Sunday, December 7, 2014

Being an Adult

Throughout life I’ve been given several different markers for when I’ve become an adult or man.

Once you’ve worked a full-time job, then you know what it’s like to be an adult.
Once you’ve lived on your own, then you’re an adult.
Once you’re able to give up what you want for your spouse, then you’re a man.
Once you’ve held your child, then you’re a man.

I’m 27 years old. I don’t struggle with the question of whether I’m a grown-up. Some people find a rebellious glee in relaying that they will never grow up. But it’s interesting – what is the difference between a child and an adult person? Answer must be in a sense in which many full-sized people are still children, and young people have become adults at an early age, since that’s what we mean when we talk about “really” being an adult. Answer must be methodical. It must have to do with the way an adult approaches a problem vs. the way a kid approaches a problem. It is a way of life.

How’s this? An adult sees what is as it is -- not the way they’d like it to be, but as things are. They’re not prone to complaining because there’s an acceptance of the way things are. They’ve overcome their fantasies, and clearly distinguish between make-believe and reality. They fantasize, but at the end of the day their dreams remain imaginary to them. They don’t try to bring their fantasies out into real life. They repress the tendency to make everything normative. They’re done playing cops and robbers. They concern themselves not as much with good vs. evil, but real vs. not real, and though real vs. not real might lead into whether it be good or bad, the question of reality is primary and cognitive power is appropriately allocated that way. There is a deeper need to understand the complicated mechanics of life then to describe life using good words or bad words (for example, merely describing mankind’s relationship with nature as rape or development”" is understood as an invalid argument) Metaphysics is more basic than ethics.

With this definition, many people are childish about somethings and adult about other things. I think that that’s right. Everyone behaves childishly when the right subject comes up. Another way to articulate this idea is that adults overcome their biased meta-narratives. They have an overview of how they think the world works and they cram all the evidence so that it fits into the narrative. They skeptically reject evidence that doesn’t fit the meta-narrative, and naively accept the evidence that does.

Another way of looking at it is this – people grow into three stages of how they look at the world. They’re born seeing things from the ego. Empathy is difficult for them. They can’t see things from other people’s eyes, or walk in other people’s shoes. They’re stuck in their own worldview and can’t see anything else. This view is associated with being a child.

Past that there is the second stage of looking at the world – it is an empathetic way. They can switch between worldviews and see how other people could disagree. This view often leads into relativism and post-modernism, which empties factual statements of meaning. One person’s fact might be another’s fiction. They can walk in other people’s shoes and that makes deeper relationships possible. This view is associated with being a teenager.

The third stage is associated with being… an academic. I fear that most grown up people oscillate between the first two points of view, and rarely touch the third one. It is an objective way of looking at things. It’s seeing things from the logos perspective. It is adhering to the logos and accepting it’s implications. It is not just weaving between you and your neighbor’s worldviews, but transcending them. It is seeing the world in terms of systems. It’s not about people, but about reasons. There is confidence in determining who has better arguments, and humility in being able to change when better arguments present themselves. Academia is connected up with this state of mind over matters abstractions or impractical life. While non-academia adulthood is connected up with this state of mind of concrete day-to-day life.

Does that accurately capture adulthood?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hardcore Blinking

It’s time for some hardcore blog linking, because my browser it getting really slow from how many tabs I have open!

Here is Tyler Cowen, Brad Delong, Solow, and Russ Roberts talking about Piketty’s book on inequality. The whole thing is fantastic. They all agree that inequality is about the bottom, while Piketty’s book is focused on the top.

I’m amused by Delong’s articulation of what labor can do once machines become as intelligent as us. “It is still the case that the human brain is a supercomputer that fits in a shoebox and runs on 50 watts… (without that) we’re cast back to the other things we have that make us productive participants in the division of labor, which are our brains as genuinely creative organs of genuinely new thoughts… and also our smiles”

Brad has got to be practicing these lines in front of the mirror at home. But it’s great. Our brains as genuinely creative organs of new thoughts makes me think of things like art, music, and philosophy. Smiles obviously get at the fact that human beings like to be serviced by other human beings. Human connection can be simulated, but it is by definition something that can only be served by human beings.

Brad also brings up this little fact when the whole table agrees on how much progress the world is making poverty-wise, “They had to change the definition of deep poverty from $1 a day to $2 a day in the last 6 years. Because the people living on less than $1 a day were no longer large enough to create great excitement.”

Cowen is as focused as ever. “The real distinction is between resources devoted to innovation and resourced devoted to rents. Right now we have way too much devoted to rents. You can think of rents as an excess rate of return do to some barrier to entry, political or economic. We don’t have enough high density construction in San Francisco. Our intellectual property system is too extreme. Rents which accrue to finance. And these rents lead to too much inequality of income in a very bad way. Everyone agrees with that, and once you look at it this way not hung up at all on capital or labor.”

He also brings up this point, “That tax money is going to go to meet promises we’ve already made to the elderly. It is not going to go to fix inequality.”

Speaking of Tyler Cowen, he links to a humorous but disturbing segment on Civil Asses Forfeiture.

Where is the Kingdom of God? Is it heaven? – an article that points out one of the recurring problems I rediscover in popular Christianity all the time. The Kingdom spoken about in the new testament is futuristic, not otherworldly!

Rethinking Hell reaches the big time with a New York Times article and interview. Good for them. Another point for annihilationism!

Why are Danish people happy? This is largely a response to people who want to take every single variance between societies and attribute them to variance in political systems. The article Meshes well with the book that I’ve finally gotten around to reading, The Nurture Assumption. Happiness is highly genetic.

Christianity, Philosophy and Public Education: Reflections upon Retirement For all those who would sit in the chair of Philosophy. It is great to hear from Surrendra Gangadean again, and to see that he is writing another book.

List of countries by spending on Education.
16th - Denmark 7.8% of GDP,
55th – United States 5.5% of GDP,
74th – Canada 4.9% of GDP

By the way, the optimal amount to be spent on education is not infinity. It is not a competition in which a country necessarily wants to be in first.

Speaking of spending, here is Healthcare spending around the world, country by country. The U.S. spends 18% of GDP on healthcare, crushing any other developed country. Of course, 47% of that is private sector. What happens when we just compare government spending per person? United States is still near the very top, being beaten only by Norway as far as serious countries go. Again, not a competition in which one necessarily wants to be in first. But just as far as facts go, this and the previous link contradicts the impressions many subconsciously take away from their news shows.

The beepocolypse is silly, but I especially want to document this article for it’s absurdity.

“This new pesticide, Flupyradifurone, is very similar to an existing class of pesticides called “neonics”. Neonics are systemic pesticides -- they don't just remain on the surface, but are absorbed into plant tissues, and this new pesticide works in the same way. Research shows that neonics severely impair bees' immune systems, making them vulnerable to deadly viruses.”

Read it again. The new pesticide is Flupyradifurone and is similar to a class called “neonics”, but not actually in the class. So in what regard are they similar? They are both absorbed into plant tissue. Okay. Oh and by the way, Neonics impairs bees immune system. But why exactly should Flupyradifurone be like that again? Because the two share the similarity of being absorbed into plant tissue?

Meet Mike and Joe. Mike and Joe are similar, they both love pancakes. Mike is a cereal killer, so you’d better stay away from Joe!

There is so much I could say about the bees and the inanity of the fear mongering… but the deceit of this kind of literary slight of hand is especially repugnant.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ronnie Delmer on Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Shifts in Traditionalist Dialectics

The best argument for belief in biblical annihilation of the lost (annihilationism) is not long or complicated. It is simply that words mean what they say, and not something else. Words like perish, death, destroy, life, and immortality have to be reinterpreted from their natural meanings in order to make hell into everlasting conscious torment rather than annihilation. Even as I write, the word “annihilation” has to be awkwardly input in place of what would naturally flow linguistically as “death”. But I can’t say death, it biases the discussion. I have to say annihilation, so it doesn’t get confused with what death never means in any other context.

In a podcast for Rethinking Hell, Ronnie Delmer overviews the tendency for people who believe in eternal conscious torment (traditionalists) to use words for what they mean. When they’re defending their view, biblical “death” means “life of torture”, but only when their defending their view. In any other context, even when they’re talking about hell, death means death. This leads to Ronnie Delmer’s insightful list of explicit contradictions between well known evangelical traditionalists and scripture (e.g. Hyman Appelman:“There is no death in Hell” Romans: “The wages of sin is death”).

For quick review, Ronnie Delmer included a list of scriptures and the quotes of some very popular Christians contradicting these scriptures. A few more examples:

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
and
1 John 2:17: The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Vs.

John Piper: You are not mere matter and energy. You are an embodied soul who will live forever in heaven or in hell, created in the image of God.
and
C.S. Lewis: Christianity asserts that every individual human being is going to live forever, and this must be either true or false.
and
Mark Driscoll: God is an eternal God; a sin against him is an eternal act that requires an eternal consequence. And we are going to live eternally into the future—the question is where.
and
Billy Graham: [The soul] will never die, but will live forever in either Heaven or Hell

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scott Alexander’s Conservative Rhetoric against Global Warming

I’m impressed with anyone who can pass an ideological turing test. It seems silly to me that people admit that they, “just don’t get the other side”, and yet want to argue against it. If you don’t understand something you shouldn’t be arguing against it. And if you don’t understand “the other side”, when the other side is generally rather shallow political views, then you’re just not trying very hard.

Scott Alexander (recommended by Bryan Caplan) passes an ideological turing test elegantly when he writes a case for doing something against global warming that is rhetorically geared toward conservatives. It’s so good:

In the 1950s, brave American scientists shunned by the climate establishment of the day discovered that the Earth was warming as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to potentially devastating natural disasters that could destroy American agriculture and flood American cities. As a result, the country mobilized against the threat. Strong government action by the Bush administration outlawed the worst of these gases, and brilliant entrepreneurs were able to discover and manufacture new cleaner energy sources. As a result of these brave decisions, our emissions stabilized and are currently declining.

Unfortunately, even as we do our part, the authoritarian governments of Russia and China continue to industrialize and militarize rapidly as part of their bid to challenge American supremacy. As a result, Communist China is now by far the world’s largest greenhouse gas producer, with the Russians close behind. Many analysts believe Putin secretly welcomes global warming as a way to gain access to frozen Siberian resources and weaken the more temperate United States at the same time. These countries blow off huge disgusting globs of toxic gas, which effortlessly cross American borders and disrupt the climate of the United States. Although we have asked them to stop several times, they refuse, perhaps egged on by major oil producers like Iran and Venezuela who have the most to gain by keeping the world dependent on the fossil fuels they produce and sell to prop up their dictatorships.

A giant poster of Mao looks approvingly at all the CO2 being produced…for Communism.

We need to take immediate action. While we cannot rule out the threat of military force, we should start by using our diplomatic muscle to push for firm action at top-level summits like the Kyoto Protocol. Second, we should fight back against the liberals who are trying to hold up this important work, from big government bureaucrats trying to regulate clean energy to celebrities accusing people who believe in global warming of being ‘racist’. Third, we need to continue working with American industries to set an example for the world by decreasing our own emissions in order to protect ourselves and our allies. Finally, we need to punish people and institutions who, instead of cleaning up their own carbon, try to parasitize off the rest of us and expect the federal government to do it for them

It’s not technically an ideological turing test because it isn’t a conservative position. It’s better. It understands  the conservative value language and meta-narrative well enough to use it to argue for something new, rather than merely repeating conservative positions with a conservative tone. Political divides aren’t about positions, outcomes, or even values, it’s about contrasting methods of spin. Abortion can be viewed as oppression against the weak (liberal), or as economic freedom (conservative). It looks like differing values, but it’s really just moral frames rather than defined principles.

Again, I’m impressed with people who can transcend these moral frames and Scott Alexander seems to be one of them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Nuances and Imperfections of Neoclassical Economic Rationality

Consider this cartoon. It’s funny but it also represents a leading criticism of neoclassical economics.

10616098_284295691757940_4717993210249788862_n

The wrong lesson to draw is that neoclassical economics is false. Instead we should learn that it is nuanced, which this comic illustrated, and that it is imperfect, which is what Daniel Kahneman’s book is all about. Both lessons can be learned from psychology, and both lessons have been generally neglected by economists.

I think these kinds of psychological experiments actually do not exhibit any imperfection of the neoclassical model of human behavior. Instead it is a mistake of the economist (or cartoon writer) to apply it in a nuanced way. The question we have to ask the woman who won’t accept $5 is, “what would you be losing by taking the money?” Neoclassical model says, “something worth more than $5” the irrational model says, “something worth less than $5 or nothing”. Feelings of dignity, fairness, or pride are all answers we can insert into the model in order to make sense of the woman’s behavior. There are more values at play than money which the experiment does not apply controls for in order to determine how rational or irrational the subject is being.

By the way, I suspect most people wouldn’t give up much more than $5, indicating that these ethereal values are really skin deep. Even the neoclassical model applied in an un-nuanced way captures 90% of what’s going on.

Human value is more nuanced than dollars and cents, and in contrast to cartoonish depictions of economists, they recognize this. No economist believes that people should always take the highest wage job. They know that it is “rational” to take a lower paying job in exchange for better working conditions for example. Economists don’t treat money like it only matters, but that it always matters. The problem is when we get into the nitty gritty and the values become very subtle, as moral intuitions generally are, they become easy to ignore.

Although the cartoon doesn’t speak to it, the neoclassical model does have genuine flaws. People do make systematically irrational decisions. But people also make systematically rational decisions So the correct solution is not to discard the rational model, but to fit it into a broader framework which captures the ways in which human beings predictably act rationally and irrationally.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Checks and Balances–sounds good but how does it work?

I would like to hear a clear articulation of how the ever popular "checks and balances" are supposed to work - even just as a political theory. It's so commonly referred to, but never do I hear about the actual mechanics of it. When someone says, "we have (or are supposed to have) checks and balances", I always think, "okay, what are they?"

Separation of powers do not equal checks and balances. Each power individually can remain unchecked and unbalanced, and they can aggregate into a wholly unchecked and unbalanced system. One must explain how the system checks and balances itself - how the three branches check and balance each other instead of having three unchecked unbalanced branches doing separate but unchecked and unbalanced things. Even if it’s not functional, a theoretical model would do.

Maybe there is such a theory. I don’t know. What I know is that “checks and balances” are a major tool of popular political rhetoric while being totally content-less substantively.