Mitchell_Porter

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The True Face of the Enemy

Whether children should be in school is inseparable from the question of how children should live in general, and ultimately, how human life as a whole should proceed. 

For the average modern family, school is not just a place where their children go to learn, it's a place that takes care of the children during the day, while the parents work to earn money. 

This has not always been how life works. One may certainly look to the history of humanity for alternative paradigms. But in general, I think the historical alternative to compulsory schooling has not been self-directed education, it's been child labor. 

In several places, this article links to a wiki by an advocate of "educational emancipation". The wiki has some material that may, for all I know, be an important contribution to the practice of education, e.g. this page interested me. 

But when it comes to reforming the educational system, the wiki's author hopes for "a massive peaceful rebellion from school-aged children". Greta Thunberg's climate strike shows us that such a thing is conceivable. But suppose the rebellion against compulsory schooling happened somewhere, and was victorious, how would it turn out? 

Perhaps like this: Some would choose to remain in school, and in the existing educational system, and would go on to get the jobs that require grades and degrees. Some would quit school and go straight into the workforce, as in the days before compulsory schooling. A few with the means to do so, would indeed embark on self-directed education, producing a mixture of prodigies and alienated misfits. And some would drop out into a life of sex, drugs, looting, and fighting. 

The wiki's author supports basic income, and the author of this essay talks about "the capitalist beast", so it seems they're both hoping to avoid the historical either-or, whereby, if you're not in the system getting educated, you'll be staying alive "by the sweat of your brow", i.e. working in a job. 

Society can undoubtedly assume many forms that it has not yet taken; and the computer age increasingly means that humans are not even needed for cognitive labor (just as the machine age provided an alternative to human and animal labor on a material level). But if we're still talking about a world of human beings not that dissimilar to the present, then if you want to abolish (and not just reform) compulsory schooling, there are a lot of issues to address. Are you happy for a lot of young people to just skip schooling and join the workforce early? Are you dreaming that all the emancipated youth are going to be self-educating computer nerds rather than hollow-eyed street kids? At what age do you think a young person should first have the right to completely reject the tutelage of adults? 

Also, this article - in its dialogue with "the Enemy" - implies that compulsory schooling was invented for basically malevolent and exploitative reasons. But glance at the actual history of compulsory education and you will find many ways in which it was meant to make a better world. It was supposed to instill moral virtue throughout the populace, end child labor, give better opportunities to the lower social classes, help a country catch up with stronger wealthier nations. If you really want to know your "enemy", find a manifesto written by some reformer from a few centuries ago, for whom universal education was going to fix everything wrong with the world... 

Grey Goo Requires AI

Imagine an airborne "mold" that grows on every surface, and uses up all the atmospheric CO2. You'd need to be hermetically sealed away to escape it, and then the planet would freeze around you anyway. 

Grey Goo Requires AI

These replicators would transform all matter on earth into copies of themselves

A replicator doesn't need the capacity to devour literally all matter (with all the chemical diversity that implies), in order to be a threat. Suppose there was a replicator that just needs CO2 and H2O. Those molecules are abundant in the atmosphere and the ocean. There would be no need for onboard AI. 

Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

At this point, I am not trying to show that lockdowns were an overreaction, so much as I am just trying to understand why events unfolded as they did. 

How did the idea of a national lockdown enter public health contingency plans all over the world? (the idea existed before Covid, but I think people usually envisaged it as a response to a much deadlier pandemic). What are the attributes of Covid which made people regard it as dangerous enough to warrant national lockdowns? (e.g. a lethal respiratory disease, of a kind for which no vaccines existed). What made national lockdowns the global norm? (e.g. was it because WHO advised it and many countries follow WHO recommendations, or was it more a matter of public health officials in diverse countries independently coming to the same conclusion, because it really was the appropriate response). 

So, just seeking the basic cause and effect of how the global pandemic response unfolded. 

Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

you still don't have evidence that lockdowns are benefitting them

I was struck by the case of a political columnist who tweeted an appeal to ordinary people, to just let their businesses fail, rather than risk orphaning their kids; while she herself went about organizing a new online business venture involving dozens of colleagues. 

Lockdowns are hardest on those who are already vulnerable, and on people who can't work from home. But digital society is run by affluent people who spend their working days in front of a computer. It makes sense that they would be much less sensitive to the drawbacks of a stay-at-home policy. 

Covid 12/10: Vaccine Approval Day in America

lockdowns are to protect the elderly 

Let's suppose we're trying to understand why almost every society on Earth engaged in unprecedented society-wide lockdowns, over a virus which is certainly highly lethal e.g. for people in their 80s, but which is mostly harmless for people in the prime of life. 

I like the theory above - that the lockdowns are to protect the elderly - because of its simplicity. If it's true, it should be possible to present an account of what happened in 2020, in which that thought and intention is central. 

But to develop that account, further nuances need to be brought out. For example, if we focus just on western countries for a moment, would the more nuanced explanation be, that it was largely about protecting the parents of the progressive managerial class? (is that what PMC stands for?) - in the sense that this is the social stratum whose sensibilities make the difference between one policy and another, in many cases. 

But then we would want to explain that countries as different as China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa also engaged in lockdowns. Was the same logic at work in all of them? But in East Asia they also had the experience of the far more lethal 2003 SARS (and, it now occurs to me, Saudi may have had the analogous experience of MERS, to encourage swift severe lockdowns). 

With respect to global use of lockdowns, I think WHO and the G20 did a lot to encourage it, so that would be part of the chain of cause and effect... And another aspect of understanding how the year unfolded, would be to think of the public health response in each country, as something constantly in evolution, and also contested. 

So maybe my provisional explanation is that there was a convergence of practice between SARS-terrified Asia and the elites of the information-age West, and that this then became a new global norm via bodies like WHO and G-20. 

We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

If you want to make the case that with a different ethos, Covid-19 mortality might have been dramatically lower, it would help to exhibit a scenario in which this happens. 

Much is being made of the fact that mRNA vaccines were first synthesized, very soon after the virus's genetic sequence became available. But this just means that a particular molecular construct (a carrier for spike protein mRNA, I guess) could quickly be synthesized. 

To go from that to mass vaccination, even if we skip trials for efficacy and safety, requires that you know enough about how the virus and the vaccine behave within the body, to have some idea of where and how to administer the vaccine to a patient. Also, there needs to be infrastructure to mass-produce the vaccine, and a way to distribute it. 

Complications known to me, in the case of Covid mRNA vaccines, are that Covid's interaction with the body and the immune system is intricate and was not immediately understood (this matters in deciding how to introduce a vaccine into the body), and that mRNA vaccines currently require ultracold refrigeration for their distribution, an infrastructure that doesn't even exist in some countries. 

Let's see a concrete counterfactual scenario for rapid deployment of a Covid mRNA vaccine in 2020, that takes into account these two factors; and then we can start to estimate how many extra lives the HCT ethos might have saved. 

100 Tips for a Better Life

To the author of this post: I continue to plead for help. If not from you, there must be someone that you know. 

We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

OK, let's talk about some of the issues that would arise in this scenario. 

Taking an mRNA vaccine means becoming temporarily transgenic. mRNA for Covid spike protein is injected into your muscle cells, they produce it, and this stimulates antibody production. 

In having trials, one is not only testing that the Covid mRNA vaccine is effective against Covid; one is also testing whether the vaccine itself has side effects. 

Are you proposing to move straight to mass vaccination, without testing for vaccine side effects? But if not, how will making the trials HCTs, save time? HCTs are only different in the way that they test efficacy against the pathogen. When it comes to testing for side effects of the vaccine itself, don't you have to wait just as long as you do, in a non-challenge trial? 

We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials.

I did some google-research... From wikipedia, I learned that HCTs have already been performed many times, for a variety of pathogens (I didn't know that). So it seems like they are already part of accepted practice. 

I found a reddit thread with comments from a few people who work in the medical industry, remarking e.g. that HCTs would only have come in at Phase 3 and would only have saved a little time. And a PNAS opinion piece giving what I guess is the common opinion among the bioethics establishment, that HCTs are not appropriate for Covid, and their reasons for this opinion (I have not studied their arguments; but they mention 1DaySooner). 

Whatever their merit, I note that these counterarguments do not involve pure ethical reasoning about the bare idea of HCTs, they involve technological and epidemiological details that outsiders do not know. 

This is why I'm against this call for "mass conversation". So far all I'm hearing is "if we had vaccines sooner, lives would have been saved, what if HCTs would have done this?" But it turns out that HCTs have been used in the past, and that there are alleged reasons why they wouldn't help in the specific case of Covid. 

At the very least, an HCT advocate using our recent global experience as motivation, ought to now address the specifics of how the Covid vaccines were developed, and provide some plausible detailed reasons as to why and how HCTs could have accelerated that process. 

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