Ray Girn, The Self Made Child: Maria Montessori's Philosophy of Education

Ray Girn, The Self Made Child: Maria Montessori's Philosophy of Education

(these are paraphrases after the hyphens unless in quotes, cuz it's from audio and he chose not to offer a transcript for better discussion.)

- (5min) presents a concept of reason and says purpose of education is to impart this to child so he can be a reason-using adult.

i disagree. there's no conception here of the child disagreeing, or of error-correction of the parent/educator's conception of reason. there's no concept of it being the child's life, and his decision what ideas to accept. the parent should offer these things, but rely on persuasion. the goal should be to help the child, not to decide before the child is born what ideas the child should have in his head when he's 20 and then figure out how to get that result. that kind of predetermined and not-open-to-disagreement parental agenda ends up meaning trampling all over the child as an autonomous individual with a mind and rights.

- advocates parents using force to limit TV, and takes that for granted as right. puts it in the same category of as helping child not get run over by a car or die from guzzling lighter fluid.

note the key difference: the child does want to watch TV, but does not want to be hit by a car or be poisoned by lighter fluid. the child is not actually trying to commit suicide and doesn't want that. but does want TV. so the examples are completely different. but Girn mixes them together as the same thing, as cases where he thinks parental force is clearly OK.

- says you can't compel THOUGHTS (as opposed to using compulsion for ACTIONS like drinking poison), can't force a child to have certain ideas, like how you shouldn't force people to read Atlas Shrugged


- Montessori idea is, instead of freedom, to offer the child prepared freedom – design an environment to channel and leverage child's nature (instead of using compulsion)

yeah, it's all manipulation for the predetermined parental agenda. no fallibilism, no error correction of parent's agenda, no full freedom for child, just (this is common today) trying to find ways to control child without it being force.

- (14min) quote "the child will receive a lesson from the adult, a demonstration of (this is probably a 2.5 or 3 yo child) this activity, and then will be left free to kinda explore and repeat at his leisure"

notice how the child is explicitly free AFTER the lesson – NOT free about whether he wants this lesson. that's not an accident of wording, it's the child being compelled. he goes on to say things like "children work through activities like these" – it's decided in advance before the child is born and he doesn't have a choice. that is force.

- nothing in the mind that doesn't come from the senses

emphasis on training senses

- various activities, like blocks and number rods

the numbers stuff is trying to connect sound, symbol, amount. the activity itself sounds just kinda painfully awful and unpleasant, something i would have hated. there's an element of taste here and some people would like it better, but it's not presented as this thing for 20% or even 50% of kids, it's presented as what the kids do at Montessori. (i'm sure they have some choice if they hate one particular activity, but i think they get offered a bunch of activities which, in certain ways, are all similar, are all coming from the same kind of design philosophy. choice is limited and someone who doesn't like one activity of this style could easily dislike most of them).

these activities aren't open ended. they are designed to have a single outcome, and if child does it a different way that he thinks is better, he gets corrected. it's not like real life where you're doing exploration and coming up with your own goals and it can lead to other things. it's all predetermined and setup to go a specific way, like people at regular school doing the science experiment in the textbook in order to get the already-known result they are told to get, rather than as part of following their interests.

like my friend's kid tried to make a train out of blocks at a Montessori school, and then got corrected cuz that wasn't how the blocks were supposed to be used. that's mean. and it's not just some aberration at that school, it fits the Montessori way of thinking. the audio lecture was just saying how the activities are self-correcting, the toys are designed to only work one way and if the child does something else it doesn't work. meaning the adult already has in mind his mind a specific way the stuff should be used, that's the intended point he's trying to ensure happens. so of course that kinda perspective isn't friendly to deviance or innovation. the whole prepared environment thing is trying to do things like take away distractions, and decide which things a child should learn, that's the whole design here, not to let the child pursue his own interests and goals (like making a train out of blocks instead of learning the adult's lesson).

- curriculum not offered by teacher but embedded in world the child explores

this is dishonest. the teacher set up the curriculum in an indirect way, then pretends it's just child exploring the world.

and it's so controlled. the child doesn't get any non-Montessori toys, isn't allowed to have other stuff he might want like iPads or legos. so then the child, given only Montessori stuff, ends up doing some of it, rather than nothing. then parents see that as evidence the kid likes the stuff.

- (22min) materials are selected by what's enticing to child, what child directly needs, what child indirectly needs to gain something else, and then they're all set in order. then it plays this clip of Maria Montessori saying the choice of what to do is up to the child and the teacher is in the background.

but the teacher is deciding what teacher thinks child needs to accomplish teacher's agenda that was set before child was born. teacher is deciding what teacher thinks entices children (not what they actually find enticing like more TV watching). teacher is totally controlling the child's environment to control the child, and this is all on purpose, and then at the same time teacher is claiming to merely be in the background.

- (23min) Maria Montessori says b/c the curriculum is embedded in the materials, whatever the child chooses he ends up working on the curriculum

so you see the child has no choice, it's work on the curriculum or work on the curriculum. he's heavily controlled.

then Maria Montessori elaborates that even that isn't enough control. for example, if the child chooses geography stuff over and over, then she'll come up and push math on him in a way where she doesn't feel like a thug but she makes sure to get her way...

- freedom for child to engage in reasonable forms of activity, not anarchy

so it's: you have freedom as long as you don't deviate too much. you can disagree as long as it's within the scope of what the authority considers a reasonable disagreement and allows, but nothing more.

- (29min) ground rules

- can't interrupt unless you follow a politeness procedure

- only may use materials if you receive the presentation (b4 that, off limits)

and if the child wants to use a material but not receive the lecture? then the RULES are enforced by FORCE, right? gentle force if possible – trying to guide the child, ask him to stop, put subtle pressures on him. (just like the government doesn't send armed men to collect taxes, they just mail you some forms to start with, most people never see the guns)

(concretely, what they frequently actually do is kick kids out of the school to dodge the issue. if the kid is noisy, doesn't obey some rules about what materials he can use, stuff like that, and their pressure doesn't work, then the kid can just get kicked out, which is pretty common.)

- talks about uninterrupted time

actually there is a preset schedule which interrupts the children, even if they don't want to be interrupted, a few times a day. (how? what if child doesn't obey? you take it from there)

- says how adult is guide, comes in now and then (yes, during "uninterrupted" 3 hour work period), not directing the process, shows a learning period video

this is dishonest. the adult is controlling everything indirectly. does less directly. then talks about not directing things because his control is indirect. it's just a rationalization of control, and they keep talking about it like it isn't control.

- (41min) says how child is learning to be free in this citadel of knowledge where nothing is accidental, it's all lovingly selected. rich knowledge designed for purpose of "allowed" child to learn how to live well.

how to live well according to parent's concept of living well, which child is not free to disagree with.

- (44min) says to prevent 10 year old from playing video games all day or drinking a bottle of whiskey

prevent by force. why do those particular things justify force? what's so bad about video games? it's just convention, it's saying stuff lots of people believe, not doing philosophy. and there's an element of whatever children like is assumed to be bad: http://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/video_games_a_unique_educational_environment

- says something about engendering curiosity

Girn has this concept that the child kinda sucks. he has to be carefully controlled to get good. he doesn't have curiosity at birth, you have to find some way to make him curious. he's not rational, you make him rational.

this contradicts my understanding of Atlas Shrugged where John Galt is a **normal man**, and the reason other people aren't like that is because they are broken. you don't have to do something special to get a John Galt, you just have to not break the kid. but Montessori isn't about making sure not to break the kid, it's trying to do all this special stuff.

- (48min) wonders how much education should emphasize transmission of integrated body of knowledge, deep knowledge of the "Western canon". Girn is unsure

- if child won't learn it voluntarily, it's our problem as educators (to figure out how to get him to learn it voluntarily). says stuff about cultures of learning, respect for intellect, role models, inspiration, resources, materials, lessons which give motivation

as long as the end result is predetermined and inflexible, no amount of trying to make it voluntary will ever make it actually voluntary.

- classical education prioritizes gaining knowledge, loses importance of it and applications

- progressive education ignores that child needs knowledge

- Girn advocates third way between classical and progressive. mentions that child is left "completely free"

i think it's notable this "third way" doesn't reject the existing continuum and reconceive of education, it's just, by his own account, in the middle, trying to get the good stuff from two different schools of coercive education.

- (60min) what about consent? Girn knows it's important but hasn't been able to figure out how it affects these topics.

sigh. yes, consent is a big deal when you're trying really hard to control human beings. if they'd respect consent at all times, they couldn't do lots of what they do.

10 year olds don't *consent* to be forcibly prevented from playing video games they want to play. kids don't *consent* to being forcibly prevented from watching TV they want to watch. kids don't *consent* to having access only to Montessori materials, not iPads. Kids don't *consent* to being forced to have to do a presentation thing before using some materials even if they'd rather use those materials now.

- (65min) questioner asks about explicit training in mind self management, and generally about updating Montessori to teach newer stuff. Girn says they do some stuff like that

the whole premise is the educator deciding what the child does, rather than offering things to child that child might want and can make a choice about. it's authoritarian.

- (68min) question about whether/how to teach Objectivism. Girn says he doesn't really have an answer. says if kid is exploring it on their own then they can do a bunch, but if you're imposing it be more conservative.

so, you can impose some stuff on child, at all, ever. he's fine with that.

at the beginning it was like everyone agreeing not to make Atlas Shrugged required reading. but here he is being OK with imposing some Objectivism on kids, if you're like careful or something he hasn't worked out clearly.

- (76min) Girn says how some people have Montessori preschool, then regular school, then at University it's like Montessori again with choice.

given my view of universities, this is damning.

big picture: the whole thing is how to control the child while also thinking you aren't a thug. there's lots of stuff like this today because many, many parents want both of those things. but they contradict and this whole thing is irrational – it assumes the educator is right, doesn't concern itself with disagreements or with any error-correction of educator's ideas, and it doesn't respect the child as a real person.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (18)

Silence vs. Stupidity

there's a huge, fundamental difference between silence and (very) low quality discussion.

silence totally blocks progress.

low quality discussion, if continued persistently, is actually fine.


in programming terms:

b/c the low quality discusser is exposing an API with various convoluted, messy, buggy, misnamed, falsely documented functions which people he's talking with can access.

but give a good programmer a shitty API and in general he'll find some kinda universality and make it do whatever the hell he wants. he'll find some way to get a NAND out of it, to manipulate bits and so some very basic tasks. and then he can define his own API on his own computer on top of the shitty API and use that. (i define on my computer a sequence of calls to your API which make it do some useful task. i repeat for several basic tasks. then i build up another layer of stuff on top of that. then i do what i want in that higher level meta-meta-API i made. so then i'm shielded by layers of abstraction from the low level mess. it's a lot like how some of x86 assembly is old messy backwards compatibility junk, but a javascript programmer never notices.)

universality is so easy to come by, even with a very limited array of bad functions.

another analogy is a hacker will simply find a buffer overflow in your API and then root your system and be able to install whatever software he wants.

what stops the meta-API approach or the security hole approach? silence. you can't get anywhere with an API that stops answering queries. you can't root a box that ignores all incoming requests.

if you're dumb but persistent, good discussers can figure out what you suck at and what can work, and start to focus in. they can try a variety of things, learn about how you block them, and then keep trying new workarounds (each time either discovering a new block or directly making progress). they have something to work with, like a puzzle to solve.

but if you're silent, they can't do a damn thing. if you keep dropping discussions, they can't help you.

persistent bad replies make a WHOLE WORLD of difference, vs silence.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (20)


Different standards is one of the primary reasons people don't like me. I have higher standards and expectations for them than they have for themselves. They can write explicit contradictions in the space of one paragraph and feel like they exceeded their standards and expect congratulations. Then I criticize instead. I think they should seek so much better in their lives. They don’t like that because they are trying to be content with what they are, or a little more, rather than striving for way better.

L did some political activism and got in a newspaper. (Something like a publicity stunt involving no serious or important ideas.) L got a brief quote included, in which she claimed to be for free expression and contradicted herself.

On Facebook, F saw this as a great and impressive accomplishment, despite admitting that L did indeed contradict herself and that there was room for improvement.

No one should be impressed. Here is some of the criticism I explained:
why so impressed by the prestige of a bad newspaper? what do you expect this stuff to accomplish?

Wynand owned bad newspapers, and you know how that worked out. you merely got an article in one. so what?

by designing a portion of your life so it could more easily be picked up by a bad newspaper, you lived their values. you let them have some control over you.

when Hayek won a nobel prize, that was not a symbol of success, it was a symbol of his depravity.
Rather than argue against any of this, L Facebook-liked the paragraph about Hayek which pointed out that getting into the newspaper was depraved by her. L also wrote a comment defending me against haters (not F) and asked them to stop.

F expressed the concept that higher standards would be nice, but are unnecessary. F thinks L’s message was good enough.

It has been claimed to me that F is an Objectivist. I wonder how she read, “PART I NON-CONTRADICTION” (Atlas Shrugged).

How can F accept contradictions – and expect me to accept them too and still be impressed? By having much lower standards in life than I do. By having lower points of comparison, lower expectations. F's standards are not low compared to the typical person, but they're low compared to mine or Ayn Rand's.

F compares L to something like a typical member of her social circle. In this, L exceeds expectations, despite the contradiction and other problems. So F is impressed.

I think that typical person is stupid and incompetent. F thinks of that more like average intelligence, or perhaps above average. This is a clash of standards and expectations – do you compare to your idea of the average person in society or to objective standards for what it takes to think well, be highly effective in life, etc?

F does not expect to ever meet a John Galt or Ayn Rand on Earth. F doesn’t look for that. F doesn’t compare people to that kind of standard. F has a circle of friends who contradict themselves regularly, and F contradicts herself regularly, and F thinks that’s all there is and that’s how life is. F is content with that. Greatness might be for some rare other person who is outside of F’s life.

F is by no means the worst example of any of this. Plenty of other people have similar ideas, and some of them are worse. And plenty of people have lower standards than F. This is not a comparison of F to her conventional people.

I compare to things like Ayn Rand or Howard Roark. Those are my standards. Why not? It’s good to aim high. L should aim high. People could be so much better than they are, but most won’t even try for it.

L is struggling to aim high. L has, like most people, some second-handedness. L likes and seeks praise like F and others hand out for L’s conventionally-impressive-but-actually-immoral “achievements”. F and many others are making this problem worse and are encouraging L to have low standards and to destroy herself.

This is a sad waste of potential, talent, and capability. F thinks she’s kind by never even imagining L in the same realm as great men. F praises mediocrity as if it was greatness because her standards are set that low. This does no moral person any favors.

“What is kinder—to believe the best of people and burden them with a nobility beyond their endurance—or to see them as they are, and accept it because it makes them comfortable? Kindness being more important than justice, of course.” (Ellsworth Toohey, The Fountainhead)

Justice is what matters and what actually helps people. Expecting the best of people is the right thing to do. Encouraging them to take comfort in accepting mediocrity is depraved.

F, stop trying to drag L down (and stop dragging down everyone else too). Stop encouraging her to play in the mud, instead of do things that have any connection to greatness. When you do that, you are part of the irrational mob that plays a large role in the destruction of most human beings.

A big part of L wants to be great. Any friend of hers would encourage that. Criticism is helpful. Encouraging higher standards is helpful. Arguing with people who do that, in favor of standards so low L already meets them, discourages seeing greatness as the normal, natural and expected. It spreads a destructive sense of life.

Standards are not a matter of taste. Objectively, people like Mises and Popper are around the minimum necessary to accomplish much for the cause of reason. Even Rand wasn't very effective. E.g. ARI is bad. Where is any big positive influence by Rand on more than a handful of people? Rand helped a lot of people a little. It's something. It's not that much. It's nothing like making TCS or liberalism or reason actually be popular. L, and others, ought to aim for accomplishments more like that. (Or at least aim to learn enough to make an informed decision about whether to do that.)

L's recent political activism is not on the path to greatness. It’s going the wrong direction. It’s self-destructive. It’s making things harder in her future, not easier. She's taking time off learning ideas worth spreading to get some non-intellectual attention. She's on path to be a mini Gail Wynand – similar themes on a much smaller scale.

If you think some standard – e.g. non-contradiction – is too high or otherwise wrong for a situation, argue your case. Say why it's not achievable, and say what the standard should be (e.g. what contradictions are to be allowed).

Remember to look at standards in terms of whether they will achieve particular goals, not whether they are beating other people. You could easily do way better than your friend, but still fail badly at your goal.

People like F think if they agree with Ayn Rand that contradictions are bad, they are on her side. Then they set standards dramatically lower than Rand did – e.g. they accept many contradictions as good enough. That isn't agreeing with Rand. That is being Rand's opponent.

It's like when someone says "I like reading Rand, that's on my todo list," but they prioritize it low enough it doesn't happen. Then deny they are rejecting Rand.

Considering something (reason, non-contradiction, liberalism, TCS, etc) nice, but then not expecting much of it, is a way to pseudo-agree with its advocates, but not actually substantively agree. It's a way of evading disagreement and preventing learning the full issue. By sweeping conflict under the rug, it prevents the persuasive truth-seeking resolution of that conflict. This sort of irrationality is really common.

These people, who are half on the side of reason – but with low standards (like allowing explicit contradictions in a single paragraph) – are an example of the men in the middle that Rand spoke of in Atlas Shrugged. For example, people who won't chose to take non-contradiction seriously or to oppose it:
There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice.


"You, who are half-rational, half-coward, have been playing a con game with reality, but the victim you have conned is yourself. When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it's picked up by scoundrels—and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (330)

Fear of Future Employers

Many people have a vague fear of future employers. What if they say something that one day prevents them from getting a job? So they watch what they say online, where statements get saved and often still exist decades later.

This fear dramatically affects people's lives. Many people are quite scared and won't speak their mind in public. They hide their values from the world. Some people won't even speak their mind in private to friends.

People make a big deal out of this. Large numbers of Facebook groups – with hundreds or thousands of members – are "closed" and have rules that the content is all private. This privacy is illusory (sharing secrets with a thousand strangers doesn't work), but people are so fearful that they really want this comforting lie in order to be willing to discuss their ideas.

The issue is not only fear of future employers. Some people are scared their friends or family will find out their ideas about parenting. People are scared of all kinds of true information being had by others, so they hide it. The employer case is especially common.

Some people have concrete fears. For example, they have a job and a secretary. They are afraid of getting in trouble for sexual harassment if they ask her out. Or you're worried that if you tell a particular idea to a particular friend, he'll get mad at you.

As long as you're thinking about specific actions right now, and you have concrete reason to believe that fear is reasonably likely to happen, it's a concrete fear. That may be bad, you may be making a mistake, but it's not the topic of this essay.

This essay is about hiding values with no specific knowledge of a concrete danger. It's about vague fears of what could maybe happen in the future. It's about thinking your values don't have a chance in the world in general.

The issue with future employers is: one day I might want to trade with someone who doesn't like my values and won't trade with people with significantly different values. Therefore, I'll hide my values for my whole life, just in case.

People hide their values from the world, for their whole life, not out of any concrete fear, but just because of some vague maybes.

And people go through their whole lives that way, keeping their values out of their life. They keep their values hidden away in their head. It's very sad.

(One reason people hide their values is because they think morality and pragmatism conflict. So by sharing values, they must damn themselves as either immoral or impractical.)

Hiding values destroys them. It involves living by other values lots of the time. And it involves avoiding discussion of your values. So you don't get to learn more about your values, and discuss how to best follow them, and get criticism when you mess up. By hiding your values, you make it much harder to improve your values or deal with errors in your understanding of them and how you act.

And if you aren't trying to live your values at all times, every time you violate your values can be excused. It really blurs the line about which deviations from your values were a mistake or a strategy.

Fear is a bad sense of life to live with. And more subtle things, like hesitation worry or stress, are bad too. One should be proud of one's values. A good life is proudly confident in one's value, one's values, one's mind, one's judgment and ones ability.

When you apply for a job, there is a fact of the matter of whether you are suitable and would be a good hire. If you should be hired, an employer who rejects you due to something irrelevant is mistaken or acting irrationally. He is harming his own business. Why do you want to work for an mistaken or irrational employer that has something against your values in particular?

Why would you want to hide your values from someone for the sake of having ongoing interactions, 40 hours per week, with someone who has values incompatible with your own? Why not find something better to do with your life than get a job where your values aren't wanted?

There are other jobs. Or you could start your own business. Why do you imagine you'll be so desperate for one particular unsuitable job in the distant future? Why do you expect your life so be so fragile and to have zero other good options? And why harm your life, today, for fear life will never work out? By making your life worse now, you're actually causing a worse life situation in the future – the very thing you feared.

The underlying mistake here is the malevolent universe premise. People think their values have no chance in the world, and the best thing to do is suppress their values so they can get along with the evil world they hate. And they are so fearful and pessimistic, in the face of vague potential future danger, that they don't even want to try to live a good life and see if maybe that can work out after all.

People may not recognize this applies to them because it's hard to live while hating and fearing the world and one's life. So people come up with rationalizations. People start telling themselves their life is OK, and the rest of the world is OK. And they start changing their values to more conventional ones.

If someone doesn't like your values, it's good that you communicated your values. Now you both know you have a clash of values, and can look for more compatible people (or, perhaps, discuss the matter and try to figure out the truth). That's much better than having an ongoing clash of hidden values that confusingly blights your interactions.

(Or if the values in question are irrelevant to what you want to do together, you can continue anyway and drop the irrelevant issue. But note that if someone is unwilling to drop it, they don't consider it irrelevant. If you disagree with them about what's relevant, that is itself an incompatibility between you.)

Don't let vague fears that the world is a bad place, and something bad might happen to you one day, ruin your life now. Don't live in fear and hide the very values that could create a better world in general, and a better life for yourself. Don't hold a malevolent universe premise.

Do your best to figure out good ideas and good values. Stay open minded to rational criticism. Then deal with the world proudly, confident that a moral and rational life is practical. We don't live in hell. Don't give up without trying. A good life is possible, it can work.

Update: I found a great comment to add from a mini Ann Coulter biography article:
"... there's nothing more conformist than to just talk about the college rape epidemic as being America's biggest crisis. But to be a woman who's going to go on TV and just declare the college rape epidemic to be a load of crap, that takes guts."


The first time Coulter told me she was punk rock, I thought she was joking, but this time, she wasn't trying to make people laugh. While the rest of us save our most provocative thoughts for private moments, worried we'll be fired or offend someone, Coulter has purposefully built her life so she can speak her mind without fear about employment or financial repercussions.

"I didn't get the gene that makes you afraid," Coulter explained. "I really am the freest person in America right now. I can say anything."

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (13)

Blog Comment Impersonation

I think people impersonating me in blog comments is confusing.

The following author names are now reserved only for me: "Elliot Temple", "Elliot", "curi". They are case sensitive. People can still use names like "E1liot Temple", "Curi", or "elliot". If they use a reserved name, their comment will show up as from "Anonymous Impersonator".

This policy is only retroactive a few minutes, there are still a few recent impersonations in comments. I am not the only one being impersonated, but I think it's more confusing and problematic to impersonate the admin.

Edit: Harsher anti-impersonation measures were taken due to people putting effort into workarounds.

Edit 2: Only the 3 literal names are reserved again. They are now colored green and bolded if they're definitely real. So people can make stuff that looks identical if they want, but it won't have the special font.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (66)

Open Thread: Paths Forward, Discussing Well

Discuss how to do paths forward (summary blog post), including details like how to use text that isn't your own (so you can have positions on every major issue which you're responsible for), and how to deal with references from other people (like how to skim for a relevant part and reply when you have a criticism or problem, rather than reading the whole thing, and how to do this in such a way the discussion can still make progress).

What are all the practical ways people mess up discussion? Stuff that prevents them from doing the right thing of having this permanent body of knowledge that keeps getting improved, with recorded, public answers to all the issues that's all open to criticism, progress, error-correction.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Edmund Burke was a Liberal

Harry Walton writing on the Open Oxford Facebook group (to me, prior to the addition of a rule against external quoting):
Sure, I never said [Burke] didn't use reason. I just said he disliked the enlightenment and disliked liberalism.
But you wrote, "Individual reason was something that [Burke] held disdain for."

I sure don't think you meant Burke liked collectivist reasoning and was anti-individualist! That'd be ridiculous and I didn't see other claims along those lines from you. So, I read it like you said Burke had disdain for (proper) reason.
"Burke tried to explain to people how actual progress and reform work, how to go about that"

I mean, I like Burke so I'm going to agree that he showed how genuine progress and reform ought to go about. Could you give me a description of what you believe he argued for/said?
"A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve ... would be my standard of a statesman.” – this interest in improvement is not conservative"

Firstly, it is important to note that it is the 'disposition to preserve' that is the important part.
No, the point as a whole is the important part, it's about having those two things together. Did you check the original context before making this claim?

A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.
I think that clears it up. But read more context and tell me if you still disagree.

Maybe we could put it like this: you think the "disposition to preserve" is the important part, so you're a conservative. Burke thinks the "disposition to preserve" and "ability to improve" need to go together, so he's a liberal (and me too). And then, some people care about "ability to improve" without much/any "disposition to preserve", so they are dangerous radicals, revolutionaries, utopians, etc...
It's the basic part of conservative thinking. My favourite essay by Oakeshott is useful to put here. It explains what it means to be conservative. If you have some spare time you should read it. It's probably the best way of describing conservatism I've seen.

replies to this are at the end
"Seeking progress rationally is how liberalism works"

Liberalism is an ideology that has a set goal of 'freedom' as a value that it wants to pursue. Burke has no such value put forward first except for maybe tradition. The goal of liberalism is to maximise freedom. The goal of Burke is just a vague. One of the main reasons Burke likes change is because he believes it is necessary towards preservation of the nation state. I think the only person who you would see as 'conservative' would be Maistre.
This concept of liberalism is mistaken. That helps explain why you don't see the connection between Burke and liberalism. I think a lot of our confusion is because the opponents of liberalism have spread a lot of lies about what it is, and now most people don't have much understanding what liberalism is actually about.

And the claim Burke only wants change for preservation is silly given I just quoted him, and you requoted him, saying he wants *improvement*.

For understanding liberalism, start with:


and read especially


then you could find out what liberalism is – according to actual liberals! – before trying to claim and deny things about it.

Liberal means things like: open to improvement and change, tolerant, favorable to individual rights and freedom, pro-liberty. All of those apply to Burke. Liberalism involves being willing to question and change tradition (which Burke was).

Conservative is a kind of pointless word if you define it such that someone is liberal and conservative, at the same time. It's perfectly possible to do that. The "conservatives" in the US today are pretty liberal (and the "liberals" are largely illiberal).

But if Burke is a "conservative" in addition to a liberal, then what do you call the tories? What word is left? Burke was a whig, the *liberal* party, who opposed and politically fought against the more conservative tories in many things. Burke was one of the reformers standing up to King and traditional authority – calling him a "conservative" is therefore confusing, since he put so much effort into politically battling the conservatives of his time.

Declaring Burke conservative and non-liberal would also get into awkward questions like whether you're going to do it to William Godwin too.

Besides liberals and conservatives (meaning stuff like those tories Burke frequently opposed), another big category to be aware of and complete the picture better is *radicals* – the people who want revolutions, utopias, reimaginings of society. Radicals are the guys who don't respect tradition or piecemeal progress, who want replacement with their latest flakey idea instead of reform. (Objectivism does not use the word "radical" this way, but I do. I'm open to ideas about better word choices.)

So you get:

conservative – keep things the same
liberal – value tradition but seek progress, reform, improvement
radical – sweep away the cobwebs of tradition, replace with something new

or in programming terms:

conservative – the software works well enough, no new versions

liberal – let's refactor a bit and fix some bugs, and occasionally even add new features that we carefully think through

radical – i'm not satisfied with some of the design choices for our software, let's start over from scratch and do a full rewrite

again: if you want to define "conservative" differently, whatever. but then what word should i use to convey ideas like this? (pro-stasis?). can you see the logic to using words this way?

i think a big part of the issue is basically there aren't conservatives anymore. no one in the anglosphere wants *stasis* now. but in the past, lots of people really have wanted stasis, which is something moderns find hard to understand. there's still traces of people wanting stasis today, and problems there, but it's hard to find significant strands of thinking which are very thorough about stasis. and if you go further back in the past, or you look at other worse cultures, you get a lot more pro-stasis stuff. (have you seen David Deutsch's book, the beginning of infinity, and his discussion of the static societies of the past?)


say it IS possible to
elicit explanatory general principles from what is recognized to be conservative conduct
The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They center upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.
Saying this isn't difficult is bad. It insults people who have difficulty with it, and doesn't add value.

Burke often wanted something else, something that "may be" – e.g. a different policy towards America, France, India, Ireland.
What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweile doch, du bist so schon, but Stay with me because I am attached to you.
Where does Burke say we should hold the present in high esteem because we're familiar with it? I don't think he thinks that way.
In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for
Burke does have this. I am not denying that a fair amount of Burke's ideas have some overlap with some conservative ideas. But that doesn't stop him from being thoroughly liberal.
Now, all this is represented in a certain attitude towards change and innovation; change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute.
This idea of thinking you have to *suffer* alterations is just the sort of thing I would consider conservative. But Burke thought some alterations were good, not things to suffer.

The part about innovation has a grammar problem, I'm hoping to figure out what it means later.
Changes are circumstances to which we have to accommodate ourselves
averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation
change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction
Changes, then, have to be suffered
This attitude is like, "stasis would be nice, but we'll have to figure out how to deal with a few deviations from stasis".
The idea of innovation, on the other hand, is improvement. Nevertheless, a man of this temperament will not himself be an ardent innovator. In the first place, he is not inclined to think that nothing is happening unless great changes are afoot and therefore he is not worried by the absence of innovation.
Burke was an ardent reformer, a vigorous seeker of improvement.
Further, he is aware that not all innovation is, in fact, improvement; and he will think that to innovate without improving is either designed or inadvertent folly. Moreover, even when an innovation commends itself as a convincing improvement, he will look twice at its claims before accepting them.
This is true and wise, and is also believed by liberals.

This essay stuff is a mix of stasis, of disliking change, of strong, old conservatism. And then also of liberal-compatible stuff. Whereas Burke is a liberal who had only the liberal-compatible parts of conservatism, but wasn't some kind of stasis-sympathizer.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (49)

Open Thread: Promoting and Spreading Fallible Ideas

For discussion in comments about marketing, promoting and spreading Fallible Ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (106)

Fallible Ideas Unformatted

Some people claim they find email a hassle to use, and email quote formatting a burden.

They seem to like places like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit where they can write stuff more quickly.

OK, guys. Here you go. I've always had blog comments that are even easier than that. You don't even register an account. Write whatever you want and hit submit. That's it.

There are no format rules in blog comments, no worries that you're sending people a bunch of dumb emails. Just write and hit submit, that's it. Just as easy as Facebook, etc. Better, actually, because of no stupid stuff like post length limits. My blog comments actually keep it simpler. You can use them like IMs.

So go ahead, write in the comments on this thread all the stuff you would have posted to FI list if only it had lower standards and no formatting rules. It's just blog comments. Say whatever. Who cares? Let's go!

Edit: (Re-edit) I had a link to a subreddit here. But it turns out reddit doesn't let you keep discussing stuff that's 6+ months old, so fuck that.

Edit 2: Note there are now more than 100 comments in the discussion. (Which took under half a day to reach.) Join the discussion!

Edit 3: So if you don't know how to use the site, you want to use the Recent Comments page to view the latest 50 comments. The link is in the left sidebar, so you can find it normally. And at the bottom of that page is a link to view ALL comments.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (689)

Stefan Molyneux Discussion

Having a Twitter discussion about how I don't believe almost the same things as Stefan Molyneux.

But Twitter length limits are super annoying, and he didn't want to use FI list, so I wanted to move to blog comments here.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

Free Speech Takes Thought and Effort

Open Oxford (OO) is a Facebook discussion group (with some IRL elements) which claims or aspires to be a free speech zone, but there have been some large discrepancies and problems. There are many other groups with some pretense at liberalism which have similar issues, so I think this is worthwhile even if you don't care about OO.

Here is a representative example of what Open Oxford falsely thinks of itself:
... no one is made to feel unwelcome for their opinions, and every viewpoint, no matter how controversial, can be expressed freely and without fear ... value the free exchange of ideas, and not to restrict on the basis of the opinions ... to create and nurture a culture of open debate and pluralism.

... If all ideas cannot be debated, without fear ... how is our society supposed to be organised by reason and understanding rather than groupthink and prejudice?

Admin_1 deleted 5 posts which he claims were "spam". They were not in the category of things everyone agrees is spam, like links posted by a bot advertising viagra, online poker, etc.

Rather, what Admin_1 deleted was a different style of discussion than he's accustomed to and prefers. He reinterpreted a disagreement of ideas (about how to discuss, writing styles, etc) as something else other than a disagreement of ideas (in this case "spam". In other cases various other things considered illegitimate are used like "trolling" or "harassment".)

A major tactic against free speech is portray it as something else. E.g., reinterpreting speech as trolling, spam, hate, obscenity or profanity, as an excuse to censor it. In the same way that unwanted/dislike (by the parent) behavior of children must be seen as disagreement (not misbehavior, sin, willful troublemaking, etc), so too must unwanted/disliked speech be seen as disagreement (not misbehavior, sin, willful troublemaking, etc)

Admin_2 and Admin_3 don't understand free speech either, see (7) and (8) below.


A poster was doxed and consequently left (preventing his free speech, because Open Oxford is not a safe space).

Doxing like seen at Open Oxford is initiation of force. The standard purpose of doxing is:

A) IRL violence, harassment, intimidation or other force


B) Threat of (A), making people feel unsafe or threatened


C) Incitement or aid for others to do (A) or (B)

Doxing can also violate property rights over the information in question.

Force like this is or should be a serious crime. It is incompatible with a free society and free speech. Initiation of force – via intimidation tactics involving harassment or threat of harassment – must not be allowed in a discussion.

There is no outcry, nothing is being done to prevent it from reoccurring and make people feel safe from force at Open Oxford. The doxer wasn't banned, and rules about doxing were not clarified. In fact, the doxing was openly supported by many posters, including an admin. Open Oxford has a dangerous mob atmosphere which is actively suppressing discussion.

(FYI, the dox comment was deleted.)


Admin_2 admitted he deleted a comment because he didn't like it ("For the record, I deleted that comment because it was borderline abusive."). Here is the comment:

Context, discussing dating ideas: "Eww, fuck this shit."

Reply that Admin_2 deleted: "You sound cute, what's your number?"

That is speech. That is a discussion style – responding to hostility with a joke. It's super mild, but it shouldn't really even matter what it is. Shouldn't Admin_2 be the one explaining himself? Why hasn't he posted full written documentation of all his moderator activity – including his reasoning – like some other Facebook groups do?

Flaming someone's comment as abusive is low quality discussion, not justification of censorship.

But Open Oxford doesn't even have clear and accurate written documentation of what the moderator policies are in the first place. The result is as expected: arbitrary rule of man, rather than predictable rule of law. That isn't free speech or open discussion, it's unpredictable and unaccountable censorship.

To make matters much worse, the comment Admin_2 deleted was the very same comment the doxer had targeted. So Admin_2 sided with a thug and censored the exact thing the thug didn't like, giving the thug what he wanted.


Admin_2 threatens to ban people from the discussion merely for posting ideas Admin_2 doesn't like. Admin_2 feels no need to give clear reasons for his threats, or clear criteria for what would constitute adequate obedience not to be censored.

Demands like to stop being "needlessly obnoxious" or stop making "offensive personal remarks" are hopelessly vague. That's arbitrary power.


Open Oxford lacks intellectual leadership. No one is setting a good example and leading the way. No one is teaching new members how to participate more productively. No one is making essays or videos explaining how to have a productive intellectual discussion. Without teaching, demonstrations or leadership, how will the community improve and grow?

And Open Oxford's goals are vague. Is there any intention of creating new knowledge? Is this about objective truth-seeking? Is anyone expecting to actually resolve any issues? Or is it just joking around and feeling better about ourselves because we're associated with something that partially pretends to be intellectual?


Open Oxford's missing moderation rules are replaced by the unpredictable oppression of vague social conventions and pressures. Where you don't have clear rules, people mostly do what feels right to them, rather than actually tolerating everything. Without clear distinctions about what crosses a line, you have everyone (including admins) making up their own lines about what is open discussion and what is somehow line-crossing. This has worked out, as should be expected, largely along conventional mob-mentality lines.


OO admin Admin_3 repeatedly demanded the dox victim be banned from the group, because he interprets speech he disagrees with as abuse. People writing ideas he doesn't like, he writes, "literally just abused the policy" – referring to OO's policy of free speech. He added that he felt people were being "needlessly stubborn" about the issue of whether to ban anyone who expressed an opinion he doesn't like.


Admin_2 posted, "if you make any more offensive personal remarks I'll remove you from the group. Even if you don't, you're causing people completely needless upset by arguing in this deliberately offensive way. It would also be nice if we could all try to engage with the actual ideas in this thread. Why don't you restate your argument in non personal, non emotive language?"

Let's go into detail on this. There are important misconceptions about free speech and reason here:

What's "needless" is a matter of ideas people can disagree about, not a fact.

Being deliberately offensive is a style choice that some people actually consider a moral duty. Again, there are ideas in dispute.

The demand for non-emotive language (also called "tone policing") is a requirement to write in Admin_2's style, or a range of styles that seem OK to Admin_2. But don't use other more different styles! This is a way of suppressing certain types of speech (emotive language) without realizing there is a disagreement of ideas involved, and that it's suppressing ideas. (When people write emotive language, they frequently believe that's good and right and proper – they have different ideas about how to think and discuss and communicate than Admin_2 does. Which is completely fine until someone starts demanding that other people conform to his discussion standards without understanding that he's suppressing ideas.)

Emotive language is important. In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of a man who had a jacket that said "Fuck the Draft". That's a good reminder of what free speech means – it includes emotive and offensive speech.

It's unclear what Admin_2 thinks constitutes a personal remark. But it is nevertheless clear, in general principle, that people may disagree about what remarks are personal, and that Admin_2 is threatening to ban people who have and follow certain ideas about that topic. Again the theme is Admin_2 does not seem to be aware that it's a topic where people have ideas which disagree with his. He doesn't seem to recognize many topics as potential areas for debate and open discussion.

It's unclear what Admin_2 considers offensive. Trying to disallow offensive speech is a particularly well known and egregious way of suppressing free speech. People routinely find the ideas of their debate opponents offensive. So what? If we can't post unpopular, offensive things here, then Open Oxford is a joke.

Admin_2's concept of how to engage with ideas in discussion is another view he's trying to impose on others, without seeming to recognize it's a controversial topic. When Admin_2 demands people "try to engage with the actual ideas", it's a demand they do it in such a way that Admin_2 would agree that's what they've done – he's demanding actions fitting his own ideas about discussions.

To sum up, Admin_2 has many ideas about how to have a discussion. That's fine. Rather than explain them and try to persuade others of why they are wise, Admin_2 takes them for granted as facts of reality, and threatens to remove people from the group if they think differently than he does.

Admin_2 is blind to many opportunities for critical discussion. That wouldn't be a big deal if this was a free speech zone, because then people could point it out. Everyone has flaws. But it becomes a big deal when Admin_2 is an admin with blindspots that lead to ban threats and deleting comments.

A free speech zone – like Open Oxford aspires to be – needs admins that understand the principles of free speech. It needs leadership that defends the expression of unpopular views, instead of joining the angry mob.

I hope people will find this criticism helpful and use it as an opportunity to improve.

[Disclosure: I wrote the "spam" comments and I was the dox victim. Also worth noting: I reported the dox to Facebook which found that it was harassment which violated Facebook rules. Facebook (redundantly) removed it.]

[Note: The 3 admins discussed were anonymized as a personal favor to a friend. Normally I would have included their names.]

[Note: The Open Oxford rule (that contradicts open discussion) not to repost text anywhere else did not exist at the time I had these discussions, it was created later and doesn't apply.]

Update: Open Oxford removed me from the group, no reason given.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (45)

Trump Praised Obama in 2009

Donald Trump was a big Obama fan. I found a shockingly bad quote. Guess where? In his book from April 2009! Think Like a Champion: An Informal Education in Business and Life by Donald Trump:
Barack Obama Election Ushers in a Different World

After the election in November of 2008, I was interviewed by Dominic Carter of New York 1 (who has recently, as of late 2009, gone through a great deal with spousal abuse) on his program called “Inside City Hall.” New York 1 is an all-news program that is popular in New York City, and Dominic has a dynamic television presence. He describes me as “a man not known for keeping his opinions to himself,” and we covered some interesting topics. Dominic asked about the election and I was honest about it. McCain was in an almost impossible situation. Bush had been so incompetent that any Republican would have a hard time unless they could bring back Eisenhower. Bush was a disaster for the country as well as for the Republican Party. Then he asked me about Barack Obama. I told him that Barack will need to be a great president because we’re in serious trouble as a country. It hasn’t been this way since 1929. So he doesn’t have much choice—he will simply have to be great, which he has a very good chance of being. What he has done is amazing. The fact that he accomplished what he has—in one year and against great odds—is truly phenomenal. If someone had asked me if a black man or woman could become president, I would have said yes, but not yet. Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen—and in an exceptional way. He is not walking into an easy or enviable situation. As of October of 2008, the U.S. government reported a $237 billion deficit. The good news is that Obama seems to be well aware of the situation. His comments have led me to believe that he understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level. He has also surrounded himself with very competent people, and that’s the mark of a strong leader. I have confidence he will do his best, and we have someone who is serious about resolving the problems we have and will be facing in the future. To me that is very good news. After 9/11, this country received a lot of compassion from countries and people around the world. Within a short amount of time, however, we were hated. How did that happen? We had no dialogue with other countries because they just plain hated us. What’s different today is that we have a new chance, a new beginning. The world is excited about Barack Obama and the new United States. Let’s keep it that way. [Emphasis added in this paragraph.]
I don't think any political opponent of Trump has tried to draw attention to this quote yet. Why not?

I don't expect a perfect president, but I do think flaws like this are important and worth knowing. Trump is still worlds better than any of the Democrats, and worlds better than Republicans like Jeb Bush. Trump may well be good enough to make things significantly better.

My favorite Presidential candidate has been Ted Cruz the whole time. He'd never say something like that Obama "understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level". Anyone with good judgement, good thinking and one day of research to spare could have known Obama was a clueless anti-capitalist (and anti-American anti-semite) since before he was elected. I did.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Actually Changing Your Mind

(I wrote this Feb, 2005.)

People often say things like, "I don't want to do X if you don't," and don't really mean it. They mean they want to, but they are willing to do what the other person wants. This is not ideal; it's not coming to agree. So how should it work?

Jack: Jill, I don't want sex if you don't.
Jill: Are you not attracted to me?
Jack: That's not it. You are attractive. But look, there are thousands of attractive girls out there who I don't want to have sex with. I think it's a bad idea. Most of them are total strangers. In each case I could be persuaded otherwise, if we met, got along, discussed it, and so on. But right now, I don't want sex with all those people. Nor with you. You could persuade me otherwise, by explaining why I'm wrong not to want it, and then I would change to want it, but presently I don't.
Jill: Why don't you?
Jack: I know it's important to you not to.

Why important? Well, one possible reason is: Jill is considering becoming a Nun, and they won't take her if she's not a virgin, and she wants to keep that option open at the moment.

Another possible reason is that Jill is confused about abortions, and scared of birth control failing (she had a scare with a late period last year), and feels she can't have sex again until she works that stuff out, but is really stuck on those issues and doesn't know when they will get better.

Another is that Jill is currently in a monogamous relationship with someone else, and doesn't want to cheat.

So anyway, how do we know that Jack is serious that he doesn't want to while Jill doesn't? How do we know he isn't just saying it? Here is a test:

Jill: Oh baby! Let's fuck!
Jack: Umm, Jill, you're drunk.
Jill: Nah, I'm fine. But I changed my mind. Let's have sex now.
Jack: No. You're drunk. I don't want to right now. If you really changed your mind, we can do it later, when I feel better about it.
Jill: Screw you. Aren't you attracted to me?
Jack: Yeah, but I'm not comfortable with this. Why did you change your mind, anyway?
Jill: I just did. And I'm in the mood now. I may not be in the mood again for a long time if we don't do it now. C'mon.
Jack: Please don't try to threaten me to have sex. I don't want to without understanding why it wasn't a good idea yesterday but is today.

And so on. Jack passes the test by avoiding sex even though Jill is willing, because he cares about her in general, and not just about what she will agree to do tonight. But this is a commonly known situation, that many people would get right. Let's try a harsher test:

Jill goes on a vacation for a month, to relax and stuff. Jack wants to stay home and pursue some hobby Jill doesn't share. They are both happy with this. Jill returns, and that night they go out to a romantic dinner, and have a moonlit walk on the beach. Or pick whatever romantic stereotypes you prefer. Or even imagine they do their own thing that they like, but you wouldn't. The point is it's nice.

Jill: *whispers* Jack, I think I'm ready to have sex.
Jack: Really? Why?
Jill: I thought through some things, and I think it's a good idea now. *kisses Jack* (They've already kissed before lots, say.)
Jack: *breaks kiss after a few moments* Jill, I'm happy about this, but I need to understand why.
Jill: It's fine. Let's not ruin the mood. *runs hand along Jack's chest*
Jack: But my best understanding is that this is a bad idea. I need to be told why to change that and want to.
Jill: That's sweet of you, I'm glad you're thinking of me, but this is what I want, and you shouldn't say no to me to protect me. It's my decision, alright? *smiles seductively*
Jack: But *I* am not comfortable with this. Why aren't you telling me what changed so that it's a good idea now?
Jill: Alright, sorry, I will.

This was a much better test. I believe many people would pass the first test, but fail the second. They don't want to feel guilty about taking advantage of a drunk person. But in the second scene, Jill has thought out what she wants, and as she points out, Jack shouldn't decline just to protect her. Here, he has to actually not like the idea himself, because he's internalized some of Jill's old reasons, and now he himself cares about them, and he needs to see the solution to them to feel good about sex, exactly like Jill must see the solution to them to want sex.

If Jack hadn't acted the way he did in the dialog, and had agreed to sex, we would know when he originally said he didn't want to if Jill didn't, he wasn't doing it right. If Jack will have sex when Jill says she wants to, then it shows he didn't value the same things Jill did, that made her not want sex, he only valued not hurting her, fighting with her, etc. Which means he didn't really agree with her the whole time, and it was a problem. It might be expressed as Jack saying, "I do want to have sex with you, but even more than that I don't want to hurt you." This is much better than nothing, but if Jill cares about what Jack wants, then she will feel pressured.

Hi guys, 2015 Elliot here to add a few comments:

The big thing here is, if you genuinely change your mind, the new opinion is now part of you, alone, by yourself. Real mind changing means you're now a true believer who'd advance the cause for your own reasons. The reasons that used to be someone else's arguments to you, are now part of you, and you'd carry on even if they fell over dead. (For personal issues it might become irrelevant if they died, but the concept applies to persuasion about anything.)

A good test of whether you believe something yourself is whether you'll still argue for it when the person who was persuading you changes their mind. Were you just trying to be on the same side as them and will be happy to drop it now? Or will you be curious what more they learned and unable to change your mind further without new information?

People understand this better with impersonal topics. If you persuade me of socialism, you'd expect me to still be a socialist when you leave the room, and to argue for it with others. If I'm not going to advocate socialism on my own, I'm not really persuaded that it's true and important. But with personal topics, people often mix up deferring on an issue with actual persuasion.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

John Galt Should Not Have Been A Track Laborer

It would have been better if John Galt didn't take a job as a track laborer.

I respect the principle not to spend wealth from Galt's Gulch outside the valley. Don't create value there then bring it back to the regular world to aid non-members.

But Galt had better things to do with his time, like work in his lab, and I see a simple solution. Francisco could have simply given Galt a million dollars. Galt could pay him back in some way in the Gulch, or not, I don't think it matters too much. Francisco already had plenty of outside world money and wouldn't be harmed by giving some to Galt (he was in the process of destroying his outside wealth anyway).

Consider the effect on the outside world. In the one case, Galt does some minimally productive work, then spends money on food. In the other case, Galt doesn't do that work, then spends money on food. In both cases, the grocery store gets some dollar bills for their food, and Galt eats the same thing. In one case, an outside world company gets some extra help, though not of a kind or amount that made any fundamental difference.

If Galt just wanted to observe Dagny and chat with Eddie, he could have found another way to visit that was less time consuming than a full time job.

I don't see how Galt doing track laborer work was a good idea. I think it was a real shame he didn't spend most of that time doing physics, reading, thinking about how to recruit Rearden, etc, rather than doing manual labor. And I think the manual labor was unnecessary.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (36)

Steiger's Law

Steiger's Law:
People involved in a structure spend more time and energy maintaining that structure than in working toward its goals.
The intended context is stuff like government agencies, businesses, non-profits, unions, guilds (like the people in charge of letting you be a doctor or lawyer). That's the kind of stuff the rest of the post discusses. No applications to other areas are mentioned.

The page also suggests that, if it's a good, efficient structure, then it's 85% energy for maintenance and 15% for progress.

My first thought when reading the law was: marriage, dating relationships, friendships, families.

How much work do people put into staying friends, compared with benefitting joint activities they like? I can certainly see married people putting most of their effort into keeping the marriage together, with only a little left to accomplish anything.

In a good friendship, at first glance, it appears the majority of the effort is productive, not maintenance. Like people might go to 10 baseball games together, or have 10 BBQs, or 10 beer nights, or 10 video game playing sessions, for every time they discuss their friendship or have any kind of fight. I don't think that's rare, especially for children. So it seems a good friendship is more than 90% productive.

However, people put a lot of generic effort into learning how to get along with people. They make an effort to fit into social groups when they are alone. And while they are at a baseball game, they spend part of their time wondering about how loudly to cheer and how drunk to get. They don't want to be boring and unenthusiastic, and they don't want to be disruptive either, so they modulate their behavior. Children are still learning how to do these things and have lower expectations about their peers. Adult friends expect everything to go real smoothly since everyone should have already learned how to hang out, how to handle the situations they do together, and how to pay attention all the time.

Typical adults know how to watch for when someone else wants something but isn't saying it. They know how to offer hospitality, turn hospitality down, reoffer it, etc. They know when and how to bring a gift like wine, and how much to spend on it. They even sometimes go find a boyfriend/girlfriend so they can be invited to a couples event.

Typical adults know how to come off as normal, not weird, in the eyes of strangers, so they don't embarrass their group. They know how compromise and, often, hide the fact that they compromised so no one feels bad. They know how to have low standards – if the friend group proposes an activity, they accept unless they have a big problem with it, rather than looking for the most optimized activity. These low standards reduce conflict, which is necessary because they have very limited ability to negotiate more productive ways to spend their time.

So, yes, friend groups go do stuff most of the time. But the whole time everyone is devoting a lot of their attention to making sure things go smoothly. And when they have a meal and chat, they may well discuss any maintenance issues that have come up, such as someone being a little annoying, and maybe they shouldn't invite him next time. (Leaving someone out often seems easier to people than doing problem solving. Which is one reason people try so damn hard to fit in and not cause any problems in the first place, because if a problem does come up, they may well be fucked.)

Schools are another interesting case. How much effort goes into keeping the kids quiet and orderly, and getting them to show up to their classes on time, and getting them to do their homework, and pressuring them to learn the curriculum, and school spirit events, and administration overhead, and deciding what classes you'll take, and so on, vs. actual learning? I think the ratio is grim.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (7)

Banned from Ayn Rand Facebook Group

There is a Facebook group about Ayn Rand with 7000 members. I just got banned (I saw this coming and it wasn't valuable anyway). I was trying to post about how Reason is Urgent; Now or Never, which has four Ayn Rand quotes and discusses Objectivist ideas like how big a problem contradictions are, which the moderator deleted, twice. You can see what happened next in the screenshots below (comments are unmoderated).

Michael Brown is very irrational. It's interesting that he controls what might be the largest Objectivist group in the world. I suspect the way he accomplished it was by filling it up with thousands of non-Objectivists (a little like Wynand's large readership):

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (5)

Reason is Urgent; Now or Never

Imagine a person finds Fallible Ideas (FI) philosophy and they agree with 20% initially and contradict 80%. And they are excited and think FI's amazing. Sounds like a really good start, right? I think it is. That's a lot more than you could really expect at the start. Most promising newcomers will have less pre-existing knowledge and compatibility.

(FI is the best, purest advocacy of reason. But if you disagree with that, no problem, just substitute in Objectivism, Critical Rationalism, or something else. The points I'm making here do not depend on which philosophy of reason you think is best.)

(The percentages are a loose approximation to let me write this point in a simpler way. If you don't like them, consider what's going on when someone partly agrees and post a comment explaining how you think that works, and how you think I should have written this without percents. I'm trying to discuss the case of a new person who agrees with some stuff, disagrees or doesn't know a lot more, and learns a bit more over time.)

Now, imagine over the next 5 years they increase their agreement to 30%. Is that good progress? A nice achievement? A proper application of gradualism?

No, I think that's a disaster.

In that scenario, they just lived for 5 years while contradicting at least 70% of FI. How can they do that? Why don't they complete hate themselves? Here they are finding out about reason, and then living a 70% anti-reason lifestyle. How do they live with that?

The answer is: they deny that 70% of FI is good. They oppose it. To not hate themselves, they have to hate most of FI instead. They have to come up with a bunch of evasions and rationalizations, and they have 5 years to entrench those.

The moment you find out about reason, there is a ticking clock, because it's so very hard to live with contradictions. It's not viable to just live for 5 years half liking reason and half hating it. You'd tear yourself apart. You have to do something about this tension. FI offers ways to deal with it, but to use those you'd have to learn more about FI and embrace it more thoroughly. And irrationality offers ways to deal with it – rationalizations, evasions, self-lies, etc...

The middle, caught in between reason and unreason, is not a viable long term place to be. It doesn't work. It's not just a mess of contradictions like many people's lives, it's more like the strongest contradiction there is. And who could live with that? The only person who perhaps could, like John Galt, would be a better person and wouldn't even be in that situation, since he'd embrace reason more.

So at the same time this person learned 10% more about reason in 5 years, they also figured out how to rationalize not learning the rest, and be OK with that. They made up stories about how they will learn it one day, later, but not now. They backed off from feeling like reason is truly sacred in order to to reduce the contradictions in their life. They lost their sense of urgency and excitement about new possibilities, most of which they've now put off for 5 years. Most of which they still don't plan to start learning for years.

When there's a contradiction, something has to give. When you have such a strong major contradiction that's so hard to ignore – like life vs. death, reason vs. unreason, thinking vs. unthinking, open society vs. closed society, problem solving vs. destruction, initiative vs. passivity, independence vs. obedience, infinity vs. finite limits – then something has to and will change pretty quickly. And if they don't embrace reason in a big way, then it's clear enough what happened: while making their bits and pieces of supposed progress, they actually managed to find a way to either deny all these major contradictions exist or take the wrong side of them and be OK with that. There's no other way.

Once someone finds out about an idea and finds it notable and important, they have to take a position.
E.g. that it's good in theory but not very practical to use in life all the time. That's an example of a well known evasion. Or they think it's pretty good, but it's for geniuses. Or they think it'd be nice to learn it and they will work on it, later, but they are busy right now. There's many other evasions possible, many ways to rationalize why they aren't acting on the idea. Or they could believe it's really urgent and serious and try their best to learn and use it, which would be a good attitude, but is very rare. People always take some kind of position on ideas once they find out about them and acknowledge those ideas matter.

So the scenario I talked about, which I think lots of people see as an ideal to strive for, is actually really bad, and helps explain why the people pursing that plan seem to be stuck indefinitely and never become amazing.

Life is now. Reason is urgent. These things get much worse over time unless you're making rapid progress and pursuing reason with the utmost seriousness and vigor. There can be no compromises where you work on rational philosophy a little bit here and there in your spare time. It can't wait. Nothing's more important than your mind. Prioritize your mind now or, by betraying it, you will destroy it and never again want to prioritize it.

As always with these things, there are rare heroic exceptions which no one knows how to duplicate on purpose, or predict, or how it works, etc. The human spirit, or something, is very hard to crush with literally-exactly 100% reliability, and there's billions of people. Here's a few quotes about that from The Return of the Primitive, by Ayn Rand:
“Give me a child for the first seven years,” says a famous maxim attributed to the Jesuits, “and you may do what you like with him afterwards.” This is true of most children, with rare, heroically independent exceptions.
With very rare exceptions, [young men with independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth] are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed.
There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
Finally I'll leave you with one of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes about urgency, about now, not later:

The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (20)

Peikoff: Children Are Property


in the podcast, Peikoff says 10 year olds are property. jesus fucking christ.

my loose notes on what podcast said:

shud biz be allowed to sell alcohol and tobacco to 10 year olds?

peikoff: no cuz they are the property of their parents

it is self-evident that a 10 year old is not a self-sufficient independent entity

you don't have to go investigating this stuff, but if something is visibly someone else's property and has no authority to make a purchase, you have to act accordingly

what do you even say back to that? he didn't argue, he said it's self-evident. i don't find it self-evident and don't know his reasons.

i do know that lots 10 year olds are smarter and more competent than the average adult in lots of ways. i know that in the past, it wasn't that rare for 10 year olds to be taking care of themselves without parents. i know that 10 year olds have clearly demonstrated a capacity to think and learn many years prior (icnluding especially, as Ayn Rand discusses in The Comprachichos, in their first few years of life). and i believe that if you can learn and think (universally, the same as any adult), you are a person, not property.

also from the same podcast he discusses swinging (in the sense like sexual promiscuity). he mentions common motivation being thrill of rebellion against morality and also feeling free from morality. i roughly agree but i think it's more rebellion against society, against social norms, against society's rules. and feeling free from all that stuff, like feeling you can do what you want instead of obey your culture's rules. i think it's less philosophical than Peikoff said, more about other people than moral principles.

Update: I transcribed the text about children being property. It's from 5:45 to 6:50.
Q: Should businesses be allowed to sell tobacco and alcohol products to people of whatever age they wish, for example a ten year old?

A: No. Because these are the property of their parents, legally and recognizably, objectively by anyone. It is self-evident that they are not, a ten year old is not, a self-sufficient entity and is under the control of someone else. And you must respect that as an issue of respecting someone else's property.

Now this does not mean a businessman has to inquire into the moral status of everybody he deals with. You don't have to find out if you're selling bread, is this customer a communist or an Objectivist? You're selling a product. But if something is visibly somebody else's property and has no authority to make a purchase, then you have to act accordingly.
(That's the full text. Then he moves on to the next question.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (9)

Facebook's Website Design Sucks

Look how much vertical space is wasted by the pinned post, every single time I visit the Ayn Rand group.

Keep in mind I'm using a larger screen and larger browser window than most people. You're seeing this zoomed in. Most people would see less. The content starts where it says "Recent Activity", so lots of people wouldn't see any content at all without scrolling down.

Some of the best space on the screen is being used for information people only need to read once, and maybe refer to again rarely.

I blame Facebook. The group owner, quite reasonably, wanted all members to read some information. He used one of the few features Facebook made available to him.

Part of the problem is he has a large signature. What should he do, get rid of it? It's Facebook's fault again. Why can't they hide the signature (and the "Add Friend" button) on the Pinned Post that people see all the time?

Look how much vertical space is wasted by the picture at the top. Again that's Facebook's choice. Facebook is the one who should make it easy to get a good looking group page. Facebook presented the guy with a place to put a picture. He put a picture. The results are bad. That is not his fault, he just followed along with what Facebook told him to do.

Look how the "Like, Comment, Share" buttons and the "27 Likes, 7 Comments" could fit together on one line, but are taking up extra vertical space by being separate. Look how the text "Pinned Post" and "Recent Activity" take up crucial vertical space. There's got to be a better way. Look how Michael Brown's profile picture appears twice on one post, wasting pixels. (And, by the way, I'm not even a web designer. I just dabble.)

Let's look lower down on the page now:

Count how many times my profile picture (the white C on a red background) is visible. Six! And all I did is post two links. What a waste of pixels!

Look how little content fits on the screen, even once we're scrolled down. My two posts have one sentence and a link. Then there's a post with two sentences. Then three comments, none with very much text (considering that Facebook hides long comment text behind a "See More" link.) And that's all you can see with a large browser window. That's so little!

Facebook has like a billion monthly active users. That's way more than enough to hire some good web designers. Facebook could spend a lot of money on good design for their major groups feature and it'd pay off.

I think Facebook does spend lots of money on this. Maybe they should spend more, but money isn't the primary problem. One big problem is Facebook doesn't know how to buy good design. There are lots of people offering to sell good design, and some of them are good designers, and some of them are bad designers. I figure Zuckerberg doesn't know what good design is, and his close friends and top executives don't know, and they doesn't know who to trust. They don't know which designers to believe. They don't know how to judge who really is an expert.

Another big problem is bureaucracy. I bet Facebook has some good designers, but then they get ordered to go do some specific stuff, rather than go around and take the initiative to fix whatever problems they can find. I bet Facebook has some capable employees who'd like to fix this, but their boss tells them to do something else.

And Facebook is a big company. Lots of different internal parts of Facebook have their own priorities and goals. So they all fight over screen space, each wanting their stuff, and that can make a mess. Good design requires saying "no" to a lot of requests, and that can be tough. You need to find designers who are actually good and then also empower them to stand up to the rest of the company and say "no" to most demands.

It's a hard problem to buy talent if you don't know how to think for yourself, so you aren't able to judge talent well. The only solution is philosophy. Zuckerberg and the rest of the top people at Facebook have to learn how to think well. Then they could detect a lot of phonies and fakers, and figure out which designers are good thinkers, even without learning design. With philosophy, they could tell which designers have the right sorts of methods of thinking, and make design arguments in ways and forms that could be correct. They'd be able to see if someone was the right kind of person doing the right kind of thinking about design, even if they couldn't judge all the details. And they could easily learn and go through a few basic examples. With good philosophy, this wouldn't be too much of a problem.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

Induction is Authoritarian

Induction is about authority.

You come up with an idea. And someone asks, "How do you know that's right?"

And what do you say? How do you answer that.

Induction is one of many attempts to answer that question. It's a positive way to know you're right, to build up your idea. You say, "My idea is good because I induced it."

Another tempting answer is, "Because Einstein said so." An appeal to authority is a natural answer to how you know an idea is right. Ultimately that is what the question seeks – some kind of authority, above your judgment, which you can appeal to. By it Einstein or induction, no authority is necessary.

What they want, the motivation behind the question, is a guarantee that'll hold into the future. A defense against the uncertainty of new ideas and new thinking.

The question, "How do you know that's right?" is a bad question. It's inherently bad. It begs for an authoritarian answer. And, worse, it drops the proper context.

(A little like how "Who should rule?" begs for an authoritarian answer, like Karl Popper explains. Questions can be bad and designed to prompt bad answers. Sometimes you have to dispute the question itself.)

A good reply is, "You got a better idea?"

The only context in which it's proper to dispute an idea is if you have an alternative idea, or you see something wrong with the idea (a criticism).

Offer a rival idea, or criticism, or stop complaining. If you can't point out any problem with an idea, and no one knows any alternative, you should be accepting the idea, not raising meaningless, nonsense doubts (which is what "How do you know that's right?" does).

The question, "How do you know that's right?" offers neither a rival nor a criticism. It doesn't provide the appropriate context to defend an idea. An idea can be defended against a criticism. And it can be argued against a rival. But an idea cannot be defended against NOTHING, against arbitrary contextless demands that your idea be better, somehow, and justify itself in a vacuum.

How do I know it's right? Well, how do you know it's wrong?

I'm not omniscient. I don't know it's right in that sense. What I know is it doesn't contradict any of my observations, it doesn't come into conflict with my other knowledge, it's not refuted by any criticism I know of. And what I know is, it's useful, it solves some problem, that's why I made the idea and what it's for.

If an idea solves a problem, and no one knows anything wrong with it (the idea or the problem) or any alternatives, then that's the highest standard of knowledge possible to man (who is fallible and non-omniscient, which is fine, that's not a bad thing). By asking for more, the questioner tries to hold knowledge to an impossible standard. That is a generic tactic he could use to attack any and all knowledge, and is therefore a recipe for complete skepticism. It should be rejected out of hand.

I know it's right – in the fallible, contextual way – because I thought about it. I judged it. I exposed it to criticism, I sought out rivals, I used the methods of reasoning proper to man. I did what I could. What'd you do, Mr. Generic Doubter? These actions I took do not ensure it's right, but they are actually useful things to do, so that's good, not bad.

If you come up with a criticism or an alternative, none of that stuff I did is any protection for my idea. I can't refer to it to win the debate. My idea is on its own, left to its merits, to be judged by its content and nothing else.

What people want to do is set up positive authorities so they can stop worrying about their ideas. They know it's right, so they don't have to fear criticism or alternatives, since they already have the answer. They are trying to close the book on the issue, permanently. They want an out-of-context way to positively support an idea so that it will apply to all future contexts, so they'll never have to think again.

That is what the tradition of positive justification of ideas – the "justification" found in the ubiquitous "knowledge is justified true belief" – is all about. It's about out-of-context authority to preemptively defend against unknown future criticisms and new alternative ideas. It's about setting up an authority for all to bow down to, and ending progress there. So that when rebellious thinkers dare to criticize the status quo, instead of addressing the criticism, they can simply give their generic (contextless) answer to how they know they are right, the same one they've always given, and always will give.

No matter how much support, authority, justification, or positive validation an idea has, that is no defense against criticism. If there is a reason your idea is false, then it's false, too bad about all the authority you made up for it. It's not relevant, it's useless, it shouldn't be part of the discussion, it's just a bunch of nonsense with no functional purpose in a debate. You can never answer a reason your idea is false by saying how much evidence supports it. So what? An idea with a bunch of evidential support can still be false, can't it? No matter how much authority of any kind is behind your idea, it can still be false, can't it? So what good is that authority? What's it for? (Disclaimer: I do not accept that evidential support is a meaningful concept. But I think those that do accept it, also accept that it doesn't guarantee against falseness.)

Do you intend deal with alternative, rival ideas by adding up the positive authority for each and seeing which gets a higher score. That method is terrible. One problem is there's no way to do the scoring objectively. What you should do is point out something wrong with the rival idea – a criticism. If you can't do that, why are you opposing it anyway?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)