by hath
1 min read30th Jan 202222 comments
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Teaching 1984

Before we are allowed to start reading, we must listen to a PowerPoint in which the book is explained. The plot, the main character, the context, the terms, the setting; none of these are allowed to be discovered ourselves. The context I'll grant her, but she could have explained the relevant history in five minutes. Instead we must be told what it is that we are supposed to understand from the book, as we cannot be trusted to pick up on the terms by ourselves. I understand that some of it might be confusing for students to read if they aren't familiar with the book already, but 1984's hobby of introducing new terms and settings (worldbuilding) isn't an art highschoolers are incapable of understanding. People here have read The Hunger Games, or Divergent, or whatever other YA fiction is popular these days. They understand it, even when it talks about things that don't exist in our life (District 13, the factions).

We are instructed to take notes as we read. It's implied that these things will be on tests, that we will be asked to define the Newspeak terms and the plot elements. I imagine that that's how they teach Newspeak to children in Oceania, too. Just because we read something in a class doesn't mean that everything has to be memorized; when you ask students to remember what happens in books, and to recite the themes when prompted, you get SparkNotes, which serves as the answer key for this class. The teacher intends for you to understand the underlying themes. You're supposed to understand the application of the concepts, and not just the pages of the textbook it was on. Yet, teachers optimize for what can be easily tested.

She begins to read the first chapter aloud. She pauses, at times, to explain the implications of what we read. "What do you notice about the names of the four Ministries?", she asks. "They're too nice?" a student responds. At least there's student participation. She could have just lectured for the whole class.

But, then again, it could be that much worse. I mock how we start the book, but we're doing a game for the entire grade to try to get us to understand 1984. People will get to roleplay as Thought Police, or Party members, or proles. When I asked the teacher, one-on-one, whether I'd enjoy the game, she said I would. Do I trust that? Somewhat. So, they're trying.

There's a post waiting to be written about the simulations/wargames that we played at my old school as part of history class. I think that those types of wargames are enjoyable, and that they teach more than whatever else the teacher would do. Yet, I fear that if word came down from the School Board, telling teachers that wargames are the new way to teach, more effective than anything else, it wouldn't end well. From where I sit at the bottom of the authority food chain, I've seen dozens of well-intentioned interventions and regulations meant to help students learn, and almost none of them have any of the effect than the regulators expected. Part of this is due to teacher incompetence/apathy; part of this is due to simply miscommunicated intentions.

The saddest thing about this is that these students, these people with the potential to be legitimately creative and do so much more than they're asked to do here, are being taught to see 1984 as their English textbook, in the sense that they must regard 1984 as the source for the questions on the test, and little else. I wouldn't be surprised if we had to write essays on symbolism or themes. We've done this for Lord of the Flies and Macbeth so far this year. It's horrible.

Get us out of here.

Once you realize that school is required to be accessible to the 25th percentile of curiosity and cognitive ability, this will bother you less.  It's not there for you, it's not targeted toward your learning ability.  Do your time, get good at learning and exploring OUTSIDE the lesson plans, with the syllabus as only a checklist in case you missed something years ago.  Learn to fake paying attention while you read or think about more interesting things - that's a really useful skill in a whole lot of situations.  Find some friends with similar interests and levels of ability, and do directed and un-directed study with them.  There are exceptions for particularly great teachers, and for many honors and AP classes - take all of those you can handle.

I'd read 1984 long before it was assigned as part of class, and honestly I'd missed some stuff that class brought up, and found value in some of the study materials (not enough to justify the amount of time spent, but non-zero).  

Suprising: the fact that Chuck Palahniuk's writing style is visible in lsusr's fiction. More suprising: the fact that Fight Club 2 deals with... memetics, of all things.

I am flattered. Chuck Palahniuk is among my favorite authors.

I recall there being a Zvi post with a ton of "related to:" prerequisites at the beginning; does anyone remember which that was? It's relevant to a post I'm trying to write.

Change is Bad? or Choices are bad? Choices are really bad?

Upcoming Posts

Now that I'm back from [Atlas Fellowship+SPARC+EAG+Future Forum], I have some post ideas to write up. A brief summary:

Agency and Authority, an actual in-depth, gears-level explanation of agency, parenting, the two kinds of respect, moral conflation with that respect, the fact that those in power are incentivized to make their underlings more legible and predictable to them, arbitrarily high punishments and outcome matrices, absolute control and concessions, incentives for those not in power and how those incentives turn you into less of an agent, and how the best solution is to create a "good person who follows orders" mask that hopefully never breaks or bleeds into the rest of your character, and then use that mask while you plot to get out of the situation.

I've gotten the same questions a couple times from different people, and want to just write up the responses as a post, so I don't have to go back and rewrite them.

  • How did you get into rationality/EA/alignment?
  • Why did you hate high school so much?
  • What was [Atlas/SPARC/EAG/FF] like?
  • What's it like being a minor in those communities?
  • So, what exactly do you do? Well, okay, what are you planning to do?

There was a lightning talk I gave at SPARC and Future Forum, which I ended up teaching as a full-on class at SPARC, called Memento, Memory, and Note-Taking. I want to develop that as a full post.

I also want to migrate all of my notes from Obsidian to Notion, and have some plans for what I want to include in my Notion; this will probably make it onto LW at some point.

I've also made some progress on what I call "putting myself back together" and this is, in retrospect, what I have spent the past month doing. I might publicly reflect on some of the personal growth and introspection I've done during that time.

I'd like to write "An Intro to Rationalist Culture" at some point, because it's incredible to see the different social norms that rationalists have developed, the most important prerequisite being the ability to see and talk about social norms on the meta-level, and changing said norms as a result.

There's also some other ideas that seem important to me:

  • Fleshing out what "hath culture" looks like
  • I need to figure out how to live in a world on fire; writing down how I cope with that now might help.

This isn't even a definitive list of all the post ideas I have (the actual list is like 5x the size) but these are the ones I plan on writing soon.

I'll be at Capla-Con this weekend, if anyone else here is going.

I'm writing up my models on why my pet project, Ascension, is a good idea. This is the outline. As I expand the post, I'll add the incremental bits as comments.


Intro:

  • Why write this?
  • Short version of what this was.
  • Why run Ascension (short version)

Models:

  • Most important model here: it worked. Everything below is mostly informed by that, and the beta was a really good way to develop those models.
  • High school, as an institution, is absolutely dog shit.
    • Signaling race to the bottom that sucks up all of your time.
  • Default BATNA to high school is “live by yourself, maybe on a grant, while you self-teach or work on a project”
    • I did this! It fucking sucked!
  • Agency is a pretty important thing. By default, it gets crushed. Giving people power over their own lives, and encouraging them when they do weird things, helps turn them into the kind-of-person who comes up with weird new things to do that would help their lives, and overall makes the world a better place.
    • A lot of people who have the potential to do a lot of great things have their creativity and agency crushed by The System and their parents.
  • Things like coworking are pretty good for long-term productivity.
  • There are a bunch of other systems that can be implemented individually and on the scale of groups to make people more productive. Think to-do lists, or morning standup meetings.
  • Dealing with minors, in general, fucking sucks.
    • You have to be accountable to parents
    • They don’t have rights under the law to do a bunch of things
    • You’re exposed to a lot more liability in general
    • Also, a lot of people just, like, don’t really want to deal with most teenagers that much?
  • As a result of this, the housing situation for minors in the bay is close to nonexistent.
    • Arcadia, the closest thing to Ascension that exists, is pretty good, but not aimed at the exact kind of things I care about here, and also they don’t exactly have a no-minor policy, but they do have strict scrutiny around allowing minors.
  • There exist these weird niche communities around really smart, young, promising people, like Atlas/ESPR/SPARC and EV.
    • It’s fucking incredible for people in those communities to spend time with other people in those communities. Yet, because when you’re selecting on the scale of 1/1,000 or 1/10,000, you end up pretty far on average from other people like you.
    • Also, it’s useful for people to have some way of getting into these groups. 
  • The Bay community in general is fucking amazing, and being in a house that is part of that larger community is amazing.
    • Having people well into their career who can serve as mentorship-ish figures is also really good.
  • Weird rituals and group activities are awesome! People don’t get enough of those by default.
    • Having weird rationalist customs of betting and such, as group norms, is pretty cool.
  • Also, having a tight-knit group of people you live with, who you very much respect and know well, is great for social stuff.
  • Dath ilani coordination, where people choose Stag as a group.
  • Dragon Army was cool and all, but MAN do I not have the leadership knowledge/ability to run something with that much centralization of power. 
    • As it happens, neither did Duncan, according to him.
    • You’ll also note that the Dragon Army Theory post was mostly Duncan explaining different group dynamics problems, and trying to fix it with his group house, whereas this is more me explaining a bunch of societal problems that lead to people misjudging minors for this sort of thing.
  • For the demographic of teenagers who are likely to be at Ascension, the risks involved aren’t necessarily what you’d think of. They don’t drink, they don’t take (depressant) drugs. The actual risks that I’d be worried about are people getting depressed and romantic drama.
    • Though, a large part of this is due to me being pretty selective with who I invite.
  • Running stuff like “everyone in the house gets together to work on blog posts” results in many more blog posts being written than there would be otherwise.

So, like, what does all of this look like?



 

Why am I writing this? Because I have a bunch of models about group houses, minors, and the combination of the two that I think other people might be interested in. I also want to have some publicly available thing that I can point to that says what this whole thing is about.

Day 1, adding ~500 words of nuance.

  • A lot of these models are “this was my lived experience, it seems to generalize a fair bit”. I sent out an interest form to see how much demand there was for something like this, as a way to test whether it did in fact generalize a bunch to other people, and it got a lot of responses. 
  • Default BATNA to high school is “live by yourself, maybe on a grant, while you self-teach or work on a project”. I did this! It sucked!
    • Solo productivity is hard. Creating systems that help you get work/studying done every day, without external deadlines and check-ins, is really difficult. Also, I have pretty bad ADHD, which means that my default for extended periods of working alone involves forgetting to eat, take my ADHD medication, or do anything productive whatsoever during the day.
    • I care a lot about seeing friends, and don’t really have a lot of ways to do that, especially because most of my really good friends are scattered across the US and Europe. 
    • Being stuck at home is corrosive for a bunch of reasons that aren’t always immediately apparent. Some of this is due to the loss of the counterfactual environment, and some of this is due to specific details about people’s home lives. 
  • Agency is a pretty important thing. By default, it gets crushed. Giving people power over their own lives, and encouraging them when they do weird things, helps turn them into the kind-of-person who comes up with weird new things to do that would help their lives, and overall makes the world a better place.
    • A lot of people who have the potential to do a lot of great things have their creativity and agency crushed by The System and their parents. The K-12 education system isn’t centrally designed to do any one thing, but the result of the system is that your creativity and independence is crushed. The parents of really smart kids can be slightly obtuse and limiting at best and controlling and manipulative at worst. I know people who were forced to do double-digit hours of test prep every week.
    • Living on your own, and not being forced to adhere to (arbitrary) external goals and standards, does a lot to help people acquire the generalized skills of actually making their own decisions and guiding their own paths and stuff. I have a lot of other thoughts on agency, some of which can be seen here, but “internal vs. external locus of control” is pretty central to the thing here. The key is getting people to see themselves as agents in the world taking actions according to their own desires/ambitions, as opposed to executing strategies that other people/their broader culture has set out for them. Again, I need to write more about this, but this is a good first pass.
  • Things like coworking are pretty good for long-term productivity.
    • The key is social accountability. I’d estimate that, for me, having all of my work hours be coworking of some form as opposed to [puttering around and occasionally doing productive things] results in doubling my actual output. Being in a work/living environment where coworking is a readily available default would then be a huge improvement on its own.

Super rough expansion of the first couple bullet points, Day 0:

Intro:

  • Why write this?
    • I’m writing this post because I have a bunch of models about group houses, minors, and the combination of the two that I think other people might be interested in. I also want to have some publicly available thing I can point to that says what this whole thing is about.
  • Short version of what this was.
    • Ascension Beta was a month-long experimental group house I ran in October 2022, with participants aged 16-22. It was intended primarily as a test of the below models (to see if a larger, longer-running version was worthwhile) and a chance to practice running a group house of this type, working out the major kinks before running a longer version. 
    • The major goals of Ascension were to give residents social accountabilityagency over their environment, and community.
  • Why run Ascension (short version)
    • Because I wanted it to exist (so I could live there), other people wanted it to exist for the same reason, and nobody else was going to step up and make it happen. I had a lot of models about agency, environment, and productivity, and in particular a specific kind of environment wanted to live in. However, it didn’t exist, especially not for minors. I also hypothesized that the people I had met who were similar to me would also want this to exist, and that was borne out by the evidence. There are a bunch of reasons for why Ascension provides value to these people, and that’s what most of this post is about.

Models:

  • Most important model here: it worked. Everything below is mostly informed by that, and the beta was a really good way to develop those models.
    • Before I ran the beta, I was pretty uncertain about some of these models. My models on high school and agency were fairly strong, but everything about how something like Ascension would actually function in practice was fairly blurry. However, the beta, while janky, proved that something like Ascension could work, and that it was likely for some longer/larger version to be more effective.
  • High school, as an institution, is really bad.
    • It’s a waste of time that destroys your agency and love for learning. I could go in-depth on the specific reasons why it’s so bad, but for now, just keep in mind that the default societal path here is four years in hell that takes up as much of your Slack as possible. This means that really smart/ambitious people, the kind that you meet at programs like Atlas or SPARC, often have to find their own ways out of high school to actually do the things they care about. There mostly does not exist infrastructure to support alternate pathways for these people. There are small bits of it, notably Emergent Ventures for funding your endeavors during this time, but the majority of the things that you would have on the default pathway of high school + college (housing, peers, “learning”) have to be found for yourself; most of the time, the hand-rolled solutions that you find will fail you.
  • Default BATNA to high school is “live by yourself, maybe on a grant, while you self-teach or work on a project”. I did this! It sucked!
    • Solo productivity is hard.
    • Going insane due to loneliness.
    • Being stuck at home is really really bad for a bunch of reasons that aren’t always immediately apparent.

(dialogue reconstructed as well as I can remember it)

For once, I actually cared about what we were doing in English. For our final essay on Macbeth I wrote 1260 words on Duncan's choices through the play, analyzing if he could have made better decisions given the information that he had, and trying to see whether his decisions would have worked out well if not for the supernatural occurrences of the play. This was a couple weeks after my English teacher had talked to me and told me that I wasn't putting enough effort into her class, and that I was doing significantly worse than I could be. At the time, I wasn't completely sure whether this was due to my own laziness or whether it was that the topics we wrote about in that class (essays on symbolism in Lord Of The Flies and other things of roughly equal uselessness) were bullshit, and not relevant to actually learning to write (see everything Paul Graham has ever written) but I gave her the benefit of the doubt, and resolved to try harder on the next essay.

She gave me a C-. Had her criticism been that the essay was poorly-written or rambling, I would have been okay with that; instead, her issue with it was that it was off-prompt^[1]. I had written about something I actually cared about for only the second time in the six months of that class, and she had rejected it for not specifically answering the prompt. In her feedback, she helpfully explained what she wanted me to write instead:

This is not about blame. This is a cause/effect essay.

  1. Duncan decides X.
  2. X, therefore Y.
  3. This illustrates the theme of Z.

I'm grateful to her for spelling out exactly what she wanted, because otherwise I may have been under the impression that she wanted me to actually do something interesting. I talked to her about it in person. "hath, your issue is that every time you're given an assignment, you want to talk about the philosophy of it. You need to learn to follow directions. If you have a job, and someone gives you the assignment to write a report, and you instead say 'I'm not sure if writing this report is the best thing to do', you're going to end up jobless." I disagreed with everything she had said (I wouldn't call "trying to make better decisions" philosophy, I have had an internship in which the person said specifically "If you come up with better ideas for assignments than what I give you, do those instead", and I don't plan to work in the type of job where conformity is useful), but instead said this: "I grant that there is some value to conformism and respect to authority in certain environments." "I'm not teaching conformism." At this point, I honestly didn't see any point in continuing this discussion (we had had talks like this for the past few months with zero change), and left. Not sure if I should have left, but I don't necessarily regret it. I've been trying since the start of the year to do independent work on writing I actually enjoy, but every time she shoots me down and tells me not to tell her how to teach.

Yes, there is a reason to actually follow directions in this setting, but I would say that forcing students to write specifically one type of formulaic paper that doesn't have any other relevance is actively counterproductive to learning the skill of writing well. Furthermore, every other English teacher I've had would have gladly accepted the essay I wrote, and not rejected it solely based on it being adjacent to the prompt instead of exactly following the prompt. Throughout high school, I've had to optimize for getting a good grade over actually learning, and don't look forward to doing it more. At this point, the point of getting good grades is to signal to my parents that I'm capable of doing non-school things, because they have made it abundantly clear that putting effort into my schoolwork is the only way that they can be persuaded into allowing me to do independent study of any type, or anything resembling a nontraditional path. (or even to apply to fellowships).


This was the prompt:

Macbeth examines the difficulty of ruling: who gets to make important decisions, what should be the course of action to take, and what will be the impact? In a well-written essay, identify two such decisions in Macbeth made by a ruler (Duncan, Macbeth, etc), and through the lens of one of the themes of the play, evaluate how those decisions contribute to the profound personal and societal consequences that follow. Make sure you illustrate causality (cause/effect) in this essay.

  1. ↩︎

You might find The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher by John Gatto interesting; here it is in pdf form (plus the forward to the longer book that he wrote about it, you can skip ahead to 'chapter 1').

This book occupies the same genre as The Theory And Practice of Oligarchial Collectivism, though I'm not sure what to call that genre. Thank you so much. Would you recommend the longer book?

As a follow up: There have been a couple incidents with said teacher trying to assert authority and win debates over, like, actually listening to her students. Today, we had a quiz on 1984. When, during the allotted study time beforehand, students started to go over the material with each other, the teacher told everyone that this was a silent study time; after the quiz, she expanded on this, mentioning a story she had told earlier in the year. It was a story of how a student who had helped their friend on a quiz was rejected by a college the friend was accepted to; the moral from this that she repeated throughout the year was "Your peers are your enemies. You should not help them, because that just actively hurts you in college admissions. Also, let's be real, helping them in this way before the quiz, telling them the answers, is cheating. So, don't help your fellow students; it's cheating, and it only hurts you." I pointed out that a former teacher of mine had lamented grading on a curve strictly because it makes them see their fellow students as competitors instead of friends and allies, and that her argument proved too much; under that, helping other students study in any way counte--she interrupted me, saying that I was equivocating between helping and cheating; when I tried to explain myself she shut me down, saying "You don't want to argue with me about this." (in an earlier conversation, she attributed her aptitude in this to doing debate.)

Another relevant time was when, when at one point I misspoke during a debate, repeatedly said "But you said X!" in response to me. "I don't believe that, either you misheard me or I misspoke." "You said X!" "You are purposefully misinterpreting my words." "I'm just saying back what you said!" "You aren't being at all charitable." "I'm just saying what you said!"

The point here is that, repeatedly, she's only cared about asserting authority rather than listening or being a charitable debate partner. It's not fun to be effectively shamed in front of the class without a valid chance to defend myself, and I already feel that impacting my decisions now; if I cared more about what the people in my classes thought, I'd never have spoken up in the first place. Maybe that's why nobody else does.

(there's also a level here of "i have no idea how to handle this situation/dynamic", and if you think I did something wrong either in the events described in these posts or by posting this, feel free to tell me i'm an idiot and that I should've done something different)

I might start a newsletter on the economics of individual small businesses. Does anyone know anyone who owns or manages e.g. a restaurant, or a cafe, or a law firm, or a bookstore, or literally any kind of small business? Would love intros to such people so that I can ask them a bunch of questions about e.g. their main sources of revenue and costs or how they make pricing decisions.

Prom tickets at my high school are $85. Luckily, you can buy them now, before they go up in price to $100. If you donate $150 to St. Judes, you get a ticket for free; as far as I know, buying a normal ticket does not involve donating to charity. Normally, I'd be in favor of just supply-and-demanding it, by raising prices until you have peak attendance, but something tells me that the purpose of a high school is not to extract profits from their students. Maybe this is just preparing us for college.

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I think that having some form of daily to-do list will go a long way towards increasing my productivity and happiness, as it'll help me keep track of sleep/exercise habits, stay on top of schoolwork, and help me spend my free time on things I actually want to work on. Here's the one I came up with:

  • Plan out free time for the day
  • Review all due Anki cards
  • Go on a run, or use elliptical for 30 minutes
  • Update calendar
  • Work on schoolwork for at least an hour
  • Take a walk outside.
  • Work on learning math for at least 30 minutes
  • Write for at least 30 minutes
  • Take a melatonin at 8pm
  • Turn off phone by 9pm, be in bed with book when you finish working
  • Floss, brush teeth, wash face, use moisturizer, put in retainer
  • Set alarm for tomorrow morning
  • Meditate for 15 minutes

I made a printable version with checkli.

I hereby pledge to completing this to-do list every day for the next week. If it goes well, I'll try longer-term.

Didn't end up completing this. Going to try starting one habit at a time. Starting with daily Anki review.

Hoping Anki goes well for you! Interested in updates as they come.

Some quotes from Planecrash that I might collect into a full post:

Meritxell has made the serious error of mentioning that she didn't fully grasp some of what Keltham said earlier about stock companies.

Keltham is currently explaining how a Lawful corporation has an internal prediction market, which forecasts the observable results on running various possible projects that company could be trying, which in turn is used to generate an estimate of marginal returns on marginal internal investment; this prevents a corporation from engaging in obvious madness like accepting an internal project with 6% returns while turning down another internal project with expected 10% returns.

The wider market, obviously, would also like to invest all its money where it'll get the highest returns; but it's usually not efficient to offer the broader market a specialized sub-ownership of particular corporate subprojects, since the ultimate usefulness of corporate subprojects is usually dependent on many other internal outputs of the company.  It doesn't do any good to have a 'website' without something to sell from it.  Sure, if everyone was an ideal agent, they'd be able to break things down in such a fine-grained way.  But the friction costs and imperfect knowledge are such that it's not worth breaking companies into even smaller ownable pieces.  So the wider stock market can only own shares of whole corporations, which combine the outputs and costs of all that company's projects.

Thus any corporation continuously buys or sells its own stock, or rather, has standing limit orders into the stock market to buy various quantities if the price goes low or sell various quantities if the price goes high, at prices that company sets depending on its internal belief about the returns from investing or not investing in the marginal subprojects being considered.  If the company isn't considered credible by the wider market, its stock will go lower and the company will automatically buy that stock, which leaves them less money to invest in new projects internally, and means that they only invest in projects with relatively higher returns - doing less total investment, but getting higher returns on the internal investments that they do start.  Conversely if the wider market thinks a company's promises to do a lot with money are credible, the stock price will go up and money will flow into that company until they no longer have internal investment prospects that credibly beat the broader market.

This may sound complicated, and it is probably a relatively more complicated part of the machinery that is necessarily implied by the existence of distinct stock corporations in the first place.  But the alternative, if you zoom out and look at the whole planet of dath ilan, is that a corporation in one place would be investing in a project with internally expected returns of 6%, and somebody on the other side of the planet would be turning down a project with market-credible returns of 10%, which means you could reorganize the whole planet and do better in a predictable way.  So whatever does happen as a consequence of the existence of stock corporations, it has to be not that.

Some form of drastic action on Meritxell's part is obviously required if she wants to get back on track to having sex with this person.  What does she do, if anything?