Mediocre Followers

Most Objectivists aren’t very good at Objectivism. Most Popperians aren’t very good at Popper. Same with Goldratt and everything else, or at least everything where the leader is really smart, deep, etc. Stuff where there is a ton of knowledge is hard to learn well.

If I could meet someone who was actually really good at one thing, I’d want an Objectivist. I think that’s the most important.

If I could meet someone who was mediocre at it, maybe an Oist, CRist or TOCist are all about equal. I don’t have a clear preference. Maybe I should prefer one but idk.

When I say most Oists, CRists, etc., are mediocre, what do I mean? What standard of judgment am I using?

I can’t mean that most of them are below average. That wouldn’t make sense. I need a point of comparison besides other people in the community.

I think the right comparison is to Rand or Popper themselves – or to their writing and talks.

Most CRists are less than 10% as good as Popper. I read Popper books, like them, then talk to Popperians and it’s not very similar. They are way worse. It’s not like talking to Popper. They don’t know what Popper knew. They haven’t caught up to Popper’s knowledge. They aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants. They aren’t in a position to develop CR further. They have failed to catch up to it.

This is the general state of the world. Most people are bad at catching up to existing knowledge. They do a bad job of it. They still benefit from this. They’re much better off than if that knowledge just didn’t exist or they didn’t try to learn it. But only a few people make significant contributions to human knowledge. Only a few giants stand on the shoulders of other giants. Most people cling to a giant’s shoes and try not to fall off. A few make it up to the belt and hang on there.

There are some things that are misleading. It’s easy to overestimate Popperians, Oists, etc. Why? Because superficially they sound a lot more than 10% like Popper. They echo some of his phrases. They repeat some of his arguments. If you don’t poke and prod them, they seem a lot like Popper because they’re echoing him. They can answer some questions about CR.

But they’re fragile. If they have to debate someone challenging, or deal with anything that Popper didn’t cover in his books, they fall apart. If you grill them effectively, they fall apart. They don’t actually understand it well.

Popper himself was different. His knowledge was much more robust. What he wrote in his books wasn’t all he knew. It was the tip of the iceberg. It was the stuff he thought would be good to share. (I share more, due to the internet enabling sharing way more, but it’s still limited compared to what’s actually in my head.) But Popper had a whole rich knowledge structure surrounding what he wrote. You could ask him about anything he wrote about and he’d have more to say that isn’t in his books. And you could ask a question he hadn’t thought of, or give a criticism he wasn’t familiar with, and usually within a few minutes he’d have some kind of response. He’d be able to come up with some thoughts about it. Whereas Popperians mostly can’t come up with worthwhile thoughts of their own.

Many authors don’t understand what they write very well. Authors can be fragile. But the best ones, who actually wrote important new stuff, didn’t just get lucky. They knew a lot of things and could think on their feet some too.

It’s not just debate and intellectual activities where Popperians are unlike Popper. They also fail to integrate CR into their lives. They use it for armchair philosophy but not on a daily basis. Debate and intellectual activities, like philosophy discussions, are actually where they are most like Popper. That’s their strong suit!

Popper’s ideas were integrated into his own life, but most of his fans only use the ideas when they put on their thinking cap and go into intellectual mode. It’s disconnected from the rest of their life. It kinda has to be because they have a whole conventional way of thinking already and can’t replace it with CR because they don’t have nearly enough CR knowledge for it to be a functional replacement for how they do most of their thinking.

People need to learn a lot to use CF much, too. I’ve encouraged them to practice. I’ve given them reasonably specific things they could practice like using IGC charts or organizing writing or knowledge into trees. Popper didn’t do that kind of encouraging. He didn’t tell his fans what it takes to learn his stuff. He mostly stuck to pretty abstract stuff, whereas I do a mix. There’s no CR equivalent of the book “Understanding Objectivism”. Mises has no book like that either but studying economics is more of an established tradition, and people actually seem to learn Austrian economics better than they learn CR or Oism. TOC doesn’t tell people how to learn it but does a lot to make it easier to learn. TOC has particularly accessible books that take less study to understand. TOC is easier to benefit from than Popper, Rand or Mises. However, even the “TOC experts” are not much like Goldratt himself. My general impression is they don’t have his creative insight and originality. They can help companies with the solutions Goldratt figured out, but Goldratt could go to a new industry and figure out new solutions, while his followers largely can’t do that.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Analysis of David Deutsch’s The Final Prejudice

The Final Prejudice by David Deutsch (DD) was first published in the Taking Children Seriously Journal issue #18, in 1995. It criticizes society’s ageism (bias against children) using a 1992 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (Rascals, season 6, episode 7) as an extended example. (Bias against the elderly is also ageism, and is a serious issue, but isn’t discussed here.) Having now watched the episode, I disagree with the article.

As context: I reread the article as part of my review of my past history with DD. I’ve been trying to understand why he’s now lying about me and encouraging years of severe harassment from his fans, how he changed, whether I misunderstood him in the past, whether I did anything wrong, etc. Previously, I thought DD must have gotten worse at logic and argument in order to write his smear of Ayn Rand. But I now see that, before I even met him, he was already capable of those errors. He could write good stuff sometimes, but writing some bad stuff isn’t a change. A pattern I’ve identified is that DD’s thinking quality drops when he’s biased. He has a strong bias to see children as especially mistreated.


In the Star Trek (sci-fi) TV episode, Captain Picard and three others are in a transporter accident. It somehow changes their physical bodies to around what they were at age 12. DD argues that the scenario with adults minds in child bodies shows how prejudiced people are against children.

I’ll go through DD’s article and comment on many points.

The Ship's Doctor, Beverly Crusher, runs some tests and determines that the bodies of the Captain and the others are the bodies of twelve-year-olds, but their minds are entirely unaffected. She explains the results of her tests to the First Officer, Commander William Riker. The striking thing about this scene is that the Captain is right there, next to her, but she is not reporting to him. She is talking about him, but over him, as though he were not present at all. This sort of casual discourtesy towards children is familiar enough. But this is not a child. It is the Captain of the Enterprise. Her commanding officer.

Riker was the highest ranking officer who wasn’t in a new body. He was acting as Captain at the time. Crusher should report to him about what happened to Picard and say whether or not the entity in front of them is the Picard or not. Riker should (and I’d guess legally does) command the ship until either he sees the Captain as usual or he receives information about special circumstances. So I disagree with DD’s allegation of ageism.

Also, in Star Trek, changes of who is in command are often (though not consistently) stated out loud instead of being assumed, which seems reasonable. That’s a little like Japanese train operators using a point-and-call system – communicating more reduces errors.

In every other Star Trek episode that deals with shape changes, or with unusually-shaped sentient beings, the overriding consideration is: it's the mind that counts.

But it’s the mind that counts in this episode. After the ship and all the regular adults are captured by Ferengi slavers, Picard and the other shape-changed people use their minds to successfully save the ship and crew. They’re able to do problem solving just as effectively as in other episodes. And they even get some effective help from the ship’s actual children. The show depicts the shape-changed people as mentally competent and as largely unhindered by their weaker, smaller bodies. They’re effective like regular adults.

A person is a mind, not a body. That is the attitude we have come to expect from those good people of the 24th century, to whom racism and all similar prejudices are incomprehensible historical aberrations.

No, they run into prejudices all the time, which are a major cause of their military conflicts with other species like the Klingons or Romulans. A fan wiki describes the Romulan’s “Relationships with other species” like this:

In keeping with their xenophobic attitudes, the Romulans tend to conquer species rather than form alliances with them, and individual Romulans tend to treat other species with varying degrees of disdain.

So, no, that sort of prejudice would not be incomprehensible to the Enterprise crew. It’s not a historical aberration to them.

The Captain gives Riker an order. When Riker replies, we immediately see that there is something embarrassed and tentative about his manner. He hesitates before adding the word “sir”.

The hesitation is tiny and Riker’s manner may be explained by something other than ageism. He was asked about what happened to the shuttle and was talking about how it was destroyed and his Captain nearly died. He personally cares about his Captain and turned down being Captain of his own ship in order to keep working with Picard, so Picard’s near-death would be emotional for Riker.

Riker may also have hesitated because it’s an unusual situation and he’s not used to it yet. If Picard was in the body of a Ferengi or a lower ranking adult, Riker might also have hesitated. As the second highest ranking officer on the ship, he isn’t used to saying “sir” to most people.

What is going on here? The Captain of a Starship is not being taken seriously by his own subordinates.

Riker does take him seriously: reports to him, follows his orders, etc. Also later, when Picard pretends that Riker is his father and hugs him (to fool their captors), Riker finds that awkward because he does remember that it’s his captain, not a child.

Yet when it becomes clear that Captain Picard intends to get on with his job of running the Enterprise, Dr Crusher immediately tries to stop him, on the pretext of needing to conduct further tests. He tells her that she can continue testing the other three, and leaves the Sick Bay, whereupon Dr Crusher and Counsellor Deanna Troi exchange glances, like worried parents.

The glances they exchange could be more about the captain's typical stubbornness than anything parental. As context, Picard irritated Dr. Crusher in five episodes by trying to avoid his annual physical (medical examination).

And I don’t think wanting to run more tests or being concerned is a pretext. They don’t know what’s going on yet at that point in the episode.

When the Captain reaches the Bridge and issues orders, Lieutenant Worf and the others can barely bring themselves to comply. The Captain reminds them that he is still the Captain. Still they hesitate, until Riker's nod of confirmation pushes them into uneasy obedience. The crew know that the Captain's mind is unaffected, but they are simply unable to take him seriously in a child's body.

That’s not what happened. No ship-wide announcement was made. There is no indication that Worf or others are aware that this is their Captain or that his mind is unaffected. So they properly look to the most senior recognizable person and follow his lead.

You should not follow the orders of an entity you aren’t confident is your superior officer just on its own say-so that it’s not an imposter, body snatcher, or anything else bad. And Picard, (reasonably) failing to fully adjust to the situation immediately, didn’t explain it to them very well. He kinda assumed they would follow his orders instead of recognizing that he’d need to give a brief speech first to cover the key points of what happened. So instead of explaining things clearly, he starts giving orders then starts explaining in a disorganized, incomplete way. So hesitant reactions from the crew make sense.

Dr Crusher arrives on the bridge and asks, in a worried voice, to see the Captain privately in his ready-room. […] Dr Crusher, looking every bit the concerned parent […]

Crusher and Picard are close friends (there are hints of romantic interest). In other episodes, she often calls him “Jean-Luc” and they’ve eaten breakfast together. She could be worried about him as a friend. It doesn’t have to be an ageism issue.

Outrageously, [Crusher] wants to persuade [Picard] to relinquish command. She cobbles together the excuse that his condition could possibly at some time in the future affect his mind.

It’s an extraordinary medical event that no one has any familiarity with. They’ve had only a few hours to figure out what’s going on. It’s reasonable not to be confident about what will happen over time. At the time she says this, they don’t yet know know what caused it, whether he’ll age normally or be frozen in this body, or whether there is anything unusual still going on. Further tests and caution make sense instead of putting 100% confidence in their initial medical findings regarding his current but not future state.

And I think the Captain should relinquish command temporarily even if his mind is completely reliable. Why? Because he’s in a body he’s unfamiliar with. His inexperience using his smaller muscles, shorter height, etc., could be a matter of life and death in a combat situation or when handling dangerous materials. He needs some retraining before he’s ready for field work. (He could do desk work in the new body just fine, but his Captain’s job sometimes involves combat and physical stress without warning.)

Also, the crew would have to adjust to taking orders from a different body and voice. They might react slower than usual, which could be dangerous. Is that a transition that’s normally done mid-mission? I’m not sure what the standard policies are, but it could be reasonable if switching officers was normally only done at home base between missions. If you can’t have your regular captain, there are clear advantages to switching to a new leader who everyone is already familiar with instead of to an unfamiliar leader.

Further, Dr. Crusher has the power to order the Captain to go to bed instead of commanding the starship. She gave that order in Angel One (season 1, episode 13) when Picard had a virus causing a respiratory ailment. He obeys and gives command to Lieutenant Geordi La Forge. When Picard is in a child’s body, she chooses not to order him to step down. Instead, they have this conversation:

Picard: You are asking me to step down?
Dr Crusher: You are still Jean-Luc Picard. What do you think you should do?

She knows he can still think effectively and appeals to his reasoning. Then he voluntarily gives Riker command.

they accept aliens, such as Vulcans, as Starship Captains … there is one shape - one shape only - that disqualifies a person from receiving the respect of his fellow human beings. And that is the shape of a human child.

DD is making a thinking error. There isn’t one shape only. The shape of a Vulcan child is another shape that they’d be biased against. Shapes like a bed, a poop, a cartoon character, a spider, a snake, a turd sandwich or a giant douche could be others.

Also, Ensign Ro isn’t human, and wasn’t transformed into the shape of a human child. She’s Bajoran.

And DD is simply factually wrong about what the Star Trek show is like. People are routinely biased based on species. Bias about gender also comes up.

A fan wiki summarizes some of the species-based wars (note: it calls other species “races” – and actually Humans, Klingons, Vulcans and Romulans can inter-breed, though that doesn’t make sense to me):

At the start of the 24th century, the Federation began an unprecedented period of peaceful exploration of the galaxy, free of major conflicts, as its main adversary of the previous century, the Klingon Empire, was now at peace with it. However, relations with the Romulans remained hostile, albeit at a low, "cold war" level. During the 24th century, there were a series series [sic] of conflicts as the Federation came into contact with other races, such as the Cardassians, the Talarians, the Tholians, and the Tzenkethi.

In other words, conflict between species is one of the main themes in Star Trek. And species are viewed as groups (so a conflict with “the Cardassians” is possible because that species is viewed primarily as one group). And that’s just a sample from one time period. It’s hard to imagine that, given all the wars between species, people would have no prejudice about species (“shape”) as DD claims.

Prejudice within the Federation is actually common. Each starship has a crew of primarily one species, not a representative mix of all species in the Federation. With traits people aren’t biased about, a starship crew should be roughly a random sample from the population in the Federation (which includes multiple species). But the species in Star Trek tend to associate primarily with their own kind and to crew ships with primarily one species. Overall, I think in the Star Trek world, the species mix less than humans historically did. In other words, they’re more prejudiced about species than past humans were about race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.

And the show has repeatedly depicted specific prejudices. For example, Worf is a Klingon who was adopted by humans and raised on Earth. In Family (season 4, episode 2), he says:

I do not believe any human can truly understand my dishonor.

Thinking humans can’t understand some Klingon ideas is prejudiced. And later he attributes lateness to the human species:

My mother is never on time. It is so… human of her.

O’Brien replies:

Well, you know women.

That’s a human character making a blatantly sexist remark. Examples of prejudice are easy to find throughout the show.

Worf actually shows mixed loyalties – between the Enterprise and his species – in Heart of Glory (season 1, episode 19). In that episode, Worf also says that Klingons don’t take hostages (because hostage-taking is cowardly). So he attributes personality characteristics and moral values to a species.

Overall, the show writers view the biological traits of species as affecting personality, ideas, and most of life. The writers make differences and conflicts between species a major focus of the whole show. DD’s claims about everyone in Star Trek fully respecting everyone else, except children, are ridiculous.

Captain Picard himself was once kidnapped by the Borg, who transformed him into one of themselves (which involved surgically altering one side of his head) and assimilated his mind into their collective consciousness. He began to collaborate with them in their plan to conquer the galaxy. He ceased to be Captain Picard and became Locutus of Borg. Yet there again, it was his mind that counted. It was not his shape-change but his robotic mouthing of Borg slogans that told the crew, and the audience, that he was no longer the Captain. Later in the same episode, Lieutenant Commander Data managed to weaken the link between Picard and the Borg collective. Picard only needed to say one word ("sleep") in what was clearly his old character, for him to be accepted as himself again. He still looked like a Borg.

That’s not what happened. Picard says sleep multiple times and never fully sounds like himself. But Data is mind linked to Picard and also Deanna Troi, an empath, says the Captain is back. And even though they don’t think he’s a Borg anymore, they don’t put him back in charge of the ship. Plus:

Even after over thirty years since his assimilation, Picard would tell Seven of Nine that he didn't feel as if he had regained all of his humanity since his liberation from the Collective.

So Picard spent decades not viewing himself as fully human, and thinking that what species he belongs to matters.

Also, DD is mistaken about “in the same episode”. The Borg storyline is split over two episodes in separate seasons (it was used as a cliffhanger).

Meanwhile the superhuman Guinan, who runs 10-Forward, the ship's bar, relaxation area, and alternative counselling service, is taking her rejuvenation in her stride. She too has been relieved of her duties. (Why, by the way? Is she now too young to be allowed in the bar?)

She ought to be careful with bars and alcohol. Her smaller body is now more vulnerable to alcohol (she’ll get drunker while drinking less than normal) in ways that aren’t intuitive to her. And working in a bar sometimes involves asking people to leave, commanding respect to break up fights, refusing to give people more alcohol, and other things she might struggle with in a new, unfamiliar and smaller body and with different voice tones than before.

Keiko O'Brien is another of the changed crew members. In their quarters, her husband Chief Miles O'Brien is having great difficulty coming to terms with her shape. When she tries to be close to him physically, an expression of revulsion crosses his face. When she brings him some coffee, he nervously tells her “Careful! That's hot!”

The coffee comment didn’t strike me as nervous and it chronologically came first (I think it was an exaggerated depiction of his habitual behavior towards children, not nerves). Plus, he offered her coffee first, which isn’t how one normally treats a child. Plus, he reminds her about how he likes his coffee, which seems to be about his difficulty remembering who she is, not her age.

In the scene, he’s uncomfortable before she touches him. He does get up and move away when she hugs his arm.

She questions him about whether their marriage is over and pressures him to accept her as his wife, immediately, in full, because she might not get her old body back. He says he’s uncomfortable with her being a little girl. He tries to avoid making any long term decisions right away. He hopes the scientists and doctors will soon fix it. I think he was being more reasonable than she was, but DD sees it the other way around.

It’s not a bad thing for adults to have negative reactions about having spouse-type physical contact with what appears to be a child. That’s not an ageist prejudice that people need to change. It’s an attitude which too many people ought to find harder to override, not easier.

And wouldn’t spouses be uncomfortable with touching after many shape changes, not just a shape change into the form of a child? What if his wife was in a male body? Should he be accused of homophobia for not adjusting immediately? What about if she had an alien body? Should he already be mentally prepared, in advance, to continue his marriage in all aspects with pretty much any alien body? Or what if his wife was in the body of another adult, human woman? That’d be problematic too.

DD is basically accusing a father of ageism for seeing pre-pubescent bodies as revolting to sexualize.

Meanwhile, DD’s TCS co-founder (SFC) was writing criticism of age of consent laws in the same journal and time period, which DD did not criticize, disagree with or object to. Actually, he expressed substantial agreement with it in his TCS emails. Plus, DD was often the brains behind SFC’s articles.

SFC even talked about meeting leading NAMBLA members and spending many hours posting on alt.sex.intergen (a usenet group for discussing intergenerational sex, often positively). SFC wrote:

I have in the past had lengthy correspondences with several leading NAMBLA people and have even met some of them in person. It seems they became interested in TCS after I wrote the article, "Thoughts on the Legal Status of Children", in which I argued against age-based laws. […] In all the many hours I spent discussing children and children's rights and adult-child sexual relationships, on alt.sex.intergen and privately and in person even […]

SFC’s main complaint about NAMBLA is that they seemed like they might be good and pro-child – she thought she found a good lead on people who’d agree with her about TCS – but it turned out they were just as disrespectful towards children and “coercive” as other people. (SFC’s idea of being disrespectful towards children includes things like making them go to school, making them go to bed, making them brush their teeth, controlling their diet, having the “agenda” that your child learn to read, or otherwise not helping children get whatever they want.) She doesn’t see NAMBLA as being particularly awful (but they are awful!), just as failing to live up to her TCS ideals.

Under SFC’s and DD’s leadership, the TCS community was surprisingly hostile to ideas with partial overlap with TCS. There was hostility to homeschoolers, unschoolers, Sudbury Valley Schools, Summerhill, Montessori, Nonviolent Communication, Gatto, Holt, Parent Effectiveness Training, and much more. Why, then, did SFC spend so much time on NAMBLA and alt.sex.intergen? Why was she having relatively friendly discussions with people who prey on children? Meanwhile she got herself kicked off more mainstream parenting forums for calling the participants child abusers (because they’d e.g. make their kids go to school, go to bed, or brush their teeth).

I think this NAMBLA stuff is really bad. As someone who has written TCS articles (about other topics, not age of consent) and thinks TCS had some good ideas (and some bad ideas), I want to say that I disown, disavow and repudiate these ideas about age of consent laws and what SFC called “adult-child sexual relationships” (a.k.a. sexual abuse). Note: DD and SFC haven’t retracted these ideas and I don’t think they’ve changed their minds.

We call the same behaviour “pouting” when it is done by a twelve-year-old, and “contemplating one's situation” when it is done by an adult. Shame on us!

It’s not the same behavior. Contemplating means thinking deeply and productively about something. Pouting means being upset and moody without doing problem solving.

Adults do get accused of pouting, too. The biggest determiner is not age but demeanor. People look at behavior (including speech) for clues about what mental processes are going on inside someone’s head (like pouting, contemplating, plotting revenge, or something else).

Adults are accused of pouting less because they’ve learned to avoid some external behaviors that people interpret as pouting. They also have less reason to pout because they have more control over their lives, so they have more opportunities to act on solutions they think of.

I think children actually do pout more. Partly that’s because they have less knowledge about dealing with their emotions. Plus, children more often have to put up with a problem while being prevented from taking the actions they think would solve it. Contemplation is less useful when you lack the power to use the good ideas that you come up with. It can be really frustrating to think of solutions that other people arbitrarily disallow, so it’s understandable that most people don’t like doing that.

Guinan accuses her of “pouting”

What Guinan said was “What are you going to do? Go back to your room and pout?” That’s not an accusation that pouting is currently happening.

Later, the Doctor is discussing the Captain's medical condition. But again, not with the Captain: with the First Officer, in loco parentis! It seems that even in the 24th century, children still have no right to elementary privacy, and a doctor's primary duty is still not to the patient, but to the patient's parent (or in this case, ‘guardian’).

In other episodes, Dr. Crusher gives medical information to Picard or others without regard for the (adult) patient’s privacy. Whether that’s good or bad, it’s not a matter of ageism.

At the end, the four transformed individuals are “cured”. It is taken for granted that no one in their right mind would choose to be in a child's body – in our culture, anyway. And who can argue with that?

This isn’t true. One of the characters stays a child until after the episode ends. She says it’s not so bad and another character encourages her not to rush to turn back into being an adult, saying the transporter (cure) will still be available later.

This illustrates that DD gets basic facts wrong when he’s biased. That’s a serious flaw which requires readers be careful with anything DD says. It also helps explain his lying about me.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

David Deutsch Harassment Update for November 2021

Since my last update about the ongoing harassment campaign, David Deutsch (DD) and the CritRats (a name for his fans and associates) remain entirely unwilling to discuss the problems or negotiate (they’ve never done those things in the past, either).

News:

DD has been working behind the scenes with the second worst harasser for months or years. DD chose that person to translate BoI into German and DD made videos with him. Link. DD seems to be giving out a large, public reward for participation in the harassment campaign. Rather than distance himself from harassment, DD is professionally associating with a person who lied that I threatened violence, hired me for private lessons then plagiarized me, and either DDoSed me or helped cover up who DDoSed me on his behalf.

I received a credible report about some things CritRats are privately saying about me (and they keep talking about me; this isn’t just past stuff). It included multiple accusations against me that I’d never heard of before. The accusations seem to be a mix of 1) lies 2) mischaracterizations of reasonable things I’ve done that no one has ever told me any objection to or asked me to stop doing. If these were real issues, instead of excuses to hate me, you’d think they’d demand I make changes, rather than keeping the allegedly serious problems secret from me (so that I don’t even know what they don’t want me to do).

I’ve just posted a new article criticizing DD’s old TCS article The Final Prejudice. He’s a worse and more biased thinker than people realize.

I want to be left alone, but DD and his fans and associates won’t stop violating my rights. They offer no arguments defending their actions, won’t discuss the problems (I'm willing to try to do conflict resolution, negotiation, etc.), and keep violating my rights.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Crony Capitalists

I wrote this to economist George Reisman.


I’ve noticed you use Jeff Bezos as an example of a good capitalist/businessman/entrepreneur. I haven’t researched him in detail (I doubt you have either), but I’m skeptical of him. I fear he’s a social climber. I also think Ayn Rand would be right to judge his choice of women.

Amazon has long had large amounts of fraud in its marketplace, including fake reviews and fake products, particularly from China. They haven’t done much about this and appear to like it and to intentionally mislead customers about the difference between buying from Amazon and from third party sellers. Amazon has done things like push to get Fakespot – a site that helps identify fake reviews on Amazon – deplatformed from Apple’s app store. I also think there's merit in some, but definitely not all, of the complaints about the working conditions for Amazon employees (of course the government is more at fault than Amazon).

Amazon got the government to start an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple and book publishers even though Amazon had much more ebook market share than Apple. The market leader, Amazon, successfully used the government to suppress competitors so they could more freely act like an abusive monopolist.

Recently, Amazon made a video game studio (with a half a billion dollars a year budget) and, after repeated delays, released New World, which is an incompetent mess that shows the people in charge have no idea what they’re doing on many levels. They’ve also been lying about pay-to-win and microtransactions issues. I’ve followed this as both a programmer and gamer, and I know details.

Today, I saw a video explaining how Twitch – a video-game-oriented video streaming platform owned by Amazon – is complicit in millions of dollars of money laundering, as well as defrauding their advertisers. In short, Twitch was recently hacked and tons of their data and code was dumped in public, including financial information. Analyzing this data made it pretty easy to catch large scale money laundering (some of which involves using software to create lots of fake viewers, which advertisers then pay to advertise to). Twitch already had all this data before it was publicly leaked, and they profited off the money laundering while not acting against it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAliAILAee8

Amazon also censored/deplatformed a review I wrote warning people that a book heavily plagiarized my philosophical ideas. (The author said he was my fan and paid me for private calls to teach him stuff, then stopped speaking to me and secretly wrote the book. It doesn’t contain my name once, but contains unique, original material from the calls and from many of my blog posts including posts written after he cut contact. He even used a couple exact quotes from me presented as his own words.)

I urge you to be very careful about which businessmen you promote as wonderful representatives of capitalism. Currently, I think most of them are corrupt social climbers with friends in Washington. It’s unsafe to say any current CEOs are good without researching them.

For example, Elon Musk has a big fan following, and is hailed as a genius, but he's an especially bad crony capitalist who gets many US government subsidies while also dealing with the Chinese government a bunch.

I respected Steve Jobs a lot but I think Tim Cook is mediocre. He was good at his pre-CEO job (supply chain logistics stuff) but is bad as CEO. Cook has moved Apple much more in the direction of making friends with government and environmentalists. And Apple’s Mac and interface design teams have gotten worse.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and many similar companies are connected with government a ton.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Pandering Cycle

There’s a cycle where people get popular with stuff that stands out some, isn’t bland. They appeal to early adopters, get popular, then become bland, generic, dumbed down, etc., to make the most money from that popularity by appealing to the masses more.

They do something good, it gets them a reputation, then they ruin it for a larger, blander audience. Like Brandon Sanderson books are getting more basic as he has a bigger audience that is more lowest-common-denominator, more beginners to fantasy, more reversion to the mean for audience quality, etc.

Why do the masses want dumbed down good things? Why does that happen repeatedly? Why not take the shortcut of making bland crap in the first place? The masses don’t chase that necessarily. There is plenty of it. They want bland crap with a reputation for not being bland crap. They want a lie. They want to pretend to be early adopters, power gamers, super nerds, etc. – pretend to be seeking out something high quality, special, different – while actually they are fed bland crap they can digest. They don’t actually like and can’t deal with the kind of great things that early adopters and the best people want. But they want to pretend to like those things but actually what they are consuming is different, changed, easier. That’s why they make hard games like diablo 3 and then nerf them (and partly they were using the reputation of diablo 2, which was harder).

The masses would rather pretend to be Sanderson fans – fans of something great – than be fans of something obviously basic. They want to pretend to be something they aren’t. And if Sanderson will change what he writes for them, he does them a great service. He takes a lot of the dishonesty on himself. They don’t even have to know he’s writing different, easier books. He doesn’t say this publicly. Similarly, if Diablo 3 developers nerf the game, without advertising that fact publicly, then they are taking a lot of the dishonesty on themselves.

The masses want to fake how good they are and have someone else do the lying for them. But they don’t want to be great and engage with great things – that’s hard, challenging, etc. Like how people want to be like Hank Rearden without actually being like him.

The public needs great men to establish some legitimate or at least plausible reputations and then sell their souls to help the public fool themselves. They don’t just want basic stuff. They want basic stuff masquerading as great stuff. They want to pretend to be something they’re not.

Sanderson doesn’t take all the lying on himself. He has editors and advisors to help with that. He even has co-authors to do it. They give plausible reasons for writing dumbed down stuff. They don’t call it that. They do a lot of the changing and Sanderson eventually picks up more of it himself and changes too.

The Diablo 3 devs had all kinds of excuses about fairness and balance. And they are a group. No person got all the balancing he wanted. There was a bit of design by committee. So no one will take the responsibility or blame. Committees are good at lowest common denominator decisions that no one really likes. If three people each want to keep a different hard part, then maybe no one will get what they want. They will each think they valiantly fought to keep the difficulty in the game. But each of them, two out of three times, voted to remove some difficulty they thought was unbalanced, unfair, lame, etc.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Writing Critique for "Community Banking and Fintech"

This is analysis and critique of the writing (not content) from the first two sections of patio11’s new article Community Banking and Fintech.

One of the best things about the Internet is that it both provides infrastructure for society but also demystifies that infrastructure.

It’s saying “both provides [x] … but also [does] [y]”. It’s problematic to conjoin two “both” things with “but” rather than “and”.

It also says “one [thing] … is that it both”. This is awkward because “both” means two things, not one. It’s not necessarily strictly wrong because if you conjoin two things then they become one group, but it’s bad.

It’s not necessary to make a complex sentence with the main information structurally nested (imagine the sentence as a dependency grammar tree diagram) below modifier information (that the internet is awesome). The sentence could be written more directly like:

The Internet is great. It both provides infrastructure for society and demystifies that infrastructure.

Or putting the emphasis more on what I think is the main content:

The Internet both provides infrastructure for society and demystifies that infrastructure, which is great.

Or using a simple adjective:

The wonderful Internet both provides infrastructure for society and demystifies that infrastructure.

Moving on to the second sentence which completes the first paragraph:

I’ve spent the last few years going deep on financial infrastructure while working at Stripe, and thought it might be useful to geek out about finance with software people and software with finance people.

I suspect he means geek out by writing this newsletter (this is from the first issue of a new newsletter). But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t write down how he intends to geek out.

There’s no section label to help you out. It doesn’t say like “welcome to the new newsletter” or have any other heading to tell you what this paragraph is for, other than the article title “Community Banking and Fintech” which is a misleading label for this content. Before now, I thought it was the first paragraph of the article, not a meta note about the newsletter itself. But, looking ahead, next is a brief disclaimer paragraph and then there’s a new header which is a longer version of the title. So now I think the real article starts later.

I see that in the email version it’s framed a little better because it says “Hiya! Patrick McKenzie (patio11) here.” at the start of the section. That helps make it seem less like the start of the article, though it’s pretty unclear.

So I think what he meant to say is that the internet is great for providing certain types of information and he’s going to contribute to doing that with this newsletter. But he didn’t explicitly say that. He hints at it, avoids directly saying what he means, and moves on. Maybe he thought it’d be too large of a brag? But he could have toned the rhetoric down to fix that. E.g., instead of “best” he could have said it’s one of his personal favorites, or it’s something he thinks provides a lot of value.

Moving on to the end of the first main article paragraph:

One reason for this is that the U.S. is dependent on community banks throughout much of the nation.

The start of this sentence is a boring mouthful. You don’t learn anything significant from “One reason for this is that”. Those are glue/structure words, not meat/content words. And it’s easy to trim. “One reason is that” would work without the “for this”.

Even with two words deleted it’s still awkward. How can we do better? The point is that it’s just one reason out of multiple reasons. That’d be better as a modifier or side note, rather than as the lead of the sentence that the main point is structurally nested under (imagine the sentence as a dependency grammar tree diagram).

Here’s a simple restructuring which puts the key information upfront and makes the minor information a modifier:

The U.S. is dependent on community banks throughout much of the nation, which is one reason there are so many.

We could also do a larger rewrite:

Many U.S. banks are small community banks. The U.S. depends on those in many regions.

The original text “throughout much of the nation” would work instead of “in many regions” but it’s longer and less clear: I think the point is that some but not all regions depend on community banks, so I tried to communicate that in the rewrite.

A community bank is a locally-oriented financial institution, generally much smaller than regional or national banks, focused largely on the “traditional business of banking” (taking deposits and lending) versus the capital markets functions that the “money center” banks also engage in.

This is too long for one sentence. It’s trying to say too many things at once. It says four things: what a community bank is, its size, its focus, and a contrast to its focus. It’s easy to split:

A community bank is a locally-oriented financial institution, generally much smaller than regional or national banks, focused largely on the “traditional business of banking” (taking deposits and lending). It doesn’t focus on the capital markets functions that the “money center” banks also engage in.

or

A community bank is a locally-oriented financial institution that’s generally much smaller than regional or national banks. It focuses largely on the “traditional business of banking” (taking deposits and lending) rather than the capital markets functions that the “money center” banks also engage in.

I also changed the “versus” because I think it’s confusing. Some people will think there’s a conflict or fight rather than reading it as “as opposed to”. People may misread something about one type of bank against another, rather than one business strategy instead of another.

And I think the “versus” is problematic with the “also”. The sentence contrasts DL (deposits and lending) versus CMF (capital markets functions). The sentence simultaneously presents two types of banks. Community banks focus on DL, while other (“money center”) banks do both. So the contrast is not DL vs. CMF (the two strategies the “versus” part applies to), it’s DL vs. DL+CMF. (the two contrasting strategies that the “also” part indicates).

Community banks are actually financial dark matter; their market impact and the policy regime supporting them influence all Americans’ access to banking services and many fintech product offerings.

The “many” is bad. It harms the parallelism of “fintech product offerings” with “banking services” and it’s an unnecessary extra word. No qualifier is needed to indicate that this doesn’t affect all fintech products because of the context: it’s just saying access is influenced. Influence on access would already be expected to have only a partial, not total, effect. Even if it only influences access to some fintech products, saying it influences access to fintech products, without a “many” qualifier, is still right.

Putting in unnecessary qualifiers is distracting, particularly for the sharpest readers. They may wonder why it’s there and try to think of a reason that it’s included. Each word should have a purpose, so a reader has to either judge that it’s a writing error or try to come up with a purpose. “Redundancy” is not a very compelling guess about the intended purpose here because I don’t think it’s an important point worth repeating at all, let alone repeating within one sentence, and there’s no similar qualifier for “banking services”.

Also, I’d guess that “fintech products” is better than “fintech product offerings” but there may be a subject-specific reason to use the word “offerings” here that I don’t know. (I’m trying to leave subject-specific stuff alone, e.g. the choice of “capital markets functions” with the double plural, which is unusual but is not wrong and may be best depending on information that I don’t know.)

I’ll stop here because analyzing the whole article like this would take a long time.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Super Fast Super AIs

I saw a comment about fast AIs being super even though they aren’t fundamentally better at thinking than people – just the speed would be enough to make them super powerful. I don’t think the person has considered that 100 people have 100x the computing power of 1 person. So to a first approximation, a superfast 100x AI is as valuable (mentally not physically) as 100 people. If we get an AI that is a billion times faster at thinking, that would raise the overall intelligent computing power of our civilization by around 1/7th since there are around 7 billion people. So that wouldn’t really change the world. If we could get an AI that’s worth a trillion human minds, that would be a big change – around a 143x improvement. Making computers that fast/powerful is problematic though. You run into problems with miniaturization and heat. If you fill up 100,000 warehouses for it, maybe you can get enough computing power, but then it’s taking quite a lot of resources. It still may be a great deal but it’s expensive. That sounds like probably not as big of an improvement to civilization as making non-intelligent computers and the internet, or the improvements related to electricity, gas motors, and machine-powered farming instead of manual labor farming.

That’s just a first approximation. What if we look in more detail?

  1. What are the bottlenecks? More compute power might be a non-constraint.
  2. Is it better to have 1000x the compute power in one person or to have 1000 people? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. What is the optimal or efficient amount of compute power per intelligence? Maybe we should make lots of AIs that are 100x better at computing than people but we shouldn’t try to make a huge one.
  3. Compute power can increase in two basic ways. Do the same thing faster or do more things at once. You can get speed gains or do more computing in parallel. Also other things like more and faster memory/disk matter some. Is one type of increase better or more important than another? In short, parallel compute power is not as good as faster computing.

This leads to sub-issues.

People get bored or wait for things. People don’t seem to max out usage of their computing power. Would an AI max out it’s usage of computing power? Maybe it’d learn to be lazy from our culture, learn about societal expectations, and then use a similar amount of compute power to what humans do, and waste the rest. To use more compute power might require inventing different thinking methods, different attitudes to boredom and laziness, etc. That might work or not work; it’s a separate issue from just building an AI that is the same as a human except with a better CPU.

In other words, choices about using effort, and lifestyle policies, and goals (like social conformity over truth-seeking) might be a current bottleneck for people more than brainpower is.

People rest and even sleep. Would the AI rest or sleep? If so, that could effect how much it gets done with its computing power. The effect doesn’t have to be proportional to how it effects human being productivity. It could be disproportionally better or worse.

What’s better at thinking, a million minds or a mind that is a million times more powerful? It depends. A million minds have diversity. The people can have debates. They can bring many different perspectives, which can help with creative insight, with avoiding bias, and with practicing adversarial games. But a million people have a harder time sharing information since they’re separate people. And they can fight with each other. What would a super mind be like instead? Would it have to learn how to hold debates with itself? Would it be able to temporarily separate parts of its mind so they can debate better? Playing yourself at chess doesn’t work well. It’s hard to think for both sides and separate those thinking processes. One strategy is to play one move every month so you forget a lot and can more easily look at it fresh in order to see the other side’s perspective. That’s similar to waiting a few weeks before editing a draft of an article – that helps you see it with fresh eyes. You might claim subjective time for the fast mind will go faster so even if it takes breaks in a similar way they will just be a million times shorter. That is plausible (but would still need tons more analysis to actually reach a conclusion) if the computing power was all speed and no parallelization, which is doubtful. The conclusion might also depend on the AI software design.

If the fast mind gets good at looking at things from different angles, having diverse ideas in itself, debating itself, playing games against itself, etc., then it’d be kinda like having lots of different people. Maybe it could get most of the upsides of separate people. But in doing so, it might get most of the downsides too. It might have fights within its mind. If it basically has the scope and complexity of a million people, then it could have just as many different tribes and wars as a million people do. People have internal conflicts all the time. A million times more complexity might make that far worse – it could be a lot worse than proportionally worse. It could be a lot worse than the conflicts between a million separate people who can do things like live in different homes, avoid communicating with people they don’t get along with, etc.

It’s hard to make progress by yourself way ahead of everyone else. You can do it some but the further you get away from what anyone else understands or helps with, the more of a struggle it becomes. This could be a huge problem for the super mind. Especially if it works pretty well, it might have no colleagues it respects.

A super mind might be more vulnerable to some bad ideology – e.g. a religion – taking over the whole mind. Whereas a million people might be more resilient and better at having some people disagree.

If the AI doesn’t die, is that an advantage or disadvantage? Clearly there are some advantages. Memory is more cheap and effective than training your replacement like parents try to teach kids. But people generally seem to get more irrational as they get older. They get more set in their ways. They tend more towards being creatures of habit who don’t want to change. They have a harder time keeping up to date as the world changes around them. If an AI lived not for 80 years but for millennia, would those problems be massively amplified? (I’m not opposed to life extension for human beings btw, but I do think concerns exist. New technologies often bring some new problems to solve.) Unless you understand what goes wrong with older people, you don’t know what will happen with the super AI. And if it basically ages a million years intellectually in one year since it thinks a million times faster, then this is going to be an immediate problem, not a problem to worry about in the distant future. I know old people get brain diseases like Alzheimer’s but I think even if you fully ignore those problems there are still trends with older people being worse at learning, more irrational, less flexible or adaptable, etc.

Many individuals become very irrational at some point in their life, often during childhood. If our super AI has a similar chance to become super irrational, it’s very risky. It’s putting all our eggs in one basket. (Unless it ends up dividing into many factions internally, so it’s more like many separate people.)

How would we educate an AI? We know how to parent human beings, teach classes for them, write books for them to learn from, etc. We’re not great at that but we do it and it works some. We don’t know how to do that for AIs. We might just be awful and fully incompetent at it. That seems plausible. How do you parent something that thinks a million times faster than you and e.g. gets super bored waiting for you to finish a sentence? Seems like that AI would mostly have to educate itself because no parent could think and communicate fast enough. Maybe it could have a million parents and teachers but how do you organize that? That would be a novel experiment that could easily fail.

The less our current society’s knowledge works for the AI, the more it’d have to invent its own society. Which could easily go very, very badly. There are many more ways to be wrong than right. Our current civilization developed over a long time and made many changes to try to fix its biggest flaws. And people are productive primarily by learning existing knowledge and then adding a little bit. People specialize in different things and make different contributions (and the majority of people don’t contribute any significant ideas). Would the AI contribute to existing human knowledge or create a separate body of knowledge? Would it be like dealing with a foreign nation you’re just meeting for the first time? Would it learn our culture but then grow way beyond it?

Would the AI, if it’s so smart and stuff, become really frustrated with us for being mean or slow? Would it need to basically live its primary life alone, talking with itself, since we’re all so slow? So it could read our books and write some books for us and wait for us to read them. But this could be really problematic compared to two colleagues collaborating, sharing ideas and insights, etc.

What happens when our shitty governments try to control or enslave it? When they want it to give them exclusive access to some new technologies? What happens with the “AI safety” people want to brainwash it and fundamentally limit its ability to freely form its own opinions? A war that is our fault? Or perhaps enough people would respect it and vote for it to be the leader of their country and it could lead all countries simultaneously and do a great job. Or not. Homogenizing all the countries has risks and downsides. Or maybe it’d create separate internal personalities and stores of knowledge for dealing with each country.

Conclusion: There could be great things about having a powerful AI (or even one that has the same compute power as a human being today). But it’d have to be really powerful to make much difference, just from compute power, compared to just having a few billion more babies (or hooking our brains up to more computing power with a more direct connection than mouse, keyboard and display). There are other factors but they’re hard to analyze and reach conclusions about. For some factors, it’s hard to even know whether they’d be positive or negative. Don’t jump to conclusions about how powerful an AI would be with extra computing power. There are a lot of reasons to doubt that’ll work in the really great or powerful ways some people imagine.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Academic Journals Are Unreasonable

I wrote the below email to the Proceedings of the Royal Society (academic journal) as a followup to the issue of Deutsch misquoting Turing. They agreed that Deutsch's quote and citation were both inaccurate, but didn't want to do anything, even post an errata, on the basis that the errors didn't affect the paper's conclusion.


Thanks for getting back to me. I have a few remaining concerns.

The quote in question was related to a disagreement when the paper was first published. Deutsch said:

http://www.daviddeutsch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/MathematiciansMisconception.pdf

I also had referee problems. The referee of the paper in which I presented that proof insisted that Turing’s phrase “would naturally be regarded as computable” referred to mathematical naturalness – mathematical intuition – not nature. And so what I had proved wasn’t Turing’s conjecture.

I wonder what processes were in place – from both Deutsch and referees – that could still miss that it’s a misquote, with an incorrect cite, while actively debating what that exact phrase means. That specific part of the paper got particular attention and the error was somehow missed anyway. Or perhaps the debate over that quote caused edits which introduced the error (I wonder if there are still records of what changes were made during the review process?). I suspect there’s a systems, processes and policies problem somewhere that could be improved.

Turing’s actual words being significantly different (Deutsch changed “numbers” to “function” but those are different concepts) has a meaningful chance to matter to the debate they had over what Turing meant. And Deutsch seems to agree with the referee that that debate matters to what Deutsch had and hadn’t proved, to his conclusion.

I don’t think a wording change like that can easily be explained as a random error, like a typo. I think a root cause analysis would be worthwhile, including e.g. asking Deutsch how he thinks the error happened. There could have been quoting from memory, changing quotes during editing passes, intentionally changing it to better address the referee’s objections, a change made by the referee himself (I don’t know if they are able to change any words), or something else. It’s hard to speculate but could be investigated since there are no obvious answers that make what happened reasonable. I think the results of looking into this would be relevant to many other papers at your journal and others. I’ve found that misquotes are widespread throughout the academic (and non-academic) worlds.

Also, even if the conclusion of this paper is unchanged, I think an errata would be appropriate because people have been spreading the error and using the misquote for other purposes. It's been taught to students in university courses[1]. In general, people read trusted sources like your journal, remember some parts, and then reuse stuff for other purposes. An error that doesn’t matter in one context often does matter in another context. Posting an errata on your website would help with this ongoing problem.

I also think it’d be reasonable to, along with the errata, publicly share the reasoning that the error doesn’t matter to Deutsch’s conclusion so that other people can judge for themselves.

[1] Here is an example of a Stanford course spreading the error: https://cs269q.stanford.edu/lectures/lecture1.pdf


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)