Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wreckage: The Culture War

Wreckage: The Culture War
On that basis, anything that contradicts the mythology is taken as a personal attack on one’s self, and as violence against one’s clan, rather than disagreement about issues. Unfortunately, this perception is often justified. When the two sides of the culture war do engage, it is mainly just tribal conflict. It’s meta: a fight about the fight itself. The big question is who is going to win, not—as in the ’60s-80s countercultural era—“how can we change society for the better?”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

SlateStar on the Blue Tribe's Crying Wolf

Read SlateStar's post, You are Still Crying Wolf

This gets back to my doubts about “dog whistles”. Dog whistling seems to be the theory that if you want to know what someone really believes, you have to throw away decades of consistent statements supporting the side of an issue that everyone else in the world supports, and instead pay attention only to one weird out-of-character non-statement which implies he supports a totally taboo position which is perhaps literally the most unpopular thing it is possible to think. 
And then you have to imagine some of the most brilliant rhetoricians and persuaders in the world are calculating that it’s worth risking exposure this taboo belief in order to win support from a tiny group with five-digit membership whose support nobody wants, by sending a secret message, which inevitably every single media outlet in the world instantly picks up on and makes the focus of all their coverage for the rest of the election. 
Finally, no, none of this suggests that Donald Trump is courting the white supremacist vote.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Real War on Science

Read The Real War on Science
Conservatives have been variously pathologized as unethical, antisocial, and irrational simply because they don’t share beliefs that seem self-evident to liberals. For instance, one study explored ethical decision making by asking people whether they would formally support a female colleague’s complaint of sexual harassment. There was no way to know if the complaint was justified, but anyone who didn’t automatically side with the woman was put in the unethical category. Another study asked people whether they believed that “in the long run, hard work usually brings a better life”—and then classified a yes answer as a “rationalization of inequality.” Another study asked people if they agreed that “the Earth has plenty of natural resources if we just learn how to develop them”—a view held by many experts in resource economics, but the psychologists pathologized it as a “denial of environmental realities.”
I also recommend Jonathan Haidt's related talk 

Friday, November 18, 2016


Reality has too many pixels, so for practical life we adjust our resolution enough to operate but not get lost in details. For more abstract life we adjust our resolution enough to find community but not feel inconsistent.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Electoral College vs. Popular Vote: Different Game Different Tactics Same Outcome

"If we elected presidents by popular vote, the campaign would change; it isn't obvious that Clinton would have won that way either"

A good point by Gary King

Winning the electoral college game is a lot like winning the popular vote game. They require the same political skills. Trump won the electoral college game we just played so my guess would be that he would win the popular vote game too if it were being played.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Is the Future Dominated by the Blue Tribe

Someone unimportant points out:
This is how the future voted. This is what people 18-25 said in casting their votes. We must keep this flame alight and nurture this vision.

That's nice, but people become more conservative with age. By the time the future actually comes all those people voting blue will be voting red

Monday, November 14, 2016

Maybe Trump... isn't the devil

After the election, a lot of people are expressing their view that this election was about them vs. bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and hate. The deeply religious fantasies of these people is hard to believe. They actually think they're the good guys fighting pure evil. Not a difference in point of view. Pure evil.

Do these people ever stop to consider that their feed is deeply biased. If trump said, "black children are raised without dads," they would treat that as racism. But if any social scientist says that (and it's true) it's just a fact. The power of the mind to stretch interpretation against the outgroup is incredible. A conservative cannot say anything about race unless it's explicitly confirming how great all minorities are. Or else they're charged as racist.

It makes me glad I'm not a conservative. But if I don't confirm the liberal delusions, I have to worry about being called one!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Advice for Election 2016

Jonathan Haidt talks tribal politics

Colbert says to get back to your life

Obama: all on one team

Scott Alexander writes the election doesn't tell you anything because it was more likely determined by noise

SlateStar's Thesis on Trump

Jacob tells you to get over your denial

Friday, November 11, 2016


If a Trump victory tomorrow would convince you that X is true, I suggest that you believe X is true regardless of whether or not Trump wins, because Trump’s victory almost certainly will depend more on noise than on X. If a Hillary victory tomorrow would convince you that Y is true, I suggest that you believe Y is true regardless of whether or not Hillary wins, for the same reason.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Christina Hoff Sommers on Amoral Masculinity

Here is a good interview with Christina Hoff Sommers, published by Vox:
When it comes to being crushed, mutilated, electrocuted, or mangled at work, men are at a distinct disadvantage. Most backbreaking, lethally dangerous jobs — roofer, logger, roustabout, and coal miner, to name a few — are done by men. We are often reminded that only 24 women are CEOs of the Fortune 500. But what about the Unfortunate 5,000 — that is approximately the number of men killed on the job annually. 
Education beyond high school has been called the passport to the American dream. Increasingly, women have it and men don’t. From the earliest grades, our schools do a better job educating girls. Women now earn a majority of associate, bachelor, master’s, and doctoral degrees, and their share of college degrees increases almost every year. 
Today, the women’s lobby deploys a faulty logic: In cases where men are better off than women, that’s injustice. Where women are doing better — that’s life.
She doesn't mention that men are far more likely to go to prison for the same crime.

So a lot of evidence of unfair gender outcomes comes from choosing one metric (like the gender wage gap) and ignoring all others.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Best and Worst of Steven Pinker

This is the best Steven Pinker interview I've ever seen. Pinker is both at his best and his worst in this interview.

He's at his best when he talks about taking the middle view, not in a Goldilocks sort of way, but that there's a finer grain of detail underlying many debates that doesn't quite put one in either camp.

He's at his worst when Tyler challenges his optimism.

They mention Jonathan Haidt, Friedrich Hayek, and Bryan Caplan asks the last question.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

SlateStar on Rape Culture

Here is Scott Alexander's explaining why he is confused and skeptical of the term "rape culture"
Most rapes are crimes without witnesses. If the accused claims the sex was consensual then even DNA cannot provide corroborating evidence against this story. The courts are presented with a “he said” / “she said” dilemma. Because the legal system enshrines the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” – that is, erring in favor of the defendant when a guilt cannot be established “beyond a reasonable doubt” – this situation usually results in acquittal.
A rock and a hard place indeed.
I do not want to justify the “advice” people give rape survivors. Some of it seems broadly good (if you’re meeting a strange man for a date or something, do it in a public place), but much of the rest seems well-intentioned but actively wrong (it’s been pretty well established that the clothes you are wearing do not affect sexual assault rate). Whether the advice is good or not, giving it to someone who has just been traumatized is without a doubt a stupid decision, and giving it in place of punishing an actual perpetrator is an obvious miscarriage of justice.
Some things are impolite to say, but nonetheless true. And that you didn't take precautions against something does not mean you are to blame for that thing happening.
Breast cancer gets a very disproportionate amount of funding compared to other, deadlier types of cancer. No doubt this is because of successful initiatives like the Pink Ribbon campaign, but these initiatives are themselves due to the fact that any gendered issue is naturally more interesting than any ungendered issue. My guess is this is also part of why prostate cancer (gendered issue relating to men) is in second place, although that could also be its unusually high morbidity/mortality ratio. 
The point of this graph isn’t to knock breast cancer research, but instead to note that people disproportionately ignoring women’s issues because they don’t care about women is the exact opposite of the way the world works.
Also relevant: Rape is a Special kind of Evil

Monday, November 7, 2016

"No one is Born Gay"

For a long time I've been wondering why it's so obvious to gay people that they were born gay. I don't know through sheer introspection that I was born straight. And not being born gay doesn't mean it's a "choice". It feels weird to remind the blue tribe of this, but environment is a thing.

Anyway, I read something very good on this today. Here are a few quotes. The first is him quoting the other side:
“Because implying that homosexuality is a choice gives unwarranted credence to roundly disproven practices such as ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy. The risks associated with attempts to consciously change one’s sexual orientation include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior."  
The problem with such statements is that they infuse biological accounts with an obligatory and nearly coercive force, suggesting that anyone who describes homosexual desire as a choice or social construction is playing into the hands of the enemy.
Just because an argument is politically strategic, does not make it true. 
Does culture effect how gay we are?
In Ancient Greece, sex between elite men and adolescent boys was a common and normative cultural practice. According to historians Michel Foucault and Jonathan Ned Katz, these relationships were considered the most praise-worthy, substantive and Godly forms of love (whereas sex between a man and a woman was, for all intents and purposes, sex between a man and his slave). If men having frequent and sincere sex with one another is what we mean by “gay,” then do we really believe that something so fundamentally different was happening in the Ancient Athenian gene pool?
Bias in science:
And, of course, there is the time-eternal question: why aren’t scientists looking for the genetic causes of heterosexuality? Or masturbation? Or interest in oral sex? The reason is that none of these sex acts currently violate social norms, at least not strongly enough to be perceived as sexual aberrations...
At the end of the day, what we can count on is that the science of sexual orientation will produce data that simply mirror the most crass and sexist gender binarisms circulating in the popular imagination.
Does gay conversion work? If it did it wouldn't prove there was something wrong with being gay or that being gay is a choice.
People like to use the failure of “gay conversion” therapies as evidence that homosexuality is innate. First of all, these conversions do not always fail; if you make someone feel disgusted enough by their desires, you can change their desires. Call it a tragedy of repression, or call it a religious awakening—regardless, the point is that we can and do change.
The whole thing is very good.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Global Warming as a Convenient Truth

A lot of people are worried about global warming and they promote a lot of different ways to fix it. The most popular that I read on the internet are:

Boosting energy efficiency
Greening Transportation
Using more renewable resources
Phasing out fossil fuels
Reducing Deforestation
Developing and Deploying new low carbon technologies
Ensuring Sustainable Development
Fight Misinformation
Eat less beef
Upgrade our infrastructure
Live closer to work
Reduce birth rates

Do these solutions have anything in common? I think they do. Greenies have been advocating for these changes since before anyone was talking about global warming. Global warming fits perfectly with their worldview. And despite Al Gore, it's an extremely convenient truth, suspiciously convenient actually.

How nice it must be to be advocating a set of policy changes and then poof! a worldwide apocalyptic scenario set in that requires those same policy changes to be enacted. And when talk of the worldwide apocalyptic scenario came from those very Greenies themselves, it starts to look a lot less like a convenient truth, and more like a new strategy for the same end.

That isn't to say that Global Warming isn't real, but that it may not mean what they think it means. I would like for Global Warming alarmists to name me the policies they advocate for stopping global warming that they wouldn't have advocated anyway. Because it seems to me that global warming changes nothing for them.

This is the most evident when the super-left sites like Think Progress and MotherJones show us how preventing Global Warming reduces inequality all at the same time. The way to sell me on Global Warming is to show me how inconvenient they are to you. If you were like, "it really sucks that solving global warming will create more inequality, but we should solve it anyway because it's a bigger problem," then my nonsense detector wouldn't be buzzing so loud in my head whenever you speak.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Don't Vote, Coffee instead

November 8th is election day so don't forget to go out and... grab a cup of coffee. After all if you've found someone who you can trust and is voting for the other candidate, your votes are going to cancel each other's out. So make a deal, you both go out and grab a cup of coffee instead of casting your votes. Why waste your time?

Democratic Fundamentalists won't like this because their deep faith in the democracy is separate from any outcomes Democracy produces.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Empathy vs. Distant Care

Empathy is overrated. It's a kind of care that puts a spotlight on an individuals needs and distracts thinking from more effective forms of altruism.

A more distant kind of care is better. You want to be able to say, "look, I care about you but there are more important causes that deserve my charity." You can't say that when you're pulled into empathy. The kid in front of you who needs money to attend sports camp will take priority over the starving kid somewhere else.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Denying People their Voting Rights

People think it's very very important that everyone is given the right to vote (I don't but anyway). That's why we let everyone vote. Or do we? We don't let people younger than 18 vote, ever.

Of course that's because we don't really think everyone has the right to vote, just everyone past a certain age. But age is an odd limitation. Why is the number of years you've lived on the earth matter to what rights you get? Aha, because age is actually just a proxy for level of development or maturity.

Now we get to my point; if giving people their rights is so important, isn't the age limitation rather high? We would want to err on the side of giving people too many rights than too few. Presumably there are a lot of 16 and 17 year olds who can't vote and are every bit as mature as 18 or 19 year olds who can. Aren't we denying them their rights.

Go back a hundred years before black people could vote. If someone said, "I'd love for black people to vote, but they tend to be less mature and so we can't." And also suppose that it's a social scientific fact that black people at that time were less mature. Would that be a good argument? Only if the immature ones outnumbered the mature ones 100 to 1 would we even consider denying the one his rights to prevent 100 immature people from voting.

But I don't see that happening with age. I don't personally have a conflict because I don't determine people's rights by my own personal feelings. But for those who look inward and decide, "yes, all people should have the right to vote," holding to that consistently should make them change some other beliefs.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How many Babies are in Heaven?

So lets talk about this:

Infant mortality used to be very very high. It's low now, but over history, that's a lot of dead babies. Both prenatal and postpartum, it far outnumbers the quantity of dead adults.

Christians often believe that dead babies go to heaven. This means heaven is full of babies who don't know Jesus. Does this really square with the biblical depictions of heaven?

So for the Christian either,

1) Babies don't go to heaven,
2) Heaven is packed with babies and as a result heaven is filled with people who never knew the name of Jesus
3) Life doesn't begin at conception (this reduces the number of babies in heaven significantly, but still leaves us with a lot of 1 and 2 year olds in heaven)
4) Life doesn't begin even after birth.

So pick your poison. I think most Christians would pick #2 because it's most emotionally appealing despite being unbiblical. But is #1 really so hard to believe if you're an annihilationist?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


The most relaxing song in the world

It reduces anxiety by up to 65%. I sure love it when people take percentages out of things with no obvious unit of measure.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jesus; Liar Lunatic Lord, or realistic?

I don't like C.S. Lewis' Liar Lunatic or Lord argument (the Lewis Trilemma). It goes like this; Jesus said some pretty crazy things about him being Lord. Is he a liar? No because it conflicts with his character. Is he a Lunatic? No because it conflicts with his character. Well then it must be that he really is Lord.

Criticisms of the Lewis Trilemma have been made. One is that he might be a legend. This largely comes from people who are trying so hard to prove that there isn't a God that fall into their own kind of religiosity. If you have time read Bart Ehrman's book, Did Jesus Exist? He says that it is not only his professional opinion that Jesus existed, but the professional opinion of almost all New Testament Scholars. Ehrman is a high ranking New Testament Scholar and atheist who is more commonly found defending his atheism from Christians than defending Christians, but defending Christians he does. So he gets a lot of credibility when he defend's Jesus' existence from the Mythisists. Or if that's not good enough you could always read the many reasons he gives in the book, but of course, reasons are for suckers.

Another Criticism of the Lewis Trilemma is Space Alien... that Jesus might be a space alien. Hey, it's not more unrealistic than believing he's God, right? The problem with this you're substituting belief in one crazy thing for another. Maybe Jesus isn't Lord, but you have to go all the way to Space Alien to prove it. Why atheists are more comfortable with things like space alien and not Lord is beyond me.

I think the best criticism is one that I never hear talked about. Jesus was inconsistent. When we look at historical figures we tend to turn them into cartoon characters; not a lot of layers. Jesus could have been very profound when he talked about loving each other, and at the same time very loony when he talked about his role in the Kingdom of God. I know lots of people who are fanatical about some things and not about others. Or are liars about some things and not about others. Lots of sensible honest people will say insensible dishonest things about their favorite politician for example.

Liar Lunatic Lord? Or how about just not a cartoon character?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Best of Bryan Caplan

My brother has been listening to econ-talk, and more recently focused on Bryan Caplan episodes. He likes them a lot. I love econ-talk, but I've watched/listened to everything Bryan Caplan has on the internet, and my favorite interview with him is on Rationally Speaking: Does Parenting Matter.

My other favorite other things Bryan Caplan are his Night Watchman State talk, his liberty vs efficiency debate, and his Separation of Health and State Debate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bryan Caplan on Canadian Immigration and Healthcare

Here is what Bryan Caplan thinks of Canadian Healthcare. Er, parts of it. Actually it's about what he thinks about immigration...

Canadians are hardly alone, so why single them out?  Because their blatant exclusion of sick foreigners directly contradicts their stellar international reputation for compassion and common sense.  As usual, the welfare state isn't about helping the poor and desperate.  It's about helping relatively poor and desperate members of your tribe while keeping absolutely poor and desperate human beings comfortably out of sight.  Sick.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lowest measured risk

Statisticians have measured the risk of dying as a result of cancer caused by the release of plutonium from a deep space probe that loses control during its swing around the Earth to gain velocity and burns up in the atmosphere—measures in at three-millionths of one percent.

So enough people to make a news story and worry people.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Health and Safety Class vs. Standard Economics of Risk

For work I'm required to take a health and safety class for eight hours every week. What I take away from the class is how to cover my ass as an employer, but the instructor wants me to take it a step further. He wants me to believe in the regulation, when I simply don't.

One tactic he tried to use to get me to become a believer is storytelling. He told us about a friend who had an accident at work (of course it was all the employer's fault). As a result of the accident, her elbows were permanently damaged. Here's the crux of his argument; she could no longer pick up her child because of the accident. "You can't put a price on that," he said. The whole room nodded, except for me.

Suppose we could go back in time and shut down the entire multi-million dollar firm she worked for. Without the firm, she never hurts herself and she can pick up her child again. Should we shut down the firm? As soon as you say no, you've just put a price on her ability to pick up her child. If you say yes, you should really shut down pretty much every industry ever because accidents will always be possible. And with so many potential people for an accident to happen to, it will happen to one of them no matter how low the risk.

These people see the purpose of legislation as reducing risk to as close to 0 as possible. A more sensible task is to move risk to the level that a fully informed, sensible person would have if all the costs and benefits belonged to him.

If I as a reasonable person stand on a counter in my kitchen to get a bag of chips,
The chips are mine if I succeed
The damage is mine if I fall
I know the risk of me falling is very small (less than 1%)
I know the risk if I fall of me doing serious damage is pretty small (less than 10%)
I still stand on the counter in my kitchen to get a bag of chips,
Then that is a reasonable risk, and a risk that I should be able to take at work

look, there are lots of economists who think the health and safety regulation is good. That's not what I'm disputing. Of course there are times when an employer receives the benefits and an employee receives the risk and there's a market failure there. The real question then is what would the risk level be if the employee received the all benefits or if the employer were taking all the risk. That's the risk level to shoot for. That's the target. The risk level currently being shot for is 0, and you can see that in the pages and pages of legislation we go over that tries to prevent any possible harm.

If tragic stories keep substituting for statistical competency and the standard economic logic of risk, the world will never be as good as it could be.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Eliezer Ydkowski's The Sequences

If you've never read Eliezer Yudkowski's Sequences, now is the time. I highly recommend it.
In this essay I pose questions. If you see what seems like a really obvious answer, it’s probably the answer I intend. The obvious choice isn’t always the best choice, but sometimes, by golly, it is. I don’t stop looking as soon I find an obvious answer, but if I go on looking, and the obvious-seeming answer still seems obvious, I don’t feel guilty about keeping it. Oh, sure, everyone thinks two plus two is four, everyone says two plus two is four, and in the mere mundane drudgery of everyday life everyone behaves as if two plus two is four, but what does two plus two really, ultimately equal? As near as I can figure, four. It’s still four even if I intone the question in a solemn, portentous tone of voice. Too simple, you say? Maybe, on this occasion, life doesn’t need to be complicated. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I'm fond of how Robin Hanson starts this blog post:
We talk as if we pick our beliefs mainly for accuracy, but in fact we have many social motives for picking beliefs. In particular, we use many kinds of beliefs as group affiliation/conformity signals. Some of us also use a few contrarian beliefs to signal cleverness and independence, but our groups have a limited tolerance for such things.
I've heard this view a number of times, I just like the way he phrased it. The whole post is good.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trump's Talk vs. Bill Clinton's Actions

10 years ago current presidential candidate Donald Trump said,
I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married.

I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
Ugh, pretty terrible. But now suppose that Donald Trump makes it to the white house. It then comes out that he has been given oral sex in the Oval Office by someone other than his wife, and blatantly lied about it under oath.

Which is the bigger Trump blunder? The inappropriate talk, or the oral sex? Obviously, the oral sex in the white house. But Bill Clinton already did that (right around the same time the Trump tape was recorded). Many liberals who are outraged over Trump's "locker room talk", run to Clinton's defense at the first word of Monica Lewinsky.

If what Trump said disqualifies him from being president, why in the world wasn't Bill Clinton disqualified 10 years ago?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Worst Year Ever

What was the worst year in history? I find it remarkable how many people give 21st century examples. I suspect this has more to do with us having better information on more recent tragedies. It also may be that we're more sensitive to more familiar environments. So the mongol conquests of the 13th century just doesn't seem as important as a world war of the 20th century.

The best answer:
Some 65.5 million years ago, the Chicxulub asteroid struck what would one day be Mexico’s Yucat√°n Peninsula. It ended up incinerating all life for hundreds to thousands of miles and causing a perhaps mile-high tsunami that wiped the East Coast of North America as clean as a billiard ball. And that was just the first day of a very bad year—it got worse.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Cause vs. A Factor that Plays Into

This part of War and Peace always stuck with me,
When an apple ripens and falls - what makes it fall? Is it that it is attracted to the ground, is it that the stem withers, is it that the sun has dried it up, that it has grown heavier, that the wind shakes it, that the boy standing underneath it wants to eat it? No one thing is the cause.
And yet people search for the cause within complex social systems - the cause of the financial crisis - the cause of the iraq war - the cause of gender wage gap - the cause of the falling crime rate. Really everyone should stop saying the cause and start saying, "one of the factors that play into."

On the same note, I hear about the reason we have such and such law, which usually means why such and such law makes sense. But laws are not passed because they make sense for society, but because they made sense for individuals in government found it to their personal benefit to pass such laws.

For example someone might say, "we have farm subsidies to make sure we have food."

Which is a dumb reason, but whatever, people say it.

My point is that that's not the reason at all. What they should say is, "we have farm subsidies because many individuals in government including Franklin D Roosevelt thought it would be in their own political interest to pass such laws." Why was it in their own political interests to pass farm subsidies? For lots of reasons that don't need to be the same for any two political actors. Maybe one thought it was a good idea for society, and another thought it was a good idea for their political contributions, and another because his cousin is a farmer who benefits, and another just went along with the party because he had his own legislation he wanted to pass so he went along with the others hoping his legislation would have a better chance if he didn't seem combative.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How does the Free Market ensure Companies won't abuse their Workers?

I received my highest rated answer on Quora yesterday. I wasn't that many upvotes, but taking into consideration the popularity of the question I feel like I fared pretty well. Here's the question:
Libertarians, in a free market how do we ensure that companies don't abuse their workers?
My answer:
How does government ensure that companies don’t abuse their workers? Even where there are laws, it still happens. The non-free market does not ensure that companies don’t abuse their workers, so why is that a standard that libertarians must live up to? 
The question is never how markets are going to make things perfect, it’s how the net impact of markets compare to the net impact of government. Remember that. 
Why don’t so many companies abuse their workers today? You might think it’s because we have laws, but that’s not true.  
I worked in both Arizona and Indiana where my employers gave me breaks. Why? There are no laws at any level of government that say a working adult needs to be given any break at all. A little less than half of states are like this, absolutely no legal obligation for employers to give working adults break (look it up), but it almost always happens anyway. 
Low pay is another form of abuse. Have you considered that less than 4% of the population makes minimum wage. The other 96% of all workers are paid more with absolutely zero legal obligation to do so. There are no laws telling employers to pay their workers $50,000 a year, and yet it’s the median income. That’s just the normal supply and demand market wage, no government necessary. 
Why do we have decent working conditions? General economic growth lifted the wages of almost everybody. After people started earning enough, they started substituting some higher wages for better working conditions. 200 years of economic growth is why I got breaks in Arizona and Indiana. General economic growth is the hero that saved us all from 18th century level working conditions, not the government. The government simply codified it after it already started happening. 
No system is perfect, but those mechanisms that keep employers from abusing workers today would still remain in play in a libertarian society. And if libertarians are right that their society will yield more growth, then even fewer employees will be willing to put up with an employer who abuses them, because there are lots of other places they can go where they don’t have to put up with that nonsense.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Joy Dollars on Rainbow Slides

Word Problem:

In the best of all possible worlds, the care bear counsel would spend 500 Joy dollars on rainbow slides. Should the Care Bear counsel increase or decrease spending on rainbow slides?

What's the right answer?

We can't know, because we don't we need to know how much the care bear counsel already spend.

Easy easy question.

So why in the living hell do people who haven't the faintest clue what the federal budget looks like want to tell me that government should spend more or less on something!

So government spends more on something you think is good. Why do you rejoice? It doesn't mean that previous levels of funding weren't already sufficient!

This behavior makes no sense if political positions were about what's best for society. It makes a lot of sense if political positions were about expressing yourself. When they say, "government should spend more on health care" what they're really saying is, "I'm the kind of person who likes healthcare"

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Odds of Trump becoming President

Here are presidential election odds based on betting markets. Currently, Trump is at 17%. If there is a 10% chance of Trump will take what could have been a quickly-defused diplomatic incident and turn it into World War III, then we live in scary times.

Then again, a 2% of starting World War level catastrophe every four years, we'd probably get through about a century in a half without such an incident. Without getting into SlateStar level complications, which I admire, my guess is that might be pretty good by historic standards. Or am I still not quite appreciating the black swan problem sufficiently?

Back to political betting - since our overlords decided it was against out best interest to access such things, they have to be rerouted through another site located in the European Union. The same percentages are verified by other sites, so I trust them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Predicting for your Future Self

We often have to make decisions based on what our future selves are going to do. When we make those kinds of decisions we need to be careful to predict our future selves as what they will be not what we want them to be.

People sometimes have unrealistic fantasies about who they're going to be in the future. They think that by some time, they will have gotten their act together. When they have these idealistic depictions of their future selves, they make decisions that their future selves won't be able to deal with.

The college drop out rate is depressingly high. A lot of those students would have been better off if they had never gone in the first place (and consulted Bryan Caplan's blog post before making that decision). So what happened? Well, these students usually didn't do well in high school, which should have been evidence that college might not be the right decision. Instead of following the evidence they convinced themselves that they're going to get their act together, do their homework, listen to their teachers, and graduate college. So they made all sorts of investments in time and money based on that unrealistic depiction of their future selves, and dropped out without a thing to show for it.

We make the same mistake for shorter time horizons too. Downloading habit bull is a waste of your time if your future self can't be trusted to use it.

And oh my god stop buying workout devices, machines, tapes, and all the rest (unless it's IronGym). They're not worth the price, not to mention the clutter! Musical instruments work the same way; how about learn how to play before you buy.

It all comes down to seeing your future self from the outside view rather than the inside view. What will your future self be like? Start by taking a fair look at your present self.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Incentivize your Brain while you're away

We like to think our rationality is in charge, but most of our decision making is made by our subconscious. I didn't think about whether I should sit down and write a blog post, my subconscious decided that and then afterwards my conscious made up reasons why it was a good idea. My System 2 played press secretary for my System 1. This leads to some mistakes, but ultimately if our conscious had to make every decision we'd take too long to get anything done.

One of the best ways to improve your life is to take those moment of levity - when system 2 is brightly shining - and use it to modify the incentives your System 1 will face. Late night snacking is a regular indulgence I wanted to stop. So I started brushing my teethe at 7pm. After the Listerine rips my mouth apart the urge to eat goes away.

The average American brushes their teethe 1.1 times a day by the way, of course it's hard to get good evidence because of social desirability bias and the rest. My morning brush became more consistent after I moved my toothbrush's home to the shower.

There are more creative ways of manipulating your subconscious to obey your conscious while it has gone fishing. System 2 knows that if you invest in a little bit of exercise in the morning the whole day will go better, but System 1 isn't feeling it. So throw your car keys in a tree the night before.

Democratic Campaign wanted to Elevate Trump

Here is a supposed e-mail from Hillary Clinton's campaign Chairman John Podesta to the Democratic National Committee.

There are two ways to approach the strategies mentioned above. The first is to use the field as a whole to inflict damage on itself similar to what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012. The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right. In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more “Pied Piper” candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party. Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to:

 • Ted Cruz
• Donald Trump
• Ben Carson  
We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to (take) them seriously.
 The whole thing may be an insight into presidential campaign strategy.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

How to Write Deep Characters

Here is Eliezer Yudkowski on How to Write Deep Characters:
A good rule of thumb is that to create a 3D character, that person must contain at least two different 2D characters who come into conflict. Contrary to the first thought that crosses your mind, three-dimensional good people are constructed by combining at least two different good people with two different ideals, not by combining a good person and a bad person. Deep sympathetic characters have two sympathetic parts in conflict, not a sympathetic part in conflict with an unsympathetic part. Deep smart characters are created by combining at least two different people who are geniuses...
Conflicts between evil and evil are even shallower than conflicts between good and evil, which is why what passes for 'maturity' in some literature is so uninteresting. There's nothing to choose there, no decision to await with bated breath, just an author showing off their disillusionment as a claim of sophistication.
I never thought of that.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Empathy You Empathy Me

People don't always make clear what they mean by empathy.

Do they mean to put yourself in someone else's position?

Or do they mean to feel what they feel in someone else's position?

As someone who often does not feel what other people feel, I notice this distinction. I've been told that empathy is putting myself in someone else's position, but when I do, am I me or am I you?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Cathy O'Neil on Econtalk

I listen to this podcast with Cathy O'Neil on Econtalk.
O'Neil argues that the commercial application of big data often harms individuals in unknown ways. She argues that the poor are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Examples discussed include prison sentencing, college rankings, evaluations of teachers, and targeted advertising. O'Neil argues for more transparency and ethical standards when using data.
She's a clear leftist, to the point where she almost went on a tangent criticism of Fox News. But she's a leftist who can articulate correctly the objections the other side make. For example she, like any good leftist, believes that tuition is so high because universities are in an arms race for the best students. But she also understands that when government throws a bunch of money into demand, prices are going to rise. Both seem true, so I guess all that's left to talk about are magnitudes. At the end of the day, she gave a lot of reasons why some statistical points are true, but didn't say much to convince me that they were big.

Mostly she just stuck to the quality of the algorithms she criticizes, but more than once she articulated a moral opposition to the algorithm being used regardless of whether it was measuring what it was supposed to measure. My skepticism ears perk up when someone believes that something everyone thinks is great is useless, and even if it were useful it would be unjust to use anyway. Her moral objections to using data that proxies race or class makes me wonder why she doesn't advocate banning employers from using university degrees for hiring.

Overall it sounds to me that the solution is an algorithm that spots lousy algorithms. It sounds coy, but I'm serious.

She advocates more transparency in what metrics are embedded in the algorithm. What isn't mentioned is how that open information can be used to cheat the algorithm. She's very aware of how school districts can exploit certain metrics that make them look better to the algorithm, but not necessarily enhance their performance. If they didn't know what was in the algorithm they wouldn't be able to do that.

I felt like her and Russ were tiptoeing in order to not get into an argument. It worked, and I felt like the interview went well for both of them. But what I heard a lot of what, "yeah, I agree that what you say happens, but my thing is what happens all the time!"

Cathy has a lot of firsthand experience working as a statistician in the private sector, and she likes to use a lot of firsthand stories as evidence. Some of these stories involve a sort of pure evil that only exists if its being interpreted from the out-group. I'm thinking of the predatory venture capitalist who "wants to be treated like a first class citizen, and wants other people who are being prayed upon to be separated."

Yeah, I'm sure that's how it all went down.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Medicare is like a Bar Patron

Also a not completely fair but somewhat revealing description from PutANum:
The Medicare non-negotiation policy is like if I walked into the only bar in town and announced that I will buy all their whiskey at whatever price they charge. The bartender quickly raises the price of Jack from $20 per glass to $20,000, and the other customers in the bar are forced to leave in disgust, cursing my name. I spend half a million dollars getting drunk on overpriced whiskey and fall under the table, shitfaced and broke. Just before I pass out, I call the cops to complain angrily about the evil, price gauging, bartender.
The stuff about Medicare getting drunk and passing out serves no purpose for the analogy. It just makes Medicare look bad. But there is an economic lesson to be learned, when government throws a whole bunch of money into demand, prices go up.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Question about Wall's Effectiveness for Trump

Mr. Trump

You've advocated a massive public works project in a wall between the U.S. and Canada. You think this will halt illegal immigration. But data show that most illegal immigrants don't sneak across the boarder at all, they come over with legal visas, and simply overstay their welcome.

Is your wall really going to be an effective deterrent considering most illegal immigrants walk through the front door?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Question about Trade for Hillary

"Mrs. Clinton, there has been an overwhelming economic consensus in favor of free trade since the idea of comparative advantage was developed 200 years ago. This discovery is older than Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and before anyone was talking about global warming.

So why are trade policies one of the only places you're eager to convince the public you agree with Trump?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Information on Twin / adoption studies and parenting

Curious what twin / adoption studies say about parenting? Check out:

Or of course read breakthrough book, The Nurture Assumption

Speaking of Yale Open Courses. watch their course on the Old Testament. What I like about it: it doesn't get bogged down in religious vs. anti-religious moralization. 

"Of course not, this is a classroom, the academy, where intellect reigns supreme!"

I don't think you know what happens in real classrooms.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Peter Thiel endorses Donald Trump

No, not in a, "he's the best of a bad situation" sort of way, but in a, "Nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump, When Donald Trump asks us to make America great again, he is not suggesting a return to the past. He is running to lead us back to the bright future," sort of way. 

I have no idea how much this should lead me to invest in trump vs. discount Thiel. Probably both at least a little bit. But how much? Does Thiel know something that we don't? Or does he now just being a contrarian for its own sake?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jonathan Blow on Ethics and Video Games

I'm playing Jonathan Blow's The Witness, one of the best games ever made. After 30 years of people telling me that video games are evil, he's the only one who made me think twice about whether some of them are.
"We've engineered our way around boredom. But boredom is a healthy response to unproductive situations."

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Are Sugar Highs a Myth?

Are sugar highs a myth? Experts say yes but parents say no. I've known parents to point out when their child is hyper after eating sugar as "evidence". But ignore every time their child consumes sugar and don't get a high, or are hyper without eating sugar. So I'll trust the experts on this one.

Also read about other parenting superstitions like the myth of teething pain.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Changing Positions

Hillary Clinton changed her views on gay marriage, the War in IraqMarijuana LegalizationNAFTA, and Illegal Immigrants. So when someone asks Quora why some people find Trump trustworthy or honest, I have to wonder why they think Trump is so special in this regard. (Also the top answer is good).

Of course, when our candidate does it their "views are evolving". When their candidate does it, they "flip flopped"

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Water with a Lime

A starbucks barista asked how we charge for limes when someone asks for a water with a lime.

I told them that I don't charge for the lime, because some costs sufficiently negligible that it's not worth the cost to the brand, or worth the diminished repeat visits to charge. The average Starbucks customer comes in  six times per month. Turn that six into a five because you wouldn't give them a lime, and you've just done a horrible financial disservice so your store.

This isn't the first time something like this has come up. The overarching trend among baristas is for them so feel personally taken advantage of when a customer does something that "cheats" the company out of money - like splitting a venti iced drink into two full tall iced cups. These baristas often rationalize their feelings of injustice with short time horizon calculations, without considering that the brand is the most powerful mechanism Starbucks has going for it.

CEOs understand the cost of being penny wise and pound foolish, baristas do not. I doubt this is a coincidence.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Are Sugar Highs a Myth?

Is sugary high a myth?

As father of a two year old, I have to listen to ridiculous parenting superstitions. "He's hyper, did you give him any sugar?" No, but if I had would that be evidence that a lack of sugar causes hyperactivity?

Sleep is the ultimate throwaway explanation. Sleep is the explanation for his energy whether he got a lot of sleep or very little. If he got a lot of sleep then that just gave him all the energy in the world. If he didn't get much sleep, then that's why he's so loopy and silly; he's trying to keep himself awake.

So I'm not surprised to find plenty of evidence that sugar highs are a myth.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lack of Power to Cause to Be

Sometimes I imagine a debate over whether God created the heavens and the earth.

The negative side says, "God could not have create the heavens and the earth, because God doesn't exist
The positive side says, "Yes, we agree that God doesn't exist, but I believe that God still created the heavens and the earth."

This seems quite ridiculous. Things that don't exist don't create the heavens and the earth.

But at least we can debate whether God exists to create the heavens and the earth. We know that non-existence never exists. Non-being is a lack of existence and therefore a lack of existence of power to cause to be. So when the debate becomes over something else, like whether God exists, the possibility that we came from nothing should be excluded, for the same reason the possibility that the non-existent God created the heavens and the earth should be excluded.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Using the Right Tribal Signals

I was very impressed when I read SlateStar's non-fiction writing advice
Figure out who you’re trying to convince, then use the right tribal signals 
For example, when I’m trying to convince conservatives, I veer my signaling way to the right. I started my defense of trigger warnings with “I complain a lot about the social justice movement”. Then I cited Jezebel and various Ethnic Studies professors being against trigger warnings. Then I tried to argue that trigger warnings actually go together well with strong versions of freedom of speech. At this point I haven’t even started arguing in favor of trigger warnings, I’ve just set up an unexpected terrain in which trigger warnings can be seen as a conservative thing supported by people who like free speech and don’t like social justice, and opposition to trigger warnings can be seen as the sort of very liberal thing that people like Jezebel and Ethnic Studies professors support. The important thing isn’t that I convince anyone that trigger warnings are really on the right – that’s a tall order – but that the rightists reading my argument feel like I’m working with them rather than against them. I’m not just another leftist saying “Support trigger warnings because it’s the leftist thing and you should be leftist and everyone on the right is terrible!”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is Education Funded by Property Tax?

I've been given the impression many times that public education is funded mostly by property taxes. Today I took the time to find out if that's true.

Here we find out that 43.7% of K-12 schooling is from local governments. Since local governments are the ones that lay property taxes (state property taxes are negligible), we can already see public education cannot be funded mostly by property taxes.

So how much of this 43.7% of local government funding comes from property tax? Well property tax is one of the important ways local government collects revenue, but we can see here that property tax makes up 47% of local government revenue.

So we find 47% of 43.7% and get... 20% of overall primary/secondary school expenditure comes from property taxes.

Okay. That's important but not huge. And some states have very very high education expenditure relative to local governments (85.7% in Vermont for example), so clearly public education cannot be funded by property taxes in these states.

As I read through arguments on the issue, I identified at least a few ways people are being misled on the issue.

  • Use of terms like "primary funding". It might be correct that education is "primarily" funded by property taxes, if by primary you mean, "more than anything else". But when something is funded by a lot of different sources, as with education, "more than anything else" can still mean not very much. Besides that, "primary" can also mean mostly, and I think that's what most people read.
  • Not realizing that by looking at property taxes, you're looking at a slice of a slice of the pie. Property tax funding of local funding of total funding is making more than one cut, and that's not always clear the way it is talked about.
  • Looking at what proportion of property tax revenue is spend on education rather than how much education consists of property tax revenue.
So all this combined with the common bias people have of sacralizing education alongside common folk criticism of "spending cuts" from a total lack of information, it seems this is not an issue where people have their heads on straight.

Student Achievement may vary more by classroom than school, state, and district

This is a very good post from a new blog I'm reading. The post is very long and a very good argument, but I found this particularly interesting:

One terribly under-appreciated fact here is that there is more real variance within classrooms than between schools, districts, and states.

Politics by Religious Affiliation

Here is research on politics by religious affiliation. No shockers here, but it's interesting.

I have no idea what the difference between the left leaning Presbyterian Church (USA) and the right leaning Presbyterian Church in America is.

Steven Pinker on Feminism

“Feminism as a movement for political and social equity is important, but feminism as an academic clique committed to eccentric doctrines about human nature is not. Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not. And eliminating sexual assaults is important, but advancing the theory that rapists are doing their part in a vast male conspiracy is not.” 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kaiser Mario levels

The maker of this course said that it took him 40+ hours to complete it.

I'd label this under Remembering Self over Experiencing Self

Social Security takes Money from the Dead and give them to the Living

I've heard a lot about the distributional effects of social security on the poor/rich, but I haven't heard much about the effects on the dead/alive.

It seems to me that people who are dead lost a lot from paying into social security while they were alive, and those lucky enough to live to an old age gained from their loss. This seems very regressive to me, though I'm not sure if regressive is the right word. This seems like taking from the unfortunate and giving to the fortunate to me.

That lifespan is correlated with richness implies some hidden influence over the distributional effects regarding economic status. One is more likely to live long enough to collect from social security if one is already rich. One is more likely to die before social security can be collected if one is poor.

It doesn't mean social security has overall negative impact, but is suspect this is an important effect that gets missed in the way most people, even economists, talk about it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Again with Abortion

Lets talk about abortion again (and again).

Nobody knows when a fetus obtains rights/dignity/whatever reason we have for not killing each other (I just use the term worthy to describe this idea. Worthy means ethically equivalent to a baby). It is clear at the tail ends of the spectrum. 5 minutes after conception isn't a worthy being, 5 minutes before birth is a worthy being.

What should we do when the being's worthiness is unclear? Most importantly leave a wide gap between you and the possibility of doing something awful.

If you're a woman and the fetus is in the unclear zone of the spectrum, you shouldn't have an abortion (maybe unless you have a good reason. A really good reason, not just that you're not ready to have a baby). Having an abortion when it's unclear whether the fetus is worthy is just a horrible thing to do.

Legally speaking, if the fetus is in the unclear zone of the spectrum, you shouldn't convict a woman for having an abortion. Convicting a woman when it's unclear whether the fetus is worthy is another horrible thing to do.

Stop trying to tell me that you know when a baby has rights. You don't. No you don't. Stop it. No it isn't. You don't know. Be humble with me, admit that you don't know.

Yale on Personality, IQ, and parenting

I appreciate this Yale Open Course segment on personality, IQ, and the Nurture Assumption.

I can't say that I learned a whole lot. The Meyer Briggs personality test is robust and predictive. The many "kinds" of intelligence is correlated which is what psychologists call G (general intelligence). And personality and IQ come from about half genes and half non-shared environment.

The course did teach me some better ways to think about these issues, and some additional reasons why they're so robust. And I did not know how terrible ink blotch tests were, or how often they're still used!

I also like to hear these things verified from a Yale classroom, and in no uncertain terms. When I try to talk about these things with the normals I can sometimes feel like some fringe weirdo who just makes stuff up, and it feels like I'm getting an inappropriately high level of push-back from people. And not very quality push-back either, mostly just setting the burden of proof to an absurdly high level.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

SlateStar on Society is Fixed, Biology is Mutable

An old one from SlateStar, Society is Fixed, Biology is Mutable:
Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean. 
And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs. 
On the other hand, biology is gratifyingly easy to change. Sometimes it’s just giving people more iron supplements. But the best example is lead. Banning lead was probably kind of controversial at the time, but in the end some refineries probably had to change their refining process and some gas stations had to put up “UNLEADED” signs and then we were done. And crime dropped like fifty percent in a couple of decades – including many forms of drug abuse.

Would Bernie Sanders have been the first President who wasn't a Millionaire?

The same could be said of Marco Rubio. But anyway, is it true? Make your guess...

Clinton's financial situation was that they were worth between $350,000 and $1 million, around the time of the 1992 election, as that was what they reported in their filing to the Federal Election Commission. So if one wanted a simple answer, it would be: "somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million."
Which is the first lead, the Federal Election Commission. But this site explains how difficult it is to interpret presidential financial disclosures. Still, it seems very likely that the Clinton's weren't millionaire's, since Bill's income was trivial as a governor, and Hillary Clinton continued to practice law with the Rose Law Firm for easily 100s of thousands, but millions?

So what about other presidents, were they millionaires? Unless you're a CEO, your finances are pretty much your business so its hard to know. But a guy on reddit makes some good points from which we can make some plausible inferences:
  • Eisenhower was a career military man from a comfortable and modest family.
  • Nixon might have been close but I son't think so. He was an enlisted man in the Navy before he started in politics.
  • LBJ came from a dirt poor area in Texas, although his personal enrichment was legendary.
  • Jimmy Carter was famously a peanut farmer before turning to politics. A gentleman farmer at best meant he was land rich and cash poor.
  • Reagan had means from his time in Hollywood but was hardly rich.
  • Bush was the wealthy and the wealthiest President since FDR.
  • Clinton was not rich. He made less than $30k/yr as governor of Arkansas, although hillary famously "had" (her quote) to work and had an eye for cattle futures.
  • Bush II had money from the fam as well as his own dealings.
  • Obama might have just got there because of his book and speaking fees before he ran for the Senate but he was hardly rolling in it.
It also occurs to me that many former presidents were former governors / politicians, and we know how much they make (high 10s of thousands for governors / low 100s of thousands for senators. They may or may not have been millionaires based on how or whether they invested that income, or who they were married to (in Bill Clinton's case), but based on that it seems hardly plausible that not a single president in recent history wasn't a millionaire.

If you're a Bernie disciple, you probably never tried to look up whether the meme was true before sharing it. And if you did, you looked at how much money former presidents had well after becoming president, which is not comparable to Bernie as he was running for president.

Three Stages of Statistical Understanding

Stages of statistical understanding:

Statistical Naivety (Statistics prove what they sound like they prove) "1 in 2 workers earn below the median wage!"

Statistical Skepticism (You can prove anything with statistics) "You can't trust the unemployment rate"

Statistical Competence (Awareness of common ways of manipulating statistics, and knowledge of how much a statistic actually proves) "Wealth inequality is striking, but that shouldn't be confused with income or consumption inequality. The Scandinavian countries like Norway or Sweden also have very high wealth inequality, so it doesn't necessarily mean the economy is somehow rigged."

Daily Kos's explanation for Gas Prices

This is for real from the Daily Kos:

If the oil companies kept their prices at a consistently high level, consumers would lose hope of them ever descending and making their gas-guzzler SUVs affordable again. Then the consumers would go out and buy Hondas and Priuses, thereby reducing the demand and thus the profits of the oil companies. So instead, the price of gas jumps around, and consumers are thereby given incentive to hope that "it will come down again soon".
It's sooooo bad that I had to post.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Death compels us to stop and think

"Teach us to number our days, so that we may obtain a wise heart." (Psalm 90:12)

If the root of evil is the unwillingness to stop and think, and death interrupts our lives, compels us to stop and think, then is death really evil?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Treated Unfairly for Reasons you don't Understand

A line I just read stuck out to me

"White privilage is not something we notice, because it doesn't effect the things we have, but the lack of injustices we have to endure."

So going back to Joy Degruy's trip to the grocery store; how can we be sure these injustices have anything to do with race? We're all treated unfairly sometimes for reasons we don't understand, and when it happens because of racism the racist doesn't come out and say it.

Thinking back on my life, I can find lots of situations where I felt I was treated unfairly for reasons I don't understand. Most notably, I was pulled over in Detroit after visiting Canada, accused of a hit-and-run, and endured a year-long process of having to defend myself. It was a really lousy situation. Suppose I didn't have my "white privilage", how easily it would have been for me to interpret what happened as a race based injustice.

Other situations where I was treated seemingly unfairly for reasons I didn't understand:
I was approached by three employees and asked to leave a grocery store
I was fired from one job after being held up at gunpoint
I wasn't hired after I felt I nailed an interview

If you're treated unfairly for reasons you don't understand and you're white, we shrug and say the world is strange. If you're treated unfairly for reasons you don't understand and you're not white, racism automatically becomes the top answer.

The whole issue is muddled by the hyper-sensative morality with which the issue is treated. You don't only face moral condemnation for being a racist, but for pointing out that a situation might not be racist, or by pointing out that racism might be less common than others think. At that point reasons don't matter, evidence doesn't matter, you're a deniar and that's shameful. Once a certain belief is deemed immoral it becomes very hard for people to think about whether the belief is true. As Steven Pinker says, "the truth cannot be racist."

What makes me different, I believe, is I'm so concerned with believing true things that I'm willing to be called names. Although to have both I keep my beliefs to myself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

How much Government Control by Ideology

Ignore the circles for a second, is the list in any kind of order? Why is education near the bottom, but food is at the top? Why is clothing at the top, but courts are on the bottom?

If most of the these theories were competent, the list would be in an obvious order without looking at the circles and labels. They're not.



If each ideology captures a coherent theory of what government should do, then the ordering would make sense without the ideology attached to it.

Education is a split between modern conservatism and classical liberalism. What theory can we attach to conservatism and classical liberalism that explains that and all the other ordering?

If an alien landed on the planet and found out that almost all ideologies thought education should be provided by government, but not food or clothing, they would be scratching their heads. The alien would need to understand that these groups are tribes before they are philosophies of government

Monday, August 1, 2016

A Sad Exchange on Racism

I am unhappy with an exchange I had with someone regarding this video.

I tried to tell him that if you call every situation that could be explained by racism, racism, then you'll find racism everywhere. He challenged me on that point, but only by saying that any moral person can see that this is racism.

I then tried to explain that there is no moral difference between us, that anti-racism is common ground, it is in our difference in assessing whether racism is the best explanation for what happened to the woman in the video. I asked him to name something the cashier did that pointed specifically to a racist cause. He didn't answer.

I offered a specific scenario to try to clarify:

A white friend tell you a story about how he goes to Safeway and the cashier treats the cashier in front of him well. But when he gets to the front of the line the cashier checks his credentials with the "bad check list". How do you respond?

A) That's an unbelievable story because racism is the only possible explanation for what went on!
B) I don't know, some people are weird. Maybe you looked like someone who wrote a bad check recently?

The answer is obviously B. So why isn't that a reasonable explanation for the woman in the video?

I think a part of it may be a feedback loop between experience and priors. If you already think that racism is abundant, then racism may be the best explanation for the video. But if your priors are based on many events like the one in the video, then that's not really a great justification for believing in an abundant amount of racism in the first place.

These priors also lead into conspiracy about secret codes of racism, of which perhaps he thought he was cracking with me. Anybody who looks at a particular situation and says, "maybe that's not racism", is secretly just a racist trying to protect his white privilege or whatever. You don't even have to listen anymore. You're right, they're wrong. You're good, they're evil.

Even mentioning that that background existed would have satisfied me. Different assumptions about how racist people are generally will lead to different conclusions about a particular example that could be racism.

But instead he accused me of chest thumping, denying the problem, and re-affirmed that our difference was moral. His response was not very thoughtful, despite him being a philosopher. He dealt with me in a personal way when I just tried to explain my thinking. That makes me think that it wasn't just a difference in opinion, but a soft spot for him, where it's hard to deal with it in an objective way.

I almost feel like he was testing me. Like he really just wanted to see how I would deal with someone who wasn't dealing with the thoughts I was stating, but with the emotional impact of how my thoughts felt to him. I know it isn't true. I think maybe I should expect less from people.