Friday, July 29, 2016

False Liberal Accusations

Nuanced thinking, as usual, by David Friedman:

Center left writers and media routinely accuse candidates on the right of being ignorant, stupid, racist, and/or crazy. Most of the time it isn't true.
Donald Trump is, in my view, less qualified to be president than any major party candidate in my lifetime. But after being told more or less the same thing about every candidate seen as right of center for the last fifty years, why should voters, especially voters right of center, believe it?
Bush is stupid. Trump is racist. Ted Cruz is crazy. I've heard it all. Bush probably had above average IQ. I can't find a single genuinely racist thing Trump has said (when interpreted the way he means it). And almost everyone has a crazy philosophy because crazy philosophies don't cost anything.

I think I'm more frustrated with this kind of behavior from the left because they bare the name "intellectuals". They're not intellectuals. Their beliefs are juvenile, and for all their talk about empathy they sure do an awful job intellectually empathizing with their opponents. For all their talk about tolerance, they sure are intolerant of the things they disagree with. If I had to give the label "hypocrites" to one of the two political sides, maybe the left deserves it.

Star Trek Thinking versus Feeling

The Star Trek series always had a running theme of what it means to be human. Data an android, or Spock a Vulcan, struggled to understand humanness.

I think I know their mistake. They always connected humanness with feeling, in one way or another. With Data, two different ideas for the same word, "feeling" got conflated. There is feeling emotion, and there is sense experience feeling. Those are two completely different things.

To digress, to be human is not to feel. Animals feel. Feeling is not unique to humanity. What is unique to humanity is actually what Spock and Data did so well; think.

The use of reasons is unique to humans. Animals don't do it, though perception and instinct can sometimes mimic logical behaviors. Computers don't do it. They don't attach meanings to things and use those meanings to come to beliefs. They stream the input/ output algorithms we tell it to, which can mimic logical behavior. But they do not actually think.

The false dichotomy between feeling and thinking intrudes on the philosophy of the Star Trek brand. We don't have a choice between thinking and feeling. What we think effects how we feel. And how we feel effects how we think. So there is a genuine tension between which of these two things ought to be pulling the wagon (thinking). But to give one supremacy doesn't mean to somehow discard the other.

That would be clear if we spend more time thinking about it rather than being tied up in Star Trek's emotional drama.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Four Reasons Financial Intermediaries Fail

Very good. I wish people I knew in the real world would talk about the financial system with the understanding this video provides.

I often watch these videos from MRUniversity while investigating it for a libertarian slant. I don't typically find one, but I can imagine someone confusing economist's pro-marketism with market fundamentalism. Some think that if a video teaches the value of markets, as economics generally does, then that must be some kind of right wing ideology. The end result is nobody is allowed to talk about the value of markets alone mixing it with something about market failure.

I do this too. I don't feel like I can just give the economics for why,

"Minimum wage probably has disemployment effects."

I have to say,

"Minimum wage probably has disemployment effects. BUT that doesn't mean minimum wage is bad. It might still be good, you can still believe in minimum wage. It just means there's a tradeoff.

In normal discussion I could leave all that unsaid. Of course showing that there's a cost to something doesn't necessarily make that thing bad or undesirable. But I have to hedge against the market fundamentalist interpretation.

I wonder if Tyler and Alex do the same.

"When someone bigger than you says something, you don't Contradict them"

A child opened the blinds. Her grandfather told her that it was still dark, and to open them more to let more sun in. The 4-year-old said that she thought it was already pretty light in here. Her father interrupted, "when someone bigger than you says something, you don't contradict them."

I was very bothered by that. When someone bigger than you is wrong, of course you contradict them!

It brings up the idea of authority, and where it comes from. The father taught his daughter that authority comes from bigness. But men are bigger than women, does that give men authority over women? Does Arnold Schwarzenegger have authority over the president, Jesus, and Gandhi because he's bigger than them?

We shouldn't take the father so literally. More likely he meant, "someone older than you". But does authority come from age? Should I tell my wife, "don't contradict me, I'm older than you?"

But maybe older means at least a generation older. We can test that. Must a young adult not contradict an older man? An old man says Jewish people are the scourge of the earth, should we not contradict him?

Maybe he means we shouldn't contradict those further up the family tree. Authority comes from familial generation. Well then I feel sorry for those born with wrong parents. Many spend their time trying to argue others out of the traditions of their parents, and these same people have kids and then say authority comes from parenthood.

But maybe authority comes from familiar generation only in regard to children. A child must not contradict an older generation relative, but once the child is old enough contradiction is fine. Again, what makes the older generation relative right, or his opinion so supreme that they ought not be contradicted? Many parents teach their children wrong things, and we wish this child would contradict the parent. Suppose the parent tells the child that a Pikachu is a ground type pokemon, is it improper for the child to say, "no, Pikachu is an electric type"?

So why is the child allowed to say that? Because authority in fact, comes from insight. The child has insight about Pokemon, just as his father may have insight about the workings of a car. What insight the grandparent has over the child about whether it was light enough in the room to be called a lit room, I don't know. That's why I remain bothered by it.

Reason, of course, rules individual insight. When someone with insight says something that doesn't make sense, you don't believe it. But sometimes we don't have information or sufficient exposure to a topic to find the correct answer. So we ask those with information and exposure to the relevant topic for their insight, and thus we give them authority. If you want to know about firemen, you ask a fireman. The only insight a parent has by being a parent is insight into having sex.

Parenthood and age ought to be connected with insight, but it isn't always. Some people have spent their lives without gaining insight, often because they themselves were pressured not to contradict their un-insightful parents. Many false beliefs are rooted in superstition that, generation after generation, they were taught not to contradict.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Was the Ford Pinto a Market Failure?

Here's wikipedia on the Ford Pinto, the car that inspired the book Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nadar. Since then it has become a popular example of why a lack of how an unregulated market leads to horrible consequences.

The recall was included in Time magazine's 2009 top ten product recalls, Popular Mechanics magazine's 2010 five most notorious recalls of all time, and NBC News' 2013 twelve famous recalls.[124][125][126] Time said "The Ford Pinto was a famously bad automobile, but worse still might be Ford's handling of the safety concerns."[125] According to the Los Angeles Times in 2010, the award "signaled to the auto industry that it would be harshly sanctioned for ignoring known defects."[107]

Schwartz studied the fatality rates of the Pinto and several other small cars of the time period. He noted that fires, and rear-end fires in particular, are very small portion of overall auto fatalities. At the time only 1% of automobile crashes would result in fire and only 4% of fatal accidents involved fire, and only 15% of fatal fire crashes are the result of rear-end collisions.[6] When considering the overall safety of the Pinto Schwartz notes that subcompact cars as a class have generally higher fatality risk. Pintos represented 1.9% of all cars on the road in the 1975-76 period. During that time the car represented 1.9% of all “fatal accidents accompanied by some fire.” Implying the car was average for all cars and slightly above average for its class.[127] When all types of fatalities are considered the Pinto was approximately even with the AMC Gremlin, Chevrolet Vega, and Datsun 510. It was significantly better than the Datsun 1200/210, Toyota Corolla and VW Beetle.[6] The safety record of the car in terms of fire was average or slightly below average for compacts and all cars respectively. This was considered respectable for a subcompact car. Only when considering the narrow subset of rear-impact, fire fatalities is the car somewhat worse than the average for subcompact cars. While acknowledging this is an important legal point, Schwartz rejects the portrayal of the car as a firetrap.[128]

No car is perfectly safe and it seems the Ford Pinto was not even especially unsafe. Normal economic analysis of risk says that safety is a spectrum, and informed consumers will pay more for extra safety, giving producers plenty of incentive to not kill their consumers.

The Ford Pinto isn't an example of how the normal economic analysis of safety doesn't work. It looks more like an example of people looking for any story that confirms their theory without researching it properly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I like ideas more than events

People are always trying to talk to me about the events, either from their lives or events that they heard about. That has never been interesting to me. Sure I have that kind of conversation, I have to for work. But it's not something that I really care to do.

Here's the kind of conversation I have to have at work:

"Hey how's your weekend?"
"Well we got to try the new pool on Saturday, the water was just right"
"Well yeah, with the weather we've been having... I haven't been swimming yet this summer, just too busy I guess"
"Working a lot?"
"Sure am, it's not so bad, the espresso keeps me going"
"Cheers to that"

Who wants to have that conversation? It's horrible. I can manage it for my job, but it's not how I like to spend my free time.

So what kind of conversations do I like? Conversations about ideas. But so few people are interested in ideas. It leaves me an introvert.

Events can be interesting in the context of ideas. There was a school shooting? I'm not so interested in that it happened or in bonding over the moral condemnation of the situation.

I'm very interested in why public shootings happens more often than it used to, even though the homicide rate as a whole has been decreasing. I'm interested in the psychology someone goes through before they kill a bunch of people. I'm very interested in public policy as it pertains to school shootings. But that a school shooting happened it just uninteresting to me. People die every day, get over it.

It's the same deal with people's personal lives. You had fun at the pool, that's nice. Now lets talk about global warming as it pertains to how many fun days at the pool you'll be getting. Lets talk about environmental impacts of fun days at the pool. Lets talk about why pools are expensive to build and upkeep, but lower home values.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bush worse than Trump?

A new blog I'm reading reminds us that our memory should be longer than 7 years.
Last night and today are the days to talk about how Donald Trump is the scariest politician in American history. Trump is monstrous, but unlikely to be elected. And, more, he’s not even worse than our previous president, George W. Bush. How have you all forgotten this stuff already?
I'm generally skeptical of the leftist take on how bad George Bush was. Their attitudes seem hysterical, which prompts my skepticism of their ability to assess reality.

But after reading the post, which was essentially a big list of George Bush's mistakes, I've moved closer to their side. It's not like I agree with everything on the list. For example I'm not so sure Bush's lack of response to Hurricane Katrina was real, or wasn't appropriate if it was.

But here's my pop quiz for liberals:

  1. On the list of Bush's failures, how many of them were of the federal government doing something, and how many were government's lack of doing something?
  2. If most were of the federal government doing something, how has this changed your view of how useful government action is?

My view is that no matter how badly government performs in real life, liberals never undergo an adjustment in their priors over how useful government action is. Bush was awful primarily because of the things he did with federal powers, but this never shakes the faith liberals have in government power. The federal government can kill 10s of thousands of innocent people, but if a private company releases a product that kills 10, liberals have a fit.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Scott Sumner on Does Anything Matter?

If nothing really matters in China, if even overcoming horrible problems doesn't make the Chinese better off, then what's the use of favoring or opposing any public policy? After all, America also shows no rise in average happiness since the 1950s, despite: 
1. A big rise in real wages.
2. Environmental clean-up (including lead--does Flint matter?)
3. Civil rights for African Americans
4. Feminism, gay rights.
5. Dentists now use Novocain (My childhood cavities were filled without it)
6. 1000 channels in glorious widescreen HDTV
7. Blogs 
I could go on and on. And yet, if the surveys are to be believed, we are no happier than before. And I think it's very possible that we are in fact no happier than before, that there's a sort of law of the conservation of happiness. As I walk down the street, grown-ups don't seem any happier than the grown-ups I recall as a kid. Does that mean that all of those wonderful societal achievements since 1950 were absolutely worthless? 
But there are exceptions. I recall reading that surveys showed a rise in European happiness in the decades after WWII, and Scott reports that happiness is currently very low in Iraq and Syria. So that suggests that current conditions do matter. 
The following hypothesis will sound really ad hoc, but matches the way a lot of people I know talk about their lives. Suppose people's happiness is normally calibrated around the sort of lifestyle that they view as "normal." As America got richer after 1950, it all seemed very normal, so people didn't report more happiness. Ditto for China during the boom years. Everyone around you was also doing better, so you started thinking about how you were doing relative to your neighbors. But Germans walking through the rubble of Berlin in 1948, or Syrians doing so today in Aleppo, do see their plight as abnormal. They remember a time before the war. So they report less happiness than during normal times.
I have long thought this about the happiness literature. When you ask someone, "how happy are you on a scale from 1 to 10?" what does 1 mean? What does 10 mean? When I answer that question I instinctively place 1 as the worst day of my first world life and 10 as the best. I suspect others do the same.

It doesn't occur to me that life could be much much worse than what I would give as 1.

Also See SlateStar's post: Things Probably Matter

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Exchange on Walmart and Markets

Markets don't sort everything out. Affirming market failure I think excludes me from being a market fundamentalist. That said, the left seems very anti-market to me. They don't seem interested in the fact that the typical economic estimate for how much Wal-Mart has saved their consumers is in the 100s of billions. That's effectively no different from a 100 billion subsidy to primarily lower income classes. The potential of normal functioning competitive markets to solve problems is enormous. But it seems absent from leftist discussion aside from leftist economists.
5 cents! Too slow 😩
Yes, but that makes Walmart a "company store". No one can ever climb in that environment. Just survive. By the way... I was DEVASTATED that I forgot to tell you guys my new favorite joke when we were on xbox! DEVASTATED! Play soon!
Play tonight!
You're referring to workers?
I prob can late
Yes... They get theyre money and goods from walmart
And are many times subsidized by WIC, Welfare, etc... Because of the low wages
Seems like indentured servitude to me
So why do they work for Walmart?
Walmart raises wages of workers on average or else people wouldn't work there. And ultimately production = consumption, which is why we have firms in the first place
Why did/do people work in coal mines?
Because working on farms was worse
There is a huge difference between forcing somebody to do something and paying somebody. When you pay somebody to do something, its reasonable to infer that doing it is better than their alternatives. When you force somebody to do something, its reasonable to infer that doing it is worse than their alternatives.
Many indentured servants had better lives in that employ... And thats sad! Likewise with Walmart.
Yeah, it is sad. But taking away the thing that people actually do choose makes it worse!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Problems with the The Sled Test and Pro-Life in General

A smart conservative evangelical friend of mine pointed me toward the SLED argument for the pro-life position. Here's how a few websites state the SLED-argument
"SLED: Size, Level of development, Environment, and Degree of dependency.Although it’s true the unborn differs from a born human in these four ways, none of them is a relevant difference."
"Philosophically, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be."
"The unborn is less developed than a toddler, but toddlers are less developed than teenagers and adults and yet still human. Embryos and fetuses are not as developed as an adult but again what difference should this make?"
So for pro-life people who think along these lines, there are a few points that should be made.

1. Size Matters for some things

The thing about a principle is that once we find an exception, the principle is broken. You can give all the examples in the world of when size doesn't matter, and once I give one where it does, the principle is broken.

So let me  point out that some people can't ride a roller coaster this high, and they don't have the right to be protected from that form of discrimination, the principle is broken. Sometimes size matters, does it matter for a fetus? It's not my job to prove it doesn't. I'm not the one stating that I know exactly when life is worthy.

2. Level of Development Matters for a lot of things

Size is usually unimportant, level of development matters for a lot of things. It matters for whether you can drive a car, whether you can vote, go to prison, whether you can leave your parents, and whether you can drink. Usually we use age for determining these sorts of things, but really that's just because its a proxy for level of development. Nothing magical happens when you turn 18, you're just probably at a certain level of development so the rules on how society treats you change.

18 is a big age for level of development. A lot of rules change about how others can properly treat you. When you become a worthy life somewhere in the womb is another big age for level of development. It ought to be, you're going through several enormous breakthroughs in there. You start feeling, thinking, hearing and for my third trimester daughter right now, kicking... a lot.

As an embryo/fetus is going through these massive changes in level of development, we should expect massive changes in how it ought to be treated.

3. Some abortion is not all abortion

I wish the pro-life people would stop assuming that if they can prove some abortion is wrong, all abortion is wrong. Those 9 months between conception and birth is a gigantic spectrum where a lot is changing. I'm sorry that it's unclear where exactly along the spectrum life becomes worthy, but it is. So stories of baby Rachael who was born at 24 weeks don't prove anything

I agree that a life 5 seconds from birth is worthy. But I disagree that life 5 seconds after conception is worthy, and I think it's unclear 24 months into the pregnancy. Have some humility; be unsure with me.

4. Speaking of baby Rachael; grieving the loss of unworthy life does not mean that life was actually worthy

I got a winning lottery ticket, but before I could cash out it blew away. I'm very upset, but my friend pats me on the back and says, "what's the big deal? It's not like you cashed out yet!"

Lesson: sometimes we're grieved over what we didn't have yet.

A lot of pro-choice people lose their baby, are grieved, but are still pro-choice. Inconsistent? Not at all.

5. There's nothing Christian about being pro-life

That evangelicals have clung to the pro-life position would be astounding if it were held for logical reasons. Virtually all the Evangelicals have miraculously adopted two logically independent beliefs. That's a sign that the belief system is not logical at all, but tribal.

What would your evangelical friends say if you became pro-choice? Like most tribal beliefs, it doesn't mean evangelicals figure out what's true and then reject it to retain membership in their group. It just means that when someone suggests pro-choice they think really hard and long trying to debunk it, and when someone suggests pro-life they're overly generous with the burden of proof. Intellectual discipline is a resource people can exercise more or less of depending on their incentives.

People who point to passages in the bible regarding abortion are out of their minds. Scripture does not talk about abortion, and there's nothing in there from which we can infer when life begins.

And I think that's about it.

Identical Choice between Universal Basic Income and Means Testing

Consider your choice between two policies:

A. A universal transfer of $10,000 to every person, financed by a 20-percent flat tax on income.

B. A means-tested transfer of $10,000. The full amount goes to someone without any income. The transfer is then phased out: You lose 20 cents of it for every dollar of income you earn. These transfers are financed by a tax of 20 percent on income above $50,000.

Most people choose (B), but when you think it through, no matter how much you make you're paying and receiving the same no matter which policy you have.

Greg Mankiew

Bagged Milk in Canada is Patriotic Ridiculousness

I like the way Canadians will rationalize for their milk in a bag. If you haven't heard, in Ontario milk comes in a bag. It's really an Ontario thing, but they treat it like a Canadian thing.

Anyway, milk in a bag doesn't make sense. You need to always have scissors around to snip the corner of the bag, buy and keep a container in your fridge to put the bag into. Putting liquid in a floppy plastic bag is ridiculous.

Still, Canadians make believe it's a better way of doing things, even though they don't put any of their other liquids in bags. One of the ways they make believe is they'll say that there's a coating inside the bag that keeps the milk fresh. Okay, could you not put the coating in a different container? It keeps milk fresh but none of your other liquids?

Or they'll say that it's easier to handle, because the container has a handle and you don't have to lift this heavy 2 liter jug. Okay, could you not just buy milk in 1 liter jugs with handles? Rather than 2 liter jugs or cartons?

Or they'll say that the milk keeps longer in a plastic bag. Really? Even though once the plastic is cut the milk is unlidded and exposed? Have they ever compare expirations? Or are they just believing whatever assumptions they have to in order for bagged milk to make sense?

Or they'll say that it's more environmentally conscious. Is it? Did they do the research? Did they do it before they had their conclusion or did they always believe milk in a bag was better because that's what they grew up with, and then do the research later to justify it.

I've lived in both Ontario and the U.S. and observed both of their milk systems. It's not even a contest. But Canadians have said these things to me, and I don't think it's because they have anything close to good arguments. What it really is is they have their way of doing things, and it's a part of their Canadianness, and they don't want any other culture coming in telling them a better way. Even if it actually is better. Some people think that's patriotic, and good, I think it's screwed up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Death and Life

While the world is catching pokemon in Pokemon Go, I'm thinking about my recently deceased uncle; uncle Ted.

I didn't know him well, but my dad always enjoyed his visits. Through my dad, I mourn the loss of my uncle, because to lose a brother is painful.

I am separate from my brothers now, and I'd hate to see one go. As we get older, death will creep all of us. And when one does, it means I'm not far from ending my life either. My dad already wrote on Facebook, "see you soon brother".

I wonder what that feels like. When you know your time is up. It's probably like the rest of us, we fool ourselves into thinking death doesn't exist most of the time, but then in moments of contemplation, when something in life gives us pause, we realize. And then we ask, what have we done? And the answer: nothing. And then we ask, what could we do differently? And the answer: nothing.

Some people fight the notion of death by really DOING something, and DOING something means finding something others regard as impressive. It means making your mark. But this is fooling yourself. And then you get upset when someone calls into question your DOING of something, because they're trying to take away all you have, your fantasy.

Tolstoy's book, A Confession left an impression on me. It asks, "Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?" For most of us the thing we do that will last longest past our deaths will be our kids, but they'll end too. In a couple generation, your mark will fade and fade, until it can't be seen.

So my dad will leave us soon. And I will be the generation after that. I think that as he nears the end he grows aggravated and depressed over how he has done things. He didn't hold relationships well. He has done things that he regrets.

I don't think I'm going to be like that. I've thought hard and honestly about what's right. I've rejected what everyone around me thought was acceptable, and accepted what everyone around me rejected. Because the truth doesn't change. I don't think I would have accepted slavery 200 years ago. And I don't accept political authority now. I try very hard to debunk my strongest beliefs, because I don't want social beliefs, or expressive beliefs, or beliefs that make me feel good. I want true beliefs. And for some reason, when I think about life and about death, I feel okay because my beliefs are the way they are. My mind isn't fragmented into a lot of little parts based on a dozen different labels I want to adhere to. It's all one, and it works together, and when I find a shard that doesn't fit, I discard it so I can keep feeling whole.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Plain Reason Torture Works

It seems like torture should work.

When someone won't talk, torture makes the cost of not talking high. Incentives make them talk.

But what if they lie?

Make the credible promise that more torture will happen if their information doesn't turn out, or contradicts what you already know. Incentives make them tell the truth.

Is torture not incentive enough?

Turn the torture up a notch. Now they have more incentive to talk / tell the truth.

So it seems like torture should work based on deductions from normal assumptions we have about human beings and how they respond to incentives. This is the plain reason torture works.

So why do a lot of people deny that torture works?

One possible reasons is historical data. We have tortured. Did it work? I'm sure there's data out there and maybe it turns out the other way. Data on these kinds of issues tends to be messy anyway, so it ought to take a lot of clear data to undermine the plain reason torture works.

Most people; however, are not informed on the data. So I suspect most people think torture doesn't work because they think torture is unjust. There is a suspiciously high correlation between the belief about whether torture works and whether it would be unjust even if it doesn't work, even though the neither answer informs on what the other answer should be.

People often rationalize for why what is deontologically moral also happens leads to good results. It's like anything they believe to be morally right cannot have any costs whatsoever.

A reasonable person might say, torture works, but we shouldn't do it unless it's really important because torture is just a really bad thing to do to someone, even an enemy. I think that's how we would normally navigate the moral domain in our own lives, and so that's the guide public policy should probably follow.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Gun Death Rate Over Time

When I google how many people guns kill, I get a lot of pages like,
Epidemic: Guns kill twice as many kids as cancer,
Guns Kill More Americans Than Terrorists Do

Which I'm sure are both true. But cancer don't kill many kids and terrorists don't kill many Americans.

Or you can read, Guns are now killing as many people as cars in the U.S., which can be more accurately titled, "cars are now killing as few people as guns in the U.S." Car death accidents have fallen, gun violence is flat according to the data cited by the exact same article. But the article never tells you that.

Real life, gun violence has gone down significantly since the 90s, that includes homocides, suicides, and accidental deaths. Suicides hopped back up since 2010 but not to where they used to be. Homocides has been flat since a massive decline in the 90s.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Abstinence vs. Celibacy

I was thinking today about the debate between whether birth control should be promoted to teens, or if celibacy is a better way to go like conservatives would like. Because the two are somewhat in conflict with each other. The more contraception is being promoted, the less celibacy there will be. So, safe sex or no sex?

I think that given the normal range of realistic choices the normal teen is going to go through, celibacy is just not an option. No sex is a really hard sell for a species that has been really good at reproducing, and is taken by some very strong natural urges to produce. So for the majority of people who are going to have sex well before they're going to have a family, promoting contraception is going to be far more effective.

There are conservatives groups out there where celibacy works really well, but they're fringe. And I think the conservative view is letting the best become the enemy of the good. Sure in a perfect world (for a conservative) everyone will stay celibate until they're ready for marriage, but in real life they're creating more unwanted pregnancies by fighting against birth control advertisement / access.

For conservatives: peer out of your bubble where abstinence works so well, do you really think the other teens are going to go celibate? When you see some 17 year old with a kid don't just judge them, know that you had a hand in that.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

22 pushups for the Vets

I know someone who is doing 22 pushups every day, and posting it to Facebook to raise awareness for the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide. I have several problems with this.

  • The excuse of "raising awareness"

    I'm suspicious of anything for the cause of "raising awareness". What they're doing makes much more sense as a means to attention grabbing. Giving pretty much any % of your income to a cause is guaranteed to do more good than raising awareness. And most of the time you're raising awareness for something people are already aware of. Did you already know that veterans are a lot more likely to commit suicide? I sure did before anyone started doing pushups.

    Raising awareness is probably better than nothing, but very very close to doing nothing at all. So incurring costs to raise awareness is likely motivated by other than stated reasons, even if subconsciously.

  • Raising awareness doesn't fix anything.

    Awareness by itself just makes people feel bad about a problem, not solve it. Naturally you want raised awareness to lead to people actually doing something about the problem, but in fact what happens with these sorts of things is it just leads to more people raising awareness.

    So you do pushups on Facebook for the veterans and then tag 3 friends who now have to do it too. Now quadruple the people are raising awareness. This is great if you have a secret motive of getting people to do pushups, but I don't see it doing much for the veterans.

    And if there's a substitution affect than raising awareness can be worse than doing nothing. It used to be that showing you care meant doing something about it, but if you can show you care for cheaper then you just may do pushups instead.

  • The "X people a day" illusion

    You can make anything sound big by citing how often it happens a day because there are so so many people in the world who could possibly do it! 62 people a day move to Nashville. 20,000 people a day visit Hawaii. There are 2 new contestants are on Jeopardy at least every weekday.

  • We think there are a lot fewer veterans than there are, so we intuitively do the wrong division

    There are 21.8 million veterans, 7% of the entire population of the U.S., out of those 22 committed suicide today. This means the 22 a day is out of, take another believable number - 1 million, then the degree to which being a veteran is leading to suicide is being severely miscalculated.
  • Misinterpretation of the statistic

    If your concern is about how many people are becoming veterans, then you'd want to cite how many veterans are committing suicide. If your concern is about how many people are committing suicide, then you wouldn't put veteran suicides in a special category.

    We may think that veteran suicides are especially tragic because with them, we think we can identify the reason for the suicides; the trauma of war. Other categories of suicide almost certainly have trauma related reasons, but we don't know exactly what they are whereas we can imagine the bombs going off and the friends being lost.

    The trauma of war doesn't even seem to be what's causing the disproportionately high rate of veteran suicides. according to the LA Times the rate of suicide is, “…slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq"
  • The last thing is the vets aren't heroes.

Myself and the Rationalists

Since I was about twelve I've wondered what's wrong with me. More recently the question evolved into what's so different about me.

I don't think I've ever found and answer to that question. But among the people who call themselves the rationalist community I've found that the same ways of thinking that set them apart also set me apart.

What's a shame is I've never met a rationalist person in real life, and barely communicated with them online. But they like to talk ideas using the internet as a forum, and I get this eureka moment when I read their output, like that's exactly what I've been thinking and nobody else gets it.

Like, in my early 20s it seemed obvious to me that the main political parties are more tribal than policy oriented. Why? Because their long lists of policy likes and dislikes have nothing to do with each other, but strongly correlated. Why should pro-choice people also want higher taxes? The only reasonable answer is that there isn't some thread of consistency or foundational assumption to all their correlative beliefs, they're just different types of people who socialize over shared beliefs.

When I tried to explain this to normal people, they didn't get it. And then I find out that rationalist type folks talk about this a lot.

I think it may just be a highly cerebral anti-social personality that sets me and the rationalists apart.