. Named for Ignaz Semmelweis, a surgeon who, before the discovery of germs, claimed washing hands could help prevent patient infections. He was ridiculed and locked away in a mental asylum
- Planck’s Principle: “Science progresses one funeral at a time. “Scientists, being human, don’t easily change their views, so science advances not when scientists win or lose arguments, but when they die so that younger scientists with more refined views can take their place.
- Bias Against Null Results: Studies that find something surprising are more interesting than studies that don’t, so they’re more likely to be published. This creates the impression the world is more surprising than it actually is. Also applies to news, Twitter.
- p-hacking: “If you torture the data for long enough, it’ll confess to anything. “Academics get around the Bias Against Null Results by performing many statistical tests on data until a significant result is found then recording only this. p-hacking is largely why we have a…
- Replication Crisis: A large proportion of scientific findings have been found to be impossible to replicate, with successive tests often yielding wildly different results. Too many studies are bunk to take any of them at face value.
- Luxury Beliefs: Cultural elites often adopt views that signal status for them but hurt the less fortunate. E.g. Those who claim that concern about Islamism is Islamophobic appear open-minded but in fact dismiss the (usually Muslim) victims of such extremism. h/t: @robkhenderson
- Bulverism: Instead of assessing what a debate opponent has said on its own merits, we assume they’re wrong and then try to retroactively justify our assumption, usually by appealing to the person’s character or motives. Explains 99% of Twitter debates.
- Scout Mindset: We tend to approach discourse with a “soldier mindset”; an intention to defend our own beliefs and defeat opponents’. A more useful approach is to adopt a “scout mindset”; an intention to explore and gather information. h/t: @JuliaGalef
- Operation Mindfuck: A conspiracy theory that can protect you from conspiracy theories. The Operation is being conducted by persons unknown, and is a plot to make you believe lies. Whenever you receive information, ask yourself, is this part of Operation Mindfuck?
- Hitchens’ Razor: What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. If you make a claim, it’s up to you to prove it, not to me to disprove it.
- Decision Fatigue: The more decisions you make in a day, the worse your decisions get, so rid your life of trivial choices. Steve Jobs, Barack Obama & Mark Zuckerberg have been known to wear only 1 or 2 outfits to work so they don’t have to choose each day.
- Cumulative Culture: Humanity’s success is due not to our individual IQs but to our culture, which stockpiles our best ideas for posterity so they compound across generations. The ideas we adopt from society are often far older than us, and far wiser. h/t: @SteveStewartWilliams
- Chesterton’s Fence: If an old law or tradition seems so irrational that you want to scrap it, then you shouldn’t scrap it. The fact it’s survived the ages despite seeming irrational means it must have a purpose. Before acting, understand that purpose. An argument for conservatism
- The Veil of Ignorance : Create a constitution for a country as though you could wake up tomorrow in the body of any citizen, of any race, religion, or gender, and be forced to live as them in the society you’ve created. A central idea behind liberalism.
- Tragedy of the Commons: The Rapa Nui people of Easter Island felled trees for wood until there were not enough trees to provide food, causing mass starvation. Everyone acting in their own interests can create outcomes against everyone’s interests. Common argument for regulation.
- Purposeful Stupidity: Common argument against regulation. In 1944, the OSS (now known as the CIA) published a field manual laying out strategies to subtly sabotage a society from within. The tactics described are eerily similar to what passes for normality today.
- Mediocracy: Democracy works not because it picks the best leaders, but because it picks the most average leaders. The purpose of democracy is not so much progress as preservation. h/t: @Mmay3r
- The Messiah Effect (my term): most people don’t believe in ideals, but in people who believe in ideals. Hence why successful religions tend to have human prophets or messiahs, and why when a demagogue changes his beliefs, the beliefs of his followers often change accordingly.
- Futarchy: What if people voted not for political parties, but for metrics that society should seek to maximize (e.g. median household income, average life expectancy) and then betting markets determined the policy that would maximize the metric best? h/t: @robinhanson
- Network States: Due to the web, place of birth no longer determines your community. Future nations may consist not of people who were born near each other, but of online subcultures using collective bargaining to crowdsource micronations of like-minded people. h/t: @balajis
- The Immortality Project: Civilization is an elaborate attempt to distract ourselves from the fact that we’re all going to die. We do this by trying to become symbolic beings rather than physical ones. Hence, the endless search for meaning.
- Mimetic Desire: We learn much of our behavior by copying others. In societies, we often don’t know what to desire, so we begin to desire what others desire. This leads to simulated pursuits and simulated conflicts over simulated desiderata.
- Hedonic Treadmill: Once we’ve obtained what we desire, our happiness quickly returns to its baseline level, and we begin to desire something else. Whatever happens, good or bad, we get used to it. As such, the most fortunate of us are seldom much happier than the least.
- Boltzmann Brain: Your brain is far simpler than the rest of the universe (which includes every other brain), so, rather than the universe emerging from the void, it’s more feasible that your brain emerged from the void, and everything else is just in your head.
- Simulation Hypothesis: Assuming computing power reaches the point that consciousness can be simulated en masse, the scenarios in which you are such a simulation vastly outnumber the scenarios in which you are real. Ergo, you are likely a simulation.
- The Great Temptation: What if we haven’t found aliens because civilizations create mesmerizing amusements (like simulations) before they learn interstellar travel? What if all advanced civilizations eventually lose themselves in virtual worlds, and we’re next? h/t: @primalpoly
- Hypernovelty: Technology builds on technology, so it’s advancing at an exponential rate. Progress is accelerating. The world is now changing faster than we can adapt to it, leaving us permanently maladjusted. Life is becoming a blur. h/t: @bretweinstein & @HeatherEHeying
- The Hinge of History: We may be living at the most influential point in human history. The decisions we face – regarding AI, internet, climate change, gene editing, space travel – will likely affect humanity far into the future. What we do now could echo across the aeons.
And that’s your lesson for today. As usual, don’t assume these concepts are all necessarily true; they were chosen not for their accuracy but because they provoke curiosity.
Thanks for reading, and may the things you learned here help you navigate the labyrinth of possibility.
Source: Forty Concepts to know
The Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon” was set in a solar system where two planets had been at war for centuries. The war was fought by computer, with virtual attacks being launched, and if they virtually succeeded, the casualties were tallied and identified by computer.
Listed casualties then reported to disintegration chambers where they were cleanly and painlessly killed.
When Kirk, for whom the Prime Directive was frequently a guideline, blew up the planet’s wargaming computer, both planets were faced with plan B — a messy war with real weapons, and destroyed buildings and nasty injuries and deaths. This proved terrifying enough to bring both sides to the table for peace talks.
Maybe war needs to be messy enough to be scary.
On the evening of March 9, 1945, the United States sent an armada of B-29 Superfortresses toward Japan, which for months had resisted surrender, even as a naval blockade brought much of the population to the brink of starvation. The B-29s were headed for Tokyo, and carried napalm, chosen for the mission because so many of the city’s inhabitants lived in houses made of wood.
When someone sets aside their first-hand experience, statisticians are hoping – perhaps even assuming – that they rely on random sampling instead. In the real world, however, almost no one does this. For the vast majority of human beings, the alternative to first-hand experience is not statistics, but news. And compared to news, first-hand experience is ultra-reliable, for a long list of reasons.
1. Random error. Since the news is a vast industry, this might seem like a minor problem. Due to severe media herding, however, the problem remains severe. Journalists are not independent draws, but echoes in a vast echo chamber.
2. Selection bias. Journalists are far from average humans. They are highly-educated and highly-left-wing. Even more importantly, they are desperately trying to grab people’s attention with shocking anecdotes and images. What’s more, they have impressive resources to hunt down these shocking anecdotes and images. The upshot is that media selection bias is literally off the charts. What they choose to show is outside the first-hand experience all humans on Earth. By which I mean that zero humans have personally experienced all – or even a tiny sliver – of the horrors on the news.
3. Availability bias. After filtering reality through the biases of their ideology and need to grab people’s attention, journalists take the distillate and run it through yet another filter: their own memories. So when they bring up old stories, or provide context for new stories, they are piling bias on bias.
As you may have heard, when you see moonshine marked “XXX,” this means that the liquid has been filtered three times. Each filtration raises the alcohol content. This is a fine metaphor for the media. Journalists filter their experience over and over until they have a final product strong enough to make you blind.
By comparison, then, first-hand experience is a fountain of truth. If statisticians tell you to fear something you’ve never experienced during decades of life, you may want to consider the possibility that you’ve led a charmed life. If the media tells you the same thing, however, the wise response is to roll your eyes and rely on your first-hand experience. While you’re not an average human, your first-hand experience almost certainty tells you that racism is rare, serious crime is ultra-rare, that terrorism is basically non-existent, and that the vast majority of people in rich countries are materially prosperous. The media are in no position to “correct” you – or anyone, really. Politics aside, they are practically the most biased source on Earth.
Dennis Prager likes to tell of the time he was due to give a talk some distance away from where he had spent the night in a hotel.
The news was full of warnings of a horrible blizzard on its way. The weather looked fine. He decided to drive to the location.
The weather stayed fine, and there was hardly any traffic. The blizzard never materialized, but everyone was staying off the road because of the news of the horrible blizzard. People were putting more faith in the news reports than their own eyes.
Hat tip: Some Non-Covid Links
Storytellers tend to write better than they know.
Back when I was younger I practically lived for super hero comic books. I lived vicariously the adventures of the heroes and heroines within them. And before I grew up and got “respectable” I wanted to be a super hero and, if I may be frank, a part of me never really outgrew that. And it’s with sadness that […]Inspiration from a Comic Book: A Blast from the Past. — The Writer in Black
And in Hollywood nowadays, a lot of storytellers write better than their politics.
Yesterday, Scott recommended a column by William Voegeli called “About ‘Whataboutism.’” I read that column and join Scott in recommending it.
In our current discourse, whataboutism is used by Democrats/leftists to counter conservatives who, when discussing questionable actions by Donald Trump or violent conduct by a pro-Trump mob (for example), point to similar behavior by others that Democrats/leftists did not condemn. Those of us who point to the double standard are accused of whataboutism.
The charge is an evasion — an attempt to duck the fact that Democrats are employing a double standard. Accepting the evasion means accepting unprincipled discourse, which is what the left desires. They insist on an exemption from normal rules of argument.
Whataboutism is essentially a demand that similar situations and similarly situated people be treated similarly. Thus, if not abused, whataboutism is an essential element of justice.
In law, if a Black plaintiff who was fired for being tardy twice for work points to a white co-worker who was tardy twice but not fired, his allegations make out of prima facie case of discrimination. His argument boils down to whataboutism, but it can’t be dismissed on that basis.
Source: What about “whataboutism”?
You’ve probably heard of Occam’s Razor, basically saying the simplest explanation is usually the best one. Scott Adams has made a point about election fraud that I’ll call “Spock’s Hammer”.
In an episode in the classic series, Spock is testifying at a court martial about Captain Kirk’s character. He says, “if I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen.“
Adams comments on the certainty that there was cheating during the 2020 election. Given that cheating was made almost cost-free, and given that there were strong incentives for cheating, it is inevitable that cheating would have occurred. He states that if you drop ice cream on pavement on a hot day, you don’t need to hang around and watch it melt to know that it has, in fact, melted.
I think I prefer “Spock’s Hammer” to “Adams’ Ice Cream”.