I run a small polling group on Facebook, where ~150 of my friends and followers give snap judgments on questions that interest me, or create their own questions for the group.
(If this sounds like fun, you’re welcome to join!)
Recently, I asked the group:
Imagine that an all-knowing genie manifests in your bedroom.
The genie tells you that sometime in the next ten years, you will have a chance to save a total stranger from dying by performing CPR.
But you don’t know when it will happen, and there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed when the time comes.
How would you respond? How would your life change, from that moment?
I don’t get cold anymore.
In the summer of 2014, I worked at a recruiting firm. This meant that I was on LinkedIn for most of the day, reading thousands of profiles.
LinkedIn profiles aren’t much fun, unless they’re the profile of someone you can’t hire.
(Exhibit 1: The programmer who is so confident and secure in his job that he’s formatted his profile as a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet.)
I can be hired. Sometimes, I even want to be hired. So I can’t totally sabotage my own profile. Still, I wanted to have some fun with LinkedIn.
Epistemic status: Speculation. Grasping at a distinction that might or might not be useful. Playing around with dichotomy to see what happens.
The venture capitalist David Rose once told a group of students (I was there: I don’t think the speech was published) to think about things that “will have to happen” as technology develops, and to create businesses that will enable those things.
For example: If the Internet allows a store to have a near-infinite selection, someone will have to found Amazon.
I recently realized that Rose’s way of thinking parallels the way philosopher Nick Bostrom thinks about the future. As an expert on global catastrophic risk, he asks people to figure out which things will have to not happen in order for humanity to develop, and to create organizations that will prevent those things from happening.
For example: If nuclear war would wipe out civilization, someone (or many someones) will have to ensure that no two nuclear-armed groups ever engage in all-out war.
If you were to divide people into two groups — the followers of David Rose, and those of Nick Bostrom — you’d get what I call “Roseites” and “Bostromites”.
Roseites try to make new things exist, to grow the economy, and to enhance civilization.
Bostromites try to study the impact of new things, to prevent the economy’s collapse, and to preserve civilization.
I’ve been keeping a journal for the last eight years.
This is one of my best habits: The journal compensates for my awful memory and helps me feel like a complete person with a deep and meaningful history. It reminds me that I’ve spent the last 24 years actually existing, 24 hours at a time. It shows me all the friends I’ve ever had, and all the bad days I’ve put behind me. It’s also fun to read (once enough time has passed, and transient emotions like embarrassment are mostly gone).
Until recently, it was also a pain in the ass.
The Microsoft Word file that stores one-sixth of all the words I’ve ever written is called “Daily Journal”. But it’s been a long time since I’ve really kept a daily journal.
Why? It’s not that my life is boring. Well, it is — objectively speaking — but I find it exciting.
One problem is Microsoft Word, which doesn’t perform well with 750,000-word, 1000-page documents, at least on my old machine.
The bigger problem is motivation. Without some kind of external prompt, I found myself forgetting the journal, or skipping it in favor of something more fun — sometimes for weeks at a time.
Last year, I switched to an email system. This eliminates the loading times and makes it very easy to finish daily entries. I’ve also begun to ask myself questions, to mitigate the menace of the blank page.
If you’ve ever wanted to journal, or to resume journaling, you can set up this hyper-efficient, automatic system yourself. In ten minutes.
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”.