Obsessively interested in all things related to cognitive technologies, Internet & Data, with a pragmatic yet philosophical twist. What seems to define me above everything else is that nothing defines me in particular; on most personality tests I somehow manage to never hit any extreme.


Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

The reason it may seem our societal ability to create well-working institutions is declining could also have to do with the apparent fact that the whole idea of duty and the honor that this used to confer is not as much in vogue anymore as it used to be. Also, Equality and Diversity aside, being "ideological" is not really a thing anymore... the heydays of being an idealist and brazenly standing for something are seemingly over.

The general public seem to be more interested in rights and not responsibilities, somehow unable to understand that they can only meaningfully exist together. I was having a conversation the other day about whether it would be a good idea to introduce compulsory voting in the US, as this would render moot a significant number of dirty tricks used to de-facto disenfranchise certain groups... almost all objections came from the "I"-side; I have a right to this, I am entitled to that... the whole idea that, gee, you know, you might be obliged to spend 1-3 hours every 2 or 4 years to participate in society is already too much of a bloody hassle. Well yeah... with that kind of mindset, it's no wonder the institutions that require an actual commitment to maintaining robust societal functions is hard to find...

Notes on Justice (as a virtue)

Well yes there are methods of preventing the situation as described (that one can manually pick from a stash where various 'qualities' are intermixed) but that changes the circumstances; my example was specifically for that set of particulars. I guess that like most examples where significant differences in assessment arise, they all boil down to where you set the "slider" for taking responsibility for the situation one creates (eg. the seller allowing manual selection) and the degree to which one is willing, able or justified to "exploit" such a situation to ones' benefit.

I think the cherry-picking example is an especially good one because it touches on a number of important issues, and each of those issues in itself is an unsettled question. Is it "just" to strive for an equitable division of fruit qualities among all (future) buyers? Will those buyers feel the same way about your idea of justice? Is it reasonable to negatively judge those who don't "comply" with such a conception? Are such people immoral? Are they not in fact simply more assertive of what they see as their right to choose? None of these can be easily settled....

Notes on Justice (as a virtue)

I am one of those people that have an overactive sensitivity for fairness, and at times go to extremes to make sure justice "happens", and can't help but point out double standards and (real or perceived) hypocrisy. However... I'll be honest - this is generally something that decreases the net quality of my life. Not in the least because injustice (in the broad sense) is omnipresent and highly prevalent everywhere. When that isn't the problem, the next issue that rears its head repeatedly is how to define justice in the first place.

You mention the case of getting too much change back... this is far from a clear cut case. One could defend the position that it is part of the clerks required diligence to ensure he gives you the correct amount of change, and that if he does not, it is for him to deal with. It seems defensible to claim that the chance of him "learning his lesson" may be better if you do not tell him of the mistake. (This might be different if the option "tell about mistake, keep the money" would be available, but it kind of isn't, for a quite interesting set of reasons). I suspect that, all things considered, going back to the clerk to return the excess change is probably indeed the most correct thing to do, but certainly not unambiguously so.

To introduce another interesting shade of grey.. You go out to buy some cherries, and it is possible to select the fruits yourself. Do you think it's OK to manually select the best ones from the stash (assuming ones' hands are meant to be the 'tools' for selection) - it is very hard to adequately define what "just" in this case is - it is hard to defend the position that you must share in the crappy fruits, but equally you might believe it is unfair to other clients to pick out the nicest ones. But then again, first come, first serve isn't exactly controversial either...

I strongly believe in justice and fairness. In the accurate and equitable assignation of responsibility, and admitting ones' share. Yet the temptation not to do it will always remain, mostly because it very often simply costs less. And at times I do wonder if my ideation of justice basically translates into being the sucker ;)


Stupidity as a mental illness

I think this whole problem is a bit more nuanced than you seem to suggest here. I can't help but at least tentatively give some credit to the assertion that LW is, for lack of a better term, mildly elitist. To be sure, for perhaps roughly the right reasons, but being elitist in whatever measure tends to be detrimental to the chances of getting your point across, especially if it needs to be elucidated to the very folks you're elitist towards ;) Not many behaviors are judged more repulsive than being made to feel a lesser person... I'd say it's pretty close to a cultural universal.

It's not right to assert that if one does not agree with your suggestion that stupidity is to be seen as a type of affliction of the same type or category as mental illness, one therefore is disparaging mental illness as shameful; This is a false dichotomy. One can disagree with you for other reasons, not in the least for reasons as remote from shame as evolution... it is nowhere close to a given that nature cares even a single bit about whatever might end up being called intelligence. You will note that most creatures seem to have just the right CPU for their "lifestyle", and while it might be easy for us to imagine how, say, a dog might benefit from being smarter, I'd sooner call that a round-about way of anthropomorphizing than a probable truth.

Exhibit B seems to be the most convincing observation that, by the look of things, wanting to "go for max IQ" is hardly on evolution's To-Do list... us, primates, dolphins and a handful of birds aside, most creatures seem perfectly content with being fairly dim and instinct-driven, if the behaviours and habits exhibited by animals are a reliable indication ;) I'll be quiet about the elephant in the room that the vast majority of our important motivations are emotional and non-rational, too...

What's more - and I am actually curious what you will respond to this... it could be said that animals, all animals, are more rational than human beings; after all, they don't waste "CPU cycles" on beliefs, vague whataboutery, or theories about how to "deal" with the less intellectually gifted among their kind ;) So while humans might be walking around with a Dual 12-core Xeon in their heads, at any given moment 8 cores are basically wasting cycles on barely productive nonsense; a chicken might just have a Pentium MMX, but it is 100% dedicated to the task of fetching the next worm and ensuring the right location to drop that egg without cracking it...

Stupidity as a mental illness

... but malice is the "force" that actually creates "evil" in the first place. I think the intended meaning of the saying "Don't assume malice where stupidity is sufficient [to explain an observation]" is meant to make the problem seem less bad, not worse...

At the heart of the intractability of stupidity lies the Dunning Kruger problem. It can be an impossible challenge to make an ignorant person:

- admit they are ignorant;
- in the process, realize that most of the beliefs and the reasons they had for holding them were entirely wrong;
- despite having just realized they need a comprehensive world-view revision find the courage and desire to become more educated while:
- having above average difficulties with acquiring new and hitherto unknown and/or too complex material.

How do you read the news critically?

Oh I don't really "do" Twitter actually... nor Facebook since about a year. Now and again one of my friends shares and tweet and sometimes it can be an interesting start of a topic but... though I've been doing Internet since 1995, Twitter is just too vacuous for my liking. In response, now and again I'll send a 1 hour+ YouTube link back ;)

And yes of course, multiple points of view need not bring one close to the Truth, however...

In a large number of narratives, especially, it seems, the most relevant ones, finding the truth may be practically impossible, and sometimes there simply is no truth, or at least not just one. To some people aspect X is irrelevant, others might believe it crucial. This news network claims Witness Y is credible, some other one calls him a corporate shill. Unless you would be able to get into the minds of each human involved, what you end up believing is the truth will always be an approximation.

Take for instance the recently more often occurring phenomenon of "influencers" (shudder) bloggers or journalists looking into the obscure past of what someone who is having his/her 15 minutes of fame has posted back in, say, 2004 on some now-defunct blog, and bleating out on Twitter anything remotely controversial or tentatively indicative of hypocrisy. I doubt you will ever settle the debate whether people can genuinely change or not. I know that I've had views I no longer hold today - both "benign" and "tough love" ones... and while previously held view will always have the familiarity bias, they can actually be genuinely a thing of the past. Yet if they are found online and are at odds with what I would be saying today, poof there goes half of my credibility...

And - getting multiple points of view at the very least will give you some idea why certain people apparently seem to find a given topic or story important. The net outcome may well be that you will be further from the truth, swimming in a sea of conflicting interests... and yet, still understand the nature of the issue in more detail :)

Okay - what I would want to ask is - is it reasonable to expect that a government with billions of dollars to spend on intelligence gathering, data analysis and various experts must be meeting at least one of these criteria:

- It has access to high quality information about the actual state of affairs in most relevant domains
- It is grossly incompetent or corrupt and the data is not available in an actionable format
- It willfully ignores the information, and some of its members actively work to prevent the information reaching the right people

The Corona virus is a good example. By the time it "arrived" in the USA, you can be all but certain the US government could have had a 20+ page detailed report lying on the desk of every secretary giving very actionable figures and probabilities about the threat at hand. The information would be incomplete, of course, but definitely enough to get busy in a nominally effective way.

While I know that Trump is said to have disbanded various institutions that work to anticipate and prepare for pandemics, still it would seem to me that a huge apparatus like the US government should be able to collect and otherwise infer a significant amount of information that would allow it to mount at least a reasonable response.

Or to phrase my question differently - should it be seen as an act of gross incompetence that a resourceful and powerful government like the one in the US failed to act upon the information they either really did have, or should have prioritized to obtain? How is it remotely acceptable that "We just had no idea" is not a ludicrous and frankly preposterous position to be in, given the possibilities?

And of course there can be cases where even the US government can be caught off guard, make a set of misguided institutional choices - sure :) But I would say this happens very, very rarely, certainly not as often as the current administration seems to suggest.

How do you read the news critically?

Yeah alright... I guess you could call that passive casual observance :)

How do you read the news critically?

I had to read that twice to make sure I figured out what your point is :) Alright - well, look. The truth is, of course, that 95% of the news you read is utterly and completely irrelevant to you in any impactful sense. Try not following news for a month - you will soon realize you have not actually missed anything. Well - now with COVID this might be a little different, but only a little.


If you do follow news, it would be proper and prudent to at least care about the veracity of it, especially if you have a habit of forming opinions about said news, and, in particular, if you somehow do find the time and energy to spread this opinion online. The combination: "Follow all sorts of news" + "Form ignorant opinions" + "Spread my ignorant opinions" is not a good one. Worse things of course have happened ;) but that is certainly not an admirable state to be in.

And if people read news to, you know, feel like they are aware of what's going on in the world, however superficially, you would want to expend at least a minimal/nominal effort to ensure at least some confirmation of the veracity of what you are reading. For example, to have a moderately sensible opinion about Black Lives Matter, you don't need to study the entire US history... but reading a serious article or two (ideally from different sources) would be appropriate to make sure you at least know more than one point of view (especially since your point of view is probably "pre-confirmationbiased" by your Google bubble ;)

How do you read the news critically?

I guess what I meant by “easy” is compared to not doing any fact checking. So, 2-5 minutes of additional searching/additional sources would often be sufficient to realize something is most likely biased and/or fake news in, say, 80% of cases. It’s quite sad and discouraging that so many readers are unwilling to do even that, though again if the aim is confirmation of world view and not highest probability of accuracy and truth... it actually “makes sense” to not check ;)

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