Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mises Against Open Borders

Ludwig von Mises was the greatest Austrian economist, and one of the best champions of freedom and capitalism. In 1944, he wrote in Omnipotent Government:

Under present conditions the adoption of a policy of outright laissez faire and laissez passer on the part of the civilized nations of the West would be equivalent to an unconditional surrender to the totalitarian nations. Take, for instance, the case of migration barriers. Unrestrictedly opening the doors of the Americas, of Australia, and of Western Europe to immigrants would today be equivalent to opening the doors to the vanguards of the armies of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Mises proposed, basically, freedom and (classical) liberal policies within the West, but did not advocate open borders (for trade or commerce) with the illiberal countries that threaten peaceful, prosperous civilization.

There is no other system which could safeguard the smooth coördination of the peaceful efforts of individuals and nations but the system today commonly scorned as Manchesterism. We may hope—although such hopes are rather feeble—that the peoples of the Western democratic world will be prepared to acknowledge this fact, and to abandon their present-day totalitarian tendencies. But there can be no doubt that to the immense majority of men militarist ideas appeal much more than those of liberalism. The most that can be expected for the immediate future is the separation of the world into two sections: a liberal, democratic, and capitalist West with about one quarter of the total world population, and a militarist and totalitarian East embracing the much greater part of the earth’s surface and its population. Such a state of affairs will force upon the West policies of defense which will seriously hamper its efforts to make life more civilized and economic conditions more prosperous. [emphasis added]

Mises, the great advocate of laissez faire capitalism, did not advocate free trade or open immigration with militarist, totalitarian countries. Today, many "libertarians" and "Objectivists", many of who are Mises fans, oppose Trump's plan to build a wall and limit immigration to focus more on letting in people with Western values. So I found Mises' own view of the matter notable. For those who wish to understand his reasoning, I recommend they read the book and his other relevant works.

Below I share comments on the next two sentences of the book and about Mises' perspective on world affairs.

Even this melancholy image may prove too optimistic. There are no signs that the peoples of the West are prepared to abandon their policies of etatism.

Etatism means statism, which Mises explains is "the trend toward government control of business". Think of how people look to a powerful government to solve their problems and control society (especially trade and production), rather than favoring freedom. 75 years later, we can see that Mises was right that Westerners were not prepared to abandon statism.

When governments control the domestic economy, they also control imports and exports, e.g. with tariffs (otherwise the goals of their economic controls would be thwarted by uncontrolled foreign businessmen). Mises explains that these statist economic controls make the government of Belgium the enemy of Americans, because the Belgium government is using force to harm the economic prosperity of Americans by confiscating money from Americans who sell products to Belgians. This economic fighting creates the incentives for war (conquering territory allows for getting rid of the hostile government that imposes tariffs against your products) and harms the cause of collaboration and peace.

Mises argues that peace is best incentivized when prosperity is created by the economic division of labor. Countries don't want to go to war with their trading partners who produce their X, and who they sell lots of Y to, because it's so disastrous to their standard of living (they will have a shortage of X and surplus of Y), and because their ongoing cooperation is so beneficial. The more extensively countries are partners in free trade, the more they become like one unified economic group, and the more economically destructive and painful a war between them becomes. (Division of labor makes everyone involved richer because it allows specialization and because of comparative advantage.)


Update: I've read 40% of the book now and can highly recommend it. The discussion of German and European history, and of liberalism and statism, is great. I have high expectations for the upcoming discussion of the Nazis. I found another passage that relates to the current political debate about open borders:

These considerations [about the benefits of liberalism, including free trade and free migration, and how that brings about peace] are not a plea for opening America and the British Dominions to German, Italian, and Japanese immigrants. Under present conditions America and Australia would simply commit suicide by admitting Nazis, Fascists, and Japanese. They could as well directly surrender to the Führer and to the Mikado. Immigrants from the totalitarian countries are today the vanguard of their armies, a fifth column whose invasion would render all measures of defense useless. America and Australia can preserve their freedom, their civilizations, and their economic institutions only by rigidly barring access to the subjects of the dictators. But these conditions are the outcome of etatism. In the liberal past the immigrants came not as pacemakers of conquest but as loyal citizens of their new country.

Twenty years after Mises wrote this, the U.S. opened its borders to immigrants from totalitarian countries and dictatorships, and immigrants who do not come to be loyal citizens of the U.S. As a result, we now face disasters, which you can learn about in Adios America and its criticism of the 1965 immigration act. Trump became president by promising to halt the damage and begin repairs, including by building a wall, but he hasn't followed through so far.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

How Many People Don't Understand Links?

Elliot Temple:

Benedict Evan's tech newsletter seems to believe many (tech-interested!) readers don’t know what links are, and can’t recognize them, without the “Link” label:

i wonder if that’s an issue with FI newsletter

Justin Mallone:

My reactions in order

1) that can't possibly be a significant issue, can it?

2) you should test it

Elliot Temple:

there’s no good way to test. 280 newsletter ppl. suppose 5% don’t understand links. that’s only 14 ppl. these ppl are less engaged than avg, presumably by a lot. so maybe 3 open the test newsletter, and maybe none of them would have clicked any links today even if they knew how

however, by similar logic, it’s not that big a deal

plus i have in fact explained how links work in at least one newsletter

plus there are sometimes more obvious links to clue ppl in who aren’t TOTALLY lost

like maybe they will realize “Buy now” is a link

and from that learn what all the other links look like

if they are too dumb for that, well, i am not planning to do ALL my links as a post-sentence “Link” text just for the small minority of my worst subscribers

even if it’s like 50% of subscribers … are they really the kind of ppl who matter to me and understand anything i say?

and do they know how to buy things online? or join an email group? or even post a blog comment? zzzzzz

or share the newsletter with their friends? you know by sending them a link? or forwarding an email?

i’m still curious how widespread a problem it is. i bet more than .01%. hard to get a good estimate tho

lots of ppl are really, really bad at things

ppl “forget” they can google things

that is partially a skills issue

a lack of understanding of the very basics of the internet

ppl also seem to DISLIKE links, in many contexts. which i think is partly skills. not, primarily, failure to know what a link is. but instead things like: being bad at using the Back button, getting lost online easily, and fear of going to a malware or scam site and being unable to recognize it

and just generally being bad at understanding what’s going on on a new website they haven’t been to before, b/c they aren’t familiar with standard layouts, and they don’t know how to recognize if it IS a standard layout or not, or otherwise quickly figure out what to make of it (including accurately knowing when to judge it as a bad site and just leave)


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Matt Levine Thinks Badly About Incentives and Economics

Matt Levine writes (bold added, links omitted):

AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is a vertical merger: AT&T mostly owns pipes (DirectTV, cellular networks) that bring content to consumers, while Time Warner mostly owns studios (Time Warner) and networks (HBO, the Turner networks) that produce and package that content. By combining the two, they can achieve some efficiency benefits that should work to lower prices for consumers. For instance, by combining AT&T’s data on its wireless customers with Time Warner’s advertising inventory, they can introduce more targeted ads, which “will lead to higher ad revenues that will alleviate pressure on the programing side and lower the price of video distribution to consumers,” according to Judge Leon’s opinion. In modern antitrust law, more targeted advertising is a consumer benefit. There are those who think that modern antitrust law is bad.

Against these benefits, the government argued that the combined company would have so much market power that it would actually be able to raise prices. This is an unusual argument in a vertical merger—and vertical mergers are rarely challenged—because the merger won’t make AT&T any bigger in any of the businesses it (or Time Warner) is already in. Instead, the government’s theory is that AT&T can use its Time Warner content to bully competing distributors (other cable companies, video-on-demand companies, etc.). Right now, Time Warner makes its money by signing big high-stakes deals with content distributors who want to carry its content. If they don’t reach a deal, then everyone loses: Time Warner doesn’t get paid, and the distributor’s customers get mad that they can’t watch HBO and start thinking about switching cable companies. And so in practice they generally work out a deal; long-term blackouts are very rare.

But once AT&T owns Time Warner, the government argued, its incentives will shift: If it fails to reach a deal with Comcast or whoever, then it still won’t get paid for Time Warner’s content, and Comcast’s subscribers will still get mad and think about switching providers, but now they might switch to AT&T. (To DirecTV, or to some AT&T wireless video product, etc.) Blacking out Time Warner’s networks on a competing distributor will now be good for AT&T’s distribution business, which will give Time Warner more leverage to demand higher prices for its content in those negotiations with distributors. Or that is the government’s theory, which it argued based on some intemperate public statements from AT&T, some worries from its competitors, and the expert testimony of antitrust economist Carl Shapiro.

Judge Leon didn’t buy it. He noted that an AT&T expert witness looked at previous content/distribution vertical mergers and found that “There’s absolutely no statistical basis to support the government’s claim that vertical integration in this industry leads to higher content prices.” And he noted that, even after the merger, it will be in AT&T/Time Warner’s interest to distribute Time Warner’s content as broadly as possible, so it won’t really have that much leverage to demand higher prices:

Indeed the evidence showed that there has never been, and is likely never going to be, an actual long-term blackout of Turner content. Numerous witnesses explained, and Professor Shapiro acknowledged, that a long-term blackout of Turner content, even post-merger, would cause Turner to lose more in affiliate fee and advertising revenues than the merged entity would gain. Given that, there is insufficient evidentiary basis to support Professor Shapiro’s contention that a post-merger Turner would, or even could, drive up prices by threatening distributors with long-term blackouts.

The discussion gets into some odd theory-of-the-firm moments. Several of AT&T’s witnesses were people who had negotiated these content deals at other vertically integrated cable/content companies: “Madison Bond, who has served as a lead negotiator for NBCU during the past seven years when the company has been vertically integrated with Comcast,” for instance, and several Time Warner executives who “testified similarly about their time at the company when it was vertically integrated with Time Warner Cable.” All of these witnesses said the same thing: They never used their ownership by a distributor as leverage in negotiation with other distributors.

When questioned by defense counsel about his prior negotiations on behalf of NBCU, Bond testified that he “never once took into account the interest of Comcast cable in trying to negotiate a carriage agreement.” Consideration of potential Comcast gains during an NBCU blackout “doesn’t factor at all” into his negotations, Bond continued, nor has anyone from Comcast “ever asked” him “to think about that.” Bond’s statements were similar to testimony given by Comcast’s chief negotiator, Greg Rigdon, who testified that he has never suggested, or seen a Comcast document suggesting, that NBC “should go dark on one of [Comcast’s] competitors because then [Comcast] might pick up some subscribers” or that NBCU should “hold out for a little bit more in affiliate fees because that will harm” Comcast’s competitors.

(Citations omitted.) Similarly, a Turner executive said, “I’ve been in Turner when we were a vertically integrated company and had a sister company called Time Warner Cable. And I can tell you that at no time during my tenure there did anyone ask me to consider in my negotiations and how I dealt with other distributors the outcome and impact at Time Warner Cable.”

So basically everyone with experience of negotiating these deals, who had the leverage that the government claims AT&T/Time Warner will have, said: Nah, it never even occurred to us to do that. But the government’s economist testified that of course they would have that leverage and use it. “Indeed, this opinion by Professor Shapiro runs contrary to all of the real-world testimony during the trial from those who have actually negotiated on behalf of vertically integrated companies,” wrote Judge Leon. So he asked Shapiro about it, and got this fun answer:

No, I am aware of that testimony. And so I think there’s a very serious tension between that testimony and the working assumption for antitrust economists that Professor Carlton and I share; that the company after the merger will be run to maximize their joint profits.

Isn’t that sort of lovely? An economist testified about how companies should operate. Actual operators testified about how the companies do operate. The answers were different. “There's a very serious tension,” said the economist. It is really all you could ask for in an antitrust trial: An economic theory of corporate behavior was proposed, it was confronted with the practical reality of the people actually doing the corporate behavior, and the economic theory shrugged and melted away.

Judge Leon is surely right that the tension isn’t as serious as Shapiro thinks:

That profit-maximization premise is not inconsistent, however, with the witness testimony that the identity of a programmer’s owner has not affected affiliate negotiations in real-world instances of vertical integration. Rather, as those witnesses indicated, vertically integrated corporations have previously determined that the best way to increase company wide profits is for the programming and distribution components to separately maximize their respective revenues. … In the case of programmers, that means pursuing deals “to be on all the platforms,” rather than undertaking a “series of risks” to threaten a long-term blackout.

Part of how you combine different businesses is by getting them to work together: If Time Warner is good at selling ads, and AT&T is good at mining customer data, then you smush them together so that AT&T/Time Warner will be good at selling ads based on customer data-mining, which is where the money is. But part of how you combine different businesses is by leaving them to work separately: If Time Warner’s business model is selling programming to every distributor, then changing that model so that it only sells to AT&T, just because AT&T bought it, would be a mistake. Which is which—when you should combine businesses, and when you should leave them to make their own profit-maximizing decisions—is a complicated question, and you can certainly try to answer it with game theory and economic modeling. But sometimes you can just ask companies what they actually do! It is not perfect evidence of what they should do. But it’s pretty good evidence of what they will do.

I've read lots of Money Stuff columns. I often like them. This is the worst one I've seen. People lie. People fail to introspect, especially when the results would be inconvenient.

Of course merged companies work to make an overall profit for the new, single company. Not perfectly, but there's major incentives in companies to make a profit, and these incentives do play a major role in behavior. Sure it happens that sometimes the right hand of the company doesn't talk to the left hand, and they consequently fail to maximize profits. And sure it happens that sometimes the amount of profit available from a particular optimization is too small for the coordination effort required to get it. And sure it happens that people fail to notice opportunities. None of those mean economic theory is wrong.

Why is Levine so naively credulous of some people saying things in court that they have a strong incentive to say? AT&T wouldn't have brought in someone to testify if they were going to say something else that hurt AT&T... And people saying something else would be at risk of getting themselves fired, and maybe other bad things, because they'd basically be saying they personally, and their company, was doing bad stuff that there are various laws against (anti-trust if nothing else – yes anti-trust law is extremely vague, but this seems like the kinda stuff people think that violates it, which is exactly why it was a topic of discussion in this anti-trust case).

Also the witnesses said they didn't go up to Comcast, or whoever, and say "yo, give us lots of money or we'll do a blackout cuz we don't give a damn cuz we own DirectTV" or an equivalent of that. Choosing not to use it as an aggressive talking point, and saying with full clarity what one means, is perfectly compatible with negotiating harder due to the incentives that exist. The testimony also uses careful language, e.g. a person says he didn't suggest doing it, and didn't read any documents suggesting he do it. Another guy says he wasn't asked to take something into account. There's a comment about going dark, which is different thing than using it as a background possibility to negotiate a better deal (which is what they always do, all the time, obviously – of course, if they aren't paid enough money, they will go dark, and everyone on both sides knows it).

Why doesn't Levine consider the incentives people have, and just believes them when they say they act contrary to financial incentives?

And the mathy arguments used are nonsense. Blackouts are too expensive to threaten? Umm, not exactly. Blackouts are always an implied threat in negotiations. If you don't pay us, we will not let you air our shows. Duh. After the merger, the overall cost of a blackout will be smaller for the new merged company than it was for the old company (because e.g. the blackout it benefits DirecTV, which makes up for a portion of the downside).

If no deal is $100 less bad for you than before, you negotiate harder than before and you maybe get a $50 better deal. Even if the deal is worth a million dollars, this is still true, though in that case it'd be too small a factor to worry about. But the argument wasn't "we calculated how big a factor this is, and it's too small to matter much". They didn't figure out what size factor it is. They just denied it's a factor. That's stupid and incompetent, and Levine ought to have noticed if he were competent.

Similarly, the arguments about the benefits of letting different divisions of a company operate independently effect the degree of the issue. Maybe those benefits are larger than the ability of the merged company to negotiate harder and raise prices for TV content. Maybe a lot larger, so the merged company will only pursue the much larger benefit and not concern itself with the smaller benefit that isn't fully compatible with the larger benefit. But Levine doesn't treat it like competing factors and compare their size. He uses one to try to dismiss and ignore the other. That's nonsense. Nor does Levine consider what potential future changes to the company (e.g. some reorganization, selling some other divisions off and getting smaller, whatever) might change the calculations and therefore result in the price raising behavior being economically efficient.

Also, when deciding to believe the businessmen who said "oh no, we would never act according to financial incentives – in fact, we don't even know those financial incentives exist", Levine ignored that there were also public statements by AT&T that admitted it (at least Levine himself said those statements exist, but he didn't quote any or give a source).

Is it true that the best way to maximize profits for a company is for individual divisions to maximize profits? No. You might run your company that way because doing things more optimally is too hard. But that's not the theoretical best way.

And no, Levine, no one said anything about changing the model to only sell the TV shows to AT&T. That's an especially dishonest thing to write.

To be clear: anti-trust laws are evil (which is another thing Levine is clueless about). I'm not saying that mergers should be blocked because prices for some things would be raised, nor am I claiming they actually will be raised. I'm just analyzing the quality of the arguments and thinking presented by Levine, and the big mistakes in the article are on the pro-merger side.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sexism and Male Leadership

people are like "men get to lead and make more decisions, it's so unfair and sexist that wives are expected to be more compliant".

hello? we live in a society where well over 90% of people don't want to lead. most people hate the responsibility of making decisions. most people would rather someone else decided things so they don't have to think about it – and don't have to take the blame if it doesn't work out.

why would you want to be the "head of the household" when you find it hard and scary to lead? people struggle to deal with decisions. people doubt and hesitate, and struggle to lead since they aren't really sure where to lead to.

since wives get the role that most people prefer – that most people find more desirable – this aspect of marriage is sexist against men. right? wives are getting the better deal since they are less expected to deal with hard stuff that most people don't want and actively avoid.

our society pressures men to be more confident, have more leadership traits, figure out answers to more decisions, solve more problems, etc. it's putting more demands on men, more expectations, more stress, more worry, more hardship. women are given places in society where they have it easier. a few women want to be leaders and be in charge of lots of stuff – and they can do that (no one stops them in business, and they easily find a man who will let them wear the "pants" in the marriage). and the vast majority of women, who don't want that, don't do it. but what about men? they are under such pressure to be leaders (and providers and breadwinners), like it or not. if they don't do it, they are punished. there aren't plenty of women for them to choose from who will be happy with a weak man.

being more of a leader sounds appealing to most people, it sounds like a good thing, so they think men are getting a good deal. but if you look at people's actions – men and women – the vast majority prefer not to act much like leaders. people find being a leader hard/stressful/etc, and they run into problems like "i don't know what to do. how should i know what to do?" and they prefer easier routes.

would it be better if there were more leader-type people? sure. but sexism isn't the issue there. men have trouble leading, too. many men do some leading because they don't see any way to get out of it, but they are bad at it and have a bad time. it's not like men got a special upbringing that prepared them to be good leaders and enjoy it. they, too, had a childhood full of compliance to authority, being punished for taking initiative or exploring/experimenting, being punished for taking risks that don't work out instead of being really conservative, being punished for going first and pioneering anything instead of waiting to see what the majority do, etc, etc.

there are sexist aspects of parenting, which are nasty. overall i think they're worse for women. boys are pressured to suppress emotions, especially crying. girls are pressured to be pretty. there are many, many shared mistreatments and some gender specific ones.

regardless, it's so dishonest to be like "omg sexism, men get to lead more" without the speaker considering that they hate leading, and all their friends hate leading, and their father hates leading (usually, though not 100% of the time. and even if they won't admit it).

PS This is similar to the complaints about the lack of women in high paying jobs, and Jordan Peterson's reply that the main issue there is most people don't actually want or like those jobs, and women who have those jobs often quit because they don't want the stress, long work hours, etc. The women aren't quitting because of oppression, they're just making a reasonable decision to have some family life (or pursue whatever else they want) instead of just work hard all the time.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

DJ Khaled is Awful

(Typed in real time while watching DJ Khaled's show at the Overwatch League Finals. Twitch video link, Khaled comes up 45min in.)

jfc watching DJ Khaled at overwatch finals

he comes on stage and starts telling DHV story about the celebs he hangs out with and how busy he is with other concerts

then starts doing really bland, basic audience interaction games

kinda like basic flirty touch games u play with a 19yo girl u wanna fuck (KEEP IT SIMPLE)

the audience is rather passive but he just pretends they are doing a lot

you see that kinda lying a lot. e.g. b4 that there was an OK play – nothing very special – being hyped up as an INSANE play at LENGTH

they just figure if they SAY things are great, ppl will believe it without checking

just keeping saying it and never break frame

anyway Khaled is so basic and transparent and no one would be impressed by anything he did so far if he was low status.

and i’m thinking why is he on stage, getting paid the big bucks? and the audience, will kinda passive about the interactions, i think mostly does like him and a lot of them did some halfhearted, belated participation (he just kept doing it for minutes)

answer: THEY ARE BLUE PILL. they would never think of his story as a DHV story, they just take it at … not face value, but the value assigned to it by the social rules they utterly obey but never speak of

earlier the overwatch league commissioner was on for a bit and he said some bullshit about how great the audience and fans are. then he said: [but i’m not just saying that to pander, it’s true]. and they fucking cheered him for doubling down on his lying so blatantly

saying forms of “i’m not just lying” is common. and ppl believe it or something, even tho it’s only said when one would normally be suspected of lying, and it has no substance and any scumbag liar can easily say it.

they rarely use the word “lying” tho. mentioning lying would make it seem like they were lying. he didn’t say “pandering” either. i forget what he actually said

they just say something that means “u might assume i’m lying but i’m not lying”

and somehow that is socially calibrated and impresses ppl. what a culture…

it expresses awareness that most of the OTHER ppl saying similar things are liars

and then both sides just pretend THIS interaction is a special snowflake exception

NAWALT. and not all announcers are like that, either? he’s not. he said so!

Khaled is spending more time promoting himself than anything else

and ppl r impressed. cuz he promoted himself. so they see him as high status.

the promotion is working on them. he’s doing it to their faces, as part of the show

omg he’s now saying “family first always” and “i represent families” and doing some of the most generic bullshit shout outs i’ve ever heard to families in general

i’m pro-family!

he’s worse than a fucking politician

he said he’s pro-God too

then he says he’s gonna be exciting and hype to intro starting some music again

his music doesn’t speak for itself. he spends a large portion of his stage time SAYING he’s exciting.

now he’s pro New York. the show is in new york. then himself again.

he has ppl’s hands ALREADY in the sky then says: if ur NYer, raise hands. (are the non NY-ers gonna LOWER their hands now?)

then says if ur a fan of him, raise hands

so everyone sees other ppl’s hands up and thinks they are fans

it’s such fucking blatant manipulation and everyone is a blind blue piller

a few are red pill, but say nothing. they’d be shouted down and hated. so it adds to the apparent popularity

the venue doesn’t allow for dissent, so you never see how many ppl ACTUALLY are fans

this isn’t even a fucking Khaled concert with his own fans, it’s overwatch fans and some of them cheer and he just pretends they are all his fans. strong frame but jeez it’s so obvious

the actual music parts are quite short. lots of DHV talking breaks.

the camera ppl find whatever sections of the crowd are most into it and put those on TV

but u can see in wider shots that plenty of ppl are not into it

they are noticeably reusing some of the most enthusiastic ppl in the crowd

they dim the lights most of the time to make it way harder to see ppl who aren’t doing anything

they have shin stuff everywhere that sparkles in the dim lights and gives an impression the whole audience is into it everywhere, when actually the ppl aren’t doing anything

they just handed out some glowing dot things or put them on the seats or something

that’s another manipulative, fake trick. concerts try to make it look like the fans are super into it but they will pass out glow sticks or stuff cuz it’s self-serving.

he doesn’t try very hard in his dancing and only dances occassionally.

now he says he’s anti “player hating”. he has such bland causes that everyone can agree with

he said SHAME ON THEM about player haters

jfc

what a scape goat lol

not an actual well-defined group. not a group anyone self-identifies as. it just means “ppl i don’t like”

and everyone is like “yeah, i also don’t like the ppl i don’t like”

and assumes he means the same ppl they mean

lol now he’s bragging about his record sales

interrupting the music to tell us how popular his new record is on itunes and in 35 countries

lol he ends bragging with “my records are #1 b/c of you” as if he’s praising the fans, not DHVing himself

and blue pillers eat it up and feel like they helped something important

like when Awesome Games Done Quick raises $1,000,000 and says “we couldn’t have done it without you, viewers” and viewers who donated $5 feel like they were part of a $1,000,000 project and they matter. hell, viewers who didn’t donate feel like they helped too cuz it needs viewers.

i’ve watched other concerts b4 and they were way better, with more music and more dancing. this is so boring.

i’d skip it if i wasn’t commenting

typing while it plays

he’s so repetitive. he just said again that his new record is out, and that you can go buy it at itunes

are these ppl too fucking stupid to know where to buy it? is he calling them retarded? why doesn’t anyone interpret it that way?

how much do u wanna bet half the audience would say they hate advertising?

probably more

fuck advertising, fuck commercialism, fuck big business … but DJ Khaled, bragging again about how he does (commercial) shows with JayZ and Beyonce … he’s cool and real?

he did like 5 advertisements, and some pandering that was worse than stereotypes of politicians, and that’s a music show? that ppl who say they hate politicians cheer for?


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Question-Ignoring Discussion Pattern

There's a common discussion pattern I've been trying to identify and understand. Example:

Me: What do you think about X?

Them: [silence]

Me: Why didn't you discuss X?

Them: [Starts saying their opinion about X.]

It happens with all kinds of meta discussion, not just asking why they didn't discuss. If you talk about how they were discussing badly, they often ignore you to discuss more. If you ask why they think the topic is unimportant (or whether they think it's important or not, and why), they often ignore that and start discussing it more.

The pattern seems to be they avoid bigger questions and bigger issues, like why they do things. They respond about smaller, more limited issues.

The major indicator of the pattern is they don't directly reply to the last thing you said. You just asked them a question and they start saying something else that is not an answer to the question. That's what stood out to me. They often seem to go back one step. We were talking about X. Then something went wrong, or they stopped talking, or a tangent came up. Then I ask a question about the new issue (the problem, the silence, or the tangent). Then they ignore the question but go back to the previous thing (stop being silent, drop the tangent). If the new issue was a problem, they often silently take one step to try to solve it – they will make a change to try to address the problem, but won't say that they did it, or discuss whether it'll work, they just do it. Often the supposedly problem-solving change is either counter-productive or irrelevant, and it's a burden for them, and they blame me for it (they think of themselves as doing it for me, because I wanted it). But all I'd said is what the problem is, not what I would regard as a solution or what I wanted – they just assumed that while refusing to talk about it.

The discussion issue is partly because people reinterpret questions as demands or assertions. They hear "Why didn't you discuss X?" as meaning "You should discuss X". They hear, "Why are you uninterested in X?" as meaning "X is interesting". They hear, "Do you want to discuss more, or not? You're sending mixed signals." as meaning "I demand you discuss more." They hear "Would it be OK with you if I shared more ideas about X?" as "Let's discuss X more."

I've been trying to understand this pattern and why people do it. I think it's related to people avoiding meta discussion, which I also don't understand very well. What is it about meta discussion that they don't like? My best guess is basically that they avoid talking about more important things in favor of less important ones, which fits their overall life pattern of not having productive discussions and learning philosophy.

I think it's kind of like getting a chore done by procrastinating on an even more unwanted task. They will have regular discussion to avoid discussion that involves "Why?" questions or other important things they find hard. They would feel bad about ignoring something like, "Why don't you want to discuss X? Do you have a reason X is unimportant?" They wouldn't feel justified in ignoring that and still believing themselves to be a rational person who discusses ideas. But if they start discussing X more (breaking their silence, doing one unstated action to try to solve the problem that was disrupting discussion, or dropping a tangent) then they feel legitimized to ignore the question.

One of the straightforward reasons I dislike it is because I don't want to ignore major signs they don't want to talk about X. I don't want to talk about X with a person who doesn't want to discuss X. I don't want to discuss with someone who isn't interested. I don't want to ignore problems like that and go back to the original discussion. Plus, the problems typically reoccur quickly so the discussion doesn't work out.

In general, problems are inevitable and no discussion can work out well, in the long run, without problem solving effort by the participants. But the pattern is people ignore things I say related to problem solving and just go back to the discussion.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Pre-Scripted Discussions

People in conversations usually just say their own (largely pre-determined) stuff, following their own script, because that’s all they know how to say.

They know something, and they are proud to know anything at all, and they go into the discussion planning to talk about that knowledge they do have, and they try to stick to that.

This is why they are so non-responsive when I say things that require off-script responses. They don’t know how to think on their feet and actually address a question. They can basically only answer a question if they already read/heard what to think about it in advance.

Some things this comes up with:

  • Meta discussion (e.g. any kind of proposal about how to organize the discussion, like to switch forums, use quotes, or go slower with smaller steps).
  • Asking them to engage with critics or rival ideas instead of just present their positive case.
  • Any questions they didn’t expect or which seem a bit off topic to them. it doesn’t matter if you have a reason for asking and it’s actually relevant, they don’t know how to answer because it doesn’t fit their script.
  • Any criticism that doesn't fit the script, e.g. about their writing being too unclear and failing to communicate. Dealing with misunderstandings isn't part of their script or pre-knowledge.
  • The people who seem to be talking to themselves or doing a monologue more than they are having an interactive discussion.

This is unnatural and unintuitive to me because I learn during discussions.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Open Discussion

This is an open discussion topic. Discuss whatever you want.

If you want a separate discussion just on a specific topic, find any post related to that topic and discuss there. Or ask me to create a new post for your discussion.

How do you find replies and new discssion to read? Use the recent comments link in the side bar. (Or use the Open Discussion link in the side bar and scroll down to the bottom.) Or leave this page (or the recent comments page) open in a browser tab and refresh it periodically (or use an auto refresh browser plugin). Or use the Comments RSS Feed. Or use website change notification software.

List of prior open discussions.

Learn about new blog discussion features including posting images.

Click here to scroll to the bottom of the discussion.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (240)

Recording Setup

recording setup

Click the image to view with higher resolution. Photo taken with iPhone X.

The desk is 98 inches. It's like this Ikea countertop, but birch instead of oak. They don't sell mine anymore.

The bag hanging on the back of the mic stand holds a counterweight because the mic is a bit heavy for this stand. The mic is mounted in a shock absorber and has a pop filter. The pole you see goes down to a tripod on the floor. I often move the mic away when I'm not recording since it blocks my view of the left screen, and it's in the way of putting food in front of the left screen.

The fantasy pictures are old. I'd replace them if I had a better idea, but I don't care much. I might get some sound absorbing foam to put on my walls to improve the acoustics. I have a big US flag and a regular Israeli flag on other walls, but I think I'm bored of posters.

The right screen is showing TSM Leffen's Twitch stream. He's playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. I often have muted streams on side screens. The center screen has MailMate and Screenflow's window for beginning a recording.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Critical Rationalism Epistemology Explanations

I discussed epistemology in a recent email:

I really enjoyed David Deutsch's explanation of Popper's epistemology and since reading Fabric of Reality I've read quite a bit of Popper. I've become convinced that Deutsch's explanation of Popper is correct, but I can also see why few people come away from Popper understanding him correctly. I believe Deutsch interprets Popper in a way that is much easier to understand.

Yes, I agree. DD refined and streamlined Critical Rationalism, and he's a better writer than Popper was. Popper made the huge breakthrough in the field and wrote a lot of good material about it, but there's still more work to do before most people get it.

Plus, I think he actually adds some ideas to Popper that matter that make it less misleading. Popper was struggling himself to understand his own theories, so it's understandable that he struggled to explain some parts of it.

I agree. I don't blame Popper for this, since he had very original and important ideas. He did more than enough!

(For example, it was problematic to refer to good theories as 'improbable' rather than 'hard to vary.' In context, I feel Popper meant the same thing, but the words he chose were problematic for conveying the meaning to others.)

So I've been wondering if it's possible to boil Popper's epistemology (with additions and interpretations from Deutsch) down to a few basic principles that seem 'self evident' and then to draw necessary corollaries. If this could be done, it would make Popper's epistemology much easier to understand.

Here is what I've come up with so far. (I'm looking for feedback from others familiar with Popper's epistemology as interpreted and adjusted by Deutsch to point out where I got it wrong or are missing things..)

Criteria for a Good Explanation:

1. We should prefer theories that are explanations over those that are not.

This is an approximation.

The point of an idea is to solve a problem (or multiple problems). We should prefer ideas which solve problems.

Many interesting problems require explanations to solve them, but not all. Whether we want an explanation depends on the problem being addressed.

In general, we want to understand things, not just be told answers to trust on authority. So we need explanations of how and why the answers will work, that way we can think for ourselves, recognize what sort of situations would be an exception, and potentially fix errors or make improvements.

But some problems don't need explanations. I might ask my friend, who is good at cooking, "How long should I boil an egg?" and just want to hear a number of minutes without any explanation. Finding out the number of minutes solves my cooking problem. I didn't want to try to understand how cooking eggs works, and I didn't want to debate the matter or check my friend's ideas for errors, I just wanted it to come out decently. It can be reasonable to prioritize what issues I investigate more and which I don't.

2. We should prefer explanations that are hard to vary over ones that can easily be adjusted to fit the facts because a theory that can be easily adjusted to fit any facts explains every possible world and thus explains nothing in the actual world.

Hard to vary given what constraints?

Any idea is easy to vary if there are no constraints. You can vary it to literally any other idea, arbitrarily, in one step.

The standard constraint on varying an idea is that it still solve (most of) the same problems as before. To improve an idea, we want to make it solve more and better problems than before with little or no downside to the changes.

The problems ideas solve aren't just things like "explain the motion of balls" or "help me organize my family so we don't fight". Another important type of problem is understanding how ideas fit together with other ideas. Our knowledge has tons of connections where we understand ideas (often from different fields) to be compatible, and we understand how and why they are compatible. Fitting our knowledge together into a unified picture is an important problem.

The more our knowledge is constrained by connections to problems and other ideas, the more highly adapted it is to that problem situation, and therefore the harder it is to vary while keeping the same or greater level of adaptation. The more ideas are connected to other problems and ideas, the less wiggle room there is to make arbitrary changes without breaking anything.

Fundamentally, "hard to vary" just means "is knowledge". Knowledge in the CR view is adapted information. The more adapted information is, the more chance a random change will make it worse instead of better (worse and better here are relative to the problem situation).

There are many ways to look at knowledge that are pretty equivalent. Some ways are: ideas adapted to a problem situation, ideas that are hard to vary, non-arbitrary ideas, ideas that break symmetries (that give you a way to differentiate things, prefer some over others, evaluate some as better than others, etc. You can imagine that, by default, there's tons of ideas and they all look kinda equally good. And when two ideas disagree with each other, by default that is a symmetric situation: either one could be mistaken and we can't take sides. Knowledge lets us take sides it helps us break the symmetry of "X contradicts Y, therefore also Y contradicts X" and helps us differentiate ideas so they don't all look the same to us.)

3. A theory (or explanation) can only be rejected by the existence of a better explanatory theory.

Ideas should be rejected when they are refuted. A refutation is an explanation of how/why the idea will not solve the problem it was trying to solve. (Sometimes an idea is proposed as a solution to multiple different problems. In that case, it may be refuted as a solution to some problems while not being refuted as a solution for others. In this way, criticism and refutation are contextual rather than universal.)

You don't need a better idea in order to decide that an idea won't work – that it fails to solve the problem you thought it solved. If it simply won't work, it's no good, whether you have a better idea or not.

These are fairly basic and really do seem 'self evident.' But are they complete? What did I miss?

I then added a number of corollaries that come out of the principles to explain the implications.

1. We should prefer theories that are explanations over those that are not.
a. Corollary 1-1: We should prefer theories that explain more over those that explain less. In other words, we should prefer theories that have fewer problems (things it can’t explain) over ones that have more problems.

Don't judge ideas on quantity of explanation. Quality is more important. Does it solve problems we care about? Which problems are important to solve? Which issues are important to explain and which aren't?

Also, we never need to prefer one idea over another when they are compatible. We can have both.

When two ideas contradict each other, then at least one is false. We can't determine that one is false by looking at their positive virtues (how wonderful are they, how useful are they, how much do they explain). Instead, we have to deal with contradictions by figuring out that an idea is actually wrong, we have to look at things critically.

b. Corollary 1-2: We should prefer actual explanations over pseudo-explanations (particularly explanation spoilers) disguised as explanations.
c. Corollary 1-3: If the explanatory power of a theory comes by referencing another theory, then we prefer the other theory because it’s the one that actually explains things.
2. We should prefer explanations that are hard to vary over ones that can easily be adjusted to fit the facts because a theory that can be easily adjusted to fit any facts explains every possible world and thus explains nothing in the actual world.
a. Corollary 2-1: We should prefer explanations that have survived the strongest criticisms or tests we have currently been able to devise.

Criticisms don't have strengths. A criticism either explains why an idea fails to solve a problem, or it doesn't.

See: https://yesornophilosophy.com and http://curi.us/1595-rationally-resolving-conflicts-of-ideas and especially http://curi.us/1917-rejecting-gradations-of-certainty

Popper and DD both got this wrong, despite DD's brilliant criticism of weighing ideas in BoI. The idea of arguments having strengths is really ingrained in common sense in our culture.

b. Corollary 2-2: We should prefer explanations that are consistent with other good explanations (that makes it harder to vary), unless it violates the first principle.
3. A theory (or explanation) can only be rejected by the existence of a better explanatory theory.
a. Corollary 3-1: We should prefer theories (or explanations) that suggest tests that the previously best explanation can’t pass but the new one can. (This is called a Critical Test.)
b. Corollary 3-2: It is difficult to devise a Critical Test of a theory without first conjecturing a better theory first.
c. Corollary 3-3: A theory that fails a test due to a problem in a theory and a theory that fails a test due to some other factor (say experimental error) are often indistinguishable unless you have a better theory to explain which is which.

Yes, after a major existing idea fails an experimental test we generally need some explanatory knowledge to understand what's going on, and what the consequences are, and what we should do next.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Improvements to Comments

I've been doing some coding to improve discussion on the blog, and there's been a bunch of discussion recently in the Open Discussion post linked on the sidebar. Also recently, there was lots of discussion on these posts: Critical Preferences, the Nassim Nicholas Taleb Sucks, Open Letter to Charles Tew, Thoughts on Charles Tew.

Join the discussion! Get updates using the Recent Comments link on the sidebar, the Comments RSS Feed, or a webpage change notification tool. You can also get an automatic refresh extension for your browser.

Comments are easier than Fallible Ideas discussion emails. You don't need to use quotes or email software. You don't need worry about formatting. Just talk. Ask some questions or share your ideas!

New Comment Features

  • You can post an image using markdown syntax, like this: ![](image url)
  • Images won't go wider than the comment area and have a height limit of 500 pixels. Don't worry about your images being too big, they will scale down (without stretching) to fit.
  • Click an image to expand to full resolution (in case some text is too small).
  • Image URLs must be direct links to images, not something else like a link to a gallery page where you can view the image. A good indication the link will work is seeing the image filename and extension (like .png, .jpg or .gif)
  • Animated GIFs work.
  • Every comment has a "reply" link at the bottom which sets up a reply that will link back to that comment.
  • Every comment has a "quote" link which sets up a reply with the whole comment quoted, like when you hit reply to an email.
  • When you copy/paste multiple paragraphs from a comment, there are now two line breaks (one blank line) between paragraphs.
  • Bonus old feature: you can make text link to something using markdown: [text](url)

Image Posting Tips

  • Mac and Windows: Use Puush to take screenshots. It automatically uploads them and puts the URL on your clipboard, ready to paste.
  • On Mac, go to System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Text and create a text expansion for markdown image syntax. It will sync to your iPhone too (or set it up in iOS at Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Text Replacement). Mine is: mimg -> ![]()
  • On iPhone, upload screenshots or photos with the imgur app. Then long press to view in Safari. Then in the image gallery, long press the image and choose Copy. You can paste that into comments to get a URL (use it along with the text expansion).
  • The imgur URL will be a lower quality thumbnail. To fix that, edit out the "_d" at the end of the filename. Or bookmark my script to edit imgur URLs and add markdown syntax around them. You just paste the imgur URL into comments then use the bookmark. Script link (drag to bookmarks on a computer). If you're curious how the script works, I explained it. And here's the script code so you can copy/paste it to a bookmark on mobile:
javascript:document.getElementById('comment_argle').value=document.getElementById('comment_argle').value.replace(/(https:%5C/%5C/i%5C.imgur%5C.com%5C/%5Cw+?)_d(%5C.%5CS+?)%5C?%5CS+/g,'!%5B%5D($1$2)');


  • On Mac, I made an AppleScript that pastes a URL from the clipboard and puts markdown syntax around it. I put it in Automator, put the workflow in ~/Library/Services, and added a hotkey in the Keyboard preferences. Screenshot for how to set this up. Here's the script:
tell application "System Events"
    delay 0.25 -- you need time to let go of your hotkeys
    keystroke "\!\[]("
    keystroke "v" using {command down}
    delay 0.1 -- pasting isn't instant
    keystroke ")"
end tell

PS I put out a new video yesterday, Thoughts on Tolerance and Hostility ($12). If you want to be notified about every new product, and other things I'm up to, sign up for my newsletter in the left side bar.


Update:

Bookmark this script and use it to increase the quote level of your comment by one. Use it after pasting in a few paragraphs from an article. (BTW you can test the scripts before bookmarking them. Just write test text in the comments below this post, then click a script link from this post to activate it.)

javascript:document.getElementById('comment_argle').value=document.getElementById('comment_argle').value.replace(/(^|\n)(.*\S)/g,'$1> $2');

And if you want to upload your images to your own server, check out this email with info and an automatic script for doing it. It's like puush but with your own web server. As a bonus, the script can add the width and height to the filename which allows high resolution "retina" images to show up as the correct size (by default they show up as double size).


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Hurting Kids Deliberately

Deliberateness is a tricky issue, whether it comes to hurting kids, making mistakes, or breaking promises. Parents do all kinds of stuff kids hate and still think they "meant well" – including sometimes literally beating their kid up. If I honestly meant well, was I "deliberately" hurting my kid? What if I think I meant well, but I was lying to myself?

Parents often consciously and intentionally choose actions which hurt their kids. Their goal isn't to hurt their kid, but they know he will find it painful to have his phone taken away for a month, and they take the phone anyway.

Why do parents hurt their kids?

  • They think it's justice (kid did something bad).
  • They think it's educational (makes it memorable, seems to "work" in that kid stops doing the things the parent yells/hits/punishes about).
  • They think it's good for the kid somehow, possibly because a positive outweighs the negative. E.g. leaving a baby alone in a crib to cry himself to sleep is a negative, but some people think it's a larger positive for the child to learn to sleep in his own room. They don't know that the child stops crying because he learns his parent won't help him, so the child gives up on problem solving and happiness (in some ways, not all ways).
  • Habit.
  • Carelessness.
  • Accident.
  • Anger (they will say they didn't deliberately choose to be angry).
  • Not having much control over what one does/says/feels in one's life in general.
  • Doing common, normal parenting behaviors without thinking about whether they are hurtful.

None of these involve consciously thinking, "I will now hurt my kid, on purpose, just for the sake of hurting him." (That would clearly be deliberate.)

Regardless of deliberateness, the child is still hurt. Whether or not the parent is morally guilty, it's an ongoing, recurring problem that needs to be addressed so that the child stops getting hurt.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Trays are the Best

i got a tray 2 years ago for carrying food.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001FOPU1E/?tag=curi04-20

(this tray is out of stock but you can see the 23" x 15" dimensions. don't go much smaller. i got a 17" x 10.6" one first and it SUCKED, i returned it. note that you lose some flat space to the angled sides)

it's AMAZING.

note i linked a BIG tray. there's a bunch of smaller ones that can't even fit 2 plates.

benefits:

  • easy to carry more than 2 things at once (this is why i wanted it)

  • easily carry hot things

  • easier to keep things level while walking

  • even just a plate, a cup, and a bottle with a sauce is 3 things and not that easy to carry with your hands. adding a bowl of soup or a side salad on its own plate makes it way harder to carry. and even when carrying just a plate and cup you may have to balance your silverware on the plate and get it dirty.

  • i started sometimes having multiple different drinks with meals because it's easier to carry 2-3 different drinks at once this way. i drink smaller amounts but sometimes i like the variety. or sometimes i don't know in advance which drink i'll prefer and end up drinking one and not the other, and it was good to have the options (having a bit extra of each, and "wasting" some, is totally reasonable. most drinks are cheap). it just sorta didn't occur to me to have 2 different drinks before i had the tray to put them on and had used it for a while.

  • you can put food discards (e.g. corn cob, clam shells, bones) on the tray without needing a separate plate or trying to stick them on the side of your main meal plate. cleaning the tray is no problem, but you generally wouldn't wanna put that stuff directly on your table. (unless you're using a tablecloth and clean it routinely, which sounds dumb. )

  • it's easier to carry a bunch of different sauces/toppings/spices as extra options, even if you aren't sure which you want. you can just try a little of each while eating.

  • you can set other stuff on the tray, like a towel or iPhone (good for speaker phone calls, and more convenient than taking it in and out of your pocket)

  • if you don't know how much of a food you want, you can bring a bunch (like in a tupperware) and then serve multiple small portions to your plate during your meal

  • for people who sometimes leave dishes in their room instead of immediately carrying everything back: if you use a tray once per 2-5 meals, you can then carry all the dirty dishes back at once with the tray.

  • SAVE TRIPS WALKING BACK AND FORTH

  • you can eat directly from your plate or bowl while it's on the tray. the tray doesn't take up a lot of extra space. this won't work in all situations. if you have a bunch of stuff and a crowded table, a tray still helps for carrying things to the table and taking dirty dishes back. also if you don't eat at your computer desk sometimes, or your computer desk can't fit a large tray, i think that's bad and you should change it. (i push one of my secondary displays back a bit to have tray space.)

i use my tray most days. A++++++++++++


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thoughts on Charles Tew

Charles Tew (CT) is an Objectivist philosopher. I watched more of his YouTube videos and looked around his web presence. I have some comments. This is not a review. This is not a complete evaluation. It's some particular things I noticed, many of which are tangential to his main points.

This post will make more sense if you've already read my Open Letter to Charles Tew, and perhaps seen some of CT's videos. Also if you're familiar with Objectivism.


Some things CT said were really good. He has at least a sliver of greatness, which is rare. And I appreciate that he's a content creator, that he's trying to make stuff, share ideas, do something.

CT aims to be a firebrand. I appreciate that. There were sections of his videos which fit this and which I particularly liked. I think he's correct in his claim that aspects of his style are similar to Ayn Rand, and that ARI's style is dissimilar to Rand.

I surveyed the comments on several videos. The discussion quality in comments is terrible. I wondered how and why he attracted those people to comment, and if he values a higher view count without concern for who is watching and why. That's the kind of thing he's criticized others for. I wonder if CT thinks low quality comments are just inevitably part of how YouTube works, rather than depending on the audience you attract. Or perhaps he's concerned about it and wishes to improve the situation. Or didn't think of the issue and just took some normal social interaction stuff for granted.

CT replied "thank you" to two YouTube commenters who wrote generic praise. I didn't read that many comments, so there's presumably many more similar comments. That is not what Howard Roark would have done. It's sucking up get a larger audience of boring or bad people. It helps bring in more of the kind of people who write low quality comments. It signals not being a firebrand. There were other relevant signs too, like he said something about doing off-topic bits at the start of a video because Sam Harris structured videos that way – which suggests he's trying to copy what's popular instead of thinking about what, in his own opinion, makes the best format intellectually. (I just jump into the content in my videos. People don't or shouldn't care about my issues with audio equipment. That's far from the most important thing I have to talk about.)

CT said the only active intellectual today that he respects much is Harry Binswanger. I hope he'll reply to my Binswanger criticism, which I included in my letter to CT.

CT said he is not a member of HBL. He didn't explain why. I find that really strange. If I only admired one living intellectual, and they had a forum, I'd join it! I'd want to read their stuff and talk with them.

CT focuses many videos on popular non-Objectivists who are actively creating content today, like Stephan Molyneux, Sam Harris, Sargon of Akkad, or Jordan Peterson. I don't know why, but I don't agree with that emphasis. I spend a larger portion of my own time talking about ideas in general, or about ideas in relation to people who are important to philosophy (that's mostly dead people like Socrates, Aristotle, Godwin, Burke, Popper, Rand), or talking about ideas in relation to people I find notable and interesting in some way (who often happen to be obscure, like CT). Maybe CT is attracted to current social popularity. Why doesn't CT do more commentary and analysis regarding Binswanger (his favorite living content creator other than himself) or Ayn Rand (there is a shortage of quality material explaining Rand's books and helping people understand them correctly – who else makes stuff like my Atlas Shrugged Close Reading?).

People like Harris, Molyneux, Akkad and Peterson are not very important in the big picture. Responding to them won't change the world. (I'm responding to CT right now, but the primary purpose is to organize my own thoughts, and the secondary purpose is to share stuff about how I think and view the world which I think is important, valuable content. And I only do this kind of response as the minority of what I make.) If CT is actually important and right about almost everything – as he claims to believe – then he should find something better to do (like his books – except see my comments on that below). He should make really important material that's great for people who don't care at all about Harris/Peterson/etc. He should make timeless material about what really matters and what will actually potentially persuade many people and change the world. He should be trying to make improved versions of some of Ayn Rand's work – since Ayn Rand's work, great as it was, was inadequate to fix things and set the tone of the world. If that's too hard for him today, he should try to improve his philosophy so he can do that. He should aim for something that would make a big difference, not work to build up a bit more audience of people with little if anything to contribute. If his videos are just him practicing, that'd be OK but I don't think they are presented that way and they don't strike me as optimized for practicing and self-learning.

CT has videos about addiction. I didn't watch those. I focused on clicking video titles I thought I'd agree with or like for two reasons. One, those are more enjoyable in the straightforward way: I like things I like. There's plenty of things I dislike in the world and I don't seek them out without a specific reason. Two, I don't know if CT is open to discussion. This comes up with lots of content. I think it's wrong, and there's no way to fix that problem, no way to correct the author (or get corrected myself). Formulating my criticisms seems a bit pointless, if there's no discussion, when it's standard stuff I've already thought and written about a dozen times. And if I wanted to cover it again, I'd typically be better off doing it my own way – thinking about how I want to approach the material this time and why – instead of responding to a particular person. If CT is open to discussion and to engaging with important literature like Szasz (which he's either already read or ought to be happy to fill in the gap in his knowledge enough to have some opinion of Szasz's ideas), I'd be more interested in his views that I expect to disagree with in ways I've been over repeatedly in the past.

I didn't see CT learning much of anything from non-Objectivists, which concerns me because there are good ideas which Rand didn't know, which other people figured out. That includes plenty which don't contradict Objectivism, and also, IMO, a few which do correct Objectivism in some way (usually fairly minor in terms of how much it changes Objectivism – the one big correction I'm aware of is about induction, but even that is mostly a correction of Rand's followers like Peikoff – Rand herself wrote little about induction, said she wasn't an expert on it, and didn't claim to have a solution to the problem of induction. And Popper's solution, despite rejecting induction itself, solves the important problem and offers everything I think Rand would have wanted in an epistemology – in particular, that people can and do create legitimate knowledge).

I don't think CT should use Patreon. That site hates his values and kicks people off who they disagree with politically, e.g. Lauren Southern. CT could easily be kicked off Patreon if he gets enough income/fans/attention to be noticed. Even relying on YouTube much is risky – YouTube kicks some people off for having right wing political views, they're very biased. (I don't know if iTunes kicks off podcasts for political reasons.)

Reading

CT says he doesn't like reading that much. That's bizarre for someone saying they are a philosopher. Actually it's totally normal, but it's a mistake that seems weird to me because I know better. Part of a philosopher's job is to read a lot (and listen and watch material too). That involves developing skills including being great at (and, ideally, liking):

  • reading pretty fast
  • reading slowly and carefully
  • speed reading, preferably with multiple techniques so you can match the technique to the content
  • skimming
  • targeted, selective reading, including by using an index or a software feature to search for words
  • watching videos and listening to audio at high speed
  • using text to speech software, and broadly being good at converting things into other formats so you have a lot of control of how you go through content so you can choose the best options each time
  • reading Amazon reviews, using amazon's preview of the book, finding it on google books, googling the author, etc, to quickly get some info about a book
  • using the library
  • knowing how to quickly survey many books on a topic (some never getting past the online research phase, others you actually read parts of) and figuring out which are good or bad and why, and which to read (and which parts of them, or the whole thing) and which not to read

(I also think it's a philosopher's job to learn to write and to learn to like writing. Video and audio are only secondary formats. They have some good things about them but they aren't the primary way to communicate ideas with serious people. I have some more comments related to this below.)

Sanctuaries for the Best of the Human Species

Another thing I was wondering is whether CT wants to be alone in the world, to be special. He says things like that others don't criticize Objectivism like he does. Is he bragging, or would he be thrilled to find out I exist and eager to discuss with me? He hasn't replied to my letter yet, but it's only been a day. Maybe he's reading through the many links or he happens to be busy this weekend. Who knows. I will wait and see. This is not a criticism, it's just a potential issue I thought of, a way he could be. I'm not accusing him, just considering the possibilities. It's interesting to me because I consider myself to be in a similar position to what CT thinks his situation is. I think I'm pretty alone in a world of dumb people. This is a common belief. I have various reasons to think it which are not common. CT has some legitimate reasons to think this kinda thing, too. But anyway, I don't like it. I want better people to talk with, to get criticism from, to get suggestions from, to have more articles worth reading and videos worth watching, etc. But lots of people actually don't want that. It's intuitive to me to want it, and I kinda assumed CT would want it when I wrote my letter, but it occurred to me that my perspective is unusual, so maybe he's not interested in finding someone reasonably like-minded who he can talk with as perhaps an equal or even someone who is anywhere near equal. (Related, why wouldn't he be on HBL talking with Binswanger? Binswanger is actually pretty responsive to people who post on his HBL forum. So CT could be talking more with someone he admires, if he wanted to.) I think one should want to find, meet and talk with great people. One should care enough to pursue leads on that, and definitely not feel threatened by it. One of my favorite passages from Atlas Shrugged:

“Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own—they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal—for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them—while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors—hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom—the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

“I’ve felt it all my life,” she said. It was an answer she could not refuse him.

Also there's one of my favorite Rand quotes that I've never seen any other Objectivists take notice of, from The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy” in The Return of the Primitive:

Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?

With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.

They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.

I have a discussion forum (plus websites, articles, videos, open blog comments, and a public email address) that attempts to offer some sanctuary for the best of the human species, especially fighters for ideas. I am unaware of any serious attempt by anyone else to build such a sanctuary (and I've looked quite a lot, both for sanctuaries and for people to invite to mine or discuss with). I hope CT will appreciate and join my sanctuary, or at least care enough to say what he thinks is wrong with it – or, in the alternative (or additionally) I hope he'll care to build his own sanctuary and try to offer sanctuary to me (or tell me why I'm not worthy of such a sanctuary – what am I so wrong or dumb about, that I'm not at all the person I think I am, and is there any way to fix it?). If CT is the person he thinks he is and claims to be, he ought to know this quote and have thought about it, and be taking action accordingly, right? Or if he missed it, perhaps he'll thank me for pointing him to it and start living by it. I know he's trying to be a fighter for ideas, and I respect that, and I am too, and I hope that can lead to some mutually beneficial interaction – but I've had similar hopes with many people and routinely been disappointed by how bad and unreasonable they turn out to be. And unlike most people who say that, I have much of it publicly documented and anyone is welcome to point out how I'm mistaken in my evaluations of what happened. But I haven't given up and have e.g. contacted CT!

Also related to my own view of the world: when I wrote my letter to CT, at the end I suggested discussion. I had in mind asychronous text discussion, particularly on a forum with support for nested quoting and permalinks. He may have thought I wanted a verbal discussion, perhaps to go on YouTube. He seems to favor that kinda format. But I don't think verbal discussion is very good compared to text, especially when it's done in real time so people are rushed. Text with proper quoting is the most serious format which is best for making intellectual progress. It's easier to clear up miscommunications with text, easier to avoid talking past each other, easier to double check things (rereading is much easier than asking people to repeat things), it's easier to be calm and unemotional, it's easier to edit, it's easier for other people to skim or engage with, and so on.

And guys, this isn't just about CT. If you're reading this, and you think you're a fighter for ideas, or want to be, say something. Type a comment below.

Book Writing

CT is writing multiple books but doesn't seem to have any (public) essays. He should build up to books. Writing is hard. People should start small, e.g. tweets.

Master writing tweets. Then 250 word essays, then 500 word essays. Write dozens or hundreds. Work your way up to long essays (like 3000 words). Get really experienced with that. Find out all kinds of ways it's hard, what problems come up, etc, and make progress as a writer. Get fast and comfortable at writing and editing, so it's natural and intuitive and partly automated.

And try dozens of writing styles and see what works well for you, what you like, etc. Experiment.

And read stuff about how to write. Look for tips. Look for in-depth guides. See what ideas are out there and start forming opinions of them and trying most of them out at least a little.

Try to figure out what types of editing and polishing produce a lot of value, and what's unnecessary except for your most polished material, and what's unnecessary in all cases. How can you best spend your writing time to efficiently create a lot of value? What is less efficient but worth doing in special cases? What is common stuff people do that you shouldn't do at all?

After long essays, don't just keep making slightly longer things until you get to books. That won't work well. Long essays can be written with certain kinds of organizational techniques (and, indeed, with limited knowledge of organizing writing at all) and books need other, different ones. To work towards books, the next step after long essays is to try different ways of organizing what you write.

Try different methods of outlining. Try different approaches without an outline. Try different ways of writing notes about the essay in advance to see what helps or not. (Some of this will have been learned while writing essays in the first place, but focus on it more now.) Try dividing essays into named or unnamed sections more. Try writing strictly or loosely to an outline. Try more or less detailed outlining. Try various methods of brainstorming about what to write. Try writing by inspiration for topic and content. Try writing in a more methodical way or more casually and off-hand like speaking in real time or like stream of consciousness writing. Try writing test essays about a topic and seeing how they come out, then a separate real one. Try writing a really-quick, super-rough draft, then editing the hell out of it. Try approaches with more or less editing. Try developing the skill of writing good material the first time that doesn't need much editing – quickly, without a high effort – and see if you can do that effectively. And so on.

And then try putting together longer stuff in various ways, e.g. by writing a 15k word piece that involves 5 long essays glued together, and try different ways of gluing smaller pieces into bigger works. Try making bigger works with fairly independent parts, and with more interconnections, and compare the results and the difficulty of creating them. And think about whether tight coupling of sections of writing is good or bad and why. Tight coupling is the programmer term for having lots of dependencies between parts of a program and, spoiler alert, it's broadly considered bad. Find out issues like that exist – there are many others worth knowing about – and learn about them.

Books are hard – especially some types more than others – and many people spend a ton of time on writing a book and get a bad result. It's better to spend a ton of time on practicing and learning and get to the point you're more reasonably confident you know how to do a good book, and you have the skills so that it won't cost so much time and energy to make. Also, before books, one needs to debate hundreds of people, if not thousands (not as video taped social performances, but mostly as asynchronous text discussion). One really needs to do his best to get criticism from all comers, to find out every reason anyone knows that the ideas you plan to put in the book may be mistaken, and address that. One needs to subject all the book ideas to Paths Forward. One should normally only write books about ideas that one already has public essays about (to allow people to reply to the ideas before you put all the work into making a book version). (BTW, I'm not picky about publication mediums. Blog posts are a type of essay. It doesn't have to be prestigious. You can self-publish on your own website, no problem. You do need to visit other people's forums to seek out more discussion and feedback though, especially if you're obscure.)

Book writing is normally overreaching. People make an overwhelmingly large amount of errors while writing books – which overwhelms their ability to correct errors, and so the books end up with tons of errors in them – because they don't have the massive amount of background knowledge one needs to properly prepare.

In general, people should mostly do fairly easy things. If something isn't easy for you, that means it has a high resource cost (time, energy, etc) for you to do it. If you built up your skills more first – if you focused on self-improvement and self-education more for a while – then you could do the same thing for a cheaper resource cost. If you keep becoming more powerful and practicing and learning, things get easier and easier, so you can do them at a lower resource cost and have way more resources left over to keep learning even more. It's important for life to be a virtuous cycle with a big focus on making progress, and you keep getting better at doing things so you can do more and more stuff more easily. But what people usually do is they focus so much on doing things (like writing books) way too early on, and it's really expensive and takes all their time and energy away from making progress, and so they are always resource-starved (too busy) to learn as much as they should, and so they never get very far in life. And they think they can't take time out to do a bunch more learning and practicing because they don't have time for it, but such activities save time in the long run!

I don't know if CT is making these mistakes but I suspect it (not an accusation, just my initial guess that I will readily change my mind about if I get more information indicating otherwise) and I wanted to write about them again, and some of my comments about how to build up towards writing a book are new.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)