Kerry

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The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels

There's definitely truth in that, but I think it's below 80 on both counts, at least in 2020. Going about one's business even in an ordinary way requires an understanding of a lot of higher meanings. Very little directly corresponds to reality.

I think it is correct that "please pass the potatoes" is Stage 1, but it's not the best example for describing what this article is talking about. It's more about the hearer than the speaker, in some ways, and what broader context they bring to a straightforward statement.

I think the idea is more like that at level 2, the child no longer passes the potatoes just because it's the moral and practical thing to do, but sees it as an imposition and wants to know why he has to. The parent may be using the phrase exactly the same, but has failed to teach the child to appreciate his wider social obligations and what needs to be done to keep the community going. At level 3, the child thinks "better do what mom says and pass the potatoes or get yelled at/grounded," but again sees it as a hassle rather than healthy interaction. This is because whenever she asks why, she gets told "because I said so." Even though the reason her mom would ask is common sense, if you're used to getting that answer, you often stop observing your own surroundings and think of things in a self-absorbed rather than common sense manner. At level 4, you may to get a point where a child casually passes a platter with one potato left, not thinking to get more or warn they are gone, because they don't get that the request implies you want to eat the potatoes, not just possess a plate with scraps. Or they might get embarrassed by not knowing what to do and asked to be excused.

The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels

Forgot to add that I think there is a lot of overlap between stage 2 and 3, such that they may not necessarily be different levels of progress so much as different personality types who exist on the same level, which is nihilistic in character. Or, maybe, that a minority of 2 and 3 types exist at every stage---the former is the string-pullers of any age, and the latter is the abstract intellectual type. These people generally make up the elite class, and their behavior will differ depending on the stage of society. Most people never hit this level of cynicism or abstraction, but regular people borrow random 2 and 3 behaviors/concepts that appeal to their needs. I suspect the way it works is that the general public stays rooted for a long period at 1, but when their selectively collected 2/3 ideas reach a certain level of salience, the discrepancies shift them rapidly to stage 4, and the elites find they can't influence things the way they used to.

The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels

Brilliant! Agree the story is getting at the same concept as simulacra levels, which can be far more "low-tech" than people realize. The increased abstraction or speed of change are not the drivers, but both a causes and effects of knowledge decay, which is the real driver. I believe the phenomenon is cyclical, and correlates broadly with generational change.

You may not agree with this, but I've been desperately trying to explain to people older than me that a critical mass of (mostly young) people have hit level 5, and it is our responsibility to get things back on track, because they literally cannot do so. This can only be done by re-anchoring ourselves in object-level reality, as expressed in a concept of natural order and a sincere commitment to wisdom and truth. If we don't do it, society will eventually crash into reality and be forced to rediscover it for themselves, but starting from scratch would be tragic given all the past experience we have to guide us. We already know what works--the details don't matter as much as we think they do.

I'm 31. This is an extremely low-resolution generalization, but the way I see it, my parents were born and raised in a stage 3-4 transition, and I was born and raised in a stage 4-5 transition. As you suggest, stage 4 people don't pass anything on to their kids, but they're oblivious to the problem, because already in a pretty oblivious state, but with enough of a sense of earlier stages to keep this from impairing their functioning in immediately obvious ways. Caught somewhat in the middle, I can get into the minds of both and see the disconnect. I was also able to recover an understanding of stages 1 and 2, and get a general sense of what we're missing and why. But I'm not sure where to go from here. My sense is that this stage is usually exited when people turn in desperation to the minority of with a Stage 1 mindset for leadership, because they've crashed into reality and can no longer focus on punishing the wise. But in a complex, highly mediated and interrelated society, it's much harder for this sort of thing to get going. And most American adults are extremely averse to the idea of a natural order outside of delineated areas convenient to them, because of the limits or choices it imposes. I think there are ways to reconcile things into a transcendent order that is not nearly as extreme, impractical, or unfamiliar as they suppose, but that's hard to convey in a society where everyone has a linear idea of progress. In the last few years, I've become convinced that is a highly mistaken concept.

I'm interested in the length of the stages, which don't seem to be exactly the same. 4-5 is a rapid transition, and 3-4 is probably pretty quick. My grandparents seemed to be in stage 3. It seems like stage 1 and 2 last much longer, and that the boundaries between stages are pretty diffuse until stage 4, when it rapidly goes to hell, for reasons you did an excellent job articulating.

Sorry for the long response, but I'm so excited to see someone else who gets this, and can communicate it so well!

Tearing down the Chesterton's Fence principle

I think in the modern world there are a lot more truly "unnecessary" things around for no good reason, largely because we have so many resources and our society is so structured. This makes the calculus a lot trickier. But I think it's still a very important idea.

New Paper on Herd Immunity Thresholds

In some people, antibodies start to wane at that point, but they still have antibodies for some time. So there's definitely at least some immunity for longer than that, plus other types of immunity (T-cell, etc.) Plus, if everyone is losing immunity over different time frames, they're not going to contract it nearly as easily as when we were all at zero, since many others around them will still be immune. The staggering probably helps a lot. I think the same is true for colds, and I don't get a cold every couple of months, though I know some people do. More like once a year, and colds are caused by a bunch of different viruses, so it's not even once a year for each virus.

New Paper on Herd Immunity Thresholds
The 60%-70% result is based on a fully naive SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model in which all of the following are assumed to be true:
People are identical, and have identical susceptibility to the virus.
People are identical, and have identical ability to spread the virus.
People are identical, and have identical exposure to the virus.
People are identical, and have contacts completely at random.
The only intervention considered is immunity. No help from behavior adjustments.

Ugh. I just can't believe how ridiculous this all is, and how no one can see through it, and how those who can don't say anything because they'll get yelled at. And I can't believe someone insisted on using such a model for such major decisions and that our leaders went along with it. But I've seen enough of this stuff to know it's not all that shocking.

I think a lot of people really don't grasp the insight. Like, for me, I can just envision a bunch of people in my had and picture them going about their lives in different ways, and it's very easy for me to see how there would be huge variance here. But most people are shockingly bad at replicating how people behave, especially when it involves a bunch of different behaviors at one time for no real reason. Even though they can see this with their own eyes.

In my head, I immediately run through images of a person who is a loud talker and socializer going around spreading it everywhere. Once he or she stops doing that and gets at least some immunity, you are going to have way fewer cases. I picture an essential worker with a lot of public contact going home and infecting his or her family. Picture these types of people x1000 in a community, and picture what happens when all these people are immune, or, sadly, in some cases, dead. You will most likely see a huge drop in infection rates. Not perfect, but a big drop, and makes social distancing measures more effective for vulnerable people, since they will be less exposed overall. Even if immunity wanes, there will be less virus out there for you to pick up again. I know people want black and white answers, but you can definitely see how it would depend on community dynamics as to when someone infected becomes unlikely to come in close contact with someone who isn't immune.

Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious

It was before that took off, but I'm pretty positive Pinker or a friend of his wrote it up as a pretext for interviews on the topic.

Thiel on Progress and Stagnation

Most or all of these ideas appear in other works, but many of them may still be original in the sense that he generated them largely from his own observations. A lot of it what someone with his intellect and personality would pick up on from personal experiences and by synthesizing wide reading. Few ideas haven't been independently reached by other people, whether or not they've been popularized or applied the same way. To pick one, "And if you don't say those things, well we know you're not the person to get tenure," is pretty much Chomsky's point about how journalists end up replicating the narratives of the system: "I don't say you're self-censoring. I'm sure you believe everything you're saying. But what I'm saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn't been sitting where you're sitting." And many others have said the same thing in other contexts.

Kerry's Shortform

Adding a few more *possibilities*, not all of which I think are likely. I'm not as sure on some of the fundamentals as I once was, partly due to new evidence. The evidence remains poorly presented overall so I could be more off than I thought, but in most cases that would be true for almost everyone.

  • I'd been confident for a while much of spread was presymptomatic and aerosolized, with handwashing likely not doing much at all. I now think there's a small possibility something like fecal spread is involved, and that possibly the WHO is right about it being more about large droplets. But they could also be very wrong, and I think they probably are. Even then, one would think masks help slow spread in brief interactions, so they work well enough for anyone practicing social distancing indefinitely, but beyond a certain amount of exposure, the reduction in spread is probably hours or days. Raincoats work, but if you go swimming in one...
  • It seems like this may be way, way less dangerous for almost everyone than people think. Not saying it's not a big deal or just the flu. But even with protests and other things, it doesn't seem like we're overwhelmed. Cases are going up, but they *will* go up, until we reach some level of immunity. The question is how much death and suffering results. Many of the cases seem minor. I think there is a decent possibility that historians will remember 2020 as a major overreaction, but this is by no means clear yet. It could go the other way, but I really don't think it will seem scarier than cancer in a few years in terms of death risk. Not anywhere close. Longer term effects in some cases, I'm not sure. Some reports are worrying. But the long-term effects of the shutdown, social and economic, may end up overwhelming such concerns. I'm very concerned about how things are going to go in the next few years---what the heck are we going to do about all the people who lost health insurance and jobs? And many more probably will soon. I don't see anyway historians consider lockdown anything but a major mistake, certainly past the two-week point. Even if the idea behind it seemed sensible, that idea seems to have rested on assumptions that were obviously mistaken and can't be easily excused among our leaders (worrying about hospital crowding but not thinking about how that connected to sending infected patients to nursing homes or the hospital as a major source of spread during lockdown, and also making so many people lose their health insurance and hospitals lose so much revenue that the healthcare system itself may end up in even bigger trouble in the long-term.)
  • Still don't think vaccines will make much of a difference, if we get them. Not happy with the IMO misleading messaging on this. UV lights in public buildings seem more promising than anything I've heard so far.
  • Most of the world seems to be returning to normal, dropping containment as a strategy, though relatively quietly---the U.S. seems to be an outlier here. I have a feeling Europe will have largely moved on from the virus itself in a year, with the most vulnerable taking precautions. The economy will be the focus, out of necessity. Idk what the heck will happen with the U.S.
  • It seems like some people may have more immunity than we thought, but it doesn't seem immunity lasts long at all. Still, some degree of herd immunity will probably help a lot and and subsequent cases may well be milder.
Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious

That's possible. It hardly seems necessary though---he could write the book without that pretext, though I get it helps. There have been sort of partial cancellation attempts already and that will probably continue--like the Epstein stuff, which to me it seems he should defend more vigorously. I get he may just want that to go away, but it seems absurd and dangerous to imply that he couldn't comment to a friend and co-worker about his judgment of the statute in question, just because it could be used to defend a bad person in court. That seems like a really important thing to preserve---are we supposed to allow the prosecutors to interpret the statute incorrectly to arrest people for things that are not supposed to be crimes, just to avoid the possibility that the correct interpretation would result in an acquittal? We're talking about analyzing the plain meaning of a common statute, which is pretty fundamental to get right. It wasn't like Pinker testified as an expert witness, not that I would have seen anything wrong with that in the slightest. He's already controversial enough to write a book on the suppression of free academic speech for sure. I also assume he'd have done a better job with the letter if he wanted to make it a dramatic story to sell books. He seems to have just wanted an excuse to do interviews on the topic, maybe in collaboration with concerned employees at the NYT and elsewhere, given how positive the response has been.

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