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Technological stagnation: Why I came around

The fact that some advances exist is entirely consistent with the thesis that the overall rate of advance has slowed down, as the original article points out.

Who should you expect to spend your life with?
  • People are at a relationship-time-steady-state between about thirty and sixty. I imagine that many people start relationships in that time, so does that mean that they also stop them at about the same rate, or gradually reduce time with their partners at a rate matching others’ forming of new relationships? Are people radically less likely to start relationships after about thirty?

I would wager that it's the last one. New relationship formation goes way down after the 20s, meaning that from the 30s thru the 60s people are mostly maintaining existing relationships, and the new relationships that they do form are being matched approximately by the ones that die out.

Is this a problem? I'm not sure. It does suggest that you should be serious and intentional about your relationship choices when you're in your 20s, because the people you build community with in that period will be the greater part of your relationships that you have for your entire life. Personally, nearing the age of 40, I find that this is mostly correct. The relative strength of various relationships has waxed and waned over time, but I have trouble thinking of too many people I know now that I did not know already in my 20s.

D&D.Sci II: The Sorceror's Personal Shopper

Though I didn't participate in this exercise, I enjoyed reading about it and looking over the answers below. It put me in mind of a particular meta-point, which is that predictability turned out to be the key. The most profitable answers all hinged on noticing which categories the thaumatometer gave accurate readings for, and using those to minimize uncertainty.

Wholehearted choices and “morality as taxes”

Returning to this very belatedly. I actually agree with most of what you say here, and the points of disagreement are not especially important. However, my point WRT the original analogy is that it doesn't seem to me to be compatible with these insights. If the general state of the world is equivalent to an emergency in which a man is drowning in a river, then the correct course of action is  heroic, immediate intervention. But this, as some of your quotes, is totally unsustainable as a permanent state of mind. The outcome, if we take that seriously, is either crippling scrupulosity or total indifference.

The correct move is just to reject the original equivalence. The state of the world is NOT equivalent to an emergency in which a man is drowning in a river, and intuitions drawn from the prior scenario are NOT applicable to everyday existence.

A vastly faster vaccine rollout

A few observations:

  1. Compared to 1947, there are many fewer things that you can do without permission, and many more people from whom you must seek permission. This naturally inhibits quick action.
  2. Institutional incentives are all pointed towards caution, conservatism, and proceduralism. Undertaking decisive action to deal with a new situation is discouraged, and therefore these institutions are full of people without the disposition to even try.

I don't have citations for these, but cf. Zvi's entire series on moral mazes.

To these, we add a corona-specific factor, that we do not have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate everyone, so we have to ration and prioritise our doses. This, in turn, opens up vaccine prioritisation to political input, which means that the two factors mentioned above come to dominate, and we wind up with a vaccine plan which is maximally cautious, procedural, and bureaucratic. If we had enough doses to actually vaccinate everyone, it would be much easier to sell a policy of just vaccinating whoever walks through the door.

In Defense of Twitter's Decision to Ban Trump

I endorse @remizidae's comment above, and would like to add the following:

Twitter is a private company and not a state actor. The First Amendment does not apply to decisions about whom it allows to use its platform.

Too many smart people are conflating the rights and responsibilities of state actors with those of private companies.

This is legally relevant but morally irrelevant. The distinction between public and private moderation is not due to some fundamental, ontological difference between government and private oppression, but rather because in the conditions under which the 1st Amendment was originally written, the state was the only actor who could effectively suppress speech across the whole spectrum of society. But this is not the case today! Today, large online platforms are able to suppress speech that they disapprove of at an international scale. Even if "only 22% of Americans have a Twitter account", that still gives them a degree of influence comparable to that of the state, and this concern only gets greater if we realise that adding in a few other common social networks brings coverage to close to 100% and all of these platforms have similar moderation attitudes, which results in a homogeneity of "acceptable discourse" which freedom of speech is supposed to avoid. If we actually value freedom of speech as an actual moral principle and not merely as a legal technicality, then we should absolutely be concerned about censorial powers wielded by private companies.

Wholehearted choices and “morality as taxes”

Unfortunately this intuition pump pumps the wrong way for me, or at least it does the moment I look away from the specific example and towards the general type of thing that it's trying to encourage.

If you're going on a walk just once and come across someone who needs help, you should help them. The experience you describe of having regret and sadness over not getting to help them is perfectly accurate. But Singer wants to generalise this kind of obligation to such a large class of problem that it's as if you never get to have a nice walk in the woods again. You will spend your entire life pulling people out from underneath machinery, and every time you do so there will be another person right next to them who needs the same kind of help, and it goes on and on forever, because the scope of the problem, at least relative to your contribution, is infinite. You will beg for a day in which you go outside and don't find another idiot stuck under his fucking car, you will glance longingly at the woods and wish for the day when you can enjoy the swish of leaves around your ankles again---but you know that if you do that, somebody else is going to die, you monster. So eventually you either give up, or you put earplugs in your ears and go enjoy some time in the woods, completely unable to hear the people yelling for help.

Edit: to be clear, I agree with the original choice as presented: I would be glad to give up my walk in the woods to save someone's life in the manner described. My argument is against the generalisation of this intuition to the wide variety of situations that Singer wants to apply it to, and my paragraph above intends to show that even the original example becomes oppressive if you expand it to the appropriate scale.

Covid 12/17: The First Dose

I had the exact same thought. COVID inhabits a liminal zone in which it's simultaneously true that vigorous action could save hundreds of thousands of lives, but many people would individually look at the infection and fatality rates and determine that it wasn't worth it to cancel their entire lives. Given existing political cleavages, it was also entirely predictable that this would wind up splitting down partisan lines.

What is it good for? But actually?

The only part of this that doesn't make sense to me is "they still eliminated their excess population". Unless I'm mistaken about the numbers, no war before WWI ever had a large enough number of combatants or was deadly enough in general to make a real dent in the population. An exception to this might be prehistoric intertribal warfare in which the combatants include "all healthy adult males of the tribe", but that obviously doesn't apply to Iron Age to Industrial Age warfare as you claim.

Unexplored modes of language

Piraha is hardly the only language which has a pure-tonal mode; such things are relatively common throughout the tropics, as I understand it. However, as I understand it the tonal modes of these languages tend to be pretty restricted compared to the full modes, since they lose too much information, and can only effectively communicate a limited suite of phrases and messages composed from those phrases.

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