Monogamy 2

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What are some problems with marriage?
Elliot: It requires restricting your life if you want to commit to a marriage, forever. To reliably avoid a breakup, you have to avoid drifting apart. You have to make sure your interests remain compatible.
Caeli: That sounds easy. We'll just discuss what's interesting until we agree.
Elliot: There are no reliable ways to agree, about anything, quickly. You might not agree. You might not think of any persuasive arguments today. And you might not again tomorrow. Who can say when you will?
Caeli: So it might take a long time? Years? Even if it does, so what?
Elliot: Well, normally disagreement doesn't have to be a problem. People disagree all the time and life goes on. There is no reason they must hurt each other. The problem comes when you are unwilling to drift apart. Part of the way people who disagree are able to continue amicably is by going their own ways: each does what he thinks is right.
Caeli: Married people don't have to do the same thing all the time.
Elliot: True, but they have to do the same thing more then never, or being married makes no sense.
Caeli: If they have a disagreement and haven't resolved it yet, that doesn't mean they won't do anything together, it means they won't do one thing together. And it's only temporary.
Elliot: They could have two disagreements, or three, or fifty thousand. And they could all last over a hundred thousand years. They might move to different countries, and have no contact of any sort, for centuries. They might die before they see each other again.
Caeli: People don't live that long.
Elliot: One day they will, with life extension. But that only adds to my argument: if they die before solving the disagreement, then the fact that it could be solved hasn't helped their marriage.
Caeli: Isn't that all very unlikely?
Elliot: I don't know how likely it is. But I do know that marriage has no defense against this. It could happen. So the philosophical grounds for marriage are shaky. At best you are taking a risk.
Caeli: If it's a big benefit to be married, and a small risk, then it might be worthwhile.
Elliot: Perhaps. But how big is the risk? Why do you think it's small?
Caeli: What you described seems unlikely.
Elliot: Does it really? It's very common that families fight and disagree. It's very common that controversies are not resolved in the lifetimes of the people who started them. And it's very common that marriages don't work out, because the couple grew bored of each other.
Caeli: Isn't that only bad marriages?
Elliot: Isn't the divorce rate around 50%?
Caeli: So half of marriages work out?
Elliot: No. People hate to divorce so they try very hard to avoid it. On first principles, we might think that for every divorce, ten couples want one but won't do it. The numbers don't work out for that. Still, there are a lot of unhappy marriages, and a lot more that are more neutral: not a constant source of pain, but nothing magnificent about them.
Caeli: That sucks. But lots of people are dumb. Maybe the successful marriage rate is very high among intelligent people who understand what marriage means and how to do it right.
Elliot: It's a cliche that smart guys get dumb about girls.
Caeli: Are there other cliches about how bad marriages are?
Elliot: Why marry? Just find a woman you hate and buy her a house.
Caeli: I want a house. Maybe I should piss some guys off.
Elliot: Good luck with that. Have you seen The War of the Roses?
Caeli: No. Is that a movie?
Elliot: Yes. It's about a marriage that doesn't work out. The people start hurting each other very badly.
Caeli: Why does that happen?
Elliot: People feel they'd never hurt their partner. They are in love. They want the marriage to work. They are committed to trying very hard. You might expect all this will result in them being very nice to each other. And that works at first. But if things start to go badly, then they feel betrayed: the other isn't as passionate as they are. All the efforts they made now spite them, because they know this person wasn't really worth it, he only lied that hew as. The more you put at stake, the more there is to be upset about if it doesn't work as you hoped.
Caeli: Not everyone feels that way. Some are jerks.
Elliot: Right. So marriages with jerks work out badly. Then of the marriages entered into in a serious, loving, passionate, committed way as described above, they suffer from the logic I described where the more people try, the more betrayed they feel if it doesn't live up to expectations.
Caeli: Why wouldn't it live up to expectations?
Elliot: Partly because of unreasonable expectations. Romantic fantasies are pretty grand. But more importantly, because people are different and want and expect different things.
Caeli: Wouldn't they have talked about what they want?
Elliot: A little. But you'd be surprised. People are scared to disagree and fight, and don't want to break up, and they're insecure, so they often try to avoid discussions like that. If they do agree, the discussion won't make things better, and if they don't, it could ruin their relationship today.
Caeli: You act like people could break up at any moment.
Elliot: Can't they? Most people are prepared to break up, immediately, if they discover certain things, such as that their partner secretly has a child, or is having an affair.
Caeli: Who would want to be with someone who lied like that?
Elliot: There's very little that would put me off my friends. If they were criminals, that would put me off. But only immediately if it was an especially bad crime. If they were mean to me, I'd assume it was a misunderstanding, and only mind if it kept up for a while. Friendships are far more stable than romance.
Caeli: Is stability good? Maybe passion is inherently unstable, because it's so strong.
Elliot: Stability is supposed to be one of the goals of marriage.
Caeli: That doesn't answer whether it's good.
Elliot: If nothing ever changes, that is bad. But if things change very rapidly, that is worrisome. Misunderstandings are very common, so we should be resistant to those. And there are many more ways to be wrong than right, so we should try out new ideas tentatively at first. When people change their opinions of each other quickly, it's usually because they lost perspective and they are focussing on one little issue and over estimating its importance.
Elliot: Consider cooking using a recipe. A stable recipe would mean if you change the quantities of ingredients slightly, then the meal comes out about the same. That's good. Unstable means if you put in an extra drop of water, or pinch of flour, it will come out wildly different. More generally, unstable things get wildly different results based on different inputs. In our life, the input data is sensory data, and our observations of the world. We know we make lots of mistakes in that area: there are hallucinations and misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what we see all the time. So a stable approach is important.
Caeli: What do you recommend instead of monogamy? Polygamy?
Elliot: No. My advice is more like "just don't do it". We don't want the opposite of marriage, or even something that makes sense in terms of the romantic mindset. That's too similar. We want to find a better way to look at relationships. When we do that, dichotomies like monogamy versus polygamy will go away. That doesn't matter.
Caeli: That's pretty vague.
Elliot: Well I can't tell you exactly how to live, and I don't want to. The idea that everyone should do the same thing is another flaw in marriage. People are different.
Caeli: Good point.
Elliot: I can tell you some concrete things to avoid. Maybe that will help.
Caeli: Cool. Go on.
Elliot: Promises are irrational. People shouldn't make them.
Caeli: Why?
Elliot: Suppose I promise to do X. The time comes, and I'm considering doing it. Now, I either think X is morally right, or not. If it is right, I will do it whether I promised or not. If I think it's wrong, I shouldn't do it, but I might because I promised. So a promise ends up either being a promise to do what you would have done anyway, or a promise to do wrong.
Caeli: That's amazing. Promising is taken for granted as normal, good, natural, and just generally part of life. But this is a very brief argument that it's no good.
Elliot: Yeah. Just because something is widely accepted doesn't prove it's very good.
Caeli: Doesn't a promise communicate useful information about your plans?
Elliot: Yes. But people should just say, "I plan to walk the dog," instead of promising to.
Caeli: Does it make much difference?
Elliot: Yes. People don't get very upset if you change your mind about a plan. But a promise they will hold against you. You promised, and how can they ever trust you again if you don't keep your promise?
Caeli: Isn't trust important?
Elliot: If you don't make a promise, you don't have to be trusted, so that's a much better way of interacting and not irrational as explained above. But now that you ask, trust is bad.
Caeli: Why?
Elliot: Trusting someone to do something means not using your own judgment about whether he'll do it. It means if he doesn't, you play the victim and say he hurt you. It's better to think about what he will do, and make your own prediction, and take responsibility for it, not put part of your life in another person's hands.
Caeli: What if you don't know what he will do? Maybe you just met him and can't predict that.
Elliot: Then you certainly shouldn't put great trust in him!
Caeli: What if someone chronically breaks promises. Isn't that important?
Elliot: It means the person is bad at predicting what he will do, or it means he says what he thinks you want to hear. Either way, abolishing promises will fix things. He won't have to lie to you, or you can just consider him unreliable and not count on him.
Caeli: Isn't it better if we can count on people?
Elliot: If someone is unreliable, promises won't help anything. The cure can only be for him to get better at planning things.
Caeli: Doesn't a promise mean he will try?
Elliot: If he intends to try, he could tell you that. But he might not: he's unreliable.
Caeli: So what do you recommend instead of promises?
Elliot: This is like the same question about marriage. The answer is: they are bad. Get rid of them. Just don't do it. They don't need any replacement.
Caeli: Don't they serve a functional role of communicating peoples' intentions?
Elliot: Only trivially. It's not hard to just state your intentions plainly.
Caeli: But that's unconventional, so can be hard.
Elliot: True enough. But that's only more evidence that the whole tradition is irrational and we'd be better off without it.
Caeli: What's next?
Elliot: The romantic tradition is stereotyped. It's the same for everyone. People are different, so that's no good. This, like with promises, doesn't demand any particular alternative. Part of the problem is actually trying to have a one-size-fits-all solution.
Caeli: So would you say the solution is just to live your life, without worrying about what some tradition says to do? To believe they have no authority over how a life should be.
Elliot: Yes, that's good. But only for certain traditions we've identified as bad. Tradition isn't a bad thing in general.
Caeli: I see. What's next?
Elliot: Marriages aren't based on what's functional. People are attracted by pretty people, and what feels right, and first impressions, and whether the sex is good, and things like that. But none of those have anything to do with who would be good to share a kitchen with, or raise a child with, or have to live in the same country, city, and house as. People don't seek marriage partners based on who, rationally, would actually be nice to live with. In fact, they reject their friends out of hand due to a lack of spark or chemistry, or it not feeling right, even though their friends are the ones they know well, and get along with, and can rationally expect to still like in a few decades.
Caeli: I guess, again, the alternative is built into the criticism: find people to do specific projects with (like raise a child) who have the qualities you think are important for that project.
Elliot: Yeah. The next criticism of marriage is simply that it's well known that it often hurts everyone involved.
Caeli: You mentioned that earlier.
Elliot: Indeed, it comes up a lot. But it's worth repeating, because people are good at forgetting it. When people contemplate marrying, they aren't generally thinking to themselves that the usual result is being hurt badly. They expect it to work out, even if they have no reason to.
Caeli: OK. What's next?
Elliot: We've talked about marriage being part of a tradition, which I usually call romance. There is more detail than that.
Caeli: What?
Elliot: I'll tell you tomorrow.
Caeli: Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Monogamy 3

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: So, what did you want to say about marriage as part of a romantic tradition?
Elliot: I'd like to tell you something else first. Maybe I should have started with it.
Caeli: Alright.
Elliot: You asked about polygamy. People often assume that is the alternative to marriage. But when I talk with poly people, I find their motivations are things like they want to have sex and love with more people. But my largest objections to monogamy is that the sex and love parts are bad.
Caeli: That does give a different impression than you gave before. You should start with it next time.
Elliot: By the way, it's polyamory, not polygamy. "Amor" is love, and "gamy" is marriage. I think only religious people advocate many literal marriages, more philosophical people just live together and fall in love without trying to all get married.
Caeli: Oh, ok.
Elliot: My motivation is simply to do what's rational. I don't like the entire mode of relationship epitomized by monogamous marriages, but also found in polyamorous people. I generally discuss monogamy because it's dominant.
Caeli: What's irrational about love and sex?
Elliot: Let's separate them. Love is vague. Does it mean something other than "likes a lot"? Answers vary. But the real problem is a sort of separation. First, people decide if they are in love (based on how they feel, sexual attraction and chemistry, dreamy eyes, first impressions, mysteriousness, loneliness, desperation, stereotypes, and so on). Second, people derive all sorts of conclusions from being in love. The conclusions have nothing to do with the evidence from the first step, only to do with "love". So by separating the evidence gathering, and the concluding, people cover up a huge lack of logic.
Caeli: Why is that so bad?
Elliot: Many of the conclusions about love don't follow at all from the evidence used. They often have nothing to do with each other. Conclusions are things like: they should have a close, personal, exclusive relationship full of obligations and expectations. They should share their bank accounts. They should raise kids together. And if someone feels in love, everyone thinks that means the object of his affection is obligated to give him a chance, hear him out, and try to see if it will work. Why should you raise kids with someone who has dreamy eyes? Why should you share finances with someone sexy?
Elliot: And one shouldn't be able to create obligations for other people just by feeling a certain way. That's not rational.
Elliot: It reminds me of an email exchange. One person thought poor, hungry people should be able to steal oranges from a rich man's grove to feed their children, and that the rich man was guilty of something if he didn't allow it. The other person said: and if the poor people choose to have twice as many children, is the rich man twice as guilty for not feeding them?
Elliot: This illustrates how perverse things can get if my choices create obligations for you which benefit me.
Caeli: What criteria should be used for having kids, or sharing finances, if not love?
Elliot: For example, having intellectual agreement, and shared values; being at roughly the same place in your lives; being good at working out problems together and not fighting; knowing each other well.
Caeli: Don't people marry based on all those in addition to love?
Elliot: They take them into account, some. But not enough. Love often overrides some of those. It shouldn't, but it does because they are undervalued. There is a common expression, "Love conquers all," which sums up how much power people attribute to love.
Elliot: And people generally marry within 18 months. That's not enough time to get to know someone really well. People reasonably often learn new things about their friends after decades.
Caeli: They don't date their friends. Perhaps they get to know each other faster when they're trying.
Elliot: I think it's more likely that dating makes them know each other less well. Interacting in only stereotyped situations like that gives them plenty of opportunity to lie and mislead about what kind of people they are.
Caeli: Lying to your love? Perish the thought!
Elliot: But it's very common. People get nervous, and don't want to risk the relationship over something the other person might not like. They don't want to risk a fight, or a break up. Lying is normal during courtship. It helps keep your options open.
Caeli: Are you sure?
Elliot: It's ubiquitous in popular culture like movies. But also in live journal entries by real people, and advice columns, and so on.
Caeli: That is pretty convincing, I guess. That's awful.
Elliot: Romantic relationships put an undue burden on people to have no privacy, and ties honesty and trust up in this. But privacy is important. It should be expected that people take steps to maintain it.
Caeli: OK, that makes sense.
Caeli: Love might not be perfect, but that doesn't mean the general idea is bad.
Elliot: Well, what's good about it?
Caeli: It makes people happy.
Elliot: As we discussed, usually it doesn't. People get hurt and betrayed. They only stay happy if the person they love acts the way they want.
Caeli: It sounds terrible when you put it that way.
Elliot: Indeed.
Caeli: But it's not terrible!
Elliot: Why do you say that?
Caeli: Have you been in love?
Elliot: That isn't relevant.
Caeli: Isn't it? If you don't know what it's like, how can you comment?
Elliot: If I don't know something that you do, then tell me about it.
Caeli: I guess I didn't have anything specific in mind.
Elliot: It's hard to give the pro-love arguments myself, and refute them, because there really aren't any. No one seems to think it needs a rational defense, even though it hurts people all the time. This hurting is considered unremarkable. That just proves the huge irrationality of people's attitudes.
Caeli: That sounds right, but I'll need to consider it more. Let's move on to sex.
Elliot: I have a few things to say about sex. The first is that rubbing your bodies together isn't very interesting. I realize it stimulates nerves, so perhaps it's comparable to eating. And it releases chemicals, so perhaps its comparable to taking drugs. But neither of those is very interesting either.
Caeli: Do people claim sex is interesting?
Elliot: They make a big deal out of sexual knowledge, skill, and expertise, as if there is lots to learn. And they say it creates a meaningful connection between the participants, at least if done lovingly. And they sometimes claim it's like an emotional dialog, that involves real and important communication. And they claim it helps them get to know each other intimately.
Caeli: And you think all of that is false?
Elliot: That's right. Except for sexual skill: there is some, just not lots. It's relatively simple. But it's understandable that people think otherwise, because before the internet information about sex was hard to find.
Caeli: Why was it hard to find?
Elliot: Because people hide it. Especially adults from kids.
Caeli: Why hide it?
Elliot: The supposed justifications were things about the morality of chastity, the virtue of not interacting with sex before marriage, the sin of masturbation, the righteousness of self-denial of sex, and the great value of (sexual) innocence.
Caeli: That sounds religious.
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Does that mean atheists are immune?
Elliot: Not at all. Being an atheist means rejecting God, not all of religion. Whether one rejects more depends on whether he is a thoughtful person, and whether he figures out what else is religious, and also on his judgment about what should be rejected.
Caeli: Isn't it obvious that sex is religious?
Elliot: It's obvious that religion has stuff to say about sex. But it's not obvious that religion is wrong, nor that non-religious people shouldn't think and say the same things about sex.
Caeli: What religion says about sex varies by religion. They can't all be right. Shouldn't that tip people off to distrust the religious view?
Elliot: Yeah. But that logic applies to all of religion. If it hasn't worked persuaded people to question the rest of religion, we shouldn't expect people to apply it here.
Caeli: So you don't think sex has the various special properties people attribute to it, and that it shouldn't be important.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: I'm not sure how to argue with that.
Elliot: As with love, no one seems to think sex needs a rational defense. They often go so far as to claim that sex is not about being rational.
Caeli: You mentioned marriage being romantic the other day. Can you elaborate about your view on romance? It seems related.
Elliot: Let's try the dictionary first:
1) a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love "¢ love, esp. when sentimental or idealized "¢ an exciting, enjoyable love affair, esp. one that is not serious or long-lasting 2) a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life "¢ wild exaggeration; picturesque falsehood
Elliot: Do you notice anything interesting about those?
Caeli: A number of things.
Elliot: Cool :)
Caeli: One of them says something exaggerated or false. That's not very rational.
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Two mention mystery, which is about not knowing things. It's about lack of knowledge.
Elliot: Yes. And that's an awful thing to base a relationship on.
Caeli: One of the meanings of romance actually is love.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: Another meaning is something unserious and short. But you equate romance with monogamy, which is long term.
Elliot: People often base long term monogamous relationships on short term passionate romance. They want to have both. This is similar to being attracted to the mysterious.
Caeli: It mentions idealizing love, which means imagining it's perfect when it isn't.
Elliot: Yes, good.
Caeli: Very first, it mentions romance being a feeling.
Elliot: Yup. It's not about what really exists in someone's life, just how she feels about whatever is there.
Caeli: It mentions excitement a lot.
Elliot: Yes, which reinforces the short term focus.
Caeli: But you think people look for romance in long term relationships. Why?
Elliot: They say they do. They say they look for romance in who they date. And people who have been married want to keep a "spark", and will go to therapy to get it back. That spark, most would agree, could be call romance. "Keeping the romance alive" is a common expression. There is lots of advice about how to do it on Google. For example:
23 Ways to Keep Your Romance Alive
Itty-bitty ways to make him lovesick for you every day of the week.
Caeli: Lovesick doesn't sound good.
Elliot: Yeah. And it seems pretty self-centered. It's focussed on keeping him wanting you, not keeping a balanced relationship.
Caeli: There's a lot like that in magazines too.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: Do you want to go through a list of romantic tips and comment on them?
Elliot: Yes that sounds fun, but it should be a separate dialog.
Caeli: Alright, see you later.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

23 Ways To Keep Your Romance Alive

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Let's look through 23 Ways to Keep Your Romance Alive.
Elliot: OK. I'll quote each, and then you say what you notice.
Elliot:
Share a Secret Code
Pick a word that's likely to come up occasionally in conversation (heat, midnight, bedroom, whipped cream...) and agree that every time someone uses it, you have to touch -- anything from a kiss to a lingering thigh stroke under the table.
Caeli: This suggests touching is a key part of romance.
Elliot: Right. Let's keep track of how many are about sex. So far, 1/1. The words were intended to be ambiguously sexy as well. Notice also that thigh stroking is supposed to take place under the table. Why do they need privacy for it?
Caeli: It's partly a taboo. It's partly because it's intimate. It's partly because it's just between them.
Elliot: And partly because people are ashamed of their sexuality.
Caeli: There's a lot, so let's do the next one.
Elliot:
Transform Dinner Into Dining
That midweek post-grind meal you devour together? Make it register off the mush-o-meter with some tiny adjustments to the atmosphere. "Pull out your nicest dishes and light a couple of candles, even if you're just having a mushroom pizza," suggests Gregory Godek, author of 1001 Ways to Be Romantic (Casablanca Press, 2000). "It's the mood, not the food, that sets a romantic scene. So stick a bouquet of daisies from the corner store in the center of the table, lower the lights, and turn up Enrique Iglesias or Bessie Smith. You could even conveniently forget the utensils so you have an excuse to feed each other."
Caeli: This suggests a large element of romance is mood and atmosphere. It doesn't really matter what you're eating, as long as it feels special.
Elliot: If feeding each other is fun, why does it need an excuse?
Caeli: It's embarrassing to ask.
Elliot: It's embarrassing to ask something so simple of your spouse? The person closest to you in all the world, that you trust completely, and could tell anything to?
Caeli: Apparently.
Elliot: Evidently, complete trust isn't really the norm, and many spouses aren't close at all. In fact, I remember a Malcom in the Middle episode where the husband wants to do something sexual (we don't hear what), and then, before his wife can reply, says he was joking out of fear of rejection. Then she says yes and he's surprised.
Caeli: With all the attention sex gets, shouldn't they have talked about it before?
Elliot: One would be tempted to think so.
Elliot:
Get Swept Off Your Feet
Make up your own tango moves and groove with your guy for 15 minutes while you wait for dinner. Pop in the Marc Anthony CD, then press your pelvises together, entwine your legs, and twist and twirl around the living room. "Slow dancing is so intimate," says Godek. "The way you stand hip-to-hip, block out the world, and sway to each other's rhythms ... now you're really cookin'."
Caeli: This is mostly about touching, so the sex count is now 2/3.
Elliot: Yup. It also equates touching slowness with intimacy, and uses the euphemism "cookin'" to mean hot, which means sexy.
Caeli: Why is that a euphemism if the meaning is obvious?
Elliot: Because the author avoided writing "now you're doing something sexual that will really get you in the mood to have sex".
Caeli: Isn't that rather crude writing, with no style?
Elliot: Yes, but why is it? Because people don't like to be explicit about sex. They prefer not to say it.
Caeli: I see. Next?
Elliot:
Outlaw Grunge-Wear
You and your guy are having a Blockbuster night. But wait, think twice before you change into your lounging-on-the-couch clothes ... You know, oversize T-shirt, shabby sweater. That gear isn't exactly a recipe for a night of making googly eyes. Instead, slip into something a little more comfortable but a lot more cuddle-enticing. "A fitted T-shirt or a semisheer tank top, especially when worn without a bra, is a lot sexier than some too-big shirt you're swimming in," says fashion designer and Cosmo contributing editor Shoshanna Lonstein. "Pair it with your favorite perfectly worn-out blue jeans or khaki cutoffs for a casual but irresistible look."
Caeli: 3/4 for sex. I wonder what an "irresistible" look means. Why can't it be resisted?
Elliot: It means that if you do that, he will have sex with you.
Elliot: What's interesting to me is that people have to be reminded so much to act sexy, and if they forget about it, and wear normal, comfortable clothes, that is not sexy. It's so much work people have to push themselves to do it. Being sexy is different than being a good person and living pleasantly. It's all this extra stuff to do, based on its own value system, that doesn't even claim to be morally right.
Caeli: If you take it for granted that having sex is good, then it is about how to accomplish that, so it's implicitly right.
Elliot: I suppose. But it is so intrusive. Why should sex need to intrude on our clothes, on our movie watching, or on our couch use?
Caeli: Because movie plus sex is more fun than just movie.
Elliot: Isn't that a bit strange? If you want to have sex, why not just do it now? Then watch the movie in your preferred attire.
Caeli: It's nice to take things slow, sometimes.
Elliot: Why? What purpose does it serve? For example, people don't take movies slow, by pausing them on and off every few minutes. They would only pause for a functional reason, such as a bathroom or food break, to stop watching, or to comment on the scene. People generally avoid pauses in movies, because it interrupts the flow.
Caeli: Apparently sex works well spread out more.
Elliot: But why? What's the functional reason?
Caeli: Maybe it's like eating desert, which people savor.
Elliot: People only do that because they are irrational about diet, and don't eat as much desert as they want, and they're trying to pretend they like it that way. But they don't, and they are tempted to binge all the time. Which sounds a lot like sex. People want to do it a lot, sometimes binge, often feel guilty afterwards, and never get all they want.
Caeli: Hmm. Well maybe there is a functional reason that I don't know.
Elliot:
Dish With Him
Flash back to the '50s and get passionate over pots and pans. "Okay, it's totally old-fashioned and cornball, but I find doing dishes together incredibly romantic," says Janet, a 28-year-old chiropractor. "My dishwasher went on the blink one night, and my boyfriend offered to help clean up. We both rolled up our sleeves and got sudsy in the warm water. We talked about the places we'd love to travel to, the crazy things we'd like to try just once in our lives, and our hands kept touching -- we just got completely lost in each other as we did this mindless activity. It was so sweet and oddly intimate that I haven't bothered to get the dishwasher fixed."
Caeli: This isn't about sex, so 3/5. I guess doing something together can be nice.
Elliot: Sure. But why something so dull? The article even calls it mindless.
Caeli: That leaves more attention leftover for talking.
Elliot: If they want to talk, why not sit on the couch and talk?
Caeli: Because if they didn't have anything to say at first, it'd be awkward. But while washing dishes, they aren't pressured to say anything at first.
Elliot: That may be. But why do they need an excuse to think of what to say? Why are they uncomfortable talking with each other? They don't seem very close or intimate. The dishes, if they are a pretense, are a sign of a lack of intimacy, exactly the opposite of how the people interpret them.
Caeli: Good point. Also doing dishes sucks. It's a lot of trouble for an excuse to talk.
Elliot:
Touch Tenderly in Front of the TV
When you're both chilling out in front of the tube, heat things up with some hands-on action. "Give each other mini foot massages while watching the evening news," suggests Laura Corn, author of 101 Nights of Grrreat Romance (Park Avenue Publishers, 1995). "Or lay your head in his lap and let him stroke your hair." For the ultimate drive-in date experience, invest in an extralong extension cord and watch TV outside on the deck or on lawn chairs on the front stoop underneath the stars.
Caeli: Didn't we already have this one?
Elliot: Romance is a bit limited. It prefers the dark or candle light or moon light. It likes fancy things, or chances to touch or taste or smell. It likes unusual things you wouldn't do otherwise -- things you only bother with because they are romantic.
Caeli: This is about sexual touching to "heat things up", so 4/6 for sex.
Elliot:
Flash Him
When no one's looking, give your guy a sneak peak in public. Granted, it's not exactly violins-in-the-background romantic, but it's certainly guaranteed to send his heart (and pulse) soaring.
Caeli: 5/7 for sex. Maybe you should comment first, usually.
Elliot: It seems to say, "Who cares if it's romantic? It's sexual. He'll like it. He'll be excited." Now, why should he be excited? He's seen it before. All he wants. Hasn't he?
Caeli: I guess not. At least not in public.
Elliot: And public is fun because it's naughty, it's wrong, and there is a risk of being caught?
Caeli: Yeah.
Elliot: Sex isn't wrong, naughty, bad, or sinful. That's a horrible idea.
Elliot: Back to the earlier issue: Why keep in sexually unfulfilled?
Caeli: Maybe he had all he wanted earlier, but he still wants more.
Elliot: He wants the same thing over and over, without limit?
Caeli: Yes.
Elliot: Isn't that boring and mechanical?
Caeli: That's what the tips are for: to spice things up with variety they might not have thought of.
Elliot: There aren't many interesting variations on showing him your breasts. And are these tips only for young people? The tips are roughly the same every article, so surely older people have tried them already.
Caeli: I don't know. Let's move on.
Elliot:
Send Him a Sweet Afternoon Treat
If you know your guy's facing a particularly grueling, sucky afternoon at the office, call up a local restaurant that delivers and send him an I'm-thinking-about-you lunch, suggests Ilene Rosenzweig, coauthor of Swell: A Girl's Guide to the Good Life (Warner Books, 1999). Let him know dessert's waiting at your place later.
Elliot: This didn't have to be about sex, but then they put in a euphemism for sex at the end, so that's 6/8. It's also about food, again.
Caeli: Also, why does he need reminders that she's thinking about him? Aren't they so close and intimate as to take it for granted?
Elliot: Right. And also, consider all these tips are aimed at girls. And that's true of most such lists. Why? Because guys aren't expected to really care, even though girls apparently do. That's not a perfection connection and total agreement.
Caeli: I think a soul mate sounds nice.
Elliot: Of course it does. That's the point. Who wouldn't like to meet someone who really understood him, and agreed about everything he didn't want to argue about? And fulfilled his sexual fantasies. But it's silly. You can't find such a person. The only difference between a soul mate and many people you meet is knowledge (and the soul mate is imagined to be prettier). But how can the person have all this knowledge of you, if you have only just met? It's silly.
Caeli: Sometimes people do meet, and have a connection right away. What's going on?
Elliot: They are connecting with things they share in common because they are common in our culture. They are stereotyped. Often it's romance: they both like to eat fancy dinners, have sex in the moonlight, and have sex during movies, so that seems like a connection.
Caeli: Isn't that a gloomy way to look at the world?
Elliot: Only if you're expecting romance to be a primary source of your happiness.
Caeli: Oh! :)
Elliot:
Keep Him in the Dark
For the ultimate lights-out love nudge, fake a power outage. "Unplug the phone, computer, and TV, then turn off all the lights," instructs Godek. "With nothing else to distract you, you have no choice but to break out the candles and cling to each other as you tell scary ghost stories...or just plain cling to each other."
Elliot: 7/9 for sex. It's only implicit, but it's fairly obvious. The meaning here seems to be that if you have things you like, such as your computer and TV, then sex won't be appealing enough to bother with. So just deprive yourself of everything more attractive than sex.
Caeli: Maybe the issue is avoiding distraction.
Elliot: Distractions are things you can't easily turn off, like street noise, or worrying you're fat. If it's something you can easily turn off, like a TV, then distractions mean things you prefer to do; they are chosen.
Caeli: What if you would turn if off, but you're not thinking?
Elliot: If you aren't thinking, you can't take the advice from this article.
Caeli: Are you sure it's about sex? It just says to tell stories and cling.
Elliot: If you just cling that will get boring fast. But people don't just touch, and sit there for ages and not do anything more. There is a standard progression.
Caeli: Why doesn't it say sex more clearly, then?
Elliot: Because that's embarrassing, and crude, and people get the idea. And people like to imagine that they have this brilliant, original idea to use that situation as an excuse for sex, which would be ruined if it was clear everyone else did exactly the same thing.
Caeli: OK, seems right.
Elliot: Two of the other ones were about how to turn TV watching into sex. Now we have one about getting rid of the TV to have sex. As our counter is showing, one of the main themes of romance is just to have sex more often.
Caeli: If that's all it takes, why don't people do it without being advised to? People certainly care about sex a lot.
Elliot: At first they do, then it gets boring.
Caeli: That sucks.
Elliot: Only if you expect your happiness to come from sex.
Elliot:
Ban the Peck
Replace that chaste, no-effort lip graze with a 10-second smooch -- and make every single kiss a bit of bliss.
Elliot: 8/10 are about sex now. This is another one that intrudes on your life. It says stop doing what you normally prefer. It assumes that many people consider kissing too much bother, and don't want to spend their time on it, and just do it quickly and symbolically. And it says, as usual, stop that, spend more time on sex.
Caeli: This isn't sex, it's kissing.
Elliot: I mean sexual stuff. Kissing has a lot in common with sex. It's a form of cheating on your sexually exclusive partner, it's something people get jealous over, it's foreplay for sex, it's a form of touching, it arouses people.
Caeli: I see. So you mean "sex" broadly.
Elliot:
Map Out the Hot Spots in Your Neighborhood
Make it your mission to fool around in every prime passion nook of your neighborhood -- behind trees, on nearby park benches, under a lamppost. Every time you walk out your front door with your dream guy, hit one of these desire-designated areas until you have the whole area PDA'd.
Elliot: 9/11 are about sex. This continues the same themes we've been noticing. Do more sexual stuff. It's romantic.
Caeli: It's also about how to make sex more interesting, which implies there is a problem with sex getting boring, like you've been saying.
Elliot:
Write Him a Sexy Check
While you're taking care of the bills, take care of your guy with a personal payment for head-to-toe kisses, suggests Godek. "Tell him he can cash in anytime."
Elliot: 10/12 are about sex. This again says to have more sex. And it also seems to imply the guy can't have as much sex as he wants without a special gift.
Caeli: Should guys have all the sex they want? Why should a woman have to do that?
Elliot: She doesn't have to. But sexually frustrated and deprived people is not good. Notice that the attitude of assuming the woman won't want to is setting people up for problems. If the cultural norm is that guys and girls want different amounts of sex, then that must result in tension. I'm not sure it's true though. Girls want sex too. They just don't like to admit it.
Caeli: What's wrong with admitting it?
Elliot: Sex is dirty, impure, unchaste, sinful, and taboo. It's carefully hidden from children, and from other people in general, and people, especially girls, often feel guilty. Sex has to be justified, by a loving, romantic, relationship, or it's wrong.
Caeli: Most guys don't seem to care about that.
Elliot: A lot do. Caring is considered nice. But it's true that most of the pressure is on girls. Look at Islam: if a girl is raped, they blame the girl. It's her responsibility to be chaste, no matter what. And abortions for rape victims is still a controversial issue in the US.
Caeli: Ugh.
Elliot: Yeah. And there's a whole issue, among psychologists, about rape victims (girls) blaming themselves. We're all familiar with the reasons, too. They're well known. She dressed sexy, and attracted him, and flirted too much, and has breasts, and guys can't control their urges anyway.
Caeli: Ugh.
Elliot: Let's do one more and then stop for now.
Caeli: OK.
Elliot:
Make Out Every Time You're Alone in an Elevator
Use this love-lifter as a cue to sneak in a secret smooch session.
Caeli: That's about sex again, so 11/13. Wow that's a lot.
Elliot: Yup. And it's the same theme of having more sex, and having it differently to make it less boring.
Caeli: This is cool, let's do the rest later.
Elliot: Sure.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

23 Ways To Keep Your Romance Alive 2

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Let's continue with the other ten ways to keep your romance alive.
Elliot:
Play the Dating Game
Get out of the same old Saturday-night film-and-food groove. For your next date, come up with three out-of-the-ordinary evening ideas -- perhaps a starlit ferry ride, a game of mini golf, dinner at a restaurant with a kind of food you've never tried, or even seen, before -- and write them down on index cards, suggests David D. Coleman, coauthor of Date Smart! How to Stop Revolving and Start Evolving in Relationships (Prima Publishing, 1999). "Then, have your guy blindly choose one of the cards and embark on a mysterious, exotic adventure."
Caeli: The sex count was 11/13, so now it's 11/14. This article sure likes trying to sell books, doesn't it?
Elliot: Yeah. No matter. What stands out to me is that this is supposed to be exotic and mysterious, but the examples given are all very well-known, usual ideas. And even if this works, won't most people have personally tried them with a previous partner?
Caeli: What's your point?
Elliot: That they are seeking mystery in the mundane, and somehow this works for people. So either they are unfamiliar with the mundane or forgetful. Neither of those is an impressive quality.
Caeli: Oh.
Elliot: Also, this tip uses randomness to try to make things more exciting. But I advocate an intentional life. Think about which activity you'd like best, use your best judgment, and do that one. Letting chance decide is abstaining from living part of your own life.
Caeli: Isn't thinking about everything a hassle? Sometimes people want to relax.
Elliot: Thinking doesn't have to be painful, or time consuming. But even if we imagine thinking is sometimes distasteful, people do think often. So, what is the explanation which shows that the particular decisions that are especially painful, and must be avoided, are ones like which fun activity to do, from a short list?
Caeli: You mean that if we're going to avoid decision making, why avoid those decisions in particular?
Elliot: That's right. It's an easy decision with limited options and only pleasant results.
Caeli: If they have a bad time, they might blame themselves later for choosing it.
Elliot: If they choose randomly, and have a bad time, they might blame themselves for choosing to choose randomly.
Caeli: You mean no matter what they do, they could blame themselves?
Elliot: Yeah. So that isn't an argument against any of their options.
Caeli: OK. Next?
Elliot:
Read Seductive Stories to Each Other
Pick up a steamy best-seller like Vox, by Nicholson Baker (it certainly got Monica boiling for Bill), and take turns reading it aloud. "My boyfriend and I love sharing juicy novels," says Liz, a 30-year-old producer. "We'll get in bed or curl up on the couch and take turns being the narrator. At first I was a bit nervous and rigid -- I sounded like Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone -- but eventually I found my natural rhythm and got really turned on by it. It's so utterly romantic because we're in this sort of fantastical fictional world together rather than sticking our noses in our respective books. And listening to my boyfriend's voice is unbelievably sexy."
Caeli: Plus one for sex. 12/15 now. She says once she got into her rhythm, she was really turned on by it. It's about getting aroused with each other.
Elliot: Some of the messages are: romance is about fantasy; they would have read their own books, because they have different interests, if not prodded to do otherwise; it's good to find voices (and all sorts of things) sexy; you should focus more of your life on sex and romance (by reading "steamy" novel -- note the euphemism).
Caeli: Next?
Elliot:
Go Postal
Create some surprising postal passion by mailing I-want-you notes to your man. Start by telling him exactly what you love about every part of his body.
Caeli: 13/16 are about sex now.
Elliot: Why doesn't he already know he's wanted?
Caeli: Maybe he just likes hearing it.
Elliot: Is he insecure? Or maybe most days she is not passionate about wanting him (for sex)?
Caeli: Most days she probably isn't.
Elliot: So the advice is she should be more interested in sex, and feel more passionate about it, more often. Just like most of the others. By the way, what if she doesn't love every part of his body?
Caeli: I guess her attitude will be to go without, or to break up.
Elliot: That's an unpleasant set of options.
Caeli: What else could she do?
Elliot: Never mind that for now. Just notice that romantic monogamy offers unpleasant choices.
Caeli: OK, noted.
Elliot:
Play Barber Babe
Show your man some passionate pampering by giving him a sensual shave. After his morning shower, lather up his face with a great-smelling shaving cream and slide the razor in the direction the hair grows. "It's a way to steal a very intimate moment when you're both usually so rushed to get out the door," says Kelly, a 26-year-old massage therapist who loves to groom her guy. "Not to mention the perfect excuse to straddle him."
Caeli: 14/17 are about sex. This is touching-based, and an excuse to straddle him.
Elliot: Why does she need an excuse to straddle him? They'll both like it, apparently.
Caeli: It's more fun if they don't talk about it first, and confusing if she just does it with no context.
Elliot: Setting things up so that talking ruins the fun is awful. How are people supposed to decide what's best without saying their preferences?
Caeli: That's a rhetorical question?
Elliot: Yes, mostly. One could answer, for example by saying, "sign language".
Elliot: How come they are rushed to get out the door, by the way? This isn't a flaw in romance, but it is a flaw in conventional culture. As a pattern, they have this unpleasant morning rush.
Elliot:
Tempt Him With a Slew of Where-to-Find-You Clues
Make your usual rendezvous a million times racier by keeping them mysterious for your man. "I have a standing Friday-evening drink date with my boyfriend," says Sue, a 27-year-old tax attorney. "To keep it exciting, I have this trick for spicing things up: I send him on a treasure hunt ... to find me. I pick an obscure, out-of-the-way bar, one we'd never normally go to in a million years. Then every hour on the hour during the workday, I send my boyfriend an email feeding him clues about where I want him to meet me that night -- little riddles that hint at the name, landmarks that will lead him to the location. When he puts all the pieces together, he finds me waiting in the most private booth I can find. Now he's scheming up the next mystery meeting."
Caeli: 14/18 for sex.
Elliot: What if they don't find each other?
Caeli: I suppose the hints will be fairly obvious, at least the last one.
Elliot: Or she could get mad that he "doesn't know her at all" because he couldn't understand some obscure hint, and he could be mad about wasting his time looking for her. So he calls her cell phone, and she says "if you don't know, then I'm not going to tell you". Then they break up because both are angry about different things and neither will apologize.
Caeli: They might apologize, and have make-up sex.
Elliot: Or they might have angry sex before that. Sex doesn't actually solve the problem. They'll still break up later. Or get married, and fight for their whole lives.
Caeli: Is that fair? Maybe they'll put it behind them.
Elliot: What's needed is an attitude of problem solving. This is lacking in romantic relationships, where compromises are expected.
Caeli: What's wrong with compromise?
Elliot: It's a course of action no one thinks is best. The goal should be something that everyone thinks is best.
Caeli: What if I approve of the compromise?
Elliot: You think it's the best option available?
Caeli: Yes.
Elliot: Then it's not a compromise, it's getting what you want.
Caeli: No, what I want is my way.
Elliot: You think your way is not best, but you want it to happen anyway?
Caeli: Yeah.
Elliot: You want the wrong thing to happen?
Caeli: Oh. I guess so.
Elliot: That's not good.
Caeli: What's the right attitude?
Elliot: Whatever you think would be best to do, you should want to do that.
Caeli: But what about what I initially wanted. Won't I be giving that up?
Elliot: If the "compromise" proposal doesn't get you what you wanted, why would you think it's best?
Caeli: Because we have to do something, and I don't want to fight.
Elliot: OK, it probably is better than fighting. But that's not the real alternative. The alternative could be to try to think of some plan that you'd be happy with, that didn't involve any fighting.
Caeli: Isn't it assumed that we've already tried to do that, and failed?
Elliot: No. It seems more like it was assumed that wasn't possible, so it was never tried.
Caeli: Oh. Maybe you're right.
Elliot:
Hold the Sports Section Hostage
Steal the paper before your guy gets a chance to check out the scores. Place a ransom note on his pillow and insist that your demands for A.M. sex, smooching, and snuggling be met before you'll consider giving him access to the stats.
Caeli: 15/19 for our sex count. Stealing and demanding don't sound nice.
Elliot: Yeah. The assumption is that he'd rather read about sports than have sex, so he should be forced into sex.
Caeli: Ugh.
Elliot:
Outlaw Work Talk
Make office gripes and groans a taboo topic when having dinner with your doll. "My boyfriend and I make meals our time," says Anne, a 29-year-old furniture maker. "We talk about upcoming vacations, friends, movies -- anything that lets us share ideas instead of bombarding each other with tales of work woes. After eight hours of focusing on other people on the job, it's such a luxurious treat to indulge in some time that's all about us." If professional topics accidentally pop up, quash them by saying, "Get your mind out of the grind and back onto me."
Caeli: 15/20.
Elliot: If she considers office-talk unpleasant, why would he talk about it? And why is the default assumption that they find each other's work boring?
Caeli: And why outlaw it, instead of just asking nicely?
Elliot:
Give Him an All-Day "Scentual" Reminder
"The next time your guy sleeps over, spritz a small item of clothing -- scarf, underwear, camisole -- with your signature fragrance, and slyly slip it into his briefcase or backpack," suggests author Corn. "With your sexy scent wafting out every time he reaches into his bag, he won't be able to take his mind off of you." When the clock strikes 5, he'll follow his nose all the way to your front door.
Caeli: Should this one count as being about sex?
Elliot: It's based on sensory stimulation. He slept over last night, so coming to the door may not mean immediate sex, but can be assumed to mean sex that night. Since we counted touch-focussed ones, I think smell-focussed should count too, to be consistent. So, 16/21.
Caeli: So it's not quite a count of sexual ones, but also ones about sensory stimulation?
Elliot: I guess so. Sex is a type of sensory stimulation. Not just touch, but smell is said to be part of it too (and the others, of course). And the quote even says specifically that the smell is intended to be sexy.
Caeli: OK, makes sense. But is it bad that the tips focus on this?
Elliot: It demonstrates that romance pays a lot of attention to sex. Sometimes people deny that.
Caeli: Why do they deny it?
Elliot: To disingenuously defend romance.
Caeli: What's the attack it's under?
Elliot: "If romance is supposed to be a way to have a good relationship, then why is it mostly about sex?"
Caeli: And the assumption is that sex is not what a good relationship consists of?
Elliot: Right. Everyone agrees to that. That doesn't mean sex can't be there. But there has to be other stuff. Otherwise it's just a fling, for fun, and won't last.
Caeli: So the conclusion is that romance, due to its focus on sex, can't be about how to make an actually good non-sex-based relationship?
Elliot: Yes.
Elliot:
Get a Sound Track
Create your relationship repertoire by picking a few favorite songs (a sentimental score, a sultry in-the-mood croon, a sassy "Feel the Earth Move"-type number) that really capture the essence of your couplehood and make them yours by playing them on romantic, sexy occasions.
Caeli: This is about a sense, and it's sexy, but I don't think it should be counted as about sex. So 16/22.
Elliot: Yeah, presumably they'll just want to dance, or hold hands and feel special. Which might lead to sex. But so might going out to dinner, and absolutely everything else couples do.
Caeli: Are you sure everything might?
Elliot: Fights can. Apologies can. Eating can. Movies can. Going to sleep can. Doing something together can. Missing each other because they were apart can. What can't?
Caeli: How about getting dirty and gross?
Elliot: Washing each other off could be sexy.
Caeli: How about giving a political speech?
Elliot: Sounds tense. They'll want to relax afterwards.
Caeli: How about being diagnosed with an STD?
Elliot: OK, you win. :)
Elliot:
Compliment Each Other in Public
"My girlfriend tells everyone that I'm the most talented person she's ever met," says Andrew, 28, a teacher. "She'll tell a cashier, 'We'll take a chocolate brownie because my guy so deserves it.' When she introduces me, she says, 'This is my hilariously funny boyfriend' or 'Meet my handsome boyfriend. He puts George Clooney to shame.' My heart jumps every time. I swear it makes going to the deli sexy."
Caeli: 16/23 are about sex. That's our final count. It's 70%.
Elliot: Why do they feel the need to exaggerate so badly? I think they're insecure.
Caeli: If they're insecure, wouldn't the best thing be honest compliments that they know they can trust?
Elliot: Only if the truth is good. But it might not be. They probably honestly aren't sure about each other -- they don't know if they'll want to marry or not -- and that's scary.
Caeli: Hey, even this one had to bring up sex again, it says it makes deli trips sexy.
Elliot: Yeah. It's ever present.
Caeli: Any concluding points?
Elliot: This is an advice column. In many ways, it's better than people actually, usually do. It's an idealization. It's also worse in some ways, because people don't always take romance this seriously. But if taking romance seriously makes things worse, that's a damning criticism of romance.
Caeli: Any final thoughts?
Elliot: Please don't have kids with someone just because you like the sex and have romantic moments.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Authority

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What should I ask about today?
Elliot: How about authority?
Caeli: What about it?
Elliot: Believing ideas because they are backed by some authority is a blight on our society.
Caeli: Isn't that well known? You can't trust something just because the government said it; experts can be wrong; "argument from authority" is a logical fallacy.
Elliot: That's all true. It could be worse. But it could also be a lot better. Take government. Although people distrust it in certain ways, they also think governments have special, magical powers. Only governments can solve public good problems. How? By force. Why can't normal people solve public good problems by using force? Because force is bad. So why does it work for the government? Because people trust the government to do the right thing and not make mistakes. Which is absurd given its record.
Elliot: The reason "argument from authority" is a well-known fallacy is because it's a common fallacy. It needs to be pointed out because people do it all the time.
Elliot: Experts can be wrong, but people often assume they are right, or likely to be right, and trust them based on faith, without knowing the expert's reasons, arguments, or method of reaching his conclusions.
Caeli: Aren't experts usually right?
Elliot: Who knows? Being right isn't a matter of probability.
Elliot: The reason experts are valuable is that in certain circumstances we can reasonably expect they have looked into issues for us, using methods we would approve of. When we ask a lawyer what the law says, we're saving ourselves the trouble of looking it up. We'd only want to look it up ourselves if we thought we might know something the lawyer doesn't.
Caeli: How is that different from what most people do?
Elliot: One of the critical things is that I only listen to the lawyer if I agree with him. If I think he's mistaken, he has no authority over me. I'll form my own opinion, and argue with him, and I won't consider him likely to be right.
Elliot: But it's a frequent occurrence in debates that someone says scientists, research, or "the experts" back his side. That's silly. Expertise cannot overrule disagreement. If I disagree, the person needs to give actual reasons that his side is right. If experts have come up with good arguments, he could quote them, but they will only have whatever power is inherent in the arguments.
Caeli: What if someone says scientists have proven that apples are nutritious? Should that have no more weight than if my neighbor said he had proven it?
Elliot: We can reasonably suppose that a scientist has done something before saying this. If we want to say he's wrong, we'll need to answer whatever basis his claim has. If your neighbor says stuff, it's likely he has just made it up. In other words, when a scientist says something, it's an idea that has been subjected to a lot of criticism already. When your neighbor says something, that isn't so.
Caeli: And being subjected to criticism makes ideas better?
Elliot: Yeah.
Caeli: Then won't scientists have better ideas than you?
Elliot: Not necessarily. I can think about ideas, and criticize them, just as scientists do.
Caeli: So let me try to summarize what your position. If someone believes something because an expert told him to, that's reasonable as a way to save time, but it's no good in a debate. If there is disagreement, we need to give reasons, and they should be judged on their merits not their source.
Elliot: That's correct.
Caeli: I think I'm convinced. But you said authority is a blight on society. Is this really so bad?
Elliot: People get the things you summarized wrong, frequently. But that is indeed not the end of the world. I was thinking of a number of other issues as well.
Caeli: Like what?
Elliot: There's authority over children, granted to teachers, parents, and adults in general. There's government authority, as I mentioned earlier. There is religious authority. But none of those are the worst of it.
Caeli: What is the worst?
Elliot: The worst forms of authority are very subtle. Imagine you play a game, and win. Should you feel proud?
Caeli: I think so. I did well.
Elliot: Did you? Perhaps the game was very easy.
Caeli: If it's easy, couldn't that indicate I'm good at it?
Elliot: It could. But the point is that feeling proud automatically is trusting in the authority of the game designer. I believe that it's important to think about games we play, and consider whether beating them is something to be proud of or not.
Caeli: Are there many games that aren't worthwhile? I don't know any.
Elliot: There are games designed for young children which are simple and I wouldn't be proud to beat, today. It's true that games designed be large companies generally meet some minimum quality standards. However, there are a lot of other games available to play. Many computer games come with "world editors" that let users create their own games. Most of these games are badly done and they often include godly items that let you easily win.
Caeli: Should games never have godly items or power-ups?
Elliot: It depends how easy they are to acquire. If a game gives rewards much greater than the difficulty of the task achieved, then it becomes very easy. That should be boring. But many people keep playing. They are submitting to the authority of the game designer, even though he's just a regular user with no special expertise. They aren't thinking.
Caeli: How can I tell the difference between a good and bad game?
Elliot: In a good game, you'll be learning things. You'll be able to beat the same areas faster and more efficiently after you've played a lot. You'll know useful tricks that you discovered, which weren't obvious. In computer and video games, you'll learn things about the AI, and find its weak points.
Caeli: What's AI?
Elliot: Artificial Intelligence. Whenever there are enemies in a game, controlled by a computer chip, they have an AI which tells them what to do. It's often very simple and can be taken advantage of.
Caeli: If they are usually simple, why is taking advantage of one interesting?
Elliot: Because it's not simple to discover how they work. You see the individual actions that the enemies perform, but the AI consists of a few fairly universal rules. You have to try to find patterns and form general explanations from what you observe.
Caeli: Oh, that's cool. So, how else can I tell which games are good?
Elliot: Consider chess. When you learn more, you'll be able to beat people you couldn't before. And you'll know more patterns. And you'll be better able to invent new patterns. You'll know general principles like "control the center", and you'll know why they are important, and when not to follow them, and how to take advantage if your opponent doesn't do it.
Elliot: In a bad game, you might just issue an "attack" order and your hero will kill everything, because he's too strong. There's nothing to learn, no interesting ways to win faster the second time. Or imagine you have some spells. How many different ways are there to use them? If there's only one way to use each spell, then there's very little decision making, and little to learn. But if there are a lot of options to keep track of, that's a better game.
Caeli: Are you sure you couldn't beat a bad game faster the second time? Suppose there was a godly item a little ways in. If you knew where it was you could run straight there and get it faster than you did last time.
Elliot: That's true. No game is absolutely, completely worthless. Their value is on a continuum. Some are very bad, others are very good. We should only be a little bit proud if we beat a very bad game. The main point is that we need to consider how hard the game was before we're proud to beat it, instead of just assuming that the game creator did a good job.
Elliot: Another issue is competitive games that aren't fair. Suppose there is a game where one person controls orcs, and one humans. You might assume that if you're beating another human being then you must be doing a good job. But that is only true if the game designer made the game fairly fair. If humans are actually ten times more powerful than orcs, then the only way you could lose is if the other person was ten times better than you.
Caeli: That sounds silly.
Elliot: I've watched people play games where one player gets a huge advantage, use the advantage, and go kill other players. They think that's fun. The advantage is generally something that takes no control to use, like attacking really fast for lots of damage, and having tons of health.
Caeli: What are some examples of veiled respect for authority besides games?
Elliot: There are a lot at school. People give undo authority to The Instructions. Many people try to do exactly as they are told, and get confused if the instructions aren't clear. They don't think about what might be a better way, or whether they are learning much. I remember people would refuse to take my suggestions simply because the instructions said to do something else. They didn't offer up any reasons that the way in the instructions was better, whereas I did give reasons that my way was an improvement. But it didn't matter. The instructions had authority.
Elliot: Another example is that when people want to learn about something, they often do their homework. Is that the best way to learn the material? Rarely. It's one-size-fits-all learning, and that's not ideal. But people assume that because the lesson plans and assignments were designed by experts, they are best.
Caeli: Got other examples?
Elliot: Suppose people are playing a game together. And don't worry, this is completely different than I was talking about earlier. Now, the rules say to do one thing. But one player doesn't want to. He thinks that won't be fun or interesting. He wants to make a change. Many people will refuse on principle. The rules have authority.
Elliot: This is terribly frustrating. You're in a room with three friends. No one else is around. There should be nothing here to thwart you. It should be very easy to get what you want. But you start playing a game, written by people far away, and for whatever reason you don't like part of it. That's no surprise, games aren't perfect and it wasn't designed for you personally. No big deal, right? Just change it. But your friends may call you a cheater, and think you just don't want to lose. They may think they are winning and like it that way. They may say games have rules for a reason. If you're playing with your parents, they may tell you that you can't change the rules of life, and you'd better get used to it.
Caeli: Next?
Elliot: There are experiments that psychologists have done. They'll assign people roles. Some of them have authority, and some don't. It's not like before everyone plays there part. The people arbitrarily given authority aren't special in any way. They don't know best. But it doesn't matter.
Elliot: In one experiment, everyone was divided into two rival groups. The groups fought. Why? Because they respected the authority of the people who put them in groups. They accepted the rules they were told of how the experiment would work. They cared more about that than being nice to the new people they met.
Elliot: There's another experiment where they told people to use electric shock on others. Even when the others screamed and begged them to stop, they kept doing what they were told. They were told it was important. They had faith. (In fact, the people being hurt were only acting.)
Caeli: That's terrible.
Elliot: Often, just naming something gives it authority. Instead of asking what's the best way to do something, people often pick a named thing, and ask how that school of thought handles it. What is the Attachment Parenting way to handle bullies? What is the Parent Effectiveness Training way? People choose an authority to submit themselves to, and then try to get all their answers from it. Lost is what would be rational and what would work well.
Elliot: This is very common. People want to know the Zen way to think about something, so that they can be Zen. They want to know the Christian way to approach something, so they can be a good Christian.
Elliot: If someone goes up to you and says, "Will you do whatever I say, for a while?" you will almost certainly decline. That's a terrible deal. You should only do what he says as long as it sounds like good ideas. But if he says, "I've found out about this new way of living, called Mystara's Glory. It will make you happy." then a lot of people will agree. And they'll find themselves doing whatever he says, and asking how to do it better. All he has to do is veil his orders with a name, and people will think the name must have at least enough authority to be worth a try.
Caeli: That's sneaky. But are there any good reasons to want to know, say, what Zen says about something?
Elliot: Sure. If you liked Zen ideas in the past, you might be interested in hearing more because you think Zen may be a good source of ideas. And knowing the source and history of ideas can help you understand them better.
Caeli: If there's one thing I should take away from this, what is it?
Elliot: Never obey authority.
Caeli: Why?
Elliot: Because I said so.
Caeli: You're silly.
Elliot: Excellent :)
Elliot: More seriously, people should think for themselves more. Make your own choices, live your own life, be independent, and take responsibility for what you do. If someone tells you to do something, or a Proper Noun tells you to, and you do it, that's your decision and your responsibility. I don't care if it's Hitler, or your father, or Zen. You need to make your own evaluations about what's a good idea. There isn't much point being free to live your own life and have your own ideas if you don't actually use your freedom.
Caeli: Why'd you mention Hitler?
Elliot: Because people try to excuse German soldiers who were "just following orders," and that is no excuse.
Caeli: Oh. Ugh. Anyway, I'm leaving now. See you later.
Elliot: Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

War And Trade

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Why are we at war?
Elliot: Because people want to kill us.
Caeli: Why do they want to kill us?
Elliot: What difference does it make?
Caeli: Maybe we could reason with them, or stop pissing them off.
Elliot: We've tried to reason with them. It hasn't worked. I'm not saying it's impossible. But apparently we don't know how.
Caeli: Maybe we were almost at a breakthrough.
Elliot: There aren't any signs that we were.
Elliot: As far as pissing them off, and why they want to kill us, there are mixed messages coming from various places. The Western media would have us believe that our cultural imperialism and colonialism, and arrogance, and stuff like that is to blame.
Caeli: What does that even mean?
Elliot: Theoretically it means that we should not meddle with other countries, and certainly not try to control and exploit them. But the left advocates all sorts of intervention in other countries. It isn't actually isolationist.
Caeli: Not controlling and exploiting other nations sounds good.
Elliot: Sure. No one disagrees about that.
Caeli: Then what's the argument about?
Elliot: Suppose an American company opens a factory in a third world country. They offer work for 20 cents an hour. They make a profit. Some people say this is exploitation. Others say it's just offering people an opportunity, and if they didn't consider it an improvement, they wouldn't take it.
Caeli: What do you say?
Elliot: No one is forced to take these jobs. They want to. That's not exploitation, it's free association and free trade. If anyone actually is forced to take a job, that actually is wrong and, more to the point, criminal.
Caeli: Some people say that they are forced to keep the job, even though they don't want it, because they have a family to feed. They have no choice. The big company is taking advantage of their circumstances. Is that exploitation?
Elliot: By force, I meant if the company sends thugs to beat up people who quit their job. If you're "forced" to keep your job in order to continue being paid, that is not exploitation.
Caeli: These people are in such bad circumstances. What should be done?
Elliot: They will be paid higher wages when there is more competition for their labor. The more people that want to hire them, the more leverage they'll have. So, if they start more local companies, then foreign companies will have to offer higher wages to get any workers. And if more foreign companies come to "exploit" them by offering jobs, they will compete with each other and wages will go up.
Caeli: So you're saying if people would just shut up and encourage more big, American corporations to build factories in third world countries, that would be a huge step towards solving the problem, and towards making those areas richer. And by contrast, opposing those projects keeps wages down, and hurts the people that the protesters supposedly care about.
Elliot: Yes, you've got it. But bear in mind that there are other obstacles those people face.
Caeli: Like what?
Elliot: Violence. Not by visiting Americans, but by other locals. And by their own governments. And their governments confiscate and squander wealth.
Caeli: Why do they elect such bad leaders?
Elliot: In many cases, they don't elect them. They live under tyrants who took power by force. In other cases, they don't know better, or none of the other candidates looked better, or the guy made false promises and fooled them.
Caeli: What should be done about that?
Elliot: If we spread democracy to those countries, and helped establish good political traditions, that would help. They don't have a lot of things we take for granted, there. Respect for human rights is not ingrained in their culture, nor is the idea that interactions should be voluntary.
Caeli: Do you advocate meddling like that?
Elliot: Not really. I'm just saying that if you want to help those people, that would help. Not much else would. For example, giving them money is little help, because their governments steal it. Or the people themselves squander it, because they aren't knowledgeable about how to use wealth efficiently and effectively.
Elliot: If there was an intervention that was popular enough and well thought out enough to get a hearing in American political debate, I'd almost certainly be in favor of it. But I don't spend my time telling people that what we really need to do is go help Africa.
Caeli: Should we care if Africans have it rough? Or is it not our problem?
Elliot: It isn't our problem. When people say American companies are taking advantage of these people's circumstance, that's silly. We didn't create their circumstances. All it really means is that they are willing to trade with people who don't have much. That's far closer to kindness than exploitation.
Caeli: Is it kindness?
Elliot: Nah. It's profitable. It's just trade. Free trade helps everyone involved.
Elliot: Continuing on, it does matter if there are people in the world in bad conditions. They are humans beings. People matter. It is not our responsibility. But if we can help, that is a perfectly good thing to do. And if we can help at a profit, that's even better. That's a good reason to prefer helping them through trade and offering jobs (which is a form of trade) instead of through government intervention, which is paid for with taxes, and not designed to make a profit.
Caeli: What about charity? That's not profitable.
Elliot: Voluntary charity is a thousand times better than involuntary (government) charity. My only concern is how effective it is. Is it really doing much good for the amount of money spent?
Caeli: What's fair trade?
Elliot: Fair trade is a doctrine that says free trade is good sometimes and bad sometimes. It opposes any trades that people don't like. For example, minimum wage laws are a form of fair trade. What those say is that any trades where someone's labored is valued less than a minimum amount are illegal.
Caeli: How do they choose the minimum amount?
Elliot: However much money they feel people "need"? I don't know. I guess whatever is politically feasible.
Caeli: What are the effects of minimum wage laws?
Elliot: They make it illegal for unskilled people to get jobs. If your labor is worth less than the minimum, you can't sell it. Unless you can get someone to overpay you.
Caeli: Why is it overpaying?
Elliot: Labor has a market rate. It's governed by supply and demand. The more people want to purchase a hour of a certain type of labor, the higher the wage for that hour of work, because sellers are in a good bargaining position. The more people want to sell those hours, the lower the wage, because buyers are in a good bargaining position. The more other people you could trade with instead, the better deal you can ask for.
Caeli: That sounds like basic economics.
Elliot: Yeah, it is. Or it should be. So, labor has a price that it's worth. If you set the minimum wage law too high, now that can't be sold.
Caeli: What if it isn't set too high?
Elliot: If it's set so low that it doesn't exclude any trades, then it has no effect whatsoever. The only possible effect of minimum wage laws is to make certain trades illegal.
Caeli: That sucks. It especially hurts unskilled people, who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of fair trade. What do people want them then?
Elliot: First, they can't handle the idea of unskilled people. They don't want anyone to have to live on very little money, so they just try to ban it. They like to imagine there is plenty of money to go around, and the only problem is greedy capitalists.
Caeli: I thought the problem was people who have little skill, so they don't create much wealth.
Elliot: Indeed. And that isn't exactly a problem, anyway. If we had free trade, these people would have better, richer lives than their parents did. And they'd quickly move up in the world. Of course they'd like to be rich now. But most of them will be happy to work their way up, if given a chance.
Caeli: Do minimum wages help some people who get paid them?
Elliot: Yes. A few people benefit. But mostly it just destroys jobs, by making many jobs illegal. However, it does create an artificial scarcity of labor for certain jobs, and thus raise the price.
Caeli: Price raising? So it works?
Elliot: Of the people who would have been paid below minimum wage, some lose their jobs entirely, and some are paid more. That isn't exactly working. But it's worse. Consider the ones who are paid more. That money has to come from somewhere. It comes from employers. A lot of these employers are small businesses who don't have extra money. The owners have to work longer hours because they can't afford to hire enough help. And they raise their prices. If prices go up, being paid more isn't as helpful. Most people lose out.
Caeli: That sounds like a big mess.
Elliot: Indeed. When you forcibly prevent free association and free trade, that makes a big mess. Free trade always involves two parties who want to be there, and who both think they are benefitting. Who could object to that?
Caeli: Fair trade advocates.
Elliot: :)
Caeli: Hey, weren't we discussing the war?
Elliot: We're at war because people want to kill us. Some people in the West think this is because of unfair trades, racism, cultural insensitivity, and so on. But that's false. If you listen to the people who want to kill us, that's not what they actually say.
Caeli: What do they say?
Elliot: They frequently say that they hate Jews and Christians, and want to subjugate and kill them, and force Sharia on them. And they believe that America is Satanic. And keep in mind that this isn't just terrorists, these are standard things that Imams say at religious services, and leaders say on TV in Arabic.
Caeli: What's Sharia?
Elliot: Very strict, Islamic law. It's nasty stuff. For example, women are treated like dirt and are stoned for adultery.
Caeli: How can people who make a fuss about opposing racism and sexism in our culture stand for something like that?
Elliot: That's a good question. If you can get them to answer it, I'd love to hear.
Elliot: So, what else do the terrorists say? Here are some of their generic bullet points:
  • They (meaning Jews and Crusaders) are Conspirators who have been, and are, responsible for all the woes of Muslims and they are planning much worse. (If you believed that of someone, wouldn't you want to kill them too?)
  • They (Jews and Crusaders) are corrupt in that they are promiscuous, their women are whores, they are materialistic, they gamble, they trade with interest, they don't kill their homosexuals, etc...
  • They love life, while Muslims love death. (Here, the underlying allegation is that, being corrupt, there is nothing they will risk their lives and comfort for, and hence they are destined to be defeated.)
  • They attacked us and occupied our lands and oppressed our peoples, and we want bloody revenge.
  • They do not follow Islam.
Elliot: The men who committed the 9/11 attacks said that they were mad about Bosnia.
Caeli: What happened in Bosnia?
Elliot: We used military force against Christians to defend Muslims.
Caeli: Why are they mad about that?
Elliot: Who knows. It doesn't make sense. Perhaps because they are ignorant. I think what's going on is our enemies hate us first, and make up excuses second. Whether the excuses are coherent doesn't make much difference. The West apologizes for the terrorists and makes up more Western-friendly excuses, and their own people know that it's all just different ways of saying "death to the infidels".
Caeli: What are some facts I should know?
Elliot: First, let me warn you: this stuff is unpleasant. It involves death and suffering, and callous disregard for life.
Caeli: I think I better hear it anyway.
Elliot: They have textbooks in schools in the Arab world with maps that don't have Israel. They indoctrinate their children with lies and hate. There was an incident where a school was on fire. Some girls tried to leave. Not so fast. The religious police caught them: they didn't have enough clothing covering them. It was improper. So, the religious police sent them back into the fire to die. Fifteen girls died. These cultures we are dealing with don't value human life like we do. Especially not female life.
Caeli: That's so awful.
Elliot: Yeah. It also makes it implausible that the real reason they want to kill us is because they are upset about some incident we caused. They cause worse incidents, themselves, all the time.
Caeli: If they don't value life, and won't be reasonable, what can we do? Surely we can't just kill all of them.
Elliot: Careful with "can't". We could. It's within our power. But, we rightly do not want to. Not everyone is part of the religious police, or a terrorist. People are full of contradictions. They cheer the 9/11 attacks because Americans were hurt, worship Osama for his great success, and also believe the US government or the Jews were behind the attacks. That's a contradiction. Sometimes they don't care for life. But other times they do. A lot of them would like a better life if they knew how to have it. A lot of them would be happier living in peace.
Caeli: There's an argument which says that Arabs aren't cut out for democracy.
Elliot: That's racist. Arabs are just as capable of being free and democratic as white people.
Caeli: Then why don't they have democracies?
Elliot: Bad traditions, bad culture.
Caeli: What can be done?
Elliot: Use force as necessary, to defend ourselves. But also use persuasion, and spread knowledge. Like everyone, they are capable of improving.
Caeli: Is defensive force good enough? We can't wait until they attack before we do something. It's too late then. People will be dead.
Elliot: By defensive force, I don't mean waiting and retaliating. I mean taking whatever measures are necessary to defend ourselves. It's whatever policy is required to keep us safe. If that means making attacks against people who are a threat, but who haven't attacked yet, so be it.
Caeli: Can we really tell who's a threat before they attack?
Elliot: In many cases we can. There are such things as terrorist training camps, weapons depots, meeting rooms, bunkers, fortified positions, and monetary backers. Those are all good targets. Without them, the terrorists are much weaker.
Caeli: How could someone object to attacking any of those?
Elliot: If a terrorist training camp is not within our borders, people say that States should be sovereign, and to let the local government deal with it.
Caeli: What's wrong with that?
Elliot: Nothing if they do it. Everything if they don't.
Caeli: If they won't get rid of terrorist training camps within their borders, and they ask us not to, aren't they aiding terrorists?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: And isn't that justification to invade?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: This stuff doesn't seem that hard.
Elliot: That's what I always say.
Caeli: If we invade, won't innocents be hurt?
Elliot: Yes. That's unfortunate.
Caeli: Is it not wrong?
Elliot: If hurting innocents was always wrong, no matter what, our hands would be tied. One terrorist straps babies all over his body, and he's invincible. He kills whoever he wants. And if property counts, all he has to do is steal a robe. If we shoot him, we damage someone's property.
Caeli: What's the right attitude, then?
Elliot: Take reasonable steps to minimize collateral damage, such as never aiming at innocents. But do not take any steps that are suicidal.
Caeli: Suicidal?
Elliot: If a step would kill Americans then that's no good. We shouldn't kill ourselves. Not ever. Not even one person.
Caeli: Would you kill 40 Iraqis to save one American?
Elliot: We don't face decisions like that. We face decisions about what policies to have. The policy I suggest would actually save countless lives. People would very quickly stop screwing with us. Any terrorists would be completely unwelcome anywhere. The civilian populations would be highly motivated to do something about them. If they don't, we will.
Caeli: What if they weren't unwelcome?
Elliot: Then those people are aiding terrorists. That doesn't mean we'll target them on purpose. But if they decide to sleep next door to a terrorist, and die in a bomb blast, that is no disaster.
Caeli: What about today? People die as collateral damage. They didn't make the terrorists completely unwelcome. Do they deserve it?
Elliot: Things are murky today. We try very hard to protect people. Frequently even people that concretely aid terrorists. But certainly people who are only complicit, and don't do anything about terrorists, or help in minor ways. By protecting their ability to help terrorists, we encourage them to do so, and we prevent it being clear who is guilty or not. This ambiguity is the largest cause of collateral damage.
Caeli: So by being so nice and so forgiving, we actually encourage people to push the limits and come very close to being a threat to us that must be forcibly dealt with?
Elliot: Exactly.
Caeli: That reminds me of earlier. Protesting free trade, in an effort to help poor people, actually hurts poor people.
Elliot: Yeah. Good intentions don't guarantee good results.
Caeli: Nice talking.
Elliot: Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Greed

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Is it a problem if people are greedy?
Elliot: No.
Caeli: Why not?
Elliot: Doing something because it's in your interest is good. Doing it because you are forced to is bad.
Caeli: Why are you talking about interest?
Elliot: Greed means trying to get stuff you want. It could be money, it could be other stuff. It is the things you value. Things you consider to be in your interest.
Caeli: But when people say greed, they always mean money.
Elliot: They are cheating. When one person gets what he wants, and it isn't money, they don't call it greed, even though it's equally self-interested. When another makes money, that is greed. And by the way, money is just an "I owe you" for actual, real stuff. Money should not be the object of scorn anymore than wheat is. Money is actually quite nice: it's easier to carry around and doesn't go bad.
Caeli: Doesn't doing things for money make people ignore other things, like treating their customers well?
Elliot: Treating customers well is profitable.
Caeli: Not always. If you can trick them, you can get something for nothing.
Elliot: That doesn't mean treating customers well isn't profitable. It is.
Caeli: Isn't that kind of pedantic?
Elliot: No. It's important that treating customers well is a way to make money. It works. We shouldn't overlook that.
Caeli: OK, but maybe you could make more money by tricking people, so a greedy person would prefer to do that.
Elliot: If you trick people, or do anything else but sell/trade something valuable, then you are working against people. You have to outfox them. That is far harder than cooperating with them. Now and then it has spectacular results, to be sure. But frequently it has bad results. But Cooperation consistently has good results, and also has more spectacular results.
Caeli: I guess your point is that more wealth is created when people don't work against each other.
Elliot: Yes. Fighting with people over the wealth that already existed is a silly strategy, when you can just make more.
Caeli: What if you cut corners, but your customers don't know?
Elliot: Then there is an opportunity for someone else to sell a similar product, but in a more transparent fashion. Or for him to inform people about your shoddy work.
Caeli: What if no one finds out?
Elliot: Then you've managed to trick the entire world. Congratulations. But that's very hard. Your workers could talk. How will you stop them? By paying them a lot?
Caeli: Sure.
Elliot: I thought this was about narrow-minded greed. But now you want to pay your workers well.
Caeli: Good point. But it might be worth it to fool everyone.
Elliot: The better you do, the harder it will be to prevent leaks, and the more rewards are available for someone who spills the beans. There are other issues as well. Consider new hires. They have nothing invested in the company. For many of them, being fired in their first week wouldn't be that big a deal. How will you keep them quiet?
Caeli: I'll pay them.
Elliot: Having to pay a lot of money to all your workers, and more besides to new people, just to keep a secret, doesn't sound like the best way to get rich. Secrets are expensive. But it's worse than that. Not everyone will accept money. Many people have principles.
Caeli: OK, I give up.
Elliot: Greed doesn't motivate people to do bad things, because doing bad things does not make your life rich and fulfilling. Doing bad things turns people against you, and it is bad to be that way and makes it hard to be creative. The greedier someone is -- the more he cares about achieving things -- the more he will want to ensure he gets it. And there's only one reliable way to do that: create valuable, good things.
Caeli: What about people who want stuff besides money?
Elliot: They, too, should create valuable, good things. Like philosophical dialogs, or Warcraft III maps. This can bring them fun or knowledge. Or if they want to attract a desirable wife, the best way to do that is to be a worthwhile person with good, valuable things in his life.
Caeli: What are the alternatives to greed?
Elliot: If you aren't trying to get good things for yourself, then you're not greedy. This is very dangerous. What will you try to get? Common candidates are to increase the fairness of the world, or the proselytize for a religion, or to try to hurt people.
Caeli: What's wrong with fairness?
Elliot: It means going around interfering with people. It means deciding that their way of living is unfair, and doing things to them by force. Like taking their stuff and giving it to poor people.
Caeli: Don't poor people have a right to have stuff?
Elliot: No. Not unless they make it.
Caeli: But wouldn't it be better if everyone could have a nice life?
Elliot: Yes. And everyone can. They should get jobs. It's easy. No one is stopping them.
Caeli: But maybe they need help.
Elliot: Then help them, on your own time, with your own wealth.
Caeli: OK, what if I do. Is that good?
Elliot: It's OK. But in general poor people are the ones who have made bad decisions about what to do with resources. That's why they don't have any. They squander wealth. Helping those people is often a waste.
Caeli: Who is it better to help?
Elliot: Productive people who have a large effect on the world. If you can make a brilliant scientist just a little bit happier, so that he makes better inventions, that could make the whole world drastically better.
Caeli: Only if you get lucky.
Elliot: Well, in the abstract, consider this: there are people who are skilled at using resources in good ways so that they have large, beneficial effects. They end up with more resources, and so does everyone else. People like that, due to logic, are likely to end up rich. And on the other hand there are people who constantly make bad decisions. Every time they use wealth for something, it turns out badly. Those people will end up poor, due to logic.
Caeli: OK, I guess there must be those kinds of people. And I see that helping the first time is very efficient, and helping the other type is best avoided. But do the two types correspond perfectly with rich and poor people?
Elliot: They don't. There are people with inheritances who are not doing much of value. But never fear: those people will either soon be poor, or they will hoard their money so it won't do anything bad.
Caeli: Isn't hoarding money bad?
Elliot: Quite the opposite. If the silly rich person sit around with pieces of paper, that is absolutely great. He isn't causing any trouble, and meanwhile some other person has the actual stuff the paper represents, and will do useful things with it.
Caeli: But won't the rich guy get interest and become richer?
Elliot: Perhaps. But no matter. Loaning money is a great thing: it gives poor people an opportunity to control a lot of wealth. This means that poor people who are skilled with wealth can get a chance to use some, and do good things.
Caeli: Oh, that's cool.
Elliot: Yeah. So as I was going to say, there are also poor people who are not incompetent and stupid. But, again, never fear: they can and will move up in the world. They will make good decisions, and their wealth will increase. And, as we've discovered, if some rich person will loan them wealth, that will be great. Both people will benefit: the rich man took a risk on this person, and will be paid for it. And the poor man will make a huge profit and keep a lot of it. Their mutual greed lets them cooperate.
Caeli: What happens if the person who gets the loan fails?
Elliot: That is a very important possibility. The result is that both people will be poorer. And that's as it should be: the rich man had bad judgment to loan this person his money, and now he won't be able to make that mistake again. And the poor man squandered money, and now no one will want to loan him money again. So the whole system is self-correcting. The people who do well have more power to make decisions about what to do with wealth in the future. And the people who do badly, end up with less power to make decisions.
Elliot: I want to add at this point that lending money is a very important skill. It is not a way that rich people hurt us. A man who has a talent for finding skilled people who lack capital, but who want to do great things if only they could get started, is very important. He irons out the bugs in the system. Instead of having government wealth redistribution, we have loans. We have people who actively seek out people who should have wealth distributed to them, and who personally give them money. That is wonderful.
Caeli: I'd like some money.
Elliot: What would you do with it?
Caeli: I'm not sure.
Elliot: It's a good thing that people are too discerning to give you much, then.
Caeli: Actually, they will give me thousands of dollars.
Elliot: That's true. That's a small enough amount that it's no big risk to a rich person. And even someone who works at minimum wage will make many thousands of dollars per year. So anyone can pay that back.
Caeli: But I can get it now, before I make it. It could help me get started. Say I wanted to work with computers, but first I needed to buy a computer and take a few classes. I could get money, now, to do those things, and pay it back later. That's so useful.
Elliot: Yeah. Without people willing to take a risk on you, it'd be harder.
Caeli: You've mentioned force a few times.
Elliot: When people trade, they both think they are benefitting. And they usually really are, because they have different needs and priorities. This is purely good, and it's purely voluntary. The reason people trade voluntarily is that it helps them. Their greed -- their desire to benefit themselves -- makes sure I have plenty of people to trade with. If they weren't greedy, they wouldn't be motivated to trade with me. They wouldn't bother. That would suck.
Elliot: If someone was doing something at gunpoint, no one would call that greedy. Greedy actions always refer to things people choose to do, voluntarily, because they want to. It's meant to slander their motives. But never mind that. It proves the person is living freely. That is great.
Caeli: But what if their motives are bad?
Elliot: Who cares? As long as they don't hurt people or do criminal actions then you have nothing to complain about.
Caeli: What if I don't like it?
Elliot: As I've said, he hasn't hurt you. He's just living his own life. Leave him alone. Just as you want to make your own choices, let him make his. That's what living in a voluntary way means. No one does anything they don't want to. People have a right to their own lives.
Caeli: But that could lead to disasters, when smart people are prevented from intervening and helping avoid disasters.
Elliot: Interventions are also capable of leading to disasters, and in fact they frequently have.
Caeli: But imagine I'm really sure I should intervene. Then if I only intervene very selectively and carefully might that be best?
Elliot: No. If it's such a good idea, then what's the point of using force? Persuasion will be easy.
Caeli: What if it relies on something only I know?
Elliot: Tell your idea to people.
Caeli: They might not understand.
Elliot: You could solve this by figuring out how to explain it better. So that's one solution available to you. You could also solve it by explaining to them that you know something, and it's very important, but they don't understand, but despite that you'd really like them to take a certain action that will have good results. You could persuade them to do this. So that's another solution available to you. Third, you could think of a way to make their intended course of action not cause a disaster.
Caeli: That's cool. But will I really be able to make their mistake not cause problems?
Elliot: Often, yes. There's a very common example of this. Suppose an airline company is going to need a lot of fuel, and you know the price is going to go way up soon. What do you do? Well, you could tell them to buy a lot, so they don't go out of business. But the don't believe you. Now what? Easy. Buy fuel yourself. As the price goes up, sell your fuel, thus increasing supply and keeping the price from going up as much.
Caeli: That's great. Not only have I helped keep the price down, to protect the airline, but I've also made a profit. Greed could motivate me to save a lot of companies.
Elliot: Yeah. Keeping prices stable is very profitable, and it helps people a lot.
Caeli: I'm going to go. Any parting words?
Elliot: "Greed is good" is a cheat code in Warcraft III.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Fungibility

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What does "fungible" mean?
Elliot: It means stuff that isn't unique so you can swap them and it doesn't matter. Like paperclips or staples. If I lend you paperclips, I won't care if I get exactly the same ones back. They are all the same. Compare that to a pet dog. Dogs are different and you wouldn't want to get a different dog back from your dog sitter.
Caeli: OK, that makes sense. What are some applications of the concept?
Elliot: Money is a big one. It's all the same. If you spend less on one thing, you can spend more on another, and vice versa. Whether you spend money that came from one source (like a paycheck) or another (like a gift) to buy something doesn't actually make a difference. You end up with the same amount in your bank account regardless.
Caeli: Don't people know that?
Elliot: No. People often have different policies for different sources of money. Paychecks go primarily to bills, expenses and savings. And people are usually fairly stingy with them. But other sources of money are often seen as "extra" and treated differently. Like gifts, tips, or money found on the street. People often aren't as careful and frugal with "extra" money.
Caeli: I see. Is it important to avoid that?
Elliot: Yes. We should have a policy about how to spend our money which we consider best. Money is the same, so it should treat all our money the same way.
Caeli: Can't we afford to be more loose with money if we have more?
Elliot: That's true. So the policy can take that into account. It can say that rent is first priority, and then have something else to say about remaining money. But the divisions should be based on real things in your life, like the cost of rent, not on irrelevant things like how much of your money was a gift, how much interest on investments, and how much from paychecks.
Caeli: I see. That's a good idea. Do you think that the way people do it actually approximates the right policy decently? Perhaps the paycheck covers normal things about right so they know money after that really should have a new, looser policy.
Elliot: That may work out reasonably for some people, but they should think about whether it does. For some people that will work badly, and if they notice they can avoid that error.
Caeli: OK, good point. What else is important?
Elliot: The fungibility of money comes up frequently in politics. Suppose an organization, like Hezbollah, spends a certain amount of money on charity projects like building schools. And the rest on killing Jews. Then if you give them money for schools, the actual result will be funding murder, because money is fungible and they have an increased budget.
Caeli: Is it really a charity project if they build a school on top of a weapons depot?
Elliot: No. And besides that, they build schools for propaganda purposes. And so that they can indoctrinate kids using biased textbooks.
Caeli: What sort of lies do they put in their textbooks?
Elliot: False histories of Israel, maps that don't have Israel and say Isreal isn't a legitimate country, conspiracy theories. And it's not just lies. There's also extreme, undying, unthinking hatred and vilification which is too subjective to call a lie.
Caeli: A book like that might be amusing to read. And the weapons depots might be fun to visit. I like weapons. I could look at them and ask to shoot the guns.
Elliot: Yeah, even horrible books like that are no danger if no one is using force, you can stop reading whenever you want, and you are aware of rival views on the matter. This is all the more reason not to fear TVs. But back in real life, terrorists who fill textbooks with propaganda are not nice to their kids. They use them as human shields in their wars, and do their best to force them to be hate-filled and to believe lies.
Caeli: What are some more examples?
Elliot: People often say that if they cut money on one thing, like art, it will be available to spend on another, like English. This is sort of true. But if you cut money on anything it will be available to spend on anything else. It doesn't have to be art, and it doesn't have to be English, and the decisions for which two things shouldn't be related.
Caeli: So you're saying there is no reason to tie the idea of cutting art funding with the idea of increasing English funding. It could just as well be math funding that's increased, and which it is doesn't depend in any way on the qualities of art. Art money is fungible and works just as well to fund any other class.
Elliot: That's right. The same sort of thing comes up a lot with government programs and budgets. Going back to the charity issue, that is also common. For example suppose there is a homeless guy who wants to eat, and also wants luxuries. And suppose your city has a food voucher program, so you give him food vouchers. You may think this is great and he will have to spend your money on a meal, so you're helping him and not providing for his luxuries. But you're wrong. Every dollar of food you buy him is one less he has to buy himself, so after eating he will have more money left over to buy luxuries, thanks to you.
Caeli: That sucks. What can we do about it?
Elliot: Don't give money to people with values you consider bad. You will be supporting those bad values because money is fungible. Any promises to spend your money on things you approve of won't help, because that will just free up equal quantities of money for other purposes.
Caeli: Aren't there two exceptions? Let's get back to the homeless guy and the food vouchers. The first exception is if vouchers plus his own money don't combine to have leftovers after food purchases, then he won't be able to buy luxuries. Why don't you reply to that and then I'll say the other.
Elliot: That's true. But keep in mind that in that case you could have given him money and not food vouchers, and it would have made no difference. And keep in mind that if he eats well today he will be less hungry tomorrow and will have an easier time diverting funds to luxuries like alcohol and cigarettes.
Caeli: OK. The second exception is if the total amount of money required to be spent in certain ways is more than he would have spent in those ways anyway. If he has already eaten and gets another food voucher, it won't turn into booze.
Elliot: It won't. But it won't turn into food either: he's full. It will just be wasted.
Caeli: Are there any other important issues around fungibility?
Elliot: I can think of two. The first is that it's not rocket science, and it's important to a lot of major world events, like funding terrorism, so fungibility really ought to be well known. But for some reason it's not a large part of public debate. That's important.
Caeli: What's the second thing?
Elliot: Fungibility matters to certain physics and philosophy. For example there are moral philosophies, like utilitarianism, which treat people as fungible. They don't care who's who, they just care about the total happiness or whatever. All such moral philosophies are very bad. People aren't fungible.
Caeli: Not at all?
Elliot: Well, consider dogs. Pet dogs usually aren't fungible. But certain characteristic of dogs are, like being soft and hairy. Many dogs will fetch balls. And there are dogs with specific purposes that basically are fungible, like dogs that sniff for drugs. Any dog with sufficient training and a good enough nose will work.
Elliot: So, the fungibility of a dog depends what you care about. If you care about the nose, they are pretty fungible. If you care about whether it remembers you, they aren't fungible at all.
Elliot: Now let's look at people. If you care about people's ideas, and personality, and past history, they are not fungible. But in certain ways they are fungible, like if you need unskilled labor to build a pyramid.
Caeli: Moral philosophies need to care about people's ideas, so they shouldn't treat people as fungible.
Elliot: That's right. It matters differently if a good person is happy and if a bad person is happy, for example.
Elliot: Another issue is continuity of people, or indeed any objects. When is it the same object, and when is it not? This is related to fungibility which also has to do with what is the same or not.
Caeli: What's an example of a continuity issue?
Elliot: If you take a wooden boat, and you do repairs and renovations so many times that eventually every single scrap of wood has been replaced, and indeed every single atom of the original boat is long gone, then is is still the same boat?
Caeli: That's tricky.
Elliot: It's not so bad. Objects shouldn't be defined by their atoms. What matters is human explanations of what is what. And for general human purposes, that's the same boat. For a specific issue people are thinking of it might sometimes be useful to regard it as a different boat, but in general there is no reason that changes atoms should disrupt continuity.
Caeli: OK. You mentioned continuity of people.
Elliot: Yeah. Suppose you changed out all the neurons in someone's brain with metal ones. Is it still the same person? Is it now a computer?
Caeli: That's the same problem as with the boat.
Elliot: Correct. And it is still the same person. The worldview and ideas haven't changed. It's also a computer, but it was before as well. Just like being made of our organic material (in other words, mostly carbon) doesn't make your brain less of a computer, being made out of metal wouldn't make you less of a person.
Caeli: I'm going to go to sleep soon. Any last words?
Elliot: Some people try to analyze military conflicts by counting the dead bodies on each side. That's wrong. People aren't fungible, and you can't reach any reasonable conclusions about the morality of a war without thinking about why people died, in what circumstances. Counting is no good. It doesn't even work for pure military calculations: not everyone is an equally competent soldier.
Caeli: Makes sense. Bye.
Elliot: See you later.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Questions About a Brain Chip

On the TV show Buffy, Spike has a chip in his brain. Don't worry if you haven't seen the show, it's not important for understanding this entry. The chip prevents him from hurting humans: if he does, it causes him excruciating pain.

How could a chip like that work? How does it know when to cause him pain? It can't see who he's hurting, so it must be reading his thoughts. How can it do that? Maybe it can read the state of the neurons its next to. But that won't help unless all the relevant ones are concentrated in one place. From what we know of brains, they aren't. Maybe it somehow can scan the entire brain. If so, consider that this chip would work equally well if you just placed it next to someone's head: you could read their brain. So that's some pretty advanced technology, but Buffy does not take place in the future.

So suppose this chip can scan the whole brain. Will that help? Only if it can process all that data in real time (it causes the pain immediately). To process the amount of data in a brain, in real time, I think you'd need a computer about as powerful as ... a brain. But this chip is much smaller than a brain, including its high tech brain scanner. And our best computers aren't nearly as fast as our brains: they are around 500 times slower (source).

Another issue with the chip is: how does it cause pain? It could zap Spike's brain with electricity. But that would cause brain damage, which is never mentioned. It could hook into the brain and send brain signals which say Spike is in pain. Hooking into the brain so that it can send signals is pretty high tech itself. But worse, how can it know what signals to send? And if it can only send signals to a few neurons where its located, then will it always be able to send the necessary signals? We don't know exactly what it would take to calculate how to send pain signals, but if we expect they are like other thoughts, then constructing them would require comprehension of much of Spike's brain state. It would be a bit like trying to manipulate someone: you have to understand what sort of things they are thinking and feeling, and they figure out how to take advantage of those. It sounds like a task that requires creativity. So the chip would need (artificial) intelligence software. Alternatively, maybe there is a special part of the brain that causes pain when stimulated. If so, that may solve the pain-causing issue, but at the cost of locating the chip in a worse place for the purpose of reading Spike's thoughts.

On the show, we receive contradictory information about how the chip works. In one scene, Spike tries to punch Buffy a few times, but isn't hurt. He says that he knew she would dodge, and the chip only hurts him when he intends to hurt a human. So according to this, the chip must read Spike's thoughts, and reacts entirely based on them. This is roughly what we've been assuming above.

But in another scene, they are unsure whether a person is part demon. Spike punches her to find out: the chip hurts him, and everyone agrees this proves that she is human. But how is that possible? If the chip only knows what Spike knows, and works based on his intentions, then it can't be used to find out if someone is human. If Spike doesn't know, the chip doesn't know either.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Apple's Thoughts On Music

http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughtsonmusic/

This is wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. It is the way of the future. Apple is changing the world with an *essay*. It's very persuasive. It's very public. It came out earlier today, and I independently found out about it in two places already. Neither involved any advertising.

Apple respects its customers and the public enough to present them with ideas and arguments. Not talking points or sound bytes, but genuine, serious explanations. Apple believes people will care. I am optimistic that Apple is right.

One day companies will settle a large proprotion of their disputes this way. They will publish their arguments, and the public will pass judgment. Defy customers at your peril. Our society has already made persuasion an integral part of many of its institutions, but it has plenty of room to grow.

This is lovely. I am happy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)