Sometimes, I do a good thing. Not a great act of heroism, but a simple, fundamentally decent thing that helps someone else.
When that happens, I congratulate myself for doing the right.
Then I criticize myself, since I don’t deserve congratulation for doing the “right thing”. After all, everyone should do the right thing.
Then I congratulate myself for being so humble and morally strict.
Then I criticize myself for bragging about my own humility.
My record for this is four cycles. I almost always stop on self-criticism.
Perhaps there are two kinds of people in the world: People who usually stop at self-congratulation, and people who usually stop at self-criticism.
Which kind of person are you?
I won’t rehash the Nazi-punching debate that rolled over America last week. Good sources include this, this, and this.
But having read too many articles on the topic, I still don’t endorse Nazi-punching.
When punching “the right people” becomes an option, the punchers often end up punching a lot of other people. And punching Richard Spencer in particular gives Richard Spencer much more publicity — even sympathy, in some cases — than he’d receive otherwise.
But it’s not helpful just to claim people shouldn’t do something to Nazis. Or to certain other groups of people who endorse ideas they see as existential threats.*
My views here are closest to those of Darth Oktavia, a longtime anti-fascist who writes:
“The nazis love getting into fights with antifas, because that’s their home territory. What nazis hate is parody […] they could save face with a traditional fight, but they cannot save face by starting a fight with people who are only showing what huge jokes they are.”
So, in the spirit of parody: here are some ideas for bothering Nazis, turning Nazis into laughingstocks, and making Nazis feel terrible — all without leaving bruises, and hopefully without running the risk of a felony assault charge.**
I’m part of the effective altruism (EA) movement. We’re people who share a few beliefs:
- Value the lives of all people equally, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
- When you do something for the sake of other people, try to do the most good you can.
- Use research and evidence to make decisions. Support causes and programs with a lot of good evidence behind them.
- When you have a choice, compare different options. Don’t just do something because it’s a good idea — make sure there’s no obvious better thing you could be doing instead.
In practice, we give a lot of money to charity. Usually charities that work in countries where people are very poor, like India, Ghana, or Kenya — not the United States or Britain or Japan. We think other people should also do this.
(I’ll skip the complications for now. I’ve been satisfied by the responses I’ve heard to my objections against EA, and I’ll assume that any reader of this piece is at least neutral toward the central ideas of the movement.)
This is a collection of ways to explain EA, or argue that EA is a good idea, in 60 seconds or less. Many are based on real conversations I’ve had. Ideally, you could use them at a party. I plan to, when I move out of Verona to a city with more parties.
Why do we disagree with each other?
This is a stupid question. But it’s not quite as stupid as it sounds. One winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics is famous for proving that people should never disagree with each other.
Okay, okay, it isn’t quite that easy. There are conditions we need to meet first.
The best informal description I’ve heard of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem:
Mutually respectful, honest and rational debaters cannot disagree on any factual matter once they know each other’s [beliefs]. They cannot “agree to disagree”, they can only agree to agree.
Sadly, when Robert Aumann says “rational”, he refers to a formal definition of rationality that applies to zero real humans.
But I think we can make his theory simpler: Instead of “both people are perfectly rational”, we can say that “both people have the same value system”.
Some people like to use GIFs as metaphors for their own lives:
No, no, no!
That’s not you. Don’t pretend a GIF is about you when it’s clearly about someone else.
To repair this broken world, I’ve written some antidotes to this “What Should We Call Me” nonsense. Please use these whenever you encounter the appropriate situation.
It’s very cheap to experiment on people these days.
For ~$100 and ~5 hours of my time, I used Google Consumer Surveys (GCS) to collect over 800 responses to the following question:
Famine threatens Ethiopia. Thousands of lives are at risk, but U.S. help could save them. How important is it that the U.S. give $9 million in food aid to these Ethiopians?
This wasn’t just curiosity. This was an experiment. My question had three possible endings:
- …food aid to these Ethiopians?
- …food aid to these men and women?
- …food aid to these human beings?
We all know that Ethiopians are human beings, of course. But do our actions reflect that knowledge?
At least one study found evidence that we’ll donate more money to help rescue someone from our country than someone from another country. (Kogut & Ritov, 2007)
I have a similar question: Are we more willing to help foreigners when they are framed as our fellow humans, rather than as people from some other country?
This post attempts to answer two questions:
If you could spend a few weeks being Barack Obama, what would you learn about his life and the world in which he lives?
How would this experience change the way you think about the man, his policies, and the American presidency?
Welcome to the Met! My name is Aaron, and I’ll be your tour guide today.
Oh! It’s kind of a funny story, actually. I was supervising Finger-Painting Day last week, and this four-year-old spilled yellow paint all over my uniform! It’s still at the cleaners.
Of course they have spare uniforms. But they don’t fit me very well. I have an unusual hip-to-waist ratio. Also, broad shoulders.
Anyway, let’s get started!
I read about 125 books this year, and these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the word “best”. They are very different, and you won’t like all of them, but they all do something well.
To quote my book-review post from last year:
I’ve sorted this list into a series of “bests”: a Best Graphic Novel for people who like those, a Best Book About Selling Stuff for people who like those, and so on. Whoever you are, I’d probably recommend many of these books to you. And some of them are free!
For a list of every book I remember reading, check out my Goodreads account.
Best List of All the Books
These are in alphabetical order, save for the first four, which I liked most of all.
- The Neapolitan Quartet (series, all four books)
- The Book of Disquiet
- Negima! Magister Negi Magi
- A Civil Action
- Azumanga Daioh
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers
- Digger (free!)
- Great (free!)
- Gone Girl
- Parable of the Sower
- Strangers Drowning
- Strong Female Protagonist (free!)
- The Road to Wigan Pier (free!)
- The Vision of the Anointed
- The Yale Book of Quotations
- Them: Adventures with Extremists
- We Learn Nothing
It must be very strange to be Adele.
Whenever Adele sings anything, even in the privacy of her own home, she is singing “an Adele song”. When she sings “Can’t Buy Me Love” in the shower, she is singing “Adele covers The Beatles”.