Anti Theory

Anti movements are movements against something. They are destructive, not constructive. To be true, they must oppose a false idea. However, few false ideas are worth the effort of opposing, because false ideas rarely get highly popular or influential. Thus, all anti movements are inherently suspect.

There are two main ways to be against something. One can hate it, and be focussed on getting rid of it. This kind of person, upon success, will find life (or that bit of her/his life) empty. The other approach is to only be against something incidentally. This kind of person only hates, say, the voting age, not because "it's unfair" but because s/he wants to vote and it's in the way.

Real life anti movements are made up predominantly of anti people of the first, bad variety. Because they are based on poor motives, they tend to be corrupt, which is a word I'm using loosely. This applies even to true anti movements.

An example of a true, corrupt anti movement is atheism in the USA. Most US atheists are disillusioned theists; most are still mystics; most cannot even conceive of morality without God. Most vigorously oppose anything religious on principle, without any regard to its actual merit. Most cannot agree about very much -- this should be expected in the same way a group of people who rejected the theory "smoking is good for you" aren't likely to agree about much. "Agree about much" is relative to a control group of purely random people, and means they wouldn't agree about much more than this control. This no-agreement effect is because there are a zillion bad, false theories out there. Rejecting them may be true, but it's boring. We could spend our whole lives thinking of false theories to not hold, and we wouldn't get anywhere. What's far more telling about a person is which positive (I use positive/negative synonymous with constructive/destructive in this context) theories one holds.

More later. (mwahahaha, now you have to come back!)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow Moonlight Shadow *ahem* anywayz

Anti Theory
(Perhaps this is more Inverse Theory, but I associate the two)

There are three stable, complete moral views: the true one, the inverse of the true one, and the empty one. (If stable is confusing, think logically consistent).

Suppose one chooses a single theory, and holds it sacred; whenever it conflicts with another theory, it considered better. What will happen, in the limit, as this person acquires a complete view of morality? For a few cases like "nothing else is true" or "only 5 things are true", we get a mess. But for most statements, like "my bed is on the floor", the person will approach either the true or inverse view. (Not exactly, there are issues like how s/he will react to moral questions about holding views sacred).

The point is, if one is very very attached to a theory, and it is false, then, the more one bases her or his view around the theory, the more her or his view will approach the inverse view. And thus holding any theory dogmatically is very, very dangerous and wrong.

Bits of this can be observed in the world. Like the way people who deny that my door exists, virtually always hate Jews.

And suppose we do not hold a theory sacred, and do have a predominantly good view. Then, barring misfortune, we should expect our view to generally improve. And if our view is predominently bad, without help, .... I suppose it depends on specifics of how brains and creativity work, but I was going to say to expect it to get worse.

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I was tired yesterday and my last post had no thesis. I have two Relationship Theory posts I intend to write today.


Everyone knows that if you hit someone on the head, s/he won't turn into a democrat (assume s/he wasn't one). The chances of causing just the right brain damage to do that are on par with the chances of making her/him think s/he's a cow. This is because political affiliations are the result of many complex theories, and to affect them in just the right way to become a democrat would require an extraordinary ammount of information (or luck).

So why is it that people expect that some other physical effect, like faulty neurotransmitters or chemical imbalances, would be able to turn a happy person into a sad person? (Cause depression). How one is feeling is governed, just like political affilliation, by a large set of complex theories.

Or why do people think alcohol, which does not contain very much information, can change someone's personality?

The truth is that alcohol changes someone's environment (s/he gets different sense data while using it). Then, s/he reacts to this new environment according to her/his theories. And a lot of people have weird theories about how to act in alcohol-type environments. Depression works much the same.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Does God exist? Are there faeries? We cannot have certainty in the matter, so we will evaluate postulating such entities as a good or bad explanation.

There are two important varieties of claims. One postulates an entity that does something. Santa is actually supposed to deliver presents, and to visit every house. These claims are uncommon because they can be falsified by observation (like watching bad parents fake Santa's visit). Some of these claims, like the tooth fairy, fail because they are refuted by observation. But some do not. One might see a burning Bush, and say that it is God's work. Upon observation, the bush behaves just as the believer has said it will. The problem here, is that the "God" being observed hasn't got any properties other than those observed ... He's acts just like a bit of fire on a bush. Or, the believer might say He's up in heaven, but the bush acts as if He were simply a bit of fire, and this brings us to the second variety of claim.

The second variety of claim involves attributing something to an entity that functions exactly as if the entity did not exist. This approach fails because it adds a complication (the entity) to our explanatory framework, without explaining this complication. For example, we might wonder where the universe came from. And we might want something better than is offered by modern physics. So, we might postulate that God made the world, because this seems to answer the question. However, all it does is deflect the question. Now we wonder where God came from. And if God is a complex enough entity to create the entire universe, then this question is even worse than the previous one (that we had before we postulated God), because we now have even more complexity to explain than before. It also violates the Unexplained Complication rule -- why should there be a God rather than not? This is unexplained.

One strategy that can be useful is to ask someone postulating such an entity, "How can I differentiate you from someone who made up an entity?" All the believer can really do is tell you to have faith, which is not a valid reason to think something true.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
People twist their factual views to fit their moral views, not vice versa.


Some people don't value anything. (This is often associated with the left wing. Offense intended, but not to any particular person.)

These people often adopt pseudo-values to hide this, from themselves and others. Pseudo-values have an appearance of being values, but are not. One way to spot pseudo-values is they can be applied without thinking. An example is pacifism, which states that all violence is wrong, period.

Pacifists, of course, oppose a war on Iraq. In Iraq, every day, people are tortured, which pacifists must consider to be wrong. Yet they refuse to do anything about it. The problem is, if they did not turn a blind eye to such suffering, their "values" would fall apart. They would have to support a war, and could no longer be pacifists. But they also cannot be good people, who support freedom and liberty and such, because they do not value those things, or anything else, and do not understand how any else can either. And so they cling to their pseudo-values.

Here are some other "values" that are often (not always) shams:
- Save the environment
- Feed the hungry
- Equality for all
- Loving one's family (Notice how mechanical it is. Simply determine if someone is family to decide if there is love.)
- Collateral damage is always wrong, because it hurts people (A pacifism variant. Easy to apply mechanical, just determine if anyone will be hurt as a result of action X, then oppose X.)
- Guns kill people
- Raise school standards
- Won't someone please think of the children!?
- Save the sea snails from extinction!
- All actions have to be UN approved.
- Curse words are bad.
- TVs ruin our minds

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)
Humans live by their creativity, not by devouring limited resources.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

I was just considering posting some jokes as an entry. Many of the jokes I like are, to some people, offensive. Blonde jokes, dead baby jokes, religious jokes, racist jokes -- these don't go over well with everyone. And I want readers, lots of readers. So, unsurprisingly, it occurred to me that posting the jokes might be a bad idea. Of course, if I don't post anything that might be offensive, I'll never post anything interesting. So what should I do?

There is a moral principle that tells us, if we imagine some stone-age people, who want a society with lots of washing machines, their best bet is not to campaign for them, and try to invent them, but rather to become capitalists and try to act morally. Similarly, the Arab world, if it focussed more on acting morally than acquiring weapons, would have more weapons than it does (just like the US has lots). Of course, in that case, the Arab world also would not want to use them to kill civilians... Also similarly, if one wants to be happy, one should not focus on trying to become happy directly, but should try to act morally, and happiness will come as a side effect.

If I want readers, I should not focus on how to get readers, but rather on creating a good blog, which means writing what I want and like.

Even if we imagine in the limit cases with perfect foresight and calculation, a focus on morality would still be superior to a focus on readers. Either, they would be the same, or the readers approach would result in more readers ... at the cost of acting badly, and I certainly don't want readers that much.

As to jokes, as I'm ambivalent about posting them, I won't for now, but may later.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (20)
Try to type to A Place For My Head by Linkin Park. I dare you.


Some people oppose governments on the principle that they are organised gangs of thugs. They consider the defining characteristic of governments to be that governments claim the right to initiate force ... and people listen (whereas most thieves don't pretend to be legitimate and aren't considered as such). They point out that they never agreed to pay taxes, and don't want to, and don't like most of the stuff the taxes pay for, and consider that QED.

Some of these people support the war on terrorism. They realise that terrorism is a large threat, and want it to be fought against. Terrorism is so bad that anyone at all fighting it is good. I suppose they must see the matter as a powerful pickpocket guild beating up a renegade gang of murderers. A "lesser of two evils" situation.

Some of these people, if given the option, would be happy to see the US government disappear tomorrow. The institution, the knowledge of how to run it, the taxes, the laws, etc This is absurd even within the pickpocket metaphor, as it means foregoing protection.

But there's more than that. The government does various things, some important. And it's not as if the spontaneous order of an anarcho-capitalist society will simply come into being. AnCap is not the natural state of affairs that once existed until it was destroyed when a bunch of evil thugs invented government and took over. It is, rather, a very advanced notion that requires lots of knowledge to implement. This knowledge must be created gradually, through the improvement of existing institutions. Government functions must not disappear over night, but slowly be replaced by private institutions that function better. We need good traditions, not a revolution.

What's good about government?

Governments create consent. Let us imagine a bunch of people living somewhere with no government, and little knowledge. Some will be bad, and will want to dominate over the others. So most people will form mutual defense pacts. And somewhere not too far off, some bad person will have taken over an empire, and formed an army, and thus our people will want to form one big defensive pact, instead of lots of scattered ones, so that they can fend off the entire army if need be. So they will form institutions to cooperate in regional defense, and small-scale defense against criminals. The small-scale defense may use a different system, or the two may be joined. Now, the people will need some system of deciding who is and is not a criminal. And the answer to this is not self-evident despite what some libertarians seem to think. There will be disagreements, and thus some way to resolve them will be needed.

One day, Joe's crop goes bad. He asks others for help. They form some food sharing institutions. They create rules to govern these. The people all value security, and thus put in provisions to help anyone who does not have enough.

One day they invent medicine. They realise that if they only pay the doctor when they are sick, he will starve in the mean time. And also that he will have no motivation to help prevent people from becoming sick. So everyone pays a low level all the time, and the doctor helps whoever needs help at recovery and prevention both. Some people disagree about who the doctor should be helping, saying he favours his friends, and they create institutions to resolve disputes of that nature.

What will all these institutions look like? Well, at first they will be very crude. The defensive agreement might simply state that all able-bodied men must fight when there is a war, or be put to death. The food agreement might allow anyone who is starving to take food from his neighbor, "as long as he made a genuine effort to create his own food." And the system of resolving disputes might be to ask the town elder.

And, over time, people will come up with better ideas. And after a while, and a lot of progress, something like our current government might form.

And, if this society uses a completely voluntary army, that will be an amazing advance. And if it has elected leaders who consent to step down when their term ends, that will be an amazing advance. And if criminals are presumed innocent until evidence is presented against them, that will be an amazing advance. And if there are property rights, and a system of consensual trade, that will be an amazing advance.

When we know how to do better than using government, we will. But we do not. And the path to better is not to rail against the government, but rather to acknowledge it for what it is -- an imperfect, evolving tradition. The path also involves raising the general level of morality of the world.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

TCS is the true parenting theory. The primary ideas are:

- Fallibility (certain knowledge is impossible; people can be wrong)

- No Authorities (ideas must be judged on their merit, the source is irrelevant to truth content -- therefore children can be right and can't be dismissed)

- A state of coercion is one in which a person has two active theories that conflict, and is being forced to enact one prior to resolving the conflict.

- Coercion is bad for knowledge growth (I will write an entry giving the epistemic reasons for this in the future)

- Common Preferences, coercion-free solutions to problems, are always possible

- This means children don't do anything they don't want to

- What people want is subject to morality, and thus children won't want horrible things, as long as parents offer good moral theories

- Good ideas beat out bad ones in argument (and thus if parent's moral theories really are better than some alternative, parent won't lose argument)

- If your ideas are so great, have some faith in them to stand up to criticism

- Criticism Good

- Abandonment Parenting is morally wrong (parents have an obligation to help their children)

- Advice Advice Advice (parents should give children lots of advice, but children should be free to disagree)

- Don't Hurt Children (I can't say this enough)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)
The concept of minimum necessary force (MNF) is one which many libertarians accept, but few can defend. There is a right amount of force for a situation. In the limit, the minimum right amount, maximum right amount, and right amount are all the same. Not in the limit, MNF means erring on the side of using too little force. But why do that? Why not err on the side of too much force, to be sure we get the job done? Or better yet, not err either way.

And don't tell me MNF is right because it's self-evident, or I will have to WRITE BIG CAPITAL LETTERS AT YOU. mwahahaha!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)
The non-aggression principle (NAP) is one which many libertarians accept, but few can defend. It states that it is wrong to initiate force or threat of force. This is, for situations where it applies, meant to replace a moral analysis.

Morality is knowledge about making choices. It tells us which are right and wrong to make. It tends to be quite complex, and we certainly don't know everything about it.

Now, to assert the NAP requires some argument that, in all situations, the right choice is not to initiate force. Regardless of the details. I've never heard such an argument. Does anyone know it?

(I know some people like the spirit of the NAP, and don't actually pay attention to what it says. I don't think they should support it, but acknowledge they don't need the argument I request.)

And don't tell me the NAP is right because it's self-evident, or I will have to WRITE BIG CAPITAL LETTERS AT YOU. mwahahaha!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Minimum Necessary Force

A certain variance *on either side* of the right amount of force is reasonable -- only people who use significantly more than the right amount should be prosecuted. Also, the right amount to aim for is more than the "necessary" amount, strictly speaking, because we shouldn't have to take undue risks. The minimum necessary force concept pulls against both these points, and is thus highly misleading.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)
Please Steal Some Oil For Us

by Staff Writer

"French oil companies, unlike US ones, are actually government owned. Or to put that another way, the French government unlike the US one, is actually oil-owned," the anonymous tipster whispered. This was just the beginning of an interesting phone call.

A little work turned up some interesting facts. It turns out that France is very reliant on oil imports, especially from the Middle East, and has none of its own oil. If the oil stops flowing from the Middle East, France would have a serious problem. In fact, France has the most to gain of any Western country from the resumption of a cheap and stable oil supply under a docile Iraqi leader.

The Washington Post reported(1): "It's pretty straightforward," said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them." But he added: "If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

The French establishment, still bitter about the loss of their North African colonies to the Arabs, cares about Arab oil not the Arab people. My anonymous leak said the whole anti-American attitude by the French is a media facade. "We see eye-to-eye with the Americans on nearly everything. But we need Middle Eastern oil, so we are forced to maintain the public image that appeals to the Arabs. By controlling the oil, they control us." He told me that most of the populace disagrees with many of the articles in the French press, but is sophisticated enough to read between the lines.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation was a phone call my anonymous source overheard. "I was going to his office, and I didn't realize he was in the middle of an important phone call. He didn't see me, and I stood outside the door to wait." The man being overheard is a top French government official, though I cannot disclose his name or specific position. He was speaking to a US diplomat. The content of the phone call is really amazing: "Please steal some oil for us, when you attack Iraq. We really need it." My source could not believe his ears! This was so important he felt compelled to share the information with the American press.

To return to the introduction, although it may not be literally true, the oil companies do have significant influence in the highest levels of the French government. They very much need a war on Iraq, but at the same time must keep the right image so that the entire Middle East continues to sell oil to France. It is a tricky double-bind, but the French are handling it impressively. Indeed, they had me fooled...until I got a phone call yesterday.



If ya didn't get it, this is a joke. I wrote it September 2002. Ran into it again just now.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)
Have faith in your values. Don't expect people to disagree. True ideas win arguments. True ideas win converts. True ideas get popular. Good values reward you. Bad values "reward" their holders (no need to do anything to them).

And as to "rewarding" holders of bad values -- it's a form of imposing one's values, and thus needs a non-arbitrary, non-reversible justification.

To explain "Don't expect people to disagree" this comes up a lot with parenting. Like people will ask "What if my child wants to commit murder?" Well, why the fuck would he want to do that? You're right that murder is wrong, aren't you? Yes, you are, so why expect child to disagree..? Comes up with the pro-death people too, who think it'd be wrong to waste extra life watching TV, but expect people to do it...

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Relationship Theory

Premise: Jack and Jill have a relationship.

Challenge: Name one obligation Jack has to Jill. "To act rightly," does not count, as all people should do that all the time anyway.

My Solution: Can't be done. Details of some physical events needed. (Comment if you have another...)

Conclusion: Relationships, in and of themselves, do not create obligations.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Imagine you traveled back in time and met Bob the Caveman. And imagine you tried to tell him about cars. "They're made out of metal...umm, it's like rock but harder, and they are empty inside, and they have wheels...these are like feet, and they go really fast and they are powered by fire. They can cover a day's walk in the time it takes to eat a meal." Bob might find this a bit far out, but it's within the realm of possibility.

Now, imagine you tried to tell him that people drive them around according to very strict rules, and though there are millions, going very fast, they rarely hit each other. Everyone follows little bits of paint on the ground -- that you have to look for to notice -- and obeys colored lights. Now Bob would laugh. How could so many people be so organised, with very little enforcement, just some signs, lights, and paint!? How can they, when two lanes merge, weave cars together one by one -- acting in unison with total strangers? How can they take turns at a stop sign, and let pedestrians walk in front of them? How does anyone ever manage to change lanes in heavy traffic? The amount of consent created over driving, is far more amazing than the cars themselves.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)
Parenting strategies that rely on parents being larger, cannot be right.

Parenting strategies that rely on children having bad memory, cannot be right.

Parenting strategies that rely on children always agreeing with the first idea a parent has, cannot be right.

In different situations, the answers to various questions that depend on the circumstances, can be different.

People who do not understand a proposition, can't know if it's horribly false or exceptionally true.

To live morally, requires creativity.

A mechanical parenting strategy, cannot be right.

People do not do things for no reason.

It cannot be right to ask someone to sacrifice infinately before retalliating.

It cannot be right to come kill me, for the purpose of going to the dentist.

To fully maximise the realisation of one's intentions, one must be willing to change one's intentions to ones that are better realisiable.

Statements like this are interesting due to their truth, and also can provide a framework for solving various problems. But what should we call them? I've been considering them epistemic. This is perhaps not ideal. I don't have a better idea. Normally, I don't care about categorisations such as this, but it seems valuable to me to be able to communicate the idea that I'm referring to statements like this.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)
Suppose an approach to answering moral questions is, in the limit, convergent with the truth, but the calculations involved are more complex -- require more computing resources. This would be, in the limit, a *wrong* approach. At the least, because wasting all these resources (as opposed to using the right approach) means less resources to avoid mistakes, create value, etc...

Well before the limit, this allows us to say the non-utopian versions of consequentialism and deontology may well be convergent with true morality, but are still wrong to hold or use.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Another Problem with the NAP

Deterrence policies tell some person/group that actions in a certain category will be met with a certain response. The point is to prevent the deterred party from performing some evil action that would otherwise be performed, without the consequences. The consequences chosen will specifically be things that would be of questionable morality without the announced declaration, because otherwise they'd just be expected. (No need to tell thieves that if we catch them in the act, we won't allow them to continue.)

Two examples would be to tell Saddam that if he nukes Israel, we will kill every last member of his extended family, and a policy of sending every nuke we have at the USSR should it send a single nuke at the USA.

Are these specific policies justified? That's debatable. They have to be evaluated by how effective they will be, what they will prevent, and what we will have to do should they fail (to not follow up would make all future deterrence policies ineffective and is generally not an option).

But by the NAP, they involve initiating force against people who did not initiate force against us. Killing Saddam's family if Saddam attacks us, or blowing up Russian cities should the Russian military fire a nuke, respectively. The NAP cannot accommodate deterrence policies. Whether these specific ones are right or not, the NAP fails to include a general case argument why all deterrence policies that initiate force must be wrong, and is thus an unreasonable way to approach the issue.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)
Suppose you are a bad person. You get angry a lot, have trouble valuing much, aren’t very successful, blame others for your troubles, and hurt your children often. But, whatever, you’re life isn’t so bad. You get through it, enjoy a fair amount of it.

Now, suppose someone claims to be moral, and you notice the implication that you are not. And suppose this person lacks all your bad traits. This might well make you feel bad.

And then you might write a letter to the so-called moral person, attacking him. The content might be along the lines of (if you were exceptionally intelligent and clear, for a bad person): You bastard, fuck you. You’re totally wrong. Oh, and if you reply in kind you’re just like me, except also a liar. Nope, just sit there and take it, Mr. High and Mighty. Oh, and you can’t get resentful because that would violate your moral code, huh? But you are mad at me, aren’t you? Yep, you’re a hypocrite. Now stop implying I’m bad, and get back to your stupid, lucky life.

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David Deutsch in a rare attempt at satire (the rest of this post is written by Deutsch):

Rondo a la Turque

Turkish troops have reportedly entered northern Iraq
despite opposition from the US. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkish forces had moved across the border to prevent a flood of refugees.

According to Turkish military sources, more than 1,000 commandos crossed the border.

The Turkish military Saturday denied reports
that some 1,000 Turkish commandos crossed into northern Iraq, a military move that would likely increase tensions with Iraqi Kurds and Washington.

A military official said Friday that soldiers, in M-113 armored personnel carriers, rolled into northeastern Iraq from near the town of Cukurca, where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran converge. He said the soldiers were reinforcing several thousand Turkish troops already on the Iraqi side of the border and were not ordered to go deeper into Iraq.

Similar reports were front-page news in Turkish newspapers Saturday and were carried on Turkish television stations throughout the night.

A spokesman for the Turkish General Staff denied the reports.

?Turkey has not entered northern Iraq,? the spokesman said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. ?Such news is a lie.?

A dastardly lie! Turkey would never do a thing like that. They?re shocked. Shocked, do you hear?

With me so far? OK, next:
Germany said Saturday it would withdraw its crew members from NATO surveillance planes that are patrolling Turkish airspace if Turkey moves its troops into Iraq. The threat was announced by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Defense Minister Peter Struck following a meeting of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Security Cabinet.

They threatened to withdraw if Turkey moves troops into Iraq? Do they mean if Turkey moves more troops? BTW Turkish troops already were in Iraq -- they have been for years. Perhaps the Germans are confused, and think that incursions of up to 150 km are OK, but now they've moved to 180km. Or something.

Anyway -- good news everyone:
UN weapons inspector Hans Blix announced today from Ankara that a preliminary inspection of the city ?has revealed no evidence that Turkey has moved any troops into Iraq?. He said there is evidence of previous incursions, and the inspectors are ?vigorously pursuing the issue?, demanding that the Turkish government deliver ?credible evidence? that all the troops had been withdrawn in the mid-1990s. He praised the Turkish government's cooperation ?on process? and said he was confident that cooperation on substance would be forthcoming during the coming months. Meanwhile, inspections would continue. ?There are a lot of interesting restaurants in downtown Istanbul?, Mr. Blix remarked.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry at first issued the following statement:
Who is this idiot?

But later amended this to:
We reiterate that there are no, absolutely no, Turkish troops in Iraq. They are there for humanitarian reasons only, and the land they are seizing is not for territorial purposes. UN inspectors are welcome to search for them anywhere in Turkey.

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Stephen Den Beste replied to my previous blog about the ACLU (quoted with permission):

I'm afraid I must deeply disagree with you. Our dedication to freedom absolutely must include defending the speech of those we hate. The entire point is that the protection of speech must indeed be moral neutral. If protection of speech becomes broadly related to the content of the speech and the extent to which it is approved by the general populace, then it ceases to be protected.

While it's true that we should not censor speech because it has content we do not like, there are certain types of speech that are unacceptable, such as yelling "Fire!!" in a movie theatre. Speech intended to intimidate or harass or frighten people, is also objectionable. I would say it is immoral. Someone more into rights, could simply say I don't agree with a right to intimidating speech.

You cannot come up to me and tell me I should be killed, and expect your "right" to harass me to be protected. Neither should you be able to go find a bunch of Jews and start talking about how Jews should die, or Hitler wasn't so bad (less direct, but same thing).

The entire point of it is that sometimes we need revolutionary ideas introduced into the political process, and that it is often the case that such ideas are found to be deeply offensive by many.

As a standalone, I agree with this bit. But it misses the point: my criterion is not to ban unpopular ideas, but intimidating and harassing ones.

If the idea is worthless or vile, it will fail in the "marketplace of ideas". But if it's unpopular but also important, then it must be given that chance.

Again, it's not that the ideas are bad, it's that speaking them hurts people.

Originally, the idea of giving women the vote was seen as radical, absurd, immoral. We now view it differently.

Going around saying "I think women should be allowed to vote" didn't harm men.

Nazism and bigotry are also immoral, and I want to make clear that I don't equate them with Women's Suffrage. But if we have confidence in our population, we defend ourselves against evil and harmful ideas by arguing against them, not by using the power of law to suppress them. The problem with use of censorship in that way is that it makes us stand on the edge of a precipice, where we can fall off. Once we start suppressing the Nazis, where do we stop?

My fear is definitely not that people would agree with the Nazis, and I agree censoring ideas for fear people might like them is wrong.

I do not agree with the Nazis. I despise what they stand for, and everything they advocate. And it is precisely because of this that I feel obligated to defend their right to express their point of view.

There are ways the Nazis could express their point of view that I would not object to. But finding some Jews to harass isn't one of them.

Would you feel safe walking through a crowd of Nazis with your children to spend some time at the park? Would there be police at the march? Why do you think they are there?

The point is precisely that law is not morality, and I do not think we should use the power of law to enforce morality.

I don't make distinctions about what it is and is not legitimate to make laws about. There is no system under which the vast majority of people think something is morally imperative, and then don't act on this. Regardless, laws certainly should be able to stop harassment as takes place at actual Nazi speeches (as opposed to the imaginary Utopian ones where they are all nice and friendly).

Morality enters into the situation in a different way. In the marketplace of ideas, it is public morality which will guarantee that the ideas of the Nazis will never become widespread. Since I have faith in the fundamental decency of the vast majority of my fellow citizens, I do not fear letting them be exposed to the ideas of groups like the Nazis, because I know they'll react to them the same way you and I do.

I too have such faith! That's really not my objection ^_^

Therefore, our nation and our system are not in peril because the Nazis are free to spout their hateful garbage. But if we start using the power of law to suppress those with whom we disagree, that actually creates the potential for a different peril in future which could end up endangering us all.

Letting the Nazis speak may be evil, but it is the lesser evil.

I understand concerns of a police state, but on the other end of the spectrum, are concerns of tolerance of evil, and moral relativism, and a society that doesn't stand up for right, which is also terrible. Thus "do everything possible to avoid a police state" would be the wrong strategy -- we must make judgments about what should be stopped.

So, to sum up, because Nazi rallies involve more than just communicating ideas (and this one in particular was intentionally targeted at a Jewish community), the ACLU need not and should not help them take place.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)
(see Gil's comments on last entry)

Police wanted to ban Nazi march b/c of threat to public safety.

Nazi march banned on basis of fear of violence. nazis march anyway.

Therefore, it seems odd the ACLU looks at Nazi marches as a "freedom of unpopular speech" issue, doesn't it? The issue is really how dangerous they are.

And about the Skokie/ACLU case in particular:

thousands fear him

For more than a year he terrorized the citizens of Skokie

and OMG look at this: The park district responded by informing Collin that he would be required to come up with a huge liability insurance policy to cover possible damages at the rally - a requirement the district knew he could not fulfill.

They wanted him to have insurance to cover the risks involved in the march, and knew he couldn't pay for that, so told him to go away. that's like QED

but that's not all: A simple recital of the events from April 27, 1977, to July 9, 1978, does not convey the mood that existed. Skokie's Jews were both terrified and infuriated at the prospect of Nazis marching in their midst.

Get it?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
We have decided to answer some common misconceptions. They shouldn't be common. *sigh*

Guns hurt people, therefore they are bad

Elliot: ummm, guns can be used to defend people too, they're just a tool to help us further our intentions.

curi: Guns only hurt monkeys unless you have crap aim.

Dolphins are intelligent

Elliot: ummmm, so if they had hands, they would have built underwater cities already, right? The obstacle is simply being stuck in a really useless body....

curi: Me thinks dolphin researchers can't tell the difference between dolphins and themselves. Me thinks this comments more on the researchers than the dolphins.

We have to hurt children to prepare them for a life that won't always be happy

Elliot: What if we didn't do this, and when our children had problems, we helped them, and so they never found out that life sucks? Wouldn't it then be true that it doesn't?

curi: just b/c *your* life sucks...

Liberals mean well

Elliot: Hence they wanted the torture of children in Iraq to continue indefinitely

curi: Hence they wanted the torture of children in Iraq to continue indefinitely

Recycling will save the world

Elliot: Most recycling uses tons of energy, and takes lots of work to do, and is actually *inefficient*. And save the world? From what?

curi: I have a really good recipe for hippie soup, to put all those atoms to better use.

The Sky Is Falling

Elliot: I don't have any bumps on my head, and I don't see anything falling, and there aren't any pieces of sky on the ground. It seems a rather good explanation that the sky is not falling.

curi: Are you on crack?

The quest for Iraqi oil costs the lives of too many babies to be justified

Elliot: We aren't going to Iraq to steal oil, and we aren't shooting at babies either.

Isyn: Actually, at 17,400 barrels per baby, we are doing better than the minimal justification mark of 15,000 barrels per baby.

curi: Heh, I thought the Iraqi program to crack open baby heads in search of oil was a better kept secret.

curi: oh wait, better response: BLOOD LIBEL!!!!!!!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
I wrote this to the ARR list
Subject: Re: Too Close For Comfort

On Thursday, April 10, 2003, at 03:34 AM, Alice Bachini wrote:

XXXXXX wrote:

What if cutting one's own hair distresses long term friend?

As soon as one suspects that this might be the case, for example when one notices than one's friend starts crying whenever one mentions barbers', one should get sufficiently distant from one's friend that he no longer minds what one does to one's hair

Well, that is *one* approach (one can't help but notice the subject line, at this point). And it is true that with sufficient distance from everyone else, one will never have relationship problems. But this would be a lonely life.

There is another approach to relationships, which embraces intimacy instead of seeing it as a threat to autonomy. With this alternative approach, we will be wary of condemning our friends for hangups or even for moral wrongdoing. We will see joint problem solving, not as something to avoid via distance, but as an enjoyable venture conducive to more intimacy. We will not be frightened of "erosion of our personal domain" -- rather the opposite: we will welcome caring and closeness.

(presumably he is able to co-exist on the planet with others who cut their hair, it's only when he gets close that the problems start).

That certain problems only occur in close relationships, does not mean we should not have them. Certain problems only occur when you have kids, too. Or when you go out to dinner.

One should stay distant, and negotiate from there, until the problem is solved. If it remains unsolved, one should stay distant.

What if intimacy is conducive to solving problems of these sorts? It seems that the solution depends on detailed personal knowledge of each other.

But this reveals another divide: Is the goal to let the person with long hair do whatever she likes, or is it for the two friends to reach agreement? If we have the first goal, distance seems a good plan. But if we have the second -- if we find people caring about us to have value rather than be a burden -- then distance is not the right answer.

All this should happen before "long-term" has become one of the expectations of the friendship. People should not get involved with those who would impinge their basic freedoms against their will.

If one values these "basic freedoms" above all else, Alice is perfectly right. But that is not the only approach to life.

Note the "above all else" clause includes morality! For morality tells us that to get what we want -- to fully realise our intentions -- we must be open to changing those intentions to ones that are better realisable. And so, we cannot hold up rights as the be-all, end-all of everything. We must be willing to compromise them when doing so will help us.

When the wrongness is very ingrained, problems are very serious and it's simply too late to get away (distance) easily, gradually and carefully can sometimes work. Other times, bombs are required (laser-guided recommended).

Is the suggestion really that if we find our life intertwined with someone, and we find this person cares about our hair, we must destroy the relationship to get back our "freedom"?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)
i'm reading my old TCS posts. one esp cool feature, is rediscovering good ideas *of my own* that i'd forgotten. here's one:

Sometimes there are arguments about what things should be offered to kids. Some people acknowledge they should let their kids try things the kids might like, but then deny that kids might like ice cream, or chocolate, or whatever. And then people debate this. But doesn't the very fact that the item is worth debating, mean the kid *might* like it? By the very act of arguing about it, the anti-ice cream people lose the argument.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
An Unsealed Room posted a response completely missing the point.

I've Just Been Accused of Child Abuse

No, cruelty to children. Child Abuse has connotations of doing something illegal, and getting children sent to a foster home by CPS (Child Protective Services in US) and such. Child abuse usually involves hitting children, or neglecting to feed them, or raping them or the like. Trying to paint my claims as absurd by changing them, is wrong.

Why? Because I have the audacity to complain about the schools being on strike on the heels of a 19-day vacation. (And it looks as if this strike could stretch beyond a week.)

Well, no. I wasn't supporting the strike. I was upset that Allison finds having her children home from school insane-making. And would deny them the pleasure they get from holidays.

[short snip]

Elliot Temple left the following comment: Doesn't it seem a bit perverse for a parent to moan and groan that he or she "has to" (gets to!) spend more time with his or her children? And don't you know how much children tend to like breaks from school?

I sure did. And though Allison knows every word I used, she still hasn't understood a sentence of it. (She doesn't find my comment worthy of a reply, either.)

Now he has ceremoniously delinked me from his blog because of my "cruelty to children." (he also didn't like that I let my son go on a field trip without a gas mask after the fall of Baghdad, but before the official "all clear" sign was given.)

No, my objection wasn't that she "let" her son go without the mask, (what is he a dog that you let run off leash...sometimes?) it's rather that her son *wanted* the mask, and she refused to stand up for him to the trip supervisor. She only does that if he's really hurt. Not merely distressed (coerced).

Anyone who would like to support me in the position that a month away from school is not something that a working parent who cares about their child's education should celebrate is welcome to do so....

It's notable that she appeals to the parental conspiracy for support. It's also notable that her appeal lies about what the issue is. She must know perfectly well my objection is not "children shouldn't learn".

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
ok started reading another but i got all the way to the 2nd paragraph and just had to bitch about it!

It would be their first time alone together, without a group of friends around. Jane's heart raced as she realized what it meant to be on a real date with Eric. For so long, they had just been friends, and she wasn't sure how she should act.

You can't just change a relationship by fiat (declaring that you are dating).

Interactions are interactions, again declaring one to be different doesn't work.

Although if we take "date" as a codeword for "now we're allowed to fuck" I suppose it makes sense. Even the bit about not being sure how to act.

For fun, go around asking dating couples if by dating they mean "allowed to fuck". heheh, ask some no-premarital-sex Christians why they are dating. maybe to be allowed to kiss -_-o

Joe: I want a girlfriend
curi: you're horny?
Joe: *gets offended* lonely!
curi: so you want a friend?
Joe: that's a girl
curi: why a girl?
Joe: not attracted to guys
curi: what difference does that make? you said this isn't a horny thing.
Joe: erm, uhhh
curi: you make no sense
Joe: Yo, Dianne, will you go out with me?
Dianne: yes
curi: why'd you agree?
Dianne: i wanna date, and no one else asked
curi: you slut!
Dianne: excuse me? i'm a total prude!
curi: so you just want some free meals?
Dianne: nooooo
curi: you'll kiss him in return?
Dianne: noooooo
curi: fine, you explain it
Dianne: he'll buy me stuff, and then we might fall in love. Isn't that romantic?
curi: what if he doesn't wanna pay?
Dianne: i'm new agey. i might allow it.
curi: how kind!
Dianne: aren't I, though?
curi: so anyway, if you two were friends, who didn't date, you might fall in love, right?
Dianne: I guess
curi: so what's the point of dating?
Dianne: how else would i meet my soul mate?
curi: you think going out with one person at a time, who you pick by who asks you, is a good way to find a soul mate?
Dianne: Joe, help!
Joe: *punches curi*
curi: *falls over*

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Worst Romance Story Ever

Eric and Jane had been friends for as long as they could remember -- which wasn't very long given the amount of pot they smoked. Eric and Jane were always at the same parties, 'cause they had the same group of friends. One day, Eric got up the courage to ask Jane out. He'd had a crush on her for six months.

Jane liked Eric too, but she never said anything. She secretly hoped he would ask her out. Then, one day, he did, totally out of the blue. Jane went weak in the knees and said yes. They would go out Friday night, just the two of them.

Eric couldn't wait for Friday to come, he was so excited. Soon he would be with Jane alone! But on Thursday Eric got nervous. He worried he wouldn't be a stud and Jane would dump him. He worried Jane might forget the date. As a precaution, Eric didn't smoke pot all week. Except twice.

Jane did forget the date. But fortunately on Thursday Eric's friend reminded her. She was so happy, again! That night she dreamed that Eric would give her a rose and buy her a nice dinner, and they would talk, and then they would go to the beach and walk in the moonlight, and then Eric would kiss her. Then Jane woke up, a little embarrassed.

When the time came to pick Jane up, Eric was scared. But he liked her a lot, so he went. Jane looked beautiful, and Eric said so. Jane blushed and smiled. When they got to the restaurant, they were nervous. Eric said if only they were high, this would be easier, because he would be more relaxed and right now he was nervous. Jane was nervous too, but Eric's comment broke the tension. After that they relaxed and talked and had a nice meal.

Jane felt so comfortable with Eric that she completely trusted him and was really happy. Eric felt like he never had before. The date was going so well. The waiter even made a comment about young love, and Jane blushed, and Eric stammered for him to go away. But the incident only brought the young couple closer together.

After they finished eating, Eric stared at Jane for a while. And Jane stared at Eric. They wanted things to continue. Eventually, Eric got up the courage to ask Jane to go walk on the beach with him. In the moonlight, the beach was really pretty. Jane remembered her dream, and also she liked the beach, so she smiled and Eric smiled back. They held hands and walked and talked.

After they walked a while, they sat down on a big piece of driftwood. It was cold, so Eric put his arm around Jane. Jane snuggled closer to Eric. They felt like they were in heaven. Jane said she was so happy Eric had asked her out. Eric was encouraged and kissed Jane. The kiss was magical. It was even better than being high.

Eric looked into Jane's eyes. They were so pretty. Eric said so. Jane smiled and kissed Eric. She was happy he liked her. Jane said she liked Eric. Eric said he liked her too. They kissed again and Jane noticed Eric was hard. She touched the bulge in his pants. Eric took Jane's other hand in his and squeezed encouragingly. Soon Jane opened the fly and took out Eric's dick. Eric groaned happily.

Jane had never seen a dick before in the flesh. Eric had never had anyone else touch his dick. Next Eric took off Jane's shirt and caressed her breasts. Jane got wet and enjoyed the sensations. Eric rubbed Jane down there, and true bliss was known to Jane. It wasn't long before the couple was naked. Jane begged Eric to enter her. Eric was only too happy to oblige.

Fortunately Jane's hymen was broken doing gymnastics, so Eric entered smoothly. Jane's sweet love-hole felt so good around Eric's dick, he was in heaven. Jane got really hot, and her breathing came quickly. She had never felt like this before! Soon, she had an explosion of pleasure, and briefly lost touch with reality as she orgasmed. Eric orgasmed too, and it was so good it blew away masturbation. Eric told Jane she made him feel so good, and Jane said the same to Eric.

They lay on the beach, and looked at the stars, and held each other in their arms, enjoying the moment. Eric turned to Jane and said "I love you, Jane." Jane said "I love you too, Eric." And they drifted off to sleep together, in the moonlight.

Eric and Jane loved each other so much, that they stopped smoking pot, because they wanted to remember that special night for all their lives. Thirty years later, they still remembered, and still loved each other. And they lived happily ever after, in love.


Worst Political Thriller Ever

Eric and Bill were diplomats from different countries. They had been colleagues for as long as they could remember. They were always at the same international conferences, because they had specialised in the same sub-field of international relations. One day, Eric got up the courage to sound Bill out as a possible agent. He'd had been considering the possibility of such an approach for six months.

Bill respected Eric too, but he never said anything. He secretly hoped Eric would sound him out. Then, one day, Eric did, totally out of the blue. Bill secretly congratulated himself and said yes. They would meet at a secure location on Friday night, without even their interpreters present.

Eric couldn't wait for Friday to come, he was so excited. Soon he would be negotiating for a new agent in person! But on Thursday Eric got nervous. He worried he wouldn't convey sufficient authority and Bill would not wish to negotiate with him.

Bill dreamed that Eric would give him some important piece of intelligence as a mark of good faith, and they would discuss their speciality together, and then Eric would recruit him as an agent. Then Bill woke up, a little ashamed.

When the time came to go to the secure location, Eric was scared. But he had to trust his judgement, so he went. Bill looked serious, and Eric said so. Bill smiled enigmatically. At first they were nervous. After that they relaxed and talked business.

Eric told Bill an important piece of intelligence as a mark of good faith. Then Bill told Eric one, from his country. Then Eric told Bill another piece of intelligence. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one. Then Bill told Eric one. Then Eric told Bill one.

Eric and Bill formed an excellent working relationship. Bill became Eric's agent and Eric was Bill's handler and the arrangement they had together was mutually profitable for over thirty years.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)
Two troubled turtles trotted to the temple. There they told the templekeeper their troubles. Twice they'd tried, twice trashed: transforming tricky tensors too tough. The templekeeper told them to travel to the true temple to try the tenfold tensor trial there. Three trials of transforming tensors, three tribulations to triple tempo, two to try triangulating, then turning ten tridecagons to two tensors, then throwing trigons through the target. Temple trial taken, tempo tripled, tensor transforming totally terrific, the two turtles travelled to the terrible trap: two tests Thursday.

If you want to continue the story, you can in comments. You could do a diff letter if you wanted. I might later, if I feel like it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
*Wanders around room full of people dressed far too nicely, clearly looking for someone, spots him and approaches*

curi: So why do you want to see all the Jews die?
RD: Pardon?
curi: So why do you want to see all the Jews die?
RD: I don't want that.
curi: Oh, sorry, I must have mixed that up. So you want all the Jews to live then?
RD: Yes, of course.
curi: So you'd support helping them live, right?
RD: Yes.
curi: Like giving them money and defensive weapons?
RD: There's no such thing as a defensive weapon!
curi: What if you came at me with a knife and I shot you?
RD: Are you threatening me?
curi: Is it 'cause I'm Jewish?
RD: What?
curi: Do you attack all Jewish people with knives?
RD: No, I don't attack anyone with knives.
curi: So your knives are purely defensive?
RD: No, they aren't weapons.
curi: So if I only shoot a gun at targets, would that not be a weapon?
RD: I guess you could classify it as sports equipment if it was only for target shooting.
curi: So can we send Israel some of those?
RD: No, I think they consider Palestinians 'targets' over there. *laughs to self*
curi: Yeah, I know. It's crazy. They just keep running at you, trying to get to the next cafeteria or pizzaria or whatever, and you have to take out each wave. If you miss even one you lose!
RD: Only because they're opressed. They live in the most horrible conditions.
curi: Oh totally, I wouldn't want to live somewhere with no cafes or pizza joints either. But then why do they blow them up?
RD: No, they don't blow up their own cafes, only the Jewish ones.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Imagine you are a child, interacting with your mother. Your mother is doing things to hurt you. And you say, "Mommy, stop hurting me! You can be my mommy without hurting me." And just imagine if your mother said "no".

Your claim, notably, is the same claim as TCS makes -- that it is possible and desirable to parent without hurting our children. And the mother's "no" is any position that contradicts the TCS claim.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
Take two abstract countries, and take it for granted each wants to destroy and dominate the other. They're at war. Ignore concerns like other pro-peace countries putting pressure for a truce. Now, for the goal of winning the war, why might these two countries take a truce? Well, they must think a temporary reprieve will help them more than their enemy. But if they both think that, one of them is wrong, and should have declined the truce and continued the war. And thus, with sufficiently good intelligence info, there would never be any truces.

Optionally, some people might think a truce is good for the world, because it will be better for the world if both countries have some time to prosper and create without constantly destroying stuff. But in any truce for that reason, one country is sacrificing its own war aims, and hurting its chance of winning, for the good of the world. And if that country thinks its winning the war is very important to the fate of the world, because its values are good, and the rival countries values are bad, then this kind of truce is incoherent. Sure, you get to prosper, but so too does the enemy grow stronger.

And countries are analogous to rival worldviews. Oh! And this only applies in the limit of taking your own side seriously.

Another point is, if it's say capitalists and commies, truces help capitalists, cause they have a better economy and stuff -- in peace they prosper a lot, and commies don't. Hence consistent commies should not accept peace. Nor should consistent Islamofacists. They'll only accept peace if they're confused enough to think they're the ones with the dynamic, productive society, and the capitalists are the ones on the verge of collapse, or something like that.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
ok so me and toad would go to the park to play frisbee. and come from a certain side, cause that's where the water fountain is. and man, water rocks when you just biked a few miles and ur about to play frisbee, and you know the bottles of water you carried will run out and you'll have to make trips back to the water fountain, and yeah....

ok, but anyway, when ur both hella thirsty, it takes a while to drink enough water. and also, it's good to like drink a bunch, wait a few seconds, and drink more. so what you do is one person drinks some, then takes a break, and you take multiple turns on one visit. ok, still so far, so good.

now, one day we made a discovery. there's *two* water fountains! joy of joys! when we arrive there's like a closer one. now we can drink water sooner! w00t!

but not only that, we do it like this: first person drinks from first water fountain while other waits. then bikes to the second water fountain while second person drinks from first fountain. then second person follows and arrives at the second fountain as the first person is finishing up there. and, boom, less waiting, more drinking, and some waiting becomes biking to the next fountain, which is like on the way. w00t! we're all efficient.

but the thing is. say i wasn't with toad. someone else. pretty much anyone else. if they're fairly good, we'll probably alternate drinking in a single visit instead of just waiting for the other to completely finish. but if i tried to bike off to the second fountain? they'd be like "hey, why are you ditching me?" and I'd be like "d00d, I'm going to the other fountain" and they'd be like "Why? There's water right here!" and I'd be like "umm, yeah, but you're using it" and they'd be like "umm, so are you coming back after? isn't that kinda far to go? just wait!" and I'd be like "no, look, you follow me after you're done drinking here, and it's more efficient" and they'll be like "umm, this is sure a lot of work for such a tiny improvement. almost seems *inefficient* to me!" and I'll just get bored and wander off to the next fountain, and yeah......

ok, so why does it matter that the organisational costs would be way higher with most people? and why does it matter that most people would resist such a small improvement? isn't it negligible?

Well, the thing is, the way we improve stuff is piecemeal. Bit by bit. We don't improve our lives by making one giant step forward every couple months. No no. We inch forward day by day. It's small, gradual improvement over time that gets somewhere. Improvement is not negligible. It's improvement. It's better. resisting small improvements is exactly the wrong thing to do.

and there's more. having a worldview where the cost of implementing a small improvement is high, is a very very bad thing. having one where the cost is small, is a very very good thing. if someone says "eh, we shouldn't bother with that, cause it's too much work for the benefit," even if they're right, well why's it so damn much work to *improve* things? only cause people have perverse WVs in the first place!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)
wow a whole post, go me!

curi42 (6:42:25 PM): hmm i think there is an attitude where people make some choices, in effect about what values to have and about vast swathes of future choices. (and make most of these choices based on what they're supposed to do, etc)
curi42 (6:42:58 PM): then sort of coast along, being little more than a robot enacting these pre-decided things, and making trivial choices (what should i eat today?)
curi42 (6:43:13 PM): ok, technically, they still keep making big choices all the time, but it's so ingrained to make them one way, they never even notice
curi42 (6:43:42 PM): 2 points: A) telling them they must stop and think, could be rather disturbing
curi42 (6:44:04 PM): B) our view, where we are constantly making choices, could be rather foreign and not understandable
curi42 (6:44:05 PM): like
curi42 (6:44:50 PM): in relationships, ppl seem to think 'ok, i'm jack's gf now, so i'll do that' and the only real choices are 'keep going' and 'quit'. as long as it's keep-going mode they just coast coast coast.
curi42 (6:45:09 PM): whereas, a better view is, every day.....every hour, we must keep deciding what we want to do next, and next, and next. the future isn't set
curi42 (6:45:24 PM): under the second view, multiple friends becomes a non-issue
curi42 (6:45:51 PM): that sound good? should i change much b4 posting?
curi42 (6:46:17 PM): [mwahahaha, you can't read what I said here]
Other_Person (6:48:06 PM): seems ok, though it is perhaps too harsh a judgement on people
curi42 (6:48:25 PM): on ppl in general?
Other_Person (6:48:31 PM): yes
curi42 (6:48:39 PM): they don't do it WRT all things
Other_Person (6:49:00 PM): being conservative is a good policy in general, since the world is very complex and innovation is risky
Other_Person (6:49:24 PM): coasting = pejorative word for 'being conservative'
curi42 (6:49:43 PM): no
curi42 (6:49:53 PM): it's a perjorative word for not noticing ur making choices
curi42 (6:49:59 PM): being conservative *on purpose* is one thing
Other_Person (6:52:28 PM): ok
Other_Person (6:52:32 PM): well, say that too
curi42 (6:52:37 PM): k

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)
"Coercion is the state of two or more personality strands being expressed in different options of a single choice so that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his personality."

Coercion --> Immorality
personality strands --> intentions
personality --> set of intentions

"Immorality is the state of two or more intentions being expressed in different options of a single choice so that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his set of intentions."


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (12)

Government Is Good (Despite What Some Libertarians Say)

One Perspective On Government

Some libertarians oppose governments on the principle that they are organised gangs of thugs. They consider the defining characteristic of governments to be that governments claim the right to initiate force ... and people listen (whereas most thieves don't pretend to be legitimate and aren't considered as such). They point out that they never agreed to pay taxes, and don't want to, and don't like most of the stuff that taxes pay for, and consider that conclusive.

Some of these libertarians support the war on terrorism. They realise that terrorism is a great threat, and to wish see it fought against. Terrorism is so bad that anyone at all fighting it is good. I suppose they must see the matter as a powerful pickpocket guild beating up a renegade gang of murderers. A "lesser of two evils" situation.

(Some libertarians would oppose the war on terror, either because they figure "If we leave them alone, they'll leave us alone, and nevermind Israel," or "No collateral damage is ever acceptable, under any circumstances, for any purpose, even if it is only caused because the enemy is using human shields." But I won't go into how silly I think those approaches are right now.)

Some of these libertarians, if given the option, would be happy to see the US government disappear tomorrow. The institution, the knowledge of how to run it, the taxes, the laws, etc... This is absurd, notably, even within the pickpocket metaphor, as it means foregoing protection.

But there's more than that; there are good reasons to like our government and support it besides self-defense. Our government does various things, some important. Now, the libertarians will insist that all these functions could, in theory, be done by private companies. Well, yes, I agree. But so what? I don't see these companies. They don't exist (yet).

It's not as if an anarcho-capitalist society (in short: free market capitalism with all government functions replaced by private companies and taxes replaced by user fees for people who want the services) would simply come into being without our government. Anarcho-capitalism is not the natural state of affairs that once existed until it was destroyed when a group of evil thugs invented government and took over. It is, rather, a very advanced notion that requires lots of knowledge to implement. This knowledge must be created gradually, through the improvement of existing institutions. Government functions must not disappear overnight, but instead slowly be replaced by private institutions that function better. We need good traditions, not a revolution.

Why Government Is Good

Governments create consent. That's the reason in a nutshell, but of course it needs an explanation.

Let's imagine a group of people living somewhere with no government, and little knowledge. Some will be bad, and will want to dominate over the others. So most people will form mutual defense pacts. And somewhere not too far off, some bad person will have conquered an empire, and formed an army, and thus our people will want to form one big defensive pact, instead of lots of scattered ones, so that they can fend off the entire army if need be. So they will form institutions to cooperate in regional defense. When an invasion looms, there may be disagreements about how many soldiers are needed to fight it off, and who must become a soldier, and where their equipment will come from. Thus, a system to resolve these issues is needed.

And these people will also set up institutions for small-scale defense against criminals. And they will need some system of deciding who is and is not a criminal. The answer to this is not self-evident despite what some libertarians seem to think. There will be disagreements, and thus some way to resolve them will be needed.

One day, Joe's crop goes bad. He asks others for help. They form some food-sharing institutions. They create rules to govern these. The people all value security, and thus put in provisions to help anyone who does not have enough.

One day they invent medicine. They realise that if they only pay the doctor when they are sick, he will starve in the mean time. And also that he will have no motivation to help prevent people from becoming sick. So everyone pays a low price all the time, and the doctor helps whoever needs help at recovery and prevention both. Some people disagree about who the doctor should be helping, saying he favours his friends, and they create institutions to resolve disputes of that nature.

What will all these institutions look like? Well, at first they will be very crude. The defensive agreement might simply state that all able-bodied men must fight when there is a war, or be put to death. The food agreement might allow anyone who is starving to take food from his neighbor, "as long as he made a genuine effort to create his own food." And the system of resolving disputes might be to ask the town elder.

And, over time, people will come up with better ideas. And after a while, and a lot of progress, something like our current government and courts might form.

If this society (that we've imagined) progresses to use a completely voluntary army, that will be an amazing advance. And if it has elected leaders who consent to voluntarily step down when their term ends, that will be an amazing advance. And if criminals are presumed innocent until evidence is presented against them, that will be an amazing advance. And if there are property rights defended by law, and a system of consensual trade, that will be an amazing advance.

When we know how to do better than using government for these things, we will. But we do not. The path to a better society is not to rail against our government, but rather to acknowledge it for what it is: an imperfect, evolving tradition and a great force for good.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (31)


on a more interesting note, here's an email i just wrote:

I'm going to layout what I think bad is. I'm aware my answer doesn't tell us everything we'd like to know.

To start, we need to examine what a stable worldview is. A worldview can be said to be stable if new conjectures, new observations, new criticisms and arguments, won't send it off in new directions or otherwise cause it to change. A perfectly stable worldview would have to be entirely consistent, and entirely complete, otherwise it could be changed by new ideas.

Next, we ask what sort of stable worldviews can exist. I propose that there are three. The true, inverse, and null ones (alternatively: good, bad, and empty). The true one is stable because it's right about everything, and understands everything. The inverse one is stable because it's exactly the opposite of the true one, and persistently misinterprets all new ideas in the opposite of the true way, so that they are consistent with the inverse of the truth. The null worldview is stable because not only does it not say anything, but it can't learn anything either. It never hears of a new idea.

None of these perfectly stable worldviews exist (unless you feel like saying rocks qualify for the null view). They aren't real. But they can be approached. In practice, good ideas approach the true view, evil approaches the inverse view, and nihilism and relativism approach the null view.

Anyway, what is bad? Well, the ultimate in bad is the complete inverse worldview. And also, there can be lesser versions (ones with inconsistencies, and ones that don't yet deal with all subjects).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Battle Cry Explained

As no one answered my post about the poem A Little Boy Lost (featured on my sidebar), I've decided to explain my take on it.

In the first two stanzas, the boy questions God and Christianity. In the first, he doesn't see how he could know about or understand God, when all he has to work with are his lesser (compared to God) thoughts. In the second, the boy proposes that he should love all of God's creations equally, which all share the Earth with him. Thus, he cannot love the Priest more than a bird.

In the third stanza, the Priest grabs the boy, angry at his blasphemy. Questioning the faith is not looked upon favorably. But there's something else here too: the observers, the other members of the church, do not see the Priest as attacking the boy, but only as helping him. Even when the Priest uses physical force, nothing seems amiss to the faithful.

The fourth stanza is the money stanza. Here, the Priest declares the boy a fiend, and spells out his offense. His offense was using reason to examine and judge church doctrine. The Priest considers his doctrine a "holy mystery" which is not supposed to be explained or thought about rationally.

The final two stanzas describe the brutal punishment of the boy. It's not clear if he's literally burned to death, or only metaphorically. But it is clear that he is badly hurt, and that the church turns a blind eye to the boy's parents' tears. Also note that Albion is England.

The final line is a very powerful one. Everything up to this point tells a tragic story where the Priest is clearly wrong (I suppose this may not be so clear to everyone; feel free to discuss that in the comments). Phrasing the line as a question is very important. There are no accusations to deny. There are no claims to refute. There's nothing to argue with. There's just a question to ponder. Are such horrid things done in England? Certainly they have been. And certainly some people still trumpet faith over reason. Maybe they don't burn blasphemers any longer, but how different are the suppressions of reason in favour of faith that do take place?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Structural Epistemology Introduction Part 1

Imagine you are handed a black box. You can't open it, but on one side is an input mechanism, and on the other side is an output mechanism. For example, the input mechanism might be a keyboard, and the output a display screen. The box, somehow (you don't know the inner workings) maps inputs to outputs. That means if you give it an input, it figures out what output to give back, according to its inner workings. And for simplicity, assume the box is in no way random. For a given input, it always gives the same output.

Now, imagine someone gives you a second black box. And you test both out, and discover that for any input, both boxes give the same output. You test every single allowed input, and they always give the same answer. (The word I will use for this is: the two boxes have the same denotation). Now, the question is: do the boxes do the same thing? Do they contain the same knowledge?

Well, of course it's possible that they do. They might be the same inside. But can we be sure? Just because they always answer the same way, can we tell they definitely do the same thing? And either way, can we say they definitely have the same knowledge?

I'd like to apologise to non-programmers now. The following examples will probably look like gibberish to you. But read the English around them, and I think my point should still make sense.

Here are three different ways to do a multiply function. They all accurately multiply any integers. They have the exact same domain (allowed input), the same range (possible outputs), and they map (relate) the same elements of the domain (inputs) to the same elements of the range (outputs).

// iterative multiplication
int multiply(int a, int b)
    int total = 0;
    if (b > 0)
        for(int j=0; j<b; j++)
            total += a;
    if (b < 0)
        for(int j=0; j>b; j--)
            total -= a;
    return total;

// recursive multiplication
int multiply(int a, int b)
    if(b == 0)
        return 0;
    if(b > 0)
        return (a + multiply(a, b-1));
    if(b < 0)
        return ( (0 - a) + multiply(a, b+1));

// multiplication using a built-in function
int multiply(int a, int b)
    return a*b;

As you can see, even if you don't understand the code, all three are written differently. I assure you, however, they do give the same answers. Now, remember the black box I talked about? Well, lets say you have three that all do integer multiplication. The inner workings could be the three functions I just showed.

Do each of the black boxes do the same thing? No. Each uses a different procedure to find its answer. Like if you wanted to get from California to New York, you might go through Canada, through Mexico, or stay in the US the whole way. Each trip would start and end in the same place, but they'd certainly be different trips.

But the key question is whether each black box, or each multiply function, which has the exact same denotation, has the same knowledge.

I propose they do not. While they have the same denotation, I would say they have different knowledge structure. And to see why this matters, and makes a great difference: Alright, the boxes have the same functionality (namely multiplication) now, but what if we want to alter them? If we want to change their denotation, even just a little bit, then knowledge structure makes all the difference.

To be continued...

PS: I'm aware that I'm not using 'denotation' in the standard, dictionary way.

Note: David Deutsch explained much of what I know about structural epistemology to me. Kolya Wolf explained some too, and also Kolya originally thought of the idea.

Part 2

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (7)

I wonder if the category should be epistemology or morality

Tom Robinson is now officialy my coolest reader. He commented as follows WRT inverse theory:

I'm slightly fuzzy about this inverse world view. Is it wrong about everything, or just some things, or just incoming morally-weighted facts? I mean, The Emperor knows that 0+1=1, so if he starts with no Death Star and then builds one new Death Star, then he'll end up with ... a Death Star. He knows this to be true despite being the epitome of evil.
To start, I deny The Emperor actually is the epitome of evil, or even all that close. But anyway, I would say if we have propositions A, B, and C, and A and B are consistent with each other. And C contradicts A. This implies that C and B somehow contradict. There aren't multiple ways to hold B and be consistent, so if A really is consistent with B and inconsistent with C, then B must be inconsistent with C. This follows directly from the idea that there is one truth.

To put in real propositions, B states 0+1=1. A states that we shouldn't murder Jews. I propose A and B are consistent. C states that we should murder Jews. I propose A and C are inconsistent. I conclude that B and C are inconsistent -- that wanting to murder Jews and doing math right contradict. This works with any form of being evil and math.

It is hard to see what the inverse worldview looks like. It is foreign to us, and most of its twisted logic beyond our worst nightmares. We get glimpses in the bad people of our world, but they are nowhere near the limits of evil.

Good people are succesful and flourish. Bad people, therefore, are unsucessful and do not flourish objectively, even if they think they do (or perhaps they think flourishing is bad, and think they do not flourish). I believe, in the limit, evil people would be unable to eat meals, or otherwise manage to even stay alive.

My explanation of why the bad people of our world manage to eat, and even manage to use creativity to plan nasty attacks, is that they are inconsistent. Much of their worldviews are true. They use the true bits to function. But they also have a significant, inverse portion, from which they take many of their goals and motives.

Notably, it is this inconsistent combination that allows them to be truly dangerious. An evil person who uses some true ideas to get what he wants is more threatening than an evil person who's own evil has rendered him impotent.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Popper Is Fallible

(If the quotes don't have a blue background, hit refresh. If they still don't, go here, refresh that, and then come back and try again.)

I just read a little of The Myth of the Framework by Karl Popper. I noticed two oversights I thought were worth pointing out. Both quotes are from page 175, and the first immediately precedes the second.

If we eliminate from language ambiguous terms like 'yesterday', a term which today means something different from what it will mean tomorrow, and if we take some further similar precautions, then it follows from Tarski's theory that every statement in this purified language will be either true or false, with no third possibility.

The issue Popper is worried about is evaluating whether the statement "Yesterday was Sunday." is true. He thinks this will be ambiguous, because it depends on what day we evaluate it. And his solution is to purify our language by removing all terms with variable meaning (presumably all pronouns too).

But this is very silly. All we have to do to decide if "Yesterday was Sunday." is true is to substitute in referenced concepts before saving the sentence for later evaluation when the references might not work any longer. What I mean is here 'yesterday' means 'the day before November 17, 2003'. The day before November 17, 2003 will always be Sunday whenever we evaluate the sentence. (And even if our calendar system should change, the meaning and truth of the sentence will not.) So, no purified language is necessary, if we will only bother to pay attention to the actual content of the sentence (alternatively, we could keep the form of the sentence exactly the same, but save with it all relevant data, such as in this case the date it was written).

Moreover, we can have an operation of negation in our language such that if a proposition is not true, then its negation is true.
This shows that of all propositions one half will be true and the other half false. So we can be sure that there will be lots of true propositions, even though we may have great trouble in finding out which they are.

I think this is actually quite funny. Yeah, there are lots of true propositions when you include the negation of false propositions... But most of them are things like, "I did not go to England yesterday," and "My house is not painted red," and "My name is not Fred." In reality, it makes sense to say there are a lot more ways to be wrong than to be right.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Structural Epistemology Introduction Part 2

Part 1

Last time I alluded to the most important aspect of knowledge structure: some structures are more or less resistant to being changed to have some other function (denotation). Additionally, whether a structure is easy to change to some new problem is not simply a matter of luck. Rather, some structures are better than others, because they contain more knowledge. Now I will give some illustrations.

First, let's reexamine the multiply function. What if the situation changed and we suddenly had to rewrite our multiply function with a special constraint? Such as, what if the built-in multiplication function in our programming language was no longer available? Or what if user-defined function calls suddenly became very slow and expensive? Or what if there was a problem with assignment, and we couldn't use that (basically, no equal sign allowed).

It turns out each of these problems would break one of the multiply functions so badly we would be better off starting over from scratch than trying to salvage it, and the other two wouldn't need even a single change. (If you're wondering, no built-in multiplication ruins the third multiply; no assignment ruins the iterative version; and user-defined function calls being expensive ruins the recursive version.) This demonstrates that structure makes a difference. But so far none are obviously better than others.

Next, lets imagine we were writing a program that played some game, and a few dozen times in the program we needed to refer to the number of actions each player gets per turn. And lets suppose it's 8 now, but possible this may change in future versions of the game. One thing we could do is everywhere we need to refer to the number of actions per turn, put an 8. The program will run just fine. But if we have to change the number of actions per turn later (or perhaps we'd just like to try out a different number to see how it works, to see if changing it might be a good idea at all), then we will have to go through our whole program and alter a few dozen lines of code! That's a pain, and there's a better way.

What we should do is define a constant variable, int ACTIONS_PER_TURN = 8, and then write ACTIONS_PER_TURN instead of 8 throughout our program. Then, we could very easily change the number of actions per turn by altering a single line of code. This new program using a constant variable has exactly the same denotation as the original one with 8 everywhere -- someone playing the game will never know the difference. But not only is the structure different using a constant variable, it's better because it allows significant advantages in ways it can be changed, with no disadvantage at all(1). One way to put the difference is it contains the knowledge that each of the dozens of 8's in the program is really the same thing, thus allowing them to be changed as a group.

Another example of trying to change a program, is if we had our multiply programs and wanted to do exponentiation (assume there is no built-in function for that). In that case, the program that relied on built-in multiplication is absolutely useless. Just as it would be useless to change to anything at all that wasn't built in. This reveals its structure has very little knowledge in it. On the other hand, the recursive and iterative multiply programs could both be changed to do exponentiation fairly easily. They could also be altered to do a host of other things, because each has a knowledge-laden structure. In effect, they are both set up to do work (in a certain way), and only need to be told what type. (It's not clear which one has more structural knowledge. I believe the recursive one does, but they are useful in different ways.)

So, to sum up, if we wish to change a program to do something else, depending on its structure, we may have an easy time of it, or may be totally out of luck. And furthermore, some structures are better than others, because they contain more knowledge.

(1) It will run negligibly slower, or compile negligibly slower in a compiled language. And I mean negligibly.

PS I understand that if you knew that, for what you were doing, certain structural knowledge was entirely unnecessary, and never would be useful, you might intentionally leave it out, and say this was a better design. However this is very rare on anything but the most trivial project, and does not ruin the idea of better structures. It's just like, if I was trying to learn physics, I might not need an economics lecture. But we can still say economics has useful, true knowledge, and that there is better and worse economic knowledge.

To be clearer, the objection I fear goes, "Constants are nice, if you're going to change them, but if you aren't, using them is a waste of time, therefore which structure is better depends entirely on the problem at hand, and thus better is only a relative term for knowledge structures." This is wrong. It is equivalent to saying, "The laws of supply and demand are nice, if you're learning about economics, but if you aren't, learning them is a waste of time, therefore whether hearing the laws of supply and demand or nothing is better depends entirely on the problem at hand, and thus better is only a relative term for economic theories." In both cases the 'and thus' clause simply does not follow. Just because we might not want a bit of knowledge this instant does not make it equivalent to no knowledge, or make its value relative.

PPS Mad props to David Deutsch, 'cause he's cool.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

In-The-Limit Worldview Theory

If we start with some worldview, it will have inconsistencies (internal contradictions) and it will not be aware of all facts and won't have stances on everything. However, over time, we can make it more consistent, and take stances on more issues (make it more complete), then in the limit, it would be perfectly consistent and have stances on all possible issues. Such that no matter what someone told you, you'd never need to change your worldview anymore.

In the limit means in the extreme case. Like if you kept making your worldview more complete and more consistent until you couldn't anymore that'd be the limit

I posit there are three different perfectly consistent complete worldviews that you could have reached. One is commonly called true. But there's actually 2 others that are consistent and complete.

One is empty or null. When asked questions it .... doesn't answer. On the way there I suppose adherents would deny stuff matters. But in the limit, I don't think they could speak or move. They'd be dead. They would have no theories and not be able to learn or get new ones.

And the last is the inverse/false/evil/opposite/bad whatever view. None of the three worldviews share any common points of agreement. But unlike the null view, this one does say stuff about the world ... but none of it true. It has some sort of twisted logic whereby false statements are made to all come out consistent. I don't know the details of it. But I think it is possible to be consistent about opposing truth/goodness.

One consequence of this is: people complain that logic alone can't tell us about morality. It can tell us what contradicts what, but how's it to say what is good? Well, if we accept these three in-the-limit views, we can speak about statements approaching one of them, or being a member of one of them. Now logic can do everything but one single value judgment of comparing the three WVs. And I believe the value judgment is pretty easy. One view says life doesn't matter. One says life is bad. One says life is good...

You may object that logic alone can't tell us everything, because, for example, physics isn't determined by logic. Nor is which house my friend lives in. Well, of course contingent questions depend on contingent details (contingent means not necessary means not implied by logic). But that's not the point. I'm not saying we should figure everything out by pure logic. As stated, first we would need to know everything (have all three views laid out) and then we could answer all moral questions with logic (well actually we could say which of the three worldviews various ideas were part of). (Actually some statements aren't part of any. We'd identify those separately as simply inconsistent ideas.)

The point was simply that this is theoretically possible (well not with perfection, but with arbitrarily high accuracy). Which means if someone says "morality is a matter of taste" ... Well, logically, the matter of taste is between three choices, one of which says life is bad and one says life doesn't matter.... This retort is useful and important.

The three worldviews share no common points of agreement. So if we determine a proposition is in one (say: Jews shouldn't die is in the good one), then contradictory theories (Jews should die) are not in the good one.

We do need independent (from what I've said here) arguments about which propositions go in which worldview. But if you can argue that a proposition is in one of the worldviews, then you can refer to the in the limit consequences it, and of its rivals, which is powerful.

PS This is my entirely original theory. Just saying. :-)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (12)

A Conversation On Israel

I wrote this conversation to show what it's like talking to a certain type of person. I won't label that type of person, but I hope this piece should make it clear.

(One thing I changed is: I made Isyn speak very clearly. Do not expect this in real life. Rather, expect to decode cryptic, confusing, contradictory claims heavy on noise.)

Isyn: Down with Israel! Oppression is wrong!
curi: erm
Isyn: Bush lied, people died!
curi: What's wrong with Israel again?
Isyn: Just because the Palestinians are defenseless doesn't make it alright to kill them.
curi: You'd kill me if I dropped my guard.
Isyn: That's different. You were, ummm, eyeing my woman.
curi: Well, Israel doesn't murder Palestinians.
Isyn: Look here, at this news article. Israeli Defense Forces troops fired guns and Palestinians died. QED.
curi: Those were terrorists.
Isyn: Not all. Some were just standing near the terrorists throwing rocks. Is throwing rocks a crime? Maybe. But what kind of evil country punishes it by death? And even the terrorists should have been arrested not murdered. Sure terrorism is wrong, but that doesn't justify murder.
curi: Israel is a democracy and the Arab states around it are tyrannies that want to destroy Israel. Israel has repeatedly offered peace to the nations around it and to the Palestinian terrorists (who have deliberately broken the peace agreements every single time). Israel wants a Palestinian state, and the Palestinian terrorists want the Israelis dead.
Isyn: How is that supposed to justify murder? And besides that's only what neo-con historians write. If you read more accurate sources, you'll see that's not the whole story.
curi: Are you aware of even one of the wars in which the Arab nations around Israel tried to destroy Israel?
Isyn: It wasn't quite like that. You can't prove that happened.
curi: So whatever I say about the facts of the matter, you will dismiss, even if I cite a half dozen sources for each claim? On the basis that my sources are all biased or imperfect.
Isyn: Right.
curi: Argh! Fine then, new approach. Do you agree with self-defense?
Isyn: How is murdering people self-defense?
curi: Well, if someone tries to kill you, and you kill him first to save your own life, that's self-defense. This is right, whereas the alternative of dying would just plain suck.
Isyn: He started it, she started it. It's easy to point fingers. But we won't make any progress until both sides admit what they did wrong. Sometimes the Palestinians start it; sometimes the IDF does. And sometimes some innocents Palestinians die in the crossfire to IDF bullets.
curi: What if, hypothetically, we imagined a conflict where one side was wrong and one side was right. Can you imagine that?
Isyn: I guess, in the abstract, I could imagine a black and white picture, but the world is full not only of shades of grey, but of colours too. So it's more complicated than that.
curi: In this hypothetical black and white picture, lets say the whites were good and the blacks were evil, and in every fight the blacks were at fault. With me so far?
Isyn: So far I can see that you're a racist. Blacks are full people.
curi: Argh! Okay, lets rename them. We'll have the elves are good and the orcs are bad. And every conflict the orcs are at fault. With me so far?
Isyn: I don't think the Lord of the Rings was such a simple matter of good versus evil. The elves had faults, and the orcs had bad situations to cope with.
curi: Yeah, but, I'm not talking about the Lord of the Rings. This is a hypothetical about two abstract groups of people, only named elves and orcs. So, can you imagine them with me, please?
Isyn: Okay, what's next?
curi: Great. So, the orcs start a lot of fights with the elves, trying to steal their stuff, and kill them. The elves are good with bows, but not perfect. So when orc raiders come a bunch of elves will go up on the roofs and shoot at orcs. Some of the elves stay on the ground and have the dangerous job of facing the orcs directly. Sometimes, by accident, a stray arrow that was aimed at an orc, misses and hits an elven defender. Also, sometimes some orcs will chase some elven civilians, and the archers shooting at them might miss and accidentally hit a civilian. With me?
Isyn: I see a great battle.
curi: And the orcs are trying to rape and pillage and murder the elves.
Isyn: Right. And the elves are trying to kill the orcs too.
curi: Because the orcs attacked them. It's in self-defense.
Isyn: If the elves aren't bloodthirsty, why do they shoot their own?
curi: They are shooting at orcs but don't have perfect aim.
Isyn: Well if they can't hit what they aim at, maybe they should stop firing. They're just killing indiscriminately.
curi: No, they have really good aim, and almost always hit their mark, and if they stopped firing they would all be massacred, but sometimes, now and then, they do miss.
Isyn: Well they should practice more.
curi: They already practice as much as they possibly can.
Isyn: Do they ever read books?
curi: Yes.
Isyn: Well they could stop reading books to practice more to save lives. Reading books, in this case, proves the elves' murderous intentions. They don't mind causing collateral damage.
curi: Yes they do mind. But you can't ask them to spend their entire lives practicing with bow. They have other important things to do. They must balance their time reasonably.
Isyn: How is not killing their own unworthy of more time?
curi: Well they need to grow food. And build houses. And raise their children. And spend time thinking to make sure they fight for truly good causes. That's all necessary.
Isyn: Maybe they could save time by not having children.
curi: You want to see the elves die out?
Isyn: I don't like to see elves murder elves and anyway if there were no elves there would be no war either. Don't you care about World Peace?
curi: Argh! You hate the elves more than the orcs.
Isyn: I just think you should stop pretending the elves are flawless.
curi: They are very good by definition. That was a premise.
Isyn: Then why do they murder each other?
curi: I heard in World War II 10% of casualties were friendly fire.
Isyn: What an indiscriminate blood bath!
curi: Argh! You twist everything. You'll probably deny my door exists next.
Isyn: How do you know you have a door?
curi: It's that thing I open to get into my room.
Isyn: Your senses, like the elves' bows, aren't perfect. Maybe you're wrong. Aren't you a fallibilist?
curi: Fallibility does not preclude tentatively holding theories to be objectively true.
Isyn: Prove it.
curi: Of course I can't. No certain proofs exist. Aren't you a fallibilist?
Isyn: You can't prove I'm not. And about the door, you might be lying or trying to trick me. I haven't even seen your supposed door myself.
curi: Your life sounds lonely.
Isyn: What?
curi: Well, you spend all your time making up criticism of good ideas (there are an infinity of false criticisms for every truth). But do you ever take a chance and conjecture that something might be true or good? Do you ever have trust in anyone or anything? Do you value anything?
Isyn: Stop changing the subject. That's an ad hominem argument.
curi: I'm not arguing anymore. I tired of it. I concede that you really can avoid listening as long as you want (though that does not make you right).
Isyn: If you're not arguing, what are you doing?
curi: Trying to help you?
Isyn: I'm not interested in help from someone who condones murder. I think you need help.
curi: Do you recall the first thing you said today?
Isyn: Remind me.
curi: "Down with Israel!" If Israel fell, what do you think would happen? Didn't you condone murder?
Isyn: Death, but only of murderers. Don't you agree that killing murderers isn't murder?
curi: So, to be clear, in your view: if Israelis kill Palestinians, that's murder, because the Israelis are in the wrong. But if Palestinians kill Israelis, that's not murder, because the Palestinians are in the right.

----- Ending One: Sad But True -----
Isyn: No, that's not what I said. Stop accusing me of taking sides. I'm not like you.
curi: Ummm, yeah, whatever, bye. *wanders off*
----- Ending Two: Wishful Thinking -----
Isyn: Yeah, I guess you got it. You cornered me. That's my view. I wasn't so sure at first, but this discussion helped me see it more clearly.
curi: And, the arguments you use -- the style and content both -- the whole approach to the issue really: would you say other people using them have the same view as you?
Isyn: They better. The arguments prove my view. Anyone using them who didn't take my view would be inconsistent. And probably a liar. Anyone who understood the arguments would take my view. But lying would be understandable, because people who speak the truth as I do are persecuted by the neo-cons like you.
curi: And your view, again, is that the Israelis are murderers, correct?
Isyn: Yeah. Well, it's the Jews really. There are some Arab Israelis who are innocent.
curi: Point noted.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)


I know! Since I have hits I should post about parenting. For the good of The Children.

TCS (Taking Children Seriously) is the true parenting theory. Its primary ideas are:

- Fallibility (certain knowledge is impossible; people can be wrong)

- No Authorities (ideas must be judged on their merit, not their source; therefore, children can be right and can't be automatically dismissed)

- Coercion is the state of two or more personality strands being expressed in different options of a single choice so that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his personality.

- Coercion is bad for knowledge growth, and quite simply hurts people, including children

- Common Preferences, coercion-free solutions to problems, are always possible

- This means, quite literally, that there is a possible way of parenting in which children do not do anything against their own will

- An important part of getting what one wants is changing what one wants to better desires, including more relisable ones

- Once we realise changing what we want to better wants is good, we no longer need fear always getting what we want as being spoiled or immoral -- as long as we improve our desires sufficiently it would only be good

- What people want is subject to morality, and thus children won't want horrible things, as long as parents offer sufficiently good moral theories

- Good ideas beat out bad ones in argument (and thus if parent's moral theories really are better than their rivals, parent won't lose argument)

- If your ideas are so great, have some faith in them to stand up to criticism!

- Criticism is good. Criticism is a gift. Cherish criticism

- Abandonment Parenting is morally wrong (parents have an obligation to help their children)

- Advice Advice Advice (parents should give children lots of advice, but children should be free to disagree)

- Don't Hurt Children (I can't say this enough)

- And most importantly: send all children to Hebrew School (joking)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

my fucking god

Andrew Sullivan found this

At a debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: "Hamas activists in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?"

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

It's Tough Being Good

Suppose you are a bad person. You get angry a lot, have trouble valuing much, aren’t very successful, blame others for your troubles, and hurt your children often. But, whatever, you’re life isn’t so bad. You get through it, enjoy a fair amount of it.

Now, suppose someone claims to be moral, and you notice the implication that you are not. And suppose this person lacks all your bad traits. This might well make you feel bad.

And then you might write a letter to the so-called moral person, attacking him. The content might be along the lines of (if you were exceptionally intelligent and clear, for a bad person): You bastard, fuck you. You’re totally wrong. Oh, and if you reply in kind you’re just like me, except also a liar. Nope, just sit there and take it, Mr. High and Mighty. Oh, and you can’t get resentful because that would violate your moral code, huh? But you are mad at me, aren’t you? Yep, you’re a hypocrite. Now stop implying I’m bad, and get back to your stupid, lucky life.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

new category :-)

The Wall: Sharon's Long-planned Land Grab


By Christopher Bollyn
American Free Press

Methinks it's a good thing for him he's right about that 'free press' comment....

Here's the source. Linking sources is something Chris (the author) doesn't bother with, but I still think is important.

The Israeli "separation barrier" is the realization of Ariel Sharon-s long-planned settlement scheme to appropriate vast amounts of Palestinian land and water resources by isolating and impoverishing the Holy Land's Christian and Moslem population. It is a racist wall, according to its critics, designed to cause the expulsion of the native population by denying Palestinians access to their land and water.

It's amusing how Chris disavows some of his claims by blaming them on other people. For example, "It is a racist wall, according to its critics". If you're willing to just repeat what some Hamas spokesman dreamed last night, you can write an article saying virtually anything against Israel, without having to make a claim yourself. This way if anyone disagrees, you can refer them to Hamas to argue with :-)

Also of note is how the j000s aren't just racist against Palestinians. Oh no, now they're stealing land from Christians too. I guess this is because the US has a lot of Christians that Chris would like to convert to his cause.

And if you're thinking, "sheesh, Elliot, you didn't even refute his claims, this is just ad hominem BS." I'd just like to point out Chris didn't bother source any of them. They really are just made up, far as I can tell.

I'd also like to refer you to Honest Reporting's take on the fence.

Bethlehem and its Christian holy site has become an open-air prison, like the Gaza Strip, surrounded by an Israeli-built electrified wall v an "atrocity" paid for and supported by the U.S. government.

Does Chris really think he can turn US Christians against Israel this easily? Even in the midst of his own rhetoric he shies away from saying strong words like 'atrocity' himself and has to quote them. What a whiny bitch.

Depicted by the pro-Zionist mass media as a "self-defense" measure required to foil Palestinian terror attacks, the wall is actually the beginning of the final phase of the long-planned appropriation of Palestinian land and water resources begun decades ago by the current Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Riiiiight. The mass media is full of Jews, except lonely Chris fighting the good fight. He might even have had a point...if it wasn't for the fact that every other media outlet says the same damn thing. That's right, media outlets are all lone beacons of sanity surrounded by j0000s. You'd think we didn't even have the telegraph yet or something, the way they communicate.

The real objective of the wall is the de facto annexation of Palestinian land to Israel and the forced expulsion of the native population from their homes and land

You'll never guess how Chris found that out.

according to Stop the Wall, a Palestinian "anti-apartheid" organization.

Yup, that's right, a Hamas spokesman told him.

Nearly all of the illegal Israeli settlements built in the occupied territory will be included in the annexed areas of the West Bank. 98 percent of the settler population will be on the Israeli side of the wall, according to Stop the Wall. Actions, such as Jewish settlements, which affect the demography of an occupied territory are clear violations of international law.

I had to scroll a long ways to find this. Chris spent many paragraphs going on about unsourced "facts" that he says the Palestinian something-or-other organisation told him.

Anyway, I'll answer with a Bush quote (which I will actually source, too!):

Mr Schroeder says international law must apply to the awarding of the lucrative contracts.

"This is the task for all people, for all of us, and because it is for everyone we don't need to discuss exactly who individually is participating in the economical side of reconstruction here, international law must apply and must help the cause," he said.

But President Bush has brushed that aside.

"International law? I better call my lawyer. He didn't bring that up to me," he said.

(emphasis mine)

Anyway, that's enough of Chris. I'm gonna do something else now.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

not just a new category, but my new favorite ^^

back to google news. found this. safe-looking URL and says it's an associated press story, so off we go:

Sharon said Thursday that if the Palestinians did not make serious peace moves in the next few months, Israel would impose its own boundary on them. Palestinians say only a negotiated agreement can bring peace.

Doesn't this mean that if Israel simply tries to defend itself and doesn't make enough concessions at the bargaining table, Palestinians will continue trying to exterminate Israel (ie not have peace).

Peace doesn't come from words, it comes from refraining from murder and attempted murder.

They are worried that unilateral Israeli action would leave them with far less land than they want for a future state.

Oh how horrid. They're clearly oppressed -- they won't get as much land as they'd like unless they stop trying to murder jews.

Qureia has said he would agree to the meeting only if Sharon showed a willingness to compromise on a series of contentious issues, including the construction of a security barrier that dips deep into the West Bank.

Deep, eh? Ever look at a map? Dipshit.

And the Qureia guy will only consider fighting terrorism if Sharon gives him stuff? My God, Sharon ought to give him a beating.

Sharon has refused to stop building the barrier, but has said Israel planned to ease closings, curfews and other restrictions on Palestinians.

Know why? Because the fence makes them unnecssary. Credit should go where it's due; this is a pretty serious distortion.

Soldiers shot tear gas into a girls school in the camp, just outside the West Bank town of Nablus, witnesses said. The military denied firing tear gas and said the incursion was routine in search of militants and weapons.

Do you know why the IDF searches girls' schools for terrorists and weapons? Because they hide them there! Scum.

Did you notice how the reporter didn't bother to find out what happened, and just repeated some made-up lies about the IDF? Then tries to paint it like a coverup when he cites the IDF.

anyway, it's sunday, so i better write some frontpage stuff, so probably no more posts here today. cya

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Sadly the USA isn't Perfect

(If you don't see quotes in both blue and red backgrounds, hit refresh.)

Four days ago Sharon gave a speech that Woty and I thought was good. But what did the US government think?

I've found two articles to analyse with very different takes. Quotes from this one by the BBC will appear with a light red background. Quotes from this one by the JPost will appear with a light blue background. (Note: Both articles came out the same day.)

US warns Israel over 'separation'

The United States has warned Israel against taking any unilateral measures to separate itself from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

White House 'very pleased' with PM's speech

Oh dear, that's quite a difference. Either someone is pretty damn biased, or the US is sending mixed messages (which would be bad).

I'm going to go through the JPost article first.

"We were very pleased with the overall speech," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said regarding Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's remarks at the Herzliya Conference.

The White House on Friday modified its appraisal of the speech, offsetting published accounts that focused on McClellan's admonition Thursday that Sharon should not try to impose a settlement on the Palestinians without negotiations.

The State Department echoed the White House praise, although deputy spokesman Adam Ereli also cautioned Israel against acting without consulting the Palestinians on issues that ought to be resolved through negotiations.

So far it sounds like the White House is sending mixed messages. Dammit.

Sharon said that while Israel is interested in conducting direct negotiations, it will not be held hostage by the Palestinians. "I have already said we will not wait for them indefinitely," he said.

The JPost article quotes Sharon's speech heavily. Skimming to find more about the US reaction now.

Sharon defined the goals of disengagement as reducing terrorism as much as possible and granting Israelis maximum security to improve the quality of life and strengthen the economy. He stressed that the unilateral steps will be fully coordinated with the US.

"We must not harm our strategic coordination with the US," he said.

Sounds good, but is it true?

Also, 'unilateral steps ... coordinated with the US'. Heh.

Sharon began his speech, which was shown to the US administration before delivery, by pledging his allegiance to the road map and President George W. Bush's vision of a two-state solution.

Wait a second. We saw the speech first! Does anyone really think they showed us the speech, we said we hated it, then they read it including claims about cooperation with the US? If we'd found the speech unacceptable, at the least it would have dropped claims of US support and coordination, if not changed more drastically.

What, then, is the BBC talking about? Well, let's see:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had outlined a "disengagement plan" in case the roadmap peace plan failed.

But the White House said the US was committed to a negotiated settlement between the two sides under the American-backed roadmap.

I loath the BBC. They twist everything. First, the "disengagement plan" does not signify the roadmap has failed; it is a temporary, reversible measure to improve security until Palestinians do their part of the roadmap. It protects Israelis from Palestinian foot-dragging.

Next, the BBC tries to play this as if Sharon was contradicting the White House ('but'), and even against a negotiated settlement. But if you read Sharon's speech this is clearly false.

This doesn't yet reveal anything about the US reaction to the speech, but it does reveal BBC bias.

Palestinians and Jewish settlers have denounced Mr Sharon's proposed steps.

Fuckers! There's really nothing else to say. They try to paint Sharon as a lone figure denounced by Palestinians and Israelis alike. But this is just Jewish settlers who are mad that Sharon is willing to dismantle any settlements at all. In other words, the Jewish settlers' opposition to Sharon (which is of the disapprove of one policy sort not the the man is thoroughly evil sort) is because he is too moderate and too willing to make concessions for peace .... which is the exact thing the BBC complains Sharon isn't.

The United States "would oppose any unilateral steps that block the road towards negotiations under the roadmap that leads to the two-state vision," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

"A settlement must be negotiated and we would oppose any Israeli effort to impose a settlement," he said.

Notably these statements don't actually contradict anything Sharon said in his speech. (Unilateral withdrawal is entirely different from imposing a settlement on the Palestinians.) But then why is the US saying them?

In a long-awaited speech on Thursday evening, Mr Sharon said Israel would take the initiative if the Palestinians did not begin disbanding militant groups as required by the roadmap plan.

(Emphasis mine)

Is that really what the Sharon said? To get rid of militants?

Well, telling Safari to find the words 'militant' or 'militants' in Sharon's speech comes up with nothing. Damn liars.

Mr Sharon said Israel "will greatly accelerate" building a controversial barrier in the West Bank, which Israel says is vital to stop Palestinian militants crossing into Israel to carry out attacks.

But in the speech it actually says, "Israel will greatly accelerate the construction of the security fence." Notice how the BBC closed their quote after three words and filled in the rest with their own words that were not a fair paraphrase of what Sharon said. Damn liars.

Palestinians condemned Mr Sharon's speech as unacceptable.

"I am disappointed that he is threatening the Palestinians," said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

"We are committed to the roadmap," he added.

LOL. Sure. And why does the BBC repeat such lies, when it doesn't even like to quote Sharon for more than three words?

Nabil Abu Rudeina, an advisor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said Mr Sharon was trying to tear up the roadmap.

"These declarations represent nothing new and amount to a rejection of the roadmap.

This is worse than the previous one, but don't think it's over yet. Next the BBC asked what Hamas thought. Literally.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, called Mr Sharon's plan "a delusion to fool the world".

I can't help but wonder every time a Hamas spiritual leader is quoted: if they were close enough to ask him questions, couldn't they have shot him?

"Sharon is asking Palestinians to raise white flags, to surrender. This is totally rejected by our people. We will not surrender and our people will defend themselves," he said.

And Yassin says Sharon is delusional...

Anyway, despite the titles, neither article focussed on the US reaction all that much. From what I can tell, the US did send some mixed messages, as agreed in both articles. This is bad. The US ought to be supporting Israel unequivocally.

The JPost acknowledged the US ambiguity and pointed out the positive bits of the US reaction too, and pointed out that the US saw the speech before it was given. Mostly it just quoted Sharon, who actually gave the speech. So I'd say the JPost article was pretty fair.

On the other hand, the BBC article was biased through and through. It had nothing positive to say, mostly quoted anyone willing to say something bad about Sharon, and lied. Which isn't the biggest surprise in the world, but still... sheesh

If you liked this piece, go here for more of my thoughts about Israel (it's a category archive).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2) about as principled as UN

Another day, another google news search. Top one was this.

According to a new report released today by B'Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights, the IDF violates the right of residents of the Occupied Territories to obtain medical treatment. The security claims cited to justify this violation are dubious.

Well that sounds pretty bad. Let's see if it's true.

Dozens of staffed checkpoints and some 600 physical roadblocks have been set up within the West Bank in the framework of Israel's siege policy.

"siege policy" -- LOL. so biased.

These obstacles to movement restricts the access of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to medical treatment.

ok if that's their case, they are official dipshits.

International law is unequivocal on matters relating to the protection of medical teams. Medical personnel are not to be unnecessarily delayed or harmed, unless they participate in military activity. In effect, the IDF is collectively punishing hundreds of thousands of civilians by preventing access to basic medical treatment.

Wait just a second. I seem to recall that Palestinian terrorists use ambulances to transport weapons and personel. They would also pretend to be sick if that'd get them past security. So being careful with ambulances and people who claim to be sick isn't unnecessary.

Any use of ambulances for non-medical purposes is a grave violation of international law.

While the IDF justifies routine delays of ambulances based on the claim that Palestinians use them for military purposes, they have only presented one such incident. Regardless, individual cases of misuse of ambulances does not justify the sweeping policy described in this report.

It doesn't? What are they supposed to do? Only screen some ambulances?

And only one incident? Let's check that out. Google for: palestinian ambulance terrorism

The top hit is Explosives Found in Palestinian Ambulance (Note: incident was March 27, 2002)

One down, one to go.

How about this from June 11, 2002:

Yesterday afternoon security forces stopped a Palestinian ambulance traveling on the main road between Gaza and Khan Yunis for a routine check and arrested a Palestinian fugitive inside pretending to be a patient.

OK, they're already filthy liars, but of course there is plenty more. Like this from April 21, 2002:

"There was no situation where we did not allow people to get into the hospital. Every ambulance that wanted to get into the hospital could go every time. We did check the ambulances. The reason was that the hospital was used to hide highly wanted terrorists. On one occasion one of our doctors checked one of the ambulances. According to what the Palestinian doctor said, there was one severely sick person lying inside. And then we looked at him -- there wasn't a scratch on him, he just had an intravenous, just taped to his shirt, not even inserted in his veins. And this was one of the highly wanted terrorists...

back to the article:

B'Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights call on the security forces to:

· Remove all the siege checkpoints;

· Allow Palestinians to receive medical treatment quickly and without delay;

· Refrain from humiliating or abusing medical personnel.

Translated, they are asking the IDF to let terrorists murder Jews more often.

Oh dear, after that they link to Al Jazeera complaining about Jenin.

Here's info on Jenin.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

title here

Read this:

Another element that I must tell you about how the terrorists used people, used children. A few days after the battle ended, we saw a 6-year-old child with a little bag going in the camp. One of the soldiers asked him, "Listen, what do you have there in the bag?" and so he dropped it and ran away. The bag included three booby-traps. Six years old. Now obviously this child went back to his family or wherever. A six year old cannot understand a lot, but obviously he understood it was not a good thing to do, but it is unbelievable the use of children.

The other experience that we had was with two old women and one man. At every house that was in the end destroyed, we called upon the people, once and twice and three times, to come out - the ones who do not want to fight. We said, "Please come out". Obviously in some cases some people came out, and in one case two old women and one man came out of a house, with their hands up. Just behind them there was a terrorist who shot at the soldiers and afterwards detonated explosions. So you know, people talk here about all kinds of moral elements, accusing the Israeli army. I am very proud of the moral values of every specific soldier, the most simple soldier in our army.

and this (same source):

I will tell you about one case. There was one house in this very area, in this area from which about ten terrorists were shooting at us. This whole house was basically booby-trapped - it was like a minefield. We sent two of our very special units to explode the booby-trapped front of this house, because it was impossible in any other way from a military point of view, to overcome these terrorists. When our two soldiers from the very special unit came close to the house, they saw that there were one woman and two children, and they did not put the explosives under the house, and did not blow up the house. While they were withdrawing back to their forces, one of them was seriously wounded, the other not very seriously.

The IDF is not just humane. It's too humane. They should have killed them, not aborted the mission. Or better yet just bombed the house in the first place without going too near. It had ten terrorists shooting from it for crying outloud.

PS sheesh

An IDF video disproves incriminating media claims from the day before, yet many outlets ignore or bury the new information

Read the source, which is itself sourced, if you don't believe it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

asshat alert

ok found an article.

Our taxes fund injustice and apartheid

by Mazin Qumsiyeh

Sounds just lovely.

I was a bit disturbed that few Hispanic or African Americans attended my son's school in an economically "upper-class" part of Connecticut. We clearly have work to do to protect civil rights and challenge socioeconomic apartheid.

The fact that some group tends to be poorer does not prove they are oppressed, that civil rights protection is lacking, or that there is any socioeconomic apartheid. It could simply be that group tends to be less moral.

The left always tries to say bad people have no choice, and blame their circumstances. It's not their fault they taught their children to fail; they didn't know any better! But this abdication from responsibility is exactly what we don't need -- if people took more personal responsibility they could solve these problems and it wouldn't be "the unavoidable consequence of X environment" anymore. The victimhood mentality can create problems just as easily as actually being a victim.

There are schools for Palestinians and schools for Israeli Jews.

I wonder why. Maybe cause it's not safe to let Palestinians into Jewish schools. Now I'm not saying every Palestinian schoolkid is a murderer, but enough are, and many of the rest are terrorist sympathisers. When their culture comprehensively and unequivocally rejects terrorism and murder, the school setup will change.

Israelis get 6 times more water per person than Palestinians.

Well that's ok, because my anonymous source says that Palestinians produce four times the air pollution, and seven times the water pollution, but only pay one tenth the cleanup costs! And not only that, they use ninty percent of the soap and eighty percent of the carrots. Greedy bastards!

9 million Palestinians in the world, over 5 million are refugees or "displaced persons."

Yeah, that's what happens when you refuse your own state (in 1948, and many times since), and instead declare war, and lose.

Under the road map, Palestinians would remain dispersed and those remaining are left with no control of their natural resources or even their lives.

See what I mean about how the left thinks people in bad situations aren't responsible for what they do?

You'll also commonly hear leftists say "If I were in that situation, I'd become a terrorist too." They are trying to say anyone would do it. The truth is anyone wicked would do it. If you ask a right-wing person what they'd do if they were poor and lived in crappy circumstances, they'd probably just answer "I'd get a job," and possibly add, "and pray for the best." Spot the difference.

They would remain surrounded by Israeli army and colonies and now with huge walls being built around their towns.

Huge walls, eh? Actually most of the security fence will be chain link fence. 3% will be stone.

Israel's share of our foreign aid budget is 30% while its population is about 0.1% of world population.

Wow, great! I would have guessed we wasted a lot more money on other countries than that.

Except for persistent attempts by some in the US media to shield Americans from facts, the whole world opposes the Israel-inspired and Bush-led attack on human rights and international law.

Well if enough people say something, they must be right. It's just logic.

And I thought I remembered US media mostly opposing the War on Terror. Hum, I must be getting old or something.

The violence of resistance is dwarfed by the violence of the occupation and colonization.

Let me translate:

Killing Jews is ok because the Jews rule the world, and are thus to blame for all suffereing anywhere.
Four times more Palestinian civilians were killed than Israeli civilians.

The solution, of course, is for Israel to stop fighting back.

Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old American member of the International Solidarity movement, was killed by an Israeli soldier driving an American made Caterpillar. As I reflect on my son's graduation, I weep with the family of this student and the families of over 800 Palestinian students killed by Israeli forces. I also reflect on and I am saddened by the continuing injustices supported by our taxes. But then I think of the idealism and wonderful words of Rachel and all the conscientious students she left behind. They will lead us to a world with no walls and a world of justice and equality.

A world of no walls, eh? Sounds like he's advocating that Israel stop defending itself. Just pointing it out again in case you'd missed the theme.

Notice how he fails to mention anything about the circumstances of Rachel Corrie's death. He just sort of implies she was murdered, but won't say it directly cause he's too much of a pussy. Here's a nice thread about her. If you want more details, go here.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

The Cycle of Violence

hum was running out of new articles so have changed google news search to just 'Israel'. found this.

Palestinians assassinated in Gaza by Israel; Palestinian groups vow that Israeli civilians are targets

It's nice how they call the IDF 'assassins' and paint the Palestinian terrorists as just out for justice.

The military wing for both the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad, and the Democratic Front For Liberation of Palestine, vowed to retaliate operations conducted by the occupation forces against the Palestinians, stressing that these crimes will not go unpunished, and that escalating resistance will be the only answer for the occupation practices.

See, Hamas isn't evil, they're just part of Allah's Divine Retribution department, an honoured post. And besides, it's the Jews' fault that Hamas tries to kill Jews; they bring it on themselves. They should stop resisting and accept Allah's will. They're just making this process more painful than it has to be.

The leading figure in the Islamic Jihad Movement, Khaled al-Batish, said that his movement will not be ready to avoid what is known "Israeli civilians" as long as Israel does not do the same under commitments and guarantees.

One wonders, if he thinks the Jews are so despicable, why he would want to copy what he says their behavior is. If he's so righteous, why doesn't he take the high road?

Meantime, more than 20,000 Palestinians took part in the funeral of the five Palestinians who were killed in the Israeli raid in Gaza

20,000, eh? Good thing you counted, I would have never known it was so many. *ahem*

Anyway, what he's trying to say is that many, many or most Palestinians are aligned with the five who died, and aligned against Israel. The thing is, I believe him on that point...

Oh, and BTW who were these victims of Israeli aggression?

and that resulted in killing five Palestinians, including three members of Saraya al-Quds ( al-Quds group), the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, one of them being Muqallid Hameed, the commander of the group in the north of Gaza, amid slogans vowing revenge.

Members of the "militant" wing of Islamic Jihad? *sweatdrop*

On the other hand, Palestinian medical sources said that one Palestinian died yesterday because of his wounds he had on Thursday by the bullets of the occupation forces, in Khan Younis camp for the Palestinian refugees, to the south of Gaza.

Hmm, so the only information is the IDF felt this guy was worthy of shooting at. We're supposed to assume they were wrong, just because they're the IDF. My approach is more the opposite: I figure if the IDF thinks someone is worth shooting at, I probably ought to want to see him dead. So all I've got to say is:


Meantime, an Israeli military source said that one Qassam missile was fired from Gaza and exploded in fields of the Israeli settlements, to the south of Israel yesterday. No casualties were reported.

It's a very good thing indeed that terrorists can't aim worth shit.

It's a scary thing that the ones who don't die are bound to get better at it.

In the West Bank, the occupation forces yesterday invaded Balatah Camp to the East of Nablus. News repots said that hundreds of Israeli soldiers broke into the camp and several houses in it, after they had imposed curfew on the area.

The occupation forces got out men and young men and gathered them in the public squares, and machine-gun fire was heard from the place.

Notice how they try to make it sound like there was a massacre. More likely the machine-gun fire (if there was any) was some friendly "militants" greeting the "occupation forces".

The German foreign minister Yushka Fischer yesterday called on the Israelis and the Palestinians to spare no efforts so as not to return back away from the cycle of violence.

The Cycle of Violence is one of Hamas's most treasured artifacts. Sources say it was first ridden by Muhammed (who says they didn't know how to make bicycles back then? The Jews and Christians didn't know how, but Muhammed did.) In recent years, it has been used in at least forty Jihad missions. Astoundingly, it has passed through these ordeals unscathed. Even more astoundingly, it boasts a stellar 10% success rate on missions it's a part of. For there to be peace in the Middle East, we must capture and destroy Hamas' Cycle of Violence.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Anti-semitism In Israel

I read a scary JPost article (do sign up, it's worthwhile).

Column one: Of intellectual bondage By CAROLINE GLICK

"How could you report the war in Iraq if you sided with the Americans?"

"How can you say that George Bush is better than Saddam Hussein?"

These are some of the milder questions I received from an audience of some 150 undergraduate students from Tel Aviv University's Political Science Department. The occasion was a guest lecture I gave last month on my experiences as an embedded reporter with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division during the Iraq war.

Tel Aviv, if you didn't know, is one of Israel's major cities. Yes, that's right, these questions are coming out of Israel.

Many of the students were visibly jolted by my assertion that the patriotism of American soldiers was inspirational. The vocal ones among them were appalled when I argued that journalists must be able to make moral distinctions between good and evil, when such distinctions exist, if they wish to provide their readership with an accurate picture of the events they describe in their reports.

"Who are you to make moral judgments? What you say is good may well be bad for someone else."

"I am a sane human being capable of distinguishing good from evil, just like every other sane human being," I answered. "As criminal law states, you are criminally insane if you can't distinguish between good and evil. Unless you are crazy, you should be able to tell the difference."

I quoted that in full because Caroline is saying something important very eloquently here, using an argument I hadn't heard before.

"How can you support America when the US is a totalitarian state?" [asked a college girl with a heavy Russian accent]

"Did you learn that in Russia?" I asked.

"No, here," she said.

"Here at Tel Aviv University?"

"Yes, that is what my professors say," she said.

I don't know what to add yet. It speaks for itself, and I'm pretty speechless both.

The article goes on to mention that Western Universities are known for radical leftism, but she thought in Israel of all places it would be better, as all the students had served in the IDF (it's required by law -- apparently for girls too, though I hadn't known that).

It then complains about the influence of the radical left in the ranks of Professors.

It is an open secret that many of the most prominent Israeli academics and professors are also identified with the radical leftist fringes of the Israeli political spectrum.

And points out some Israeli Professors have signed petitions to boycott Israel (sheesh!). One Professor wrote a refusal to serve letter for some military people.

A year ago, I discussed the issue, as well as the rampant anti-Semitism on European campuses ,with the president of the University of Paris. He told me, 'What do you want from us? All we are doing is repeating what we hear from Israeli professors.'"

*gasp* *gulp*

[A survey] discovered that not only were the professors overwhelmingly self-identified with far left and Arab political parties, most also expressed absolute intolerance for the notion that professors with right-wing or even centrist views should be allowed to teach in their departments. "Over my dead body," said one.


A survey carried out by the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute on Israeli attitudes toward the state was published on Thursday in Haaretz. According to the findings, a mere 58% of Israelis are proud of being Israeli, while 97% of Americans and Poles are proud of their national identity.

Do go read the rest of the article; the whole thing is good.

OK one flaw in the analysis is that it overestimates the ability of teacher's to teach students. Few enough ever learn math, and most of those more in spite of their teachers than because. Why should it be different with politics?

I'm reminded of a southpark episode, where Kyle goes to Jewbilee, a camp for Jews. Rabbis from all the various sects of Judaism are present ... including one from the anti-semitic sect. He proceeds to try to summon a demon or something like that.

Oh well, I suppose all I have to say is that identifying problems is an important step towards solving them, and that I posted this because I want everyone to know about this problem.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

*grinds teeth*

ok found an NY Times article. (i want to do more from major US media sources. and less with obviously biased URLs)

Israel Orders the Evacuation of Four Unauthorized Outposts

hum, they try to make the outposts sound bad, but umm since when is buying land and living there a crime? sigh

The Israeli government ordered the evacuation of four unauthorized Israeli outposts in the West Bank on Sunday, circumventing for the first time lengthy legal procedures that in the past have complicated government efforts to reverse the incremental spread of Jewish settlements.

I can't say I'm in love with the idea of tearing Israelis from their homes, but I know Israel does not take this step lightly, and cares more for peace and security than preventing a few injustices today.

But judging from the size of one of the outposts, on a hilltop near here, the move is mostly symbolic: the West Bat Ayin Maarav outpost consists of two steel shipping containers that local residents say have sat empty for years.

But of course no concessions are enough for the NY Times, which I believe insists on nothing less than a full evacuation of Israel.

Though Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's aides called the order signed on Sunday a historic move, there is little evidence yet that the government is committed to more than gradual steps in clearing the West Bank of the dozens of larger outposts that have sprung up on the sun-baked hilltops since Mr. Sharon came to power.

Amazing! Here Israel is kicking citizens out of their homes, and the NY Times takes this opportunity to blame settlements on Sharon and say he's not doing enough.

And should the government of Israel be "committed to more than gradual steps in clearing the West Back of [settlements]"? No! Phase one of the roadmap requires the Palestinians to oppose terrorism. When they won't do that, Israel shouldn't be committed to doing it's reciprocal bits. Rather, Israel should be willing if the roadmap can progress, but otherwise shouldn't make concessions.

Many people in Israel took the latest order as evidence that the government had decided for now not to touch larger, more heavily populated outposts like Bat Ayin Maarav or the even larger Migron, home to 150-odd settlers north of Jerusalem.

Any attempt to raze such established communities would trigger a coordinated, possibly violent response from the highly politicized, well-organized settlers and further polarize Israel's already faction-ridden society.

My fucking God. Yeah, taking small steps proves they aren't willing to take big ones. *cough* And remember they have no reason to take big steps along these lines until the Palestinians oppose terrorism.

Then they have the nerve to allege the Israeli settlers are a murderous bunch.

The article then goes on for three more paragraphs to say Israelis actions were insignificant, and generally poo poo them.

But Mr. Sharon's office defended the move as a step toward fulfilling the government's commitment under the American-supported peace plan known as the road map, which has been stalled since earlier this year. Washington has pressed Mr. Sharon to follow through on its commitments under the plan, which includes removing dozens of unauthorized outposts.

Erm, not quite. Phase one requires the Palestinians to oppose terrorism. Get it? It's not that compliated. PHASE ONE SAYS STOP TRYING TO KILL JEWS. if they won't do that, they shouldn't get a bloody thing, and aren't entitled to anything from the roadmap.

and notice how the articles goes:

1) israel did something to help the roadmap along, but not enough
2) israel is obligated to do stuff for the roadmap, and this little step is along those lines, but definitely not enough
3) the roadmap has been stalled for a while.


Since agreeing to the peace plan in June, Mr. Sharon has dismantled more than 20 outposts, according to Peace Now, an anti-settlement organization that monitors developments in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But almost all of those outposts were uninhabited, and only a few were of significant size. Peace Now says there are still at more than 50 inhabited outposts slated for immediate removal under the peace plan. The government says there are 40.

They always do this. they find some organisation saying something, say it, then cite the Israeli Government contradicting it, and don't support the Israeli government's contradiction in any way. why? to make the Government of Israel look like a bunch of habitual liars.

and, btw, 20 outposts dismantled? sounds to me like israel is taking concrete steps, even though the palestinians haven't done their part. sheesh.

Still, critics say the government could have picked more significant outposts if it was serious about rolling back the settlements to their pre-Sharon configuration as demanded by the peace plan.

sigh. on and on the whining goes. you almost get the impression the NY Times thinks Israel is the bad guy here.

the article goes on for 5 more paragraphs, and it's just more of the same. weeeeeeee

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

title...title...title...dunno... Yet Another Israel Entry

Found an article. from Christian Science Monitor.

Amid new peace bids, Israel stays tough

Well, the title is clearly intended to make Israel sound bad. Forgive me if I'm skeptical.

Israel has announced a new $56-million program to double the number of settlers in the Golan Heights.

Later it says Israel annexed the Goaln Heights in 1981. That means the Golan Heights is part of Israel. And it's not West Bank or Gaza, so has nothing to do with roadmap agreement against settlements. Hell, even calling these "settlements" seems a bit biased. Why not call new houses in Tel Aviv settlements?

Whether it was a message to Syria alone, or to the Arab world as a whole, it was not intended to be subtle.

They're implying that Israel is giving the finger to the Arab world. By ... building some houses and living in them. I mean, I guess I understand many Arabs are opposed to live Jews, but is the Christian Science Monitor? sheesh

Just weeks after Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad called for an unconditional resumption of peace talks with Israel, Israel has responded with plans for its biggest settlement drive ever in the occupied Golan Heights.

Yeah, that's it, the Syrians are peace-loving but the damn Jews just insist on conflict. Their way of insisting on conflict is to respond to peace negotations by building houses. I suppose if Israel were truly commited to peace, that money would have been redirected away from houses and into birth control. *cough*

"The idea is that Assad will see from his own window the Israeli Golan Heights thriving and flowering," said Yisrael Katz,

Right. Jews thriving and flowering IS OFFENSIVE TO SYRIA.

The rebuff to Syria, the ruling out of new negotiating concessions in the West Bank, and official statements point up that despite Israel's strategic bonanza from the United States occupation of Iraq, and resulting winds of change in the region, Israel is adhering to a view of itself as surrounded by a threatening environment. And it remains averse to ceding land.

Israel should make or considering making concessions to Syria about the West Bank why?

Israel isn't threatened by people who find new Jesish houses offensive?

And Israel remains averse to ceding land? Since when? Ever heard of Oslo? Israel has offered up land over and over. And if Israel was averse to ceding land, where would the borders be? Instead of little buffer zones, Israel would have kept all land it captured anywhere ever.

Critics say the posture is misguided, and potentially perilous.

And Hamas says the Jews should all die. But news agencies shouldn't just be proxy Hamas spokesmen. Nor should they repeat lame criticism from anonymous sources that they're too craven to say themselves.

How come articles never read, "Anonymous Sharon supporters say the posture is well thought out and moral."?

"There is no real enemy anymore, but unfortunately the strategic thinking has not changed," says Tel Aviv University political scientist Reuven Pedhazur.

Notice how a Professor from Tel Aviv is anti-Israel.

If anything, Israel today faces a greater "existential threat" than ever before, according to Mossad chief Meir Dagan, because Iran, he said recently, is close to "the point of no return" in developing nuclear arms.

Dore Gold, an adviser to Sharon, says Israel is not interested in Assad's statements but rather in Syria acting against the Lebanese Hizbullah organization and shut down radical Palestinian groups in its territory.

Damn straight.

Anyhow, before I close I just want to point out: Why would Israel want to keep the Golan Heights away from Syria? Maybe cause they are a high place perfect for shelling part of Israel from. Combine that with the fact that Syria sponsers terrorism...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

NY Times Worse Than I Thought

Maybe I'm naive, but I really wasn't expecting the NY Times to be this bad.

I'm going to try out a new approach. I will just give quotes, and bold key bits, and let them tell the story. Try reading through only the bold bits. I'm going to keep more than the key bits for context though. I also use italics once to point out a lie (yes, to point out the lie, all I have to do is highlight part of their own article). UPDATE: sigh, not a lie. just enough of a trick to fool me. I thought they'd said Israel used live ammo in that specific incident, but they hadn't. they just slyly insinuated it. damn them.

oh btw, amusingly, i spell-checked and the only error was in one of the NY Times quotes (they spelled occurence wrong).

Israel plans a major expansion of Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights, the government confirmed Wednesday. The announcement angered Syria, from which Israel seized the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The plan, approved two weeks ago, comes just two months after the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, called for renewed peace talks between his country and Israel.
[Israeli] Government officials said the expansion plan had been in the works for months and denied that its approval was intended as a response to Mr. Assad's vague proposal
But the Israeli agriculture minister, Yisrael Katz, who heads the government's settlement committee, told Israeli radio and television on Wednesday that the plan was meant to send Mr. Assad the message that "the Golan is an inseparable part of the State of Israel, and we have no intention to give up our hold."
In October Israel attacked what it described as a terrorist training camp in Syria.
The new settlers would increase the number of Israelis in the thinly populated highland by about a quarter.
The plan drew a quick and angry response from Damascus, where the official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted a government spokesman as saying the [Israeli] move would "block the way to any inclination or initiative to push matters in the direction of achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region."
In France, a Foreign Ministry spokesman urged Israel not to implement [Israel's] plan, saying it could compromise the search for peace.
Revelation of the plan comes when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government is already under pressure to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two other territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Government figures show that the number of settlers in those regions has continued to grow during the nearly three years that Mr. Sharon has been prime minister.
Mr. Sharon, a longtime advocate of the settlements, has accepted an American-backed peace plan that calls for the removal of unauthorized Jewish outposts in Palestinian territory, but [Sharon] has been slow to act on that commitment.
Most recently, he has suggested that Israel may seal itself off from the Palestinian territories with a barrier it is building and [Israel may] disengage from the peace process until the Palestinian authorities can exert better control over their people.
Mr. Sharon has responded coolly to Mr. Assad's suggestions about talks, saying only that they would have to begin from scratch rather than picking up where negotiations left off three years ago, as Mr. Assad said he would like.
The issue of the barrier arose again in Israel on Wednesday, when [Israeli] troops shot and wounded 10 Palestinians and an Israeli who were demonstrating against the concrete and chain-link fence. Last week troops wounded an Israeli protester in an incident that roused a national debate about the [Israeli] military's use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians, an almost daily occurrance against Palestinians.
The army used tear gas and rubber bullets in Wednesday's action.
Israeli military officials have said the [Israeli] army is considering changing its rules of engagement as a result of last week's incident.
Also on Wednesday, the army said it had arrested an Israeli soldier in the shooting of an unarmed British peace activist on April 11 in the Gaza Strip. The Briton, Tom Hurndall, was shot in the head [by Israel] when he went to the aid of some Palestinian children. He was pronounced brain dead and is now in a London hospital.
Mr. Hurndall is one of several members of the International Solidarity Movement who have been killed or wounded while trying to protect Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In March, an army bulldozer crushed to death a 23-year-old American member of the group, Rachel Corrie.
The army took no disciplinary action in that case, though, like Mr. Hurndall, Ms. Corrie wore a fluorescent orange vest to identify herself as a member of the group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

guess what this post is about


The New Year, and the good resolutions that go with it, make most people's thoughts turn to peace and friendship. But not in the case of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

heh. not bad on the rhetoric scale.

His latest policy speech shows that he has every intention of continuing with his hardline approach towards the Palestinians despite advice to the contrary from key ally, America .

heh. invoking the US against Israel. yeah, we really hate Israel. you can tell b/c pro-palestinian ppl like to complain: A) 87.4335% of the US foreign aid budget goes to israel. B) the US is controlled by j00000s C) the US only likes Israel because Sharon and Bush are lovers. notice how (C) admits the US likes Israel.

Many in Israel now realise that Mr Sharon's harsh policies have only made Israel more vulnerable to suicide bombings and other terrorist acts. The situation in Iraq too will have a bearing on Israel-Palestine relations.

no bias here. move along. he's not saying the jews bring their deaths upon themselves. nothing of the sort.

The inglorious capture of Saddam Hussein, who has been a strong advocate of the Palestinian cause, has generated yet more anger and resentment in the West Bank and Gaza .

with friends like that...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Relationships Alone Do Not Create Obligations

Premise: Jack and Jill have a relationship.

Challenge: Name one obligation Jack has to Jill.

The point is that I have thus proven relationships, in and of themselves, do not create or entail obligations.

Note: "to act rightly towards Jill" does not count, because all people should act rightly towards all people already.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (14)

not posting much cause obsessed with my buggy warcraft map

Not Real Life: Israelis have dismissed Palestine's latest list of zero terrorist groups to be dismantled under the roadmap as inadequate and deceptive.

Real life: Palestinians have dismissed Israel’s latest list of 28 settlement outposts to be dismantled under a peace plan as inadequate and deceptive.

The world is strange.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Israel Is Interesting

The BBC writes

[Sharon] said he believed Syria was still helping agents of the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, which is accused of involvement in attacks on Israel.

Just accused? Not blatantly guilty? Of "attacks on Israel"? Are you sure Sharon didn't accuse them of being filthy, murdering terrorist scum?

"Israel is ready and willing to negotiate once Syria stops its help to terror," [Sharon] said.

I'm sure Sharon said 'attack on Israel' the first time and changed his language later, though. The BBC wouldn't tamper with something as important as that, because doing so would be wrong.

Anyway, moving on: Qassam rocket lands in Israel, close to border with Gaza

A Qassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed inside Israel on Monday, in a community close to the Israel-Gaza border.

Of course, if they had their own state, unpoliced by the IDF, they'd never shoot rockets, and Israel would be safe. But Sharon doesn't want that; he needs rockets to be fired at Israel so he can have a good career, since he's a military kinda guy, and they do well during war time. *sweatdrop*

Earlier Monday, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, close to the Israel-Egypt border, Israel Radio reported. The were no injuries in the incident.

On the upside their aim is as bad as ever. On the downside they're still alive.

On Sunday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the northern West Bank, causing no other injuries. In a separate incident, an 18-year-old Palestinian was killed Sunday by Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

The bomber blew himself up because he was caught well before getting there. The other one was shot because he was gonna throw a Molotov cocktail at IDF soldiers while he was part of a clash with the IDF by Palestinian villagers (wtf? They can screw with the IDF and not be massacred? That's not what the BBC would have me think.)

Moving on. The Biased Media would have me think Israel is divided on the issue of peace talks with Syria between those who want peace, and a few nuts in charge who like blood. But listen to one of the actual arguments against Sharon's stance:

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said that Israel is creating for itself the image of a nation that refuses to make peace.

"Once again we are in danger of losing the battle for world public opinion, because the impression is created that we are trying to avoid negotiating with the Syrians," he said. "The government should announce unequivocally that it is in favor of peace negotiations, and afterward say it is conditional on Syria ending its support for terrorism."

So apparently there is reasoned debate going on. Surprise, surprise. I guess the media and self-proclaimed leftie intellectuals don't have a monopoly on thinking after all.

Notice also how the disagreement here isn't all that devisive, and is not over what the BBC says it's over. The BBC keeps trying to play it as a conflict between Sharon's crazy view and people who say "no no, peace instead". But, duh, Sharon wants peace. He just doesn't want to be played for a fool while Syria uses the talks as diplomatic cover for terrorist activities. (e.g. "Syria's not evil, or illegitimate, it's talking with Israel even as we speak.")

And the opposition (by reasonable people; of course there is some nuts opposition too) isn't that Sharon is wrong per se, but merely that his approach isn't ideal for PR, and he should change his emphasis slightly while keeping the same basic stance.

I still agree with Sharon.

"Just as we demand that the Palestinians dismantle terrorism before beginning diplomatic negotiations, that is also the situation with Syria," [Sharon] said. "Notwithstanding our strong desire for peace, this is an interest we will defend."

Sharon said that while it is clear that Israel is interested in peace with Syria, "as the head of military intelligence answered me last week, we need to remember that Syria still supports terrorism against Israel."

I bet the BBC has better sources on the Syrian terrorism issue than Israeli military intelligence though. LOL

PS this is interesting: Will Israel Become an Arab State?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Stereotypes never fit anyone perfectly. So using them for interactions will cause subtle errors. But in close relationships ... the closer a relationship is, the smaller the errors that are tolerated. So in a sufficiently close relationship, those 'subtle errors' will seem large and intolerable (and 'subtle' will take on a new meaning, which we might have called 'minute' before). Therefore we should avoid stereotypes in close relationships.

By the way, not using stereotypes, when you don't know someone well, is bound to create errors too, because you don't know the person well enough to act error-freely towards him. In this sort of situation, stereotyping can be considered an error reduction strategy! (Of course the stereotypes must always be held tentatively.)

This logic works in close relationships too. We don't know people perfectly, so there will be error. Why, then, are stereotypes bad in close relationships? Well if there were literally 2 billion of them, with slightly different shades of meaning, and we used those, it might be ok even in very close relationships (but there would be a point at which 2 billion was too few). But as it is, we only have fairly general stereotypes, which will cause a high error rate in close relationships where people ought to know more detail than that.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

ap and unschooling

lets start with unschooling. is it any good? will it fail to be negligent? front and center on we find:

"I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience." -- Anne Sullivan

leave child to self. add water. mix. instant better child.

but that's not all. being outside causes people to be smarter. so does handcrafts instead of technology. we must oppose anything artificial!

ok next is AP. front and center we find:

“If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children; and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have to struggle; we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which consciously or unconsciously the whole world is hungering. -Mahatma Gandhi

So first off children are tools for a political end. Next they are supposed to grow up ignorant -- this must be preserved at all costs. If they grow up ignorant, we won't have to struggle with them, they won't know anything but what we told them, so they'll act just like we always wanted. PS it's all about peace and love! (PPS if you've ever seen Trigun... lol)

But ok that's not quite as damning as the other one. Let's find another. Off to the What is AP? page written by the founders.

Whether you're new to Attachment Parenting (AP) philosophy or not, you've probably experienced that living in our culture can be confusing at best and very difficult at worst. All the popular childrearing books on the market today seem to negate each other--"Don't pick up your baby every time she cries, you'll spoil her"... "Babies can never be spoiled by picking them up" ... or "Babies need to learn to comfort themselves or they'll never learn!" New parents are quickly overwhelmed. The beauty of Attachment Parenting is that it is so simple! AP teaches parents that it's ok to listen to their baby and listen to their own hearts. It's a way of parenting that helps parents see the world through their child's eyes, a world of innocence, a world of unknowns, a world with so much to learn and a world that requires love in order to live. Even when parents feel confident in practicing AP they often have to weather criticism from well-meaning family and friends. Ours is a non-nurturing, no-touch culture against which AP runs counter. The pressure can place a lot of strain on parents. API was born out of these concerns and a desire to support all parents.

so let's see. they hate our culture. they think if we just "listen to our hearts" everything will be ok. now, you're supposed to listen to child too. ... unless you're heart overrides him. hell, even the most abusive parent will listen to child unless he doesn't feel like it. also the main problem with parenting today is failing to hug, "nurture", and love children enough. so do that. also don't stress out. if you're too stressed we have forums where people will say you're doing a good job and mean people are banned. and if you're really stressed, we recommend you just take a break for a while, to nurture yourself. as long as your heart says it's ok.

in conclusion i maintain left-wing parenting sucks. and although right-wing parenting also sucks, i think it's slightly better. mainly because i hate negligence so much.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (10)

saudia arabia is worse than you understood

read this

a few things to note:

casual mention that in Egypt nearly everyone knows someone who was illegally arrested. arrested means they disappear, get tortured, threatened, killed, whatever

fire at a girl's school. girls try to escape. religious police get in the way. send some back into burning building to get their fucking abaya's (black dress/robe kinda thing that covers their body completely). girls sent back in mostly burned to death.

this one city needed a sewage system. so the govt gives this guy a bunch of money to do it. he keeps it and builds himself a palace instead. gets away with it. so then this city has no sewage system. then to make matters worse some prince wants to tax sewage trucks that collect sewage. and the companies try to force their drivers to pay the tax, but many drivers can't or don't. so no sewage gets collected for a while! people's houses get flooded. disease, mosquitos, etc the beaches aren't safe. fish dying. and there is this lake full of sewage above the city on a fault line. one earthquake of magnitude like 5 on richter scale and city will be 1.5 feet deep in sewage.

free press? haha. NO

westerners get assassinated.

religious police go around terrorising people. and get paid for each arrest!

omg the segregation of the sexes!

so there's a hajj festival thing and 400 people die. some of natural causes, some (30 or 50 or something) get trampled to death, one swallowed by sand while sleeping, etc etc and this is *no big deal*. so routine not to be noticed.

and it goes on and on and on

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

rt insight

say your fairly new to sexual relationships and not too sure how to act. what should you do? well one technique is to copy behavior you've seen elsewhere -- movies, tv, books, friends, strangers in public, even parents, whatever. ok at first that sounds like a bad idea. and of course you don't want to act exactly like James Bond or any other fictional character. you don't even want to act exactly like a real person, not even a cool one. everyone is different! but that doesn't mean you can't model specific behaviors after the stuff you've seen, at least as a temporary measure to do *something* since otherwise you wouldn't know what to do.

now, obviously this is error prone. but that's ok. how we get our first generation of theories on a subject, and how good they are, *isn't very important*. what's gonna matter is how good and how fast our error correction is. ok sure we start with some highly stereotyped actions, and it's ok at first, but we should probably develop our own more personal behaviors soon, and try to fix as many problems as we can with the archetypes.

anyway, in that context, here's my observation:

in any except the very closest and most open relationships, it's very difficult to move away from stereotyped behaviors once they are started. why? well, are you suddenly going to act differently sexually towards your new girlfriend because you decided your old theories weren't the best? without telling her? just out of the blue? maybe very gradually, but i rather doubt it.

ok can you talk about it, then change your behavior? well in theory you could. of course it's possible. but how many people are that close to their girlfriend? a few. what about that close to a girlfriend they haven't known for years? pretty much no one.

why is talking about such a change so hard?

well, explicitly talking about sex is fairly taboo.

explicitly talking about *philosophy* is often even worse. most people are instantly turned off. or will go into mumbo jumbo mode because they think that's what philosophy is supposed to be like since historically most philosophers really were incoherent.

and what about explicitly talking about *relationship theory*? hah! it's generally not acknowledged that such a thing even exists...

and of course there is the obvious embarrassment. for you *or* your partner, or probably both. not just for the previous reasons, but more so because:

it's generally accepted that sex requires justification. this is why, for example, people can find kissing someone for the first time really scary. yeah there's the fear of rejection or doing it wrong, but it's more than that. touching lips physically isn't a big deal. it's just that kissing is sexual. strangers aren't supposed to kiss. it's supposed to be intimate. and justified by an appropriate relationship. it's often the case that people want to kiss each other, they *both* do, but they wonder if it's appropriate (ie justified). this happens all the time. ok our society is pretty liberal so this is less a big deal with kissing, but sex is the same just way more so.

so in that context, why might discussing such behavioral changes as i was talking about be embarrassing? well, how many people feel confident about how much sexual activity their relationship justifies? how many people feel confident they are on the same page about that as their partner? not many.

what if someone worried that suggesting a certain behavioral change might be interpreted as asking for more sexual activity? wouldn't such worries mess up about half of any potential behavior changes? people have a hard enough time asking for that nonverbally.

and what about the other half of behavioral changes, that mean less sexual activity? well those don't work either! how many people are good at saying no to *new* sexual activities? what about retroactively deciding no to old ones? without making your partner feel rejected or hurt?

so to sum up: people new to sexual relationships will begin with some probably-stereotyped and regardless highly error prone behaviors. it will then be difficult to change the behavior even when they come up with improvements.

unless they dump their partner and get a new one. then they can make all the changes they want by starting out the new way.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom:

Social people interact breadth first. Anti-social people interact depth first.

Every choice you make excludes choosing otherwise.

Humans live by their creativity, not by devouring limited resources.

People twist their factual views to fit their moral views, not vice versa.

Children are people.

Young people are people.

A Few Consequences:

Anti-social people waste less time.

Trying not to exclude any options is absurd. Trying not to exclude some specific options isn't. "Trying to keep your options open," without the context of refering to some specific options, means keeping the ones that society cares about open. For example "You should go to highschool to keep your options open" means that highschool is helpful on the standard paths through life (it helps get into college and helps you get hired with or without college). Keeping options open in that sense, as a goal, is not a good way to live, because we should seek our own path, not choose between stereotypes ones.

We shouldn't ration our raw materials to last for 50,000 years. Not even for 1,000 years. How long exactly, then? Well, hard to say, but the market knows. The market knows because prices reflect supply.

It's not all that surprising that presenting, say, an anti-semite with a factual history of Israel, is ineffective.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


What's an obligation? Well, it's something you have to do. So is not killing George Bush an obligation of mine? No, that's just morality. Why isn't it an obligation? Nothing you did makes it wrong to kill Bush; it always is. But that's not true! We can imagine some life I could have led where it would be right for me to kill Bush. (Am taking the liberty of having Bush have done some things differently in the counter-factual, but that's necessary regardless because what if the new life for me involved talking to him.)

Alright, let's try again. What's an obligation? Obligations are changes or differences in the moral landscape. The idea here is no one alive is justified to kill Bush, so my not being justified in killing him is not a change or difference. But if I agree to meet someone at the park Sunday, that is an obligation because the requirement to show up is different from what other people have to do Sunday. Sound good?

Sorry, nope, that one is incoherent too. Additionally, it's ambiguous, so I'll go over both possibilites.

One possibility is obligations are changes in the moral landscape compared to the average person in our society (can't be compared to everyone, because on any issue where there isn't total agreement of every last person (that isn't us), we couldn't compare). But what's an average person? Mean, median, or mode? Well mean (add all values, divide by total number of values added) is right out. You can't just mix views and expect a coherent result. The mode (whatever value comes up the most) won't work either, because all worldviews are unique. And the median (arrange data on a number-line, count in from both sides at equal speed, and thus find the middle one) won't work either because we can't just line theories on a number-line -- they don't compare that way.

Alright, so we're not comparing obligations to some sort of average in our society. The other possibility is we are comparing to the default. By default, it's wrong to kill George Bush; this is always true unless something happens to change it. Sound good?

Sorry, no. Here we are picking one moral landscape (named "default") to compare everyone to. Any differences are obligations. But society has changed drastically in the last 2,000 years. Could we really have used the same default then as now? How could the 2,000 year old one have mentioned not to kill Bush?

Well, it can't. It would have to say something more like "By default, don't kill innocents." But then to determine obligations, we can't just compare with the default moral landscape, because it doesn't have answers to all propositions. It doesn't have {Kill-Bush=No, Kill-Nader=No, Kill-IMAO=No, etc}

But it's worse than that. Is the default moral landscape supposed to correspond to a default life? If not, How would we decide what goes in it? But if so, what's a default life? The truth is there's no such thing. There are as many ways to approach life as there are people.

Anyway, the point is obligations are incoherent. Not just a little fuzzy and misunderstood, but incoherent beyond rescue. They make no bloody sense. They don't exist.

This doesn't mean you can now cheat on your girlfriend. It just means technically what's stopping you is contained in morality and your choices, not in an "obligation".

But wait, Elliot. What if you agree to meet a friend at the park Sunday, then another calls and wants to do something else Sunday? What do you tell him? Wouldn't you say you had to do something else. (Yes.) And isn't "I have to do something else" equivalent to "I'm obligated to do something else." (Yes, again.) So what are you doing talking in incoherent terms like obligations?

Well I figured out what they're good for! They can be used to express (emphasise if you like) a difference between your view of a moral landscape and that of the person you're talking to. In my view, it's right for me to go meet the first friend at the park. But the second friend doesn't. Thus I say there is an obligation to express the difference in our views.

A close variant is that obligations can actually be used to express the difference between your view any other you choose. For example you might acknowledge an obligation not to cheat on your girlfriend. This is expressing a difference between your view and any view from the class that does allow for cheating.

So to sum up, speaking of obligations is useful to express or emphasise the difference between two moral landscapes (or worldviews, or problem situations, same difference). But obligations don't exist anymore than "bigger" exists.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

I don't want to choose a title because this post is about multiple things.

Calculating your ability to understand writing is not a matter of comparing how smart you are with how confusing the writing is. Rather, it's mainly an issue of comparing what sort of writing it is with your skill at reading that particular type of writing. Anyone can read and understand any sort of writing if he knows how. And if he doesn't he can learn.

The sorts of writing commonly thought to be confusing and arcane by our society are mostly the unpopular ones that few people are skilled with. Notice that all new and valuable forms of writing will, at first, seem confusing and arcane to most people because no one is used to them.

(Actually this isn't the whole story. Some writing is more complicated because it says more. And there are various other factors too.)

Anyhow, long ago Kolya began posting to the ARR list. At first I found his writing very difficult to read. It now feels perfectly natural. Here I'm going to go through one of his emails (his first) and explain it.

But first, to make my point about the difficulty, here is the entire email without any explanation. If you get frustrated or bored with it feel free to scroll to the bottom as my point will be made. (Scroll to the first non-quoted text or search for the word "Alright".)

From: "Kolya" To: Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 3:57 PM Subject: The role of pluralism in personal relationships

One of the most fundamental issues in all of philosophy (especially epistemology and moral philosophy) is the question of monism versus pluralism: Is a given domain in principle unitary or irreducibly multifaceted.

Which way you jump on this issue, essentially determines whether you are a realist/objectivist (nothing to do with Ayn Rand), or a relativist/subjectivist, with respect to the given domain. If some aspect of the world is fundamentally incapable of being described by a single consistent theory, there can be no *right answers*, no *objective truth* of the matter.

I, for one, assume that ontologically speaking the world is unitary. But, as Popper has taught us, methodologically speaking we must all be pluralists. There is only one truth, but no royal road to finding it.

Getting the relationship right between these seemingly paradoxical features of the world is of paramount importance. Almost everybody gets it wrong. Creationists and moral dogmatists let their ontological monism spill over into their methodology, leading them to believe not only in objective truth but also in the existence of authoritative sources of truth. Structuralists, post-modernists, and relativists of every ilk let their methodological pluralism spill over into their ontology, leading them to repudiate not only authoritative sources of truth, but also the very existence of objective truth.

Classical liberals, libertarians, and ARR-advocates fall into a category of their own. They rightly recognise that we need both monism and pluralism, but they get the relationship between the two wrong, in a very interesting and fruitful way. Instead of seeing the crucial divide as being between ontology and methodology, they draw it between the collective domain and the individual domain.

The "collective" they treat as *both* ontologically and methodologically unitary e.g., Nozick: "Individuals have rights, and there are things that no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)". This is methodological (as well as ontological) monism because Nozick and company regard the rights in question as authoritatively given (presumably by reason).

The "individual" they treat as *both* ontologically and methodologically plural. This is inherent in the widespread libertarian belief that rights are philosophically prior to morality. In other words, whereas rights are universal, morality is a matter of individual choice. This was also inherent in Locke (who started this ball rolling with his separation of state and religion): "It is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality." In other words, whereas reason tells us that the state has no business dictating morality (collective ontological and methodological monism), reason cannot tell us what is morally right (individual ontological and methodological pluralism).

Now this Lockean way of slicing life into an objective/monistic public domain and a subjective/pluralist private domain is one of the most brilliant and worthwhile fudges in the history of philosophy. In fact, I would rank it second only to the the invention of monotheism which has almost single-handedly transmitted moral and physical realism (albeit in a dogmatic wrapper) through 3000 years of human history.

But a fudge it remains. Because morality (both collective and individual) is ontologically monistic, and our search for it (both collective and individual) must be pluralistic.

What has all this to do with relationships?

Well, the ARR conception of relationships is fundamentally Lockean. The relational cake is sliced into a public tier, which has jurisdiction over individual rights within the relationship (such as the right to do what one likes in other relationships, so long as it does not harm the first relationship); and a private tier, which is nobody else's business.

As with the political version of the Lockean fudge, this is an immensely wise and valuable rule of thumb. But, philosophically speaking, a fudge it remains; for the reasons given above.

Both in politics and in personal relationships there can be no *fundamental* division between the public/collective sphere and the private/individual sphere. The status of this division is purely that of a pragmatic device -- an approximation to the truth -- which simplifies decision making by obviating the need to go back to first principles for every decision.

However, and this is the crux of the issue, the division is not some moral absolute from which we can deduce what is right and wrong. It is a handy line of demarcation which we shift hither and thither as our understanding or morality improves. Put more directly:

Rights (such as those defining the separation of the collective and individual spheres) are not fundamental moral concepts. They are pragmatic guidelines derived in the course of our search for moral understanding.

Therefore the fact that a person questions a particular version of the Lockean fudge does not necessarily make them irrational or coercive. It may just mean that they have found a problem whose solution is being impeded by the prevailing Lockean heuristic.

Of course, many relationships are founded on a shared understanding of a given set of rights. Most friendships are of this kind. Friends don't normally think they have to consult each other about where they live or what they spend their money on.

But states and families ought not be limited by any immutable definition of their members' rights. They ought to be free to alter their rules as their problem set evolves and their knowledge improves. Methodologically speaking, nothing ought be sacrosanct.

I think a good way to crystallise this idea is to bring together the concepts of autonomy and sovereignty. We often speak of autonomy as if it were a self-evident good whose meaning is manifest. But by itself that is not a coherent idea. Properly understood, autonomy must be seen as the maximal devolution of decision-making freedom that is compatible with the sovereignty of the collective entity of which the autonomous entity is part. Because fractured sovereignty, necessarily results in insoluble problems.

In this sense, the ARR paradigm views the family as a federation of sovereign entities. That is a legitimate arrangement. But, I suggest, that epistemology tells us that the higher up you can push the nexus of sovereignty (while of course always striving to push down the loci of autonomy) the more problems you can solve, and the more common preferences you can discover.

So, I say, to maximise human creativity, sovereignty must lie with the family (or state), not with its individual members. This in no way precludes ARR-style "open" relationships. But it changes the default assumptions about the rules that should regulate the "opening up" of a family relationship.

In the ARR paradigm starting a new relationship is like admitting a new member to a federation. In the "sovereign family" paradigm starting a new relationship is like two sovereign entities embarking upon a union into a single sovereign entity. The latter is not impossible, but only rarely is it actually a good idea -- i.e. conducive to increasing human creativity -- even in principle; and hardly ever is it feasible in practice.

- Kolya

Alright, welcome back. Now to go through piece by piece.

One of the most fundamental issues in all of philosophy (especially epistemology and moral philosophy) is the question of monism versus pluralism: Is a given domain in principle unitary or irreducibly multifaceted.

Monism and unitary both mean one. Pluralism and multifaceted both mean more than one. Epistemology is about the nature of knowledge. These aren't the most common words, but they are actually quite important to the subject material.

All Kolya has said so far is that whether stuff is one or many is an important question. He hasn't even explained what that means yet.

Which way you jump on this issue, essentially determines whether you are a realist/objectivist (nothing to do with Ayn Rand), or a relativist/subjectivist, with respect to the given domain. If some aspect of the world is fundamentally incapable of being described by a single consistent theory, there can be no *right answers*, no *objective truth* of the matter.

Here Kolya is telling us that if something is exactly one way, then realism/objectivism is true about that something. On the other hand, if it cannot by fully described by just one theory, and rather multiple theories are needed, that's relativism/subjctivism.

For example if the world was whatever way we thought it was, and this applied to all people at once, then we'd need a theory about how the world is for each person in order to capture all the details. They couldn't be combined into one grand theory because they are not consistent with each other (maybe Bob's world is all blue and Jill's is all red).

I, for one, assume that ontologically speaking the world is unitary. But, as Popper has taught us, methodologically speaking we must all be pluralists. There is only one truth, but no royal road to finding it.

If you thought the many-theory conception of the world made no sense, you're absolutely right! Ontology has to do with what exists. Kolya is saying the world only exists one way. However, our method for figuring out what exists must involve many different conflicting theories or guesses about what exists.

Getting the relationship right between these seemingly paradoxical features of the world is of paramount importance. Almost everybody gets it wrong. Creationists and moral dogmatists let their ontological monism spill over into their methodology, leading them to believe not only in objective truth but also in the existence of authoritative sources of truth. Structuralists, post-modernists, and relativists of every ilk let their methodological pluralism spill over into their ontology, leading them to repudiate not only authoritative sources of truth, but also the very existence of objective truth.

The seeming paradox is that the world is only one way, but rather than just say what way it is, we must tentatively try out many different guesses, even though we know that all the guesses but one must be wrong (and they could also all be wrong).

Applying monism (one) to one's method of exploring the world means only looking for the truth one way and assuming that way is right (for example deciding the Bible is literal truth). This is a mistake.

Seeing that a pluralist (many) approach to finding theories works well, some might think in effect that all these theories must have something to them (that is, some truth). This is also a mistake.

Classical liberals, libertarians, and ARR-advocates fall into a category of their own. They rightly recognise that we need both monism and pluralism, but they get the relationship between the two wrong, in a very interesting and fruitful way. Instead of seeing the crucial divide as being between ontology and methodology, they draw it between the collective domain and the individual domain.

He's saying classical liberals, libertarians, and ARR-advocates make a different mistake than the errors he just went over.

The previous mistakes involved people who were mono WRT (with regard to) existence and method, or plural WRT existence and method (whereas the correct approach is mono WRT existence and plural WRT method). This mistake involves making up a new distinction (between collective and individual) and ... well he hasn't told us the error yet.

The "collective" they treat as *both* ontologically and methodologically unitary e.g., Nozick: "Individuals have rights, and there are things that no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)". This is methodological (as well as ontological) monism because Nozick and company regard the rights in question as authoritatively given (presumably by reason).

They make the double-monism (for existence and method) mistake to collective stuff.

The "individual" they treat as *both* ontologically and methodologically plural. This is inherent in the widespread libertarian belief that rights are philosophically prior to morality. In other words, whereas rights are universal, morality is a matter of individual choice. This was also inherent in Locke (who started this ball rolling with his separation of state and religion): "It is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality." In other words, whereas reason tells us that the state has no business dictating morality (collective ontological and methodological monism), reason cannot tell us what is morally right (individual ontological and methodological pluralism).

They make the double-pluralism (for existence and method) mistake to individual stuff.

Now this Lockean way of slicing life into an objective/monistic public domain and a subjective/pluralist private domain is one of the most brilliant and worthwhile fudges in the history of philosophy. In fact, I would rank it second only to the the invention of monotheism which has almost single-handedly transmitted moral and physical realism (albeit in a dogmatic wrapper) through 3000 years of human history.

Kolya appreciates the value in this approach even if it's an error.

But a fudge it remains. Because morality (both collective and individual) is ontologically monistic, and our search for it (both collective and individual) must be pluralistic.

However, he insists that it really is an error.

What has all this to do with relationships?

Well, the ARR conception of relationships is fundamentally Lockean. The relational cake is sliced into a public tier, which has jurisdiction over individual rights within the relationship (such as the right to do what one likes in other relationships, so long as it does not harm the first relationship); and a private tier, which is nobody else's business.

What Kolya means about private tier is that an ARR person with relationships with Jack and Jill would see no problem keeping the details of his relationship with Jack private from Jill, and vice versa.

However, declaring something "nobody else's business" is a veiled reference to pluralist (many) truth. Because through this approach we could all deal with our private sphere's differently, and consider everyone in our society to be doing it right.

As with the political version of the Lockean fudge, this is an immensely wise and valuable rule of thumb. But, philosophically speaking, a fudge it remains; for the reasons given above.

Kolya sees the value in this approach, but insists it is mistaken.

Both in politics and in personal relationships there can be no *fundamental* division between the public/collective sphere and the private/individual sphere. The status of this division is purely that of a pragmatic device -- an approximation to the truth -- which simplifies decision making by obviating the need to go back to first principles for every decision.

Kolya repeats that the real division is between matters of existence (one) and method (many) not between matters of collective and individual.

He says the division makes life easier because it allows us to argue by referring to the division instead of arguing from scratch. There is a mistake here. Kolya gives the alternative to this fudge as having to go back to first principles in all arguments. But it's perfectly possible to refer to higher level concepts that aren't errors or fudges. It's also perfectly possible to argue by referring to emergent properties (in fact we always do), which again makes Kolya's alternative-case (having to argue from first principles) incorrect.

However, and this is the crux of the issue, the division is not some moral absolute from which we can deduce what is right and wrong. It is a handy line of demarcation which we shift hither and thither as our understanding or morality improves. Put more directly:

Rights (such as those defining the separation of the collective and individual spheres) are not fundamental moral concepts. They are pragmatic guidelines derived in the course of our search for moral understanding.

Rights are low-precision guidelines that help us get imperfect answers easily.

Therefore the fact that a person questions a particular version of the Lockean fudge does not necessarily make them irrational or coercive. It may just mean that they have found a problem whose solution is being impeded by the prevailing Lockean heuristic.

Since rights are not perfect, it's only natural that sometimes someone will have a situation where rights give the wrong answer. In such a case, the rational thing to do would be to question the right. Some people who question our rights are wicked. But some people who do are perfectly reasonable.

Of course, many relationships are founded on a shared understanding of a given set of rights. Most friendships are of this kind. Friends don't normally think they have to consult each other about where they live or what they spend their money on.

Basically, friends tend to consider each other free to live their own lives when apart without (much) regard for the friendship. For example I might sign up for an art class without worrying about whether my friend would want to hang out during that time. I would likely only worry about losing time to hangout if I myself wanted to hang out more. Saying "Sorry, I'm busy," to a friend is generally considered legitimate regardless of why one is busy (with some rare exceptions). This is a fudge for the same reasons having a private life is. We take this conception of friendship for granted, but Kolya is saying it outloud.

But states and families ought not be limited by any immutable definition of their members' rights. They ought to be free to alter their rules as their problem set evolves and their knowledge improves. Methodologically speaking, nothing ought be sacrosanct.

Sacrosanct is yet another way of saying one. Kolya is saying that our conception of rights should be mutable (changeable), not sacrosanct. This is because we should seek the truth with a plural not monistic method.

I think a good way to crystallise this idea is to bring together the concepts of autonomy and sovereignty. We often speak of autonomy as if it were a self-evident good whose meaning is manifest. But by itself that is not a coherent idea. Properly understood, autonomy must be seen as the maximal devolution of decision-making freedom that is compatible with the sovereignty of the collective entity of which the autonomous entity is part. Because fractured sovereignty, necessarily results in insoluble problems.

Kolya fails to explain what he means by sovereignty. This makes the rest of his piece extra hard to follow. A sovereign is a ruler.

He says autonomy is not a coherent idea. His reasons for this aren't clear here, and I'd rather skip them as they aren't all that important to this piece.

Fractured sovereignty necessarily results in insoluble problems is also unexplained. The reason for this is because separate entities (think people) are different. So of course they will disagree. The only ways they could get along are if they both decide to submit to one single something or other (like a code of rules) or if they agree about something. But we can't agree about everything (if we did we'd be the same person). And submitting to something is another way of saying that something is sovereign. Fractured sovereignty would mean not going that route. And the other route can't solve all problems. So it follows that fractured sovereignty will result in some problems.

Backing up a sentence (Kolya put a conclusion before the reason for it, so I skipped ahead), Kolya says that individual freedom (he writes 'autonomy', but means individual freedom or self-directedness) must be limited to be compatible with sovereignty, because without sovereignty we would get insoluble problems.

To see how sovereignty works, look at the US. The government is sovereign (it rules over us) but we still have a lot of individual freedom, especially in day-to-day life. Without one government ruling over us, we would have insoluble disputes (for example if there were a number of conflicting legal codes, people following different codes would not be able to resolve their problems).

Kolya thinks our personal lives should be like this too, and that they should be organised with families analogous to states.

In this sense, the ARR paradigm views the family as a federation of sovereign entities. That is a legitimate arrangement. But, I suggest, that epistemology tells us that the higher up you can push the nexus of sovereignty (while of course always striving to push down the loci of autonomy) the more problems you can solve, and the more common preferences you can discover.

ARR views families like alliances of people who rule themselves. Just like the US and England were allies in the Iraq conflict, but are still individual states with separate governments.

This is not a wicked arrangement. But Kolya suggests it is not the best one.

In the army there is a command structure with some guys on top, then some lower officers, then slightly lower, and so and and so forth down to people who lead groups in the field, and actual basic soldiers who don't lead anyone. The more freedom lower officers have, the more powerful the army is, because they can make local adjustments to the overall orders to fit their exact situation. But also, if every sergeant had his own battle plan the army would not function (that would be an exampled of fractured sovereignty).

Another example is pathing in computer games. A common strategy is divide the world into a large grid and keep track of connections between each section. Then if a character needs to walk a long distance, the computer only needs to calculate which sections of the large grid the character should walk through to reach the correct section. Small obstacles within each large grid area can be navigated around separately when the character is in that area. In this example there is one overall path, but for each section of the path, the character is free to find the best way to walk through that section. Thus the pathing algorithm distributes some autonomy to the character to make it work better (trying to figure out the exact path over very long distances is really expensive to calculate).

So Kolya is trying to say that what my examples illustrate is a generally principle: lower-level individual freedom and higher-level unified sovereignty both increase problem-solving capabilities.

So, I say, to maximise human creativity, sovereignty must lie with the family (or state), not with its individual members. This in no way precludes ARR-style "open" relationships. But it changes the default assumptions about the rules that should regulate the "opening up" of a family relationship.

Families (or states) are higher level things than individual people (they consist of many people). So if they could be sovereign, there would be less fractured sovereignty issues.

By open Kolya means open to admitting new members.

In the ARR paradigm starting a new relationship is like admitting a new member to a federation. In the "sovereign family" paradigm starting a new relationship is like two sovereign entities embarking upon a union into a single sovereign entity. The latter is not impossible, but only rarely is it actually a good idea -- i.e. conducive to increasing human creativity -- even in principle; and hardly ever is it feasible in practice.

Federation means alliance. Paradigm means point of view. So in the alliance approach, a new relationship is like Poland joining the coalition to free Iraq. In the "sovereign family" approach a new relationship is like the US and England trying to unite under one government.

However, Kolya has made an error here. He seems to assume that relationships come into being fully formed. Rather, they begin small and tentative and slowly grow/evolve into greater things. But if they have a chance to evolve, then it is feasible for them to evolve to satisfy some very difficult niches (problem sets, or a simpler word would be situations).

Anyway, I hope Kolya's view makes sense now, and that you'll have an easier time reading similarly confusing philosophy in the future.

For the curious, I do agree with almost all of what Kolya says, but not everything, especially not the two places I said he was mistaken.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

More Kolya ARR

From: "Kolya"
Sent: Monday, May 27, 2002 4:21 PM Subject: A brief word on "Morality"

I think I have just understood something important about the critics of commitment:


It took me a while to find another post to go over. Many of Kolya's posts, especially earlier ones, were replies to Alice. Sadly, her contributions demonstrate she didn't know what Kolya was talking about; in other words he was talking over her head (or past her, if you prefer). I mean no offense to Alice in particular; I don't think anyone understood Kolya's posts at the time (his on-list supporters most definitely included.) Anyhow, none of those posts seemed appropriate. Then I got distracted reading David Deutsch posts. They all have the enjoyable quality of being true (though, yes, they don't always try to say as much as possible; they are conservative).

BTW the way his posts are conservative but still not listened to and even written off as wild new crazy-talk is a bit crazy-making (same thing happens with many of my posts, though I vary my style more.)

But anyway, this post is both amusing and confusing. It's packed full of references meant to belittle none other than me, Alice, and a few others. So let's get clear on just what it actually says.

Oh, and before I forget, what Kolya means here is that we believe the purpose of morality is that people found immoral can be justifiably coerced. That's sorta what law is for, though. Kolya knows this. So if we go a bit further, he's saying we believe morality doesn't exist, and people talking about it are really just trying to make laws about our personal lives.

Only now can I understand why I was being routinely accused of advocating coercion, when, actually, I have not done so.

I can field that one. Kolya was accused of advocating coercion because he declared various things immoral and failed to say what should be done about it. People filled in the gaps with whatever seemed obvious. For some people that wasn't "nothing" or "we're not talking about that right now, we'll deal with it later". Does their choice of coercion denote a character flaw? Kolya thinks so. Ho hum.

All my morally-laden arguments have come across to the commit-nots as a thinly camouflaged bear trap for catching unwary autonomy-respecting individuals who make the unfortunate mistake of agreeing to enter into a committed relationship. If ever these put-upon individuals loose interest in the relationship -- and lets face it, what rational person would not? -- the trap is sprung. If they decide to stay in, they must self-sacrifice; if they decide to come out, they are liable to being stoned to death for their immoral conduct.

The question about what rational person wouldn't lose interest is sarcasm, which is notable because it's rare coming from Kolya.

Kolya is describing morality as being, in the perspective of ARRers, a trap to force people to self-sacrifice to stay in relationships or immorally leave.

Thanks to everybody whose criticism helped me reach this insight. The world makes sense again. To show my appreciation, I would very much like to return the favour in some way. Perhaps the best I can do is to offer you this vignette from my travels in far away lands, in the hope that it may amuse you.

By appreciation he means disdain. By return the favour he means he's resentful that we didn't understand him and agree with him. However, the bit about his world making sense again seems to be a bit of truth thrown in with the sarcasm. While there's an argument with an uncertain outcome going on, or at least one where he can't figure out why his opponent's say what they do, there's a bit of a hole in Kolya's worldview. But now by classifying our mental illness, Kolya can be at ease again, happily ignoring the ARRers who don't matter or count because of their mental illness.

When Push Comes to Shove ------------------------ In the remote uplands of the Autonomous Republic of Relatestan, there live two neighbouring tribes known respectively as the "Moral Positivists" and the "Moral Realists". Both tribes are very hot on being moral. However they differ radically in what this means to them.

Positivists thought that all statements not describing or predicting observations were meaningless. In simpler but less accurate terms, it's only real if you can touch (measure) it. Quite the insult, especially in context of a bunch of TCSers talking, since TCS is supposed to be from Popperian epistemology, and thus everyone present ought to know better.

The Positivists are a very hard-headed, rational people, whose founding credo is: "If you can't touch it, it ain't real". Another of their mottos is: "Spare me an inner conflict, or give me death". (Note to cultural anthropologists: A regional variant of the above, is: "Spare me moral criticism, or give me death".)

The first credo just reinforces the positivism, which was previously just a label. The other makes them highly immoral. Kolya is thinking of libertarians as much as ARRers here (though I suppose all ARRers are libertarians, but not vice versa).

Now, as behoves a hard-headed, rational people, the Positivist live by an admirably consistent moral code: "Do what you like, but don't push me". By the use of this one rule, they have succeeded in eliminating all inner conflict, all self-doubt, all feelings of guilt and shame, all human trust and commitment, and last but not least, all of moral philosophy. Quite an achievement for eight little words!

Don't push me is just a new version of the libertarian non-aggression principle which reads "Thou shalt not initiate force or threat of force." Kolya left out the bit about not threatening to push people, but it's not hard to argue that's implied. As you can see, Kolya is rather not a fan of libertarianism. Here he seems to say the point of libertarianism is to do away with morality and replace it with a mechanical rule.

In the very rare event of a dispute arising among them, they need only call to session their Positive Court of Inquiry, to rapidly ascertain who pushed whom first. The ethos of these proceedings is elegantly captured by the legend inscribed above the main entrance to the court. It reads: "Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged".

I guess "judge" means morally, like judging someone's character or whether what they did was good or bad. It does not mean deciding whether someone pushed or not, which obviously has to be an acceptable thing for the court to do.

It is difficult to convey the culture shock that awaits the unaware traveller, who ventures across the rarely trodden Autonomous Republic of Relatestan Listing bridge -- the origins of whose name seem lost in antiquity -- to the land of the Moral Realists.

The origins of the name Listing aren't so lost. ARR is an email list. The culture shock thing is Kolya's way of saying our differences are large, possibly incommensurable. (I'm pretty sure I've only heard Kolya use that word, and people replying to Kolya). Commensurable means having something in common. Incommensurable means not having anything in common. But the point of the word is actually to say we'll never come to agree (which actually is an implied if we truly have precisely *nothing* in common). (I don't believe this; I'm implying Kolya might.) My guess Kolya might is emphasised by the way he imagined a bridge. These are different lands with a whole uncrossable river between them. The only possible way to cross in on the rarely-used bridge.

Of course we do have things in common, like being on Earth, and living in the same reality.

For the Realists rate wisdom above logic, merging above separating, trusting above maintaining one's guard, goodness of character above a value-free character, and wadding knee-deep through personal commitments above gingerly avoiding one's nearest and dearest for fear of being bumped into.

Kolya doesn't bother to argue that merging is better than separating (there's no obvious reason either should be generally better). He just throws it into good company (good character is better than valueless character? well duh!). It's hard to explain what Kolya means by wisdom, but just assume it's clearly a better thing than logic (though it's also a different kind of thing, and there is no tradeoff between having one or the other). Trust vs. maintaining one's guard is a bit of a cheap shot like merging vs. separating. We shouldn't trust blindly; we must have a careful balance.

But the most striking difference is that, quite unlike the Positivists, the Realists live with one foot in the physical world and one in the -- no less real or complex -- world of moral concerns. Where the Positivists' idea of heaven is to spend hours debating whether a nudge constitutes a push; the Realists are never happier than when brushing against the meaning of life, in the act of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to become morally better people.

- Kolya

I wonder what Kolya thinks I do all day. *sigh*

This isn't to say he isn't mostly right (though exaggerated) in his judgment of many libertarians. Even if he is, though, that wouldn't mean libertarian theory is bad or useless. It'd just mean it's a bad idea to try to base your life around it with nothing else. Bits, like what it has to say about economics, are very useful.

PS Kolya, if you read this, I feel no malice towards you, I simply tried to write what I thought this stuff meant. Even if I think you're flawed in 500 ways, that doesn't imply I will dismiss your other ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

Damn Press

Israel steps up targeted killings

Lovely title, eh? The main theme in this part of current events is that Israel is killing more people now. *cough*

Israeli helicopters attacked two suspected Hamas weapons workshops in Gaza City

Suspected? Huh? Are these weapons workshops suspected of being owned and used by Hamas? If so, then should the suspicion be wrong, it doesn't matter, Israel was still blowing up weapons workshops. Or, were the buildings blown up only suspected of being weapons workshops? The author seems to be trying to cast doubt. But if it turned out to be a dorito factory this would have been noticed after the bombing, right? And then there is no chance at all they would have failed to state very clearly that Israel blew up the wrong thing. So I have to conclude it *was* a weapons workshop, possibly run by Hamas, and that the author sucks.

early Monday and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called off a summit with his Palestinian counterpart — a first response to a double suicide bombing that killed 10 Israelis in a heavily guarded Israeli seaport.

So why wasn't the headline: Suicide Murderers Stall Peace Process ?

Oh, I know why: because the Associated Press (this is an AP article) hates Israel, and wants to blame everything on Israel.

Israel will also intensify targeted killings of Palestinian militants in retaliation for Sunday’s bombing in Ashdod port, the first deadly attack on a strategic target in Israel in more than three years of fighting, a senior official said. He suggested that leaders of militant groups, occasionally targeted in the past, will not be immune.

So what happened here? Bad terrorist people killed Jews, and Israel is going to kill the bad people in self-defense. Huzzah!

But what's AP say happened? AP says Israel is going to kill *militants*. Israel is killing them *in retaliation*. Israel is out for revenge not self-defense. Israel hasn't been attacked in an important way for 3 years. Israel has nothing to bitch about. Attacks on Palestinian soil by the IDF happen all the time (Palestinians have soil now? heh). Both sides have been trying to kill each other for over three years, proving they are both war-like or someone would have stopped by now. The Palestinians, being poor, have an excuse for being war-like. Also Israel is now planning to assissinate Palestinians leaders.

The bombers, 17-year-old high school students from a Gaza refugee camp, managed to slip into Israel despite a heavily patrolled fence ringing the strip; one of their handlers said he believed they crawled through a tunnel. The assailants also evaded tight security at the port and used high- grade plastic explosives.

What does this prove? It proves that more security just won't work alone, and the only possible way to be safe is to kill terrorists.

What does AP think this proves? That security fences don't work, so any fence Israel builds is really to steal land.

One wonders where the poor Palestinians get high-grade plastic explosives. Ho hum.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Israel Is Too Kind To Bad People

Haaretz Article

"[Someone] asked him to carry through a bag...and left," the officer said. "[The boy] just wanted to make money. We will release him. He's just a poor kid." The boy said he was offered a large sum of money to transfer the bags, and he was released after it became clear that he was not aware that the bags he was carrying contained explosives.

Skim the rest of the article too. Anyway, boy carries bag of explosives through checkpoint. It has wires sticking out of it. He's caught and stopped. Then he's set free!

Why was he set free? Because Israel treats bad people (and especially children) too well. Rather than being the oppressive conquerors the media claims, Israel is too friendly for its own good.

The boy was criminally negligent thrice over. First, he carried a bag through a checkpoint for a stranger without checking what was in it or telling anyone. Second, it had wires sticking out. Sheesh! And third, he got paid lots of money to do it. Why would he get paid all that money? He should have been suspicious about it. (If he took the money then told authorities I'm sure he would have gotten to keep it.)

The boy is a bad person who nearly got some perfectly good people murdered. But what does Israel see? A poor, uneducated boy to pity and not blame for his criminal negligence.

Not only would the world almost definitely be better off without that boy (he is morally bad enough to be dangerous), but some of his friends might be scared out of doing the same thing if Israel punished him (or encouraged if there is no punishment. same idea) (public execution sounds nice to me, but I suppose it'd be a short jail sentence, because Israel is such a cruel country). *sigh*

Oh, and to people who think Israel intentionally targets children. (Jews hate children or something? Makes no sense in the first place.) Fuck you!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

A Political Platform

Announcer: Hello, and welcome to the Presidential Debates. There's been a slight change this year. Elliot is going to speak because he's so cool. Bush and maybe Kerry can speak if there is extra time.


Before I begin with my positions, I want to address two issues. The first is Statism. The other candidates here are Statists, and that's something you have to watch out for. What that means is they attribute mystical, magical powers to States. For example they think States can solve problems that ordinary people can't. But this doesn't make much sense, because who makes up a government? Just people like you and me.

The second is some people might say my ideas are too simplistic to work. But that's a misunderstanding. They only seem simple because our whole society is smart! We understand a lot of things. When candidates want to avoid ideas that seem simple and true in favour of complex ones, that just means they want to use their own pet theory that, when explained, is confusing not persuasive. But good ideas are something everyone can understand!

Now, I've been asked to go over a number of key issues: taxes, schools, welfare and social programs, the military, immigration, gun control, and abortion, so that's what I'll do.

Now, I'm just going to go over the general ideas for each one. We don't need to talk about the exact numbers involved. We have experts to figure those out. What's important in a leader is having a good plan, not figuring out every detail, which should be a team effort.

As for taxes, I'm going to lower them. Why? Because I think you are competent to spend your own money well. I don't want to redistribute it with central planning because I'm not a Statist -- I don't think that the State is better at planning than ordinary people. And not only that, each of you only has a little money (compared to the wealth of the whole country), and will pay a lot of attention to your own money. But if the government tries to distribute wealth, it will have a small number of employees trying to deal with the money from many, many people. So, we would have more bureaucrats (with salaries) doing a worse job than you would do. We don't need that.

As for schools, I support vouchers, and I will cut funding to public schools to pay for it. Why? Because the public school system doesn't work! They keep telling us if we just give them more money, then it will work. But we've tried that. And it failed. So I say, let the market take care of it. If parents have money to spend on a good school, then capitalists will create those good schools. Teaching the next generation is not the place of government.

As for welfare and social programs, I'm against those. I know charity is important, but I just don't think central planning is the way to do it. I know you are all good people, and you'll give any extra money you can to people who need it. I trust you to decide how much money you can spare, not the tax collector.

As for the military, I'm going to increase funding. Why? Because I want to be safe. There is evil in the world. There are bad people who want to kill us. And I won't hide my head in the sand and pretend they aren't out there. Rather, I'm going to face facts, stand tall, and fight them off. And I'm not scared of them either; we can beat them. We just have to put some effort into it.

As for immigration, I say if someone wants to live here, great! People are not locusts. They won't ravage our country and destroy our resources. Most immigrants will just get jobs and help create more wealth for everyone. Now, I understand that if there were a lot of welfare programs, then immigrants would be expensive. But under my leadership, those will be replaced with personal charity. So you don't have to worry about your tax dollars going to immigrants; they will earn their keep.

As for gun control, I like guns. They are a great tool. It used to be a strong man could intimidate a small man. But guns are the great equaliser. When everyone is armed, no one wants to start a fight. I want everyone to be able to defend themselves, so that's why I'm against gun control.

Abortion is a contentious issue. A lot of well-meaning people disagree. On the one hand, some of you think it's murder. On the other hand, some people say it's free choice. Now, I don't see how freedom could excuse murder. So I think the left is wrong about this. But what about an abortion before the fetus has a working brain? How could that be murder? I respect everyone's right to believe in souls, but I don't want to make laws about them.

So in conclusion, if you like personal freedom and a responsible government, not central planning or a nanny state, then vote for me. If you like ideas too confusing for a politician to explain to you, vote for a socialist.

Thank you, God bless you, and good night.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (23)

a large part of what's wrong with libertarians


it's a samizdata piece by Perry. genital piercings got banned in Georgia.

now, if i heard that, i'd think it was an annoying hangup as there's nothing morally wrong with genital piercings.

but that's not how Perry reacts. he is mad that something he sees as a freedom *can* be banned. he thinks that you own your genetalia, therefore all laws about them are invalid. this view is significantly *worse* than the original mistake. the original mistake of thinking genital piercings are bad is just one mistaken judgment. Perry's view is a recipie to get an unlimited number of issues wrong.

in comments, someone whines that the authors of the law consider themselves fiscal conservatives. either he thinks fiscal conservatives must oppose all new laws that would cost money (absurd), or he thinks they must oppose all frivilous laws. but the authors of the law don't consider it frivilous (duh). they probably *are* fiscal conservatives.

also in comments apparently the law was aimed at genital mutilation and nailed piercing too b/c the authors didn't know consentual piercing even existed. so this is even less bad than it originally seemed.

but how does Perry take the news?

The fact a bunch of ignorant jackasses can make something consensual illegal just like that is the problem.

so Perry thinks everything consentual should be legal. period. wife burning? spanking? ok in a perfect society (with better notions of what consent is and better mechanisms to prevent systematic coercion) they should be legal. in a bad enough society you couldn't set up institutions that care about consent anyways. but they should not be legal, unconditionally, in all imaginable societies. and more to the point, in the real world, there are lots of examples of illegal consentual things that should be illegal.

for example the story of british ppl going to india and banning wife burning. the natives say "but it's our custom" and the brits say "we have a custom too. when someone burns his wife we hang him". (this story could be a myth, dunno, but it doesn't matter). banning wife burning was important and good in that situation.

banning spanking in the US is arguably a good idea. even if it's not, it probably will be in the nearish future. (doing it would change the situation for many abused children in positive ways) saying there can be no debate b/c of Libertarian Principles would be rather lame. pretending the laws against assault and battery can protect children today would umm ... well it doesn't.


besides this, what is and isn't consent is non-obvious. can i download music? well in one analysis, this is consentual b/c the only ppl in the equation are me and the person i'm getting it from, and we both consent. in another, the creator of the music has to consent too, and doesn't, so it's not. (who has to consent must always be decided b/c it can't be the whole universe, it has to be the *relevant* people. who's relevant?). thus Perry's analysis (consentual stuff should always be legal) wouldn't even tell us what should be legal. pretending his statement supports one meaning of consent over another (his in particular) would be invalid.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Why People Don't Believe In Evolution

Well, why should you believe in evolution? Because it helps explain reality better.

But what if you didn't understand evolution at all? Then it wouldn't help you explain reality better. This is how most Christians avoid believing in it (of the ones who don't). Their understanding is so poor that it does not seem any better an explanation than God.

They reveal this when they say things that equate evolution with man being created by chance, or when they say atheists think time, in large enough quantities, can do anything. Or when they say that lions and tigers can't make fertile offspring (ie that species exist) and think that proves their point. Or when you point out that two *slightly different* lions can have fertile offspring, and they think that has nothing to do with evolution.

Notice how under this explanation, creationists are not wicked or even horribly flawed, just a bit ignorant. And ignorant of something that won't really help them much in their lives anyway.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

Living Forever

Someone once suggested (not sure if s/he wants credit for the idea; will change this if s/he does) that an infinite life-span would not be very useful. Why? Because the way our knowledge is structured would become so out-dated that it would both be much easier to start over (teach a blank mind from scratch) and also too difficult to be worthwhile to fix current, old people. Now, in the future there will be all sorts of great technologies to help fix people with bad ideas, and a whole profession of people very good at helping with this sort of thing, so what was meant was not that it'd just be a bit too expensive, but rather that it would be a virtually impossible or actually impossible task. So difficult that in millions of years of progress it would still seem impossible.

How could this be? Sure, I may have some hangups (I hate eggs and math textbooks, for example), but I'm sure a hundred years with no pressures, lots of friends, and various nice futurey things could cure me. And if it couldn't, the next thousand years might. As it is, I already like math in certain forms, and have come to like some foods I used to hate. So there's nothing remotely impossible here.

OK let's try something else. What if I grew up thinking the world was flat? Would that be a problem? Well, certainly for many people this was a misconception they never really dealt with during their natural life-spans. But some people did solve it. And I don't see why the rest couldn't get over it eventually. They could circle around the world, then go into space and look at it, so they could see for themselves that "scientists" weren't just playing a prank. And they could learn more physics than we know today, and see how well it works.

Now some people might be tempted to, by now, say the idea of infinite life-spans being useless is nuts (if they didn't decide that much earlier). But this would be immoral. For we've still shown absolutely no understanding of what was meant! Now, we could assume nothing remotely sensible was meant. But that's just no way to discuss philosophy. We should either say we don't know and aren't interested, or look to understand the subject.

Thus far we've looked at hangups and misconceptions that can be expressed in English. But only the simplest hangups and misconceptions can be. Anything that we can put into English, our entire society already has some understanding of.

But try to imagine. We are very young, and we begin to encounter various problems. We try to conjecture the answers. But randomly conjecturing answers with no constraints on what we think of is unlikely to solve many problems. It'd be like if the answer was 8 and we rolled a die with an infinite number of sides, trying to find that answer. So what we do is make conjectures about what sort of answers we are looking for. For example in the dice analogy we might conjecture that useful answers are mostly under 1,000,000,000. And now for many sorts of problems (the ones where our conjecture is about right) we will find the answers much more easily.

Next up, we might notice that for certain classes of problems, more specific constraints are useful. Problems about wood are mostly between 1-3 million. Problems about sand 7-10 million. Now we might solve most problems more accurately and faster (as long as our constraints are good). Of course some constraints will turn out wrong, but we can change them. At least at first. But what if we have a system 200 layers deep. Is it about earth? ok < 1,000,000,000,000 Is it about sand? no, ok not btwn 7-10 mil. Is it about water? yes, ok look between 44-999 mil. is the water cold? yes, ok, look at odd numbers only. etc etc

Of course real constraints are much more complex, because answers do not lie on a number-line. Anyhow, imagine our first 10 layers have not changed since we were 5. The next 80 have not changed since we were 20. Now go forward in time thousands of years. Our problem situation is very, very different than it was when we were growing up. And instead of 200 layers, we have 2 million. But, our situation is very, very different now than it was as we grew up. And half our layers are dead wrong, including the 3rd and 9th ones. Is it really feasible to fix this? Without becoming a new person?

And it gets worse. At the thousand year mark, when we moved to a new planet, our system of constraints started to fail a bit. So we added some new modifications to fix things on top of the whole system. These increased our problem solving abilities and kept us functional. And going through just a couple more layers was so negligibly inefficient as not to be a problem. But they were only ad hoc modifications, so after some time started to function poorly. So we added more. And more. And after living a million years, it's quite possible we've been making things progressively worse for most of that time. Sure we've been learning new things the whole time, but to fix the actual heart of our problems, we would have to change some of our most basic ideas that have become more and more distant from our latest modifications.

Now, I'm currently unconvinced this analysis actually implies the conclusions we were looking for (that an infinite life-span would not be valuable). But it's not an unreasonable conjecture either, and certainly not nuts, even though prima facie it does sound a bit nuts. And extensive further argument would be required to reject it.

Oh, just for fun, count how many life extentionists have ever gone through this analysis. I don't think you'll need your toes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)


To be very clear, when I say "atheist" I mean US atheist, and when I say "Christianity" I mean the American version. There are a number of significantly different versions of Christianity and atheism in the world, and sometimes they need to be discussed separately. I'll come back to this at the end.

I'll start with a quick outline of my argument, to make it easier to follow:

- Christianity is somewhat mystical.
- Atheists are mystical too. It's an aspect of our society.
- People say that atheists are atheists because God is a mystical idea, but this is rarely the real reason (as most atheists still are mystics anyway).
- Christian values are largely good.
- Atheists are not simply non-religious, they oppose religion. In the US, this mostly means opposing Christianity.
- So (most) atheists are opposing something largely good for little reason.
- Doing so is wrong. We should praise good things, and certainly never oppose them.

Christianity is somewhat mystical

Err, well, they believe in God, some believe in creationism, and there's heaven too. Given my audience, I don't think I need to go into any detail here. So moving on...

Atheists are mystical too. It's an aspect of our society.

So we were driving along in New Mexico, and [an atheist] turns to me and comments, about the landscape, that Mother Nature used a big scalpel. And then goes on to describe various details of the terrain. And I sit quietly and imagine driving with a Christian, who says God used a big scalpel, and I really don't see the difference. They seem equally mystical to me.

You may say talking about mother nature is just an expression. But often so is using God! Often these people probably aren't thinking too much about what they are saying, and don't really mean it literally. This is a good defense, but it applies to atheists and Christians equally.

If you watch much modern-genre anime, you may observe the characters being highly superstitious (by US standards). It's portrayed as generally accepted (often brought up; never really questioned). Fortune tellers are also quite common and are taken seriously. I take from this that US culture is actually not that bad on mysticism. I don't believe I know anyone very superstitious.

The US has some silly things like psychic hotlines (which apparently make money). I don't know any reason to think Christians are more likely to believe in psychics, though. The Bible doesn't say to believe in them, and actually the fairly common excuse that they are communing with spirits is distinctly non-Christian (one God, says Christianity).

People say that atheists are atheists because God is a mystical idea, but this is rarely the real reason (as most atheists still are mystics anyway).

The common claim is that people usually reject Christianity because they reject mysticism. This is not borne out by the many spiritual atheists, agnostics, various oddball religions like Wicca, Satanism, Paganism, eastern religions with reincarnation, karma, or whatever, etc etc etc And especially not borne out by my point above about atheists mostly being just as mystical.

And also, there are plenty of Christians who dislike mysticism, but somehow don't see their religion that way. In other words, most people who reject mysticism manage to reconcile this rejection with their religion.

So, in the vast majority of cases, I believe we must look for some other reasons for the rejection of Christianity.

Christian values are largely good.

Certain Christian hangups get a lot of attention. Such as opposing abortion or homophobia. Some people then conclude that Christianity is a silly, out-dated idea that has begun to cause more harm than good (if they think it was ever good -- some think people just didn't know better before, and ought to now).

But, well, here's a simple argument:

- The USA is very good. It fights for freedom, solves problems well (as evidenced by its great successes at science, at producing stuff to make life better, at living peacefully), and doesn't listen to the specious authority of the majority of countries of the world (you know, the ones always passing UN resolutions about how evil the Jews are Israel is).
- The USA also doesn't go in for appeasement (something most of Europe apparently didn't figure out with Hitler), or pacifism. Self-defense is important.
- So, how do we explain the US being good? Well, it has to be made up of good people. Which means people with highly moral values.
- Atheism is more popular in Europe, thus demonstrating we do not get our good values from atheism. (Not to mention that not believing in God isn't a value system).
- On the other hand, the US is full of, surprise surprise, Christians. The US represents Christian values. Our current President is even open and explicit about this, and willing to mention God in his speeches.
- Therefore, as the US is very good, and as its policies are mostly based on Christian values, we must conclude there is something very good in Christianity.

To try to see the difference, imagine saying each of the following things to a crowd of atheists or a crowd of Christians, and imagine the reactions you would get.

"There is Evil in the world, and we must fight it, not pretend it's only a difference of culture. Some things are always and everywhere Evil, such as to oppress women or murder innocents."

"Certain things, like freedom and democracy, are Good. They are not for some people. They are not a matter of taste. Some people believe that Arabs or Muslims can't handle democracy. I say God made all people, not just white people, to want freedom, and to flourish with it."

"The Jews in Israel are on the side of Right, and we will stand with them, whatever Evil may come. Their enemies, who preach death every Friday, and dance in the street with joy at each terrorist atrocity, are our enemies too."

Atheists are not simply non-religious, they oppose religion. In the US, this mostly means opposing Christianity.

More (proportionally) atheists than Christians becomes environmentalists. More become socialists. More feel solidarity with Palestinian suicide murderers. More are willing to overlook the suffering caused by tyrants in the Islamic world. More are so committed to causes like getting rid of DDT that they will overlook the millions of people their policy kills.

This is not a matter of being factually confused. There is nothing in atheism that causes people to read less, or choose worse sources to read. Rather, this is a moral issue. And specifically, it shows moral inferiority by atheists. They read more (on average, I expect) but still tend to come out with worse views. This means they twist and distort facts to conform to a bad view of the world.


Christianity is not really about there being one God, but rather about there being one morality. Most atheists throw this out, and become, at least explicitly, amoral or a moral relativist. They can no longer speak in the "simplistic" language of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, because they see those as religious concepts (and mystical, usually). And so they flounder around with very silly psuedo-values like "hurting nature is wrong" (Why? Unknown. And you thought religions were lite on justifications.) Or mechanical values like to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, with suffering defined as hunger, disease, injuries, and length of work day. But such an analysis will always be blind to, for example, who is right in a conflict. It will just side with whichever side got hurt more (i.e., was less successful). Which is usually the side in the wrong (bad people tend to be less successful).


In the distant future, the superstitions of today will be gone. There will be no psychic hotlines. A TV show about speaking to the dead would flop, unless shown on the history channel. There will be no religions. No one will believe in God. But so too will there be no atheists. Because once there are no religions to oppose, it will be a meaningless thing to be. Just like today being an a-leprechaunist (someone who believes there are no leprechauns) is absurd.

And furthermore, why be an atheist even today? Why care? Why not just live your life without believing in God? Why does it matter to you if other people are theists? Well, there are lots of reasons, but they all involve things like theism hurting you, not getting along well with Christians, rebelling against Christianity, or a strong desire to convert people to your worldview. (The last is bad because, while it's great to take your own ideas seriously, and wish to help people, we must keep in mind that we may be wrong, and thus not force our ideas on others. Though it's not very bad. At least it indicates a belief in one objective morality.)

So to sum up, people mostly become atheists because they oppose Christianity, mostly identify themselves as atheists because they oppose Christianity, and would identify themselves as non-religious and shrug and not care if this wasn't true.

So (most) atheists are opposing something largely good for little reason.

Not much to say here, expect that opposing good things is terrible, and even if something good has flaws, it still shouldn't be opposed, only criticised in hopes of improving it. And it can still be identified with, for the great good it has.

Doing so is wrong. We should praise good things, and certainly never oppose them.

To conclude, I want to give a short, different version of my argument, that acknowledges Christianity is different in other places.

- The US is good
- Atheists tend to oppose whatever religion they are around, or were former members of.
- So atheists in Pakistan would mostly be pro-American, because their atheism is to oppose the religion there, not here.
- Atheists in the US tend to be less patriotic and, well, less American.
- So opposing American Christianity tends to make people here worse.
- Now, can we conclude that because opposing something makes people worse, the thing is good? Well, logically, we cannot deduce it. There could be some other factor we don't know about. However, American Christianity being good would explain why people opposing it become worse. So, unless someone can think of a persuasive rival explanation, we have a very strong argument.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

palestinian living conditions better than lots of places

i did some research on life expectancy and infant mortality for palestine and uganda and somalia. if you think those are unfair indicators, feel free to suggest some other ones.

from the CIA world factbook for Uganda

Infant mortality rate:
total: 87.9 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 80.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.)
male: 95.41 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 44.88 years
male: 43.42 years
female: 46.38 years (2003 est.)

for somalia

Infant mortality rate:
total: 120.34 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 110.56 deaths/1,000 live births (2003 est.)
male: 129.84 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 47.34 years
male: 45.67 years
female: 49.05 years (2003 est.)

now for palestinians, i'll get 3 sources.

infant mortality 32 in 1990 and 22 in 2000.
life expectancy 72.1 in 2000

infant mortality 20 for west bank and gaza. 37 for middle east and north africa.
life expectancy 73 for west bank and gaza. 69 for middle east and north africa

and a 3rd source just to make sure:

infant mortality in 1992 says 42, but in 2001 down to 21
life expectancy for 2001 = 72.1

oh also here's some nice comparison charts with loads of countries:

infant mortality:

life expectancy:

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


What is coercion?

The original: The psychological state of enacting one idea or impulse while a conflicting impulse is still active in one's mind.

An improvement: Coercion is the state of two or more personality strands being expressed in different options of a single choice such that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his personality.

If you're wondering what the use of all this is, coercion captures ideas like mental pain and distress precisely. It explains just what they really are.

And now, a whole new way to look at it:

First off, we need to think of a worldview (personality) as having various parts (strands, groups of theories) that are approximately autonomous. The argument that they are goes as follows:

Is Buffy the series or Buffy the movie better? Most Buffy fans would say the series. In this way they are alike. There are various other questions about Buffy we could ask to also get the same answers.

Now, each Buffy fan has a different worldview, and some different ideas. But when asked about Buffy they can generally give the same answer. This shows that the alike, Buffy part of their personalities does not consult with the rest of their personality. If it did, they would answer differently.

Of course this isn't a perfection distinction. If you ask complex enough questions the answers Buffy fans give will vary more. And part of someone's personality can't be entirely autonomous. But it acts approximately autonomous.

Alright, so the point is we have various different separate parts of our personality. Now, suppose we have to make a choice. Most of our personality won't have anything to say about the choice. Say it's what to eat for dinner. The Buffy part will have no view. Nor the math part. Nor the hockey part. Only a few parts of our personality will be relevant for any given choice.

Alright, so there is some choice to be made, and some parts of our personality give input on what we choose. For each relevant part of our personality, there is a set of options for how to choose that are consistent with it (this set exists abstractly -- I'm not saying all these options are in our mind). When asked if Buffy is cool, we could choose to say "yeah", or "yes", or "yup", or "totally", or many other things, without contradicting our views on Buffy. On the other hand, there are some ways to respond that would not work, such as to say "no" when we actually do think Buffy is cool. So, the point is, there's a set of options (ways to choose) that work with any given personality strand, and all options not in that set would constitute acting contrary to our own personality.

Alright, so now we get to the key new idea: the set of non-coercive options is the intersection of the sets of choices for each part of our personality.

(Intersection of sets means only the things in all of them.)

And, also, the only possible way to change the set of possible non-coercive options (for example to make it bigger) is to change our personality. By altering a part so that it is consistent with a different set of options. (Or by removing a part, like a bad hangup.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (9)

atheists oppose religion

atheists oppose religion

Here it is suggested (last question) that religious people figure stuff out and come to their views using, "fantasy, intuition, and tradition". Obviously using fantasy to inform your worldview would be bad, so this is a huge slander. On the other hand, tradition is very useful and important, and so is intuition, so this is revealing of atheists generally having the wrong approach to thought, and having it because they oppose any methods they associate with religion (yes it could go the other way. first they made a mistake about philosophy, then this caused them to oppose religion. that wouldn't make atheists any better though). (They would not put stuff in an introductory FAQ that was controversial. Especially not an FAQ designed to make atheism very inclusive by welcoming agnostics.)

At American Atheists, the frontpage currently has a news release that's pretty rabid about separation of church and state. basically they don't want Bush to be allowed to pray. He could write a book on why Satanism is great, and that would be free speech (to atheists), but if the president seems to support Christianity in public they get mad. If they were really indifferent to religion, they would care just as much as if the president endorsed hockey.

And here's what the American Atheists think is a good essay on morality without God. To start, it suggests life wasn't worse 2000 years ago. Then it calls Christian morality unsophisticated, which is pretty damn persuasive *cough*. And it continues to go downhill:

The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included. Moreover, despite protestations to the contrary, we may assert as a general rule that when religionists practice ethical behavior, it isn't really due to their fear of hell-fire and damnation, nor is it due to their hopes of heaven. Ethical behavior - regardless of who the practitioner may be - results always from the same causes and is regulated by the same forces, and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religious belief. The nature of these causes and forces is the subject of this essay.

Hum, my behavior is subject to psychological rules? Sociolological? Well I'll wait until he expands on that to yell and scream, I guess. Saying "religionists" helps expose his anti-religion stance.

And then his argument here, umm, doesn't work. First he calls Christians liars, and then he declares human behavior is *entirely* regulated by certain non-religious things. Which would make religion ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT, which we all agree its not.

As human beings, we are social animals. Our sociality is the result of evolution, not choice. Natural selection has equipped us with nervous systems which are peculiarly sensitive to the emotional status of our fellows. Among our kind, emotions are contagious, and it is only the rare psychopathic mutants among us who can be happy in the midst of a sad society. It is in our nature to be happy in the midst of happiness, sad in the midst of sadness. It is in our nature, fortunately, to seek happiness for our fellows at the same time as we seek it for ourselves. Our happiness is greater when it is shared.

Oh dear God! OK I'm done with this essay. And this website. Except to suggest nature is his God.

this guy freely admits he spends time thinking of arguments against Christianity. also against other religious, but mostly christianity, b/c he knows more about christianity, and was raised catholic.

Look at this

A theist may study the human digestive system and marvel, "Surely something so elegant and complex must have been designed by God!" An atheist, on the other hand, might ask, "Why did God create tapeworms?" To an atheist, this thorny problem of a benevolent creator giving humanity the gift of parasites is evidence (though hardly proof) that he or she is correct in doubting the existence of God.

mmm hmm. and to a keen observer this atheist is spending quite a lot of time thinking about God. would someone who really didn't give a shit about God relate tapeworms to God?

here an atheist site gives the main reasons ppl become atheists:

1) contact with other religions. this doesn't make sense though. if the other one was persuasive, they'd convert not become an atheist.

2) bad experiences with religion

3) b/c of science, no longer need religion -- except religion's are full of *moral* content, so anyone replacing religion with science is totally fucked.

4) idiotic, entirely misconceived philosophical arguments

and 5) atheism, they claim, is the default position b/c ppl aren't born believing in God. this is no good. by that logic not walking is the default. any sense in which not walking is the "default" is a rather pointless sense though, huh? babies have no position on theism b/c they aren't even aware of it yet. better to look at an adult who has chosen theism or atheism. among adults, who have chosen, neither position can be sensibly called the "default" and given automatic priority, nor can the burden of proof be put on the other side b/c of some default status. sorry, no good, it just begs the question.


Why are you an theist?

someone starts to answer: "What caused me to reject not only religion, but also belief in the existence of any gods?"

down a little more they admit many atheists think atheism=rationality and theism=irationality.

and ok i'm bored with this.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Criticism Scary?

Criticism is scary because:

Even with a very good structure, there are some costs to changing one's theories (effort. but the point is it's not automatic). And with an average structure and a load of hangups, for all sorts of topics, the costs are quite high.

Criticism is scary when you do not have confidence that you will be able to fix your theories (due to being attached to them).

Maybe it's easier to see the other way around: the reason criticism doesn't scare me is if some of my theories are bad, I will simply change them. So the criticism, even if it's true when given, won't be for very long. It's just a tool to become better.

Also, if I don't change my theories because I don't understand the criticism, I won't feel bad. I wouldn't even know if the criticism was true. But people with less confidence, who trust in appeals to authority, might have trouble with that situation.

Also, even if you are told some of your theories are bad, and the criticism makes sense to you, and you find yourself unable to change them (yet -- of course you always might figure it out later). It doesn't rationally follow that you must feel bad about this, or be coerced. But suffice it to say that's quite a common response today.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Isyn: When you said "a friend" in that blog entry, was it Jack?
curi: *flat voice* I don't wanna answer that.
Isyn: So it *was* Jack?
curi: No. Shut up.
Isyn: Aha. So it was Bill then?
curi: *sounding distressed* Stop it. This is private.
Isyn: Private, eh? That means it must have been a girl. Was it Jill?
curi: No. Erm, I mean, that's none of your business.
Isyn: Not Jill. OK, that only leaves Karen.
curi: *blush* No!
Isyn: I see your face. It was totally Karen. You can't hide it.
curi: *sigh* Please don't tell anyone.

I watched a Dawson's Creek episode yesterday (1x06) with a Truth Or Dare game that was much worse. But this doesn't just happen on TV. It's quite common. Perhaps usually more subtle, but sometimes not even.


99/100 rape cases don't involve physical force.

Rape is non-consentual sex where the rapist should reasonably have been aware that there wasn't consent. So if a girl says no weakly a few times ... well there's a fairly common things where girls say no and mean yes. But it's also fairly common to say no and mean no. All the later cases constitute rape (albeit not nearly so bad as the physical force variety).

How do these non-physical-force rapes happen?

Girl says no. guy says yes. girl says no again. guy says yes again. girl says no again. guy says yes again. and someone runs out of arguments, confidence, assertiveness, willpower, or whatever, and can't keep it up. (each "yes" or "no" isn't just literally the word, but rather something that means it, from a 3 paragraph argument to a look).

The form of this interaction is not specific to sex. Another situation it works with is telling a secret. Secret-holder says no. Secret-wanter says yes. etc Then someone gives in.

Forcing a secret out of someone like this is, out of the context of our society, morally equivalent to rape (the non-physical-force variety). (In the context of our society, people are better at coping with their secrets getting out than with sex, so the sex tends to be worse. But we could imagine a society where the are equally bad, or sex is less bad.)


I've observed that something really ingrained in the TCS culture is when people say "nevermind" the subject tends to get dropped. Outside TCS culture, IME (in my experience), it rarely gets dropped at the first nevermind. Saying nevermind often seems to even make people *more* curious and insistent.

Does this nevermind thing matter? What does it mean?

I think we could reasonably say it's the difference between being a rapist or not.


Rape is when you actually get the sex or secret or whatever out of the person. But also: the more times the person says no, and you ask again, the closer you get.

it's often quite subtle. i'm assertive. i could refuse sex easily. but sometimes i don't want to explain something or talk about something and i *don't* say "i don't wanna talk about that". it's not always so easy. usually i will say nevermind, or not answer. sometimes change subject. (saying "i don't wanna talk about that" has a pretty good success rate when you can say it, but isn't at all foolproof. you might just be asked "Why?" among other things.)

these are easy to do the first time. they tend to get a bit harder to do repeatedly though. it's awkward to say "nevermind" three times in a row, when you know perfectly well it's not answering the person's questions (which may keep varying a bit, or ask about meta issues, or all sorts of things).

you may feel unspoken pressure to be friendly or not be rude. or that might even be explicit. you may care about the other person, and want to make friends or be nice. it might be your boss who you can't offend. it might be your friend's friend, who your friend wants you to get along with. there are many sorts of pressures to make this difficult.

Anyway, this is a serious moral issue that our society doesn't really acknowledge even exists.

Oh, and to return to the start, the dialog is, as you've probably figured out, an example meant to be morally equivalent to rape sans context. (less harmful in our society, but still quite a big deal)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)


Things you contradict you do not endorse.
Things you endorse you do not contradict.

When people write they mention all sorts of things, but are usually only trying to express a few things. I call these things they mean to communicate the substance or main point(s) or the thrust or gist. So, when I say something is the main point, that does not mean it's objectively more fundamental, it simply means it's what the speaker's main point is.

there are two rivals approaches to human interaction that I want to discuss. to illustrate, I'll use Caeli and Isyn.

First, here's:

Caeli's Description Of Both Styles

Caeli, when presented with some theory, first tries to find truth or value in it. She skims over mistakes to try to get the complete idea. And if the idea seems right to her, she doesn't care how many premises are messed up.

Isyn believes that if a theory is criticised, and the criticism is true, then the theory is refuted. He doesn't want to waste his time on false theories, so he always looks for errors. If he sees any, that's that. The theory is false. If he doesn't find errors on the first pass, then he'll evaluate the merit of the theory.

Caeli believes theories are not simply true or false, but rather they are truer or less true. She knows that all progress in human knowledge can be thought of as going from one misconception to another less misconceived one. And so it doesn't seem important to her if a theory has errors, as long as they don't entirely ruin what's being proposed. One common example is statements of the form, "X because Y" where Y seems to be false. Caeli would ignore Y, and consider whether X had merit. Just because the person presenting the theory explicitly claims X has something to do with Y, doesn't mean they actually need to be considered together.

Isyn doesn't want to endorse errors. So he contradicts them. He certainly doesn't want to add errors to his worldview, so he won't add theories with errors in them. When he argues, you can't persuade him if he can find any errors in your suggestion. Even if you find some flaws in his current view, he will sooner take no stance than adopt your faulty new idea.

When you talk to Caeli about one of your new ideas, you generally find yourself discussing just the ideas you were interested in. On the occassions where Caeli insists on going over some side point, Caeli always does it to explain something you will find interesting and relevant. You can make all the errors you want while expressing yourself. From grammar and clumsy terminology, that she doesn't think is best, to appealing to blatantly false theories because they were the best way you could think of immediately to explain what you wanted to, or even because you don't know they're false. Caeli thinks of "not best" as "less true" and won't contradict unless it seems very urgent.

Isyn believes his worldview has no known flaws. Sure, he's fallible, but he's reconciled his worldview with every criticism he's ever encountered. He considers ideas different from his to be criticism, and so discussions with him always revolve around who should change his view to match the other's.

Caeli only criticses your suggestions when she believes you will enjoy the criticism. Usually this is when she believes the criticism is very important to understanding the issue being discussed better, but if she knows you well, she can judge what side issues you will like to hear about also.

Isyn believes everyone either wants to improve *all* their views, or ought to. He doesn't really care about bad people (those who ought to, but don't, want to improve all their views). And so Isyn believes criticism on any subject where you're wrong will help you, unless you are bad.

Caeli looks for ways to improve the ideas you suggest to her. Isyn doesn't bother if he sees any flaws, unless he happens to be in a mood where doing so seems entertaining.

When you argue with Isyn, you almost never discuss what you wanted to. First you argue over terminology and semantics. If yours are different than his, he will not understand what you're talking about, and will only hear what he sees as your semantic misconceptions. And he won't try your semantics out unless you can win that argument with him.

Caeli you don't even have to ask. If you say something she finds strange, she will just quietly find an interpretation that seems to be what you meant. If she can't understand, then she'll ask you to explain what you mean further.

If Isyn can't understand, he'll tell you you don't make sense, and you're therefore wrong.

Next, to argue with Isyn, you have to go over every last premise you give until he's satisfied with them. You might be tempted to not bother with premises, but then Isyn will ask why he ought to think your idea is true. If you say it is just an attempt to explain some part of reality, and its explanatory power seems to you to speak for itself (but only when used...), Isyn will think you're begging the question (assuming your conclusion is right, an invalid way to argue).

Even if you do get the topic to your main point, you won't stay there. First Isyn will tell you every reason that comes to his mind that you're wrong. Then when you defend each criticism, he will tell you every reason that each one of your defenses is wrong. And when you defend those criticisms, he will criticise your newest set of defenses. And so on. This has quite a possibility of continuing on long past the original topic being forgotten. Only when Isyn runs out of criticism at every level will he finally look at the merits of your suggestion.

Isyn is easily distracted. All topics seem to him about equally interesting. When the subject changes, he hardly notices.

Caeli notices when discussions drift, and often tries to bring them back. She knows that arguments thrice removed don't actually have much bearing on what's at issue. Because their relation is as the foundations, or the premises. Such things don't actually exist though. Caeli follows Popper in thinking we don't need verification of our theories (arguments that they are true). And not only that, but we cannot get verification anyway. So no matter how many reasons X is true are refuted ... well X never needed any in the first place. We only give them because it's a good way to explain what we mean by X better.

Isyn gets bored quickly talking to anyone not like Isyn, because, as he sees it, if they don't have the same interest in true theories, they're kinda useless anyway.

Caeli only gets bored talking to people like Isyn, because he rarely says anything she enjoys, and makes Caeli explain all sorts of things that neither of them cares about much (When Isyn offers fifty criticisms, and you defend 48, he won't care about those defenses (except to find flaws in them), and will instead focus on the two criticisms still standing.)

When someone mentions tons of wrong things, caeli tries to ignore it. when caeli understands the substance, and considers it importantly flawed, she is willing to criticise. and also, if someone mentions all sorts of right things, and generally seems brilliant, but then messes up the substance, caeli will be equally willing to criticise it. if someone like Isyn (but a little less extreme) encountered these two situations, he would find the first person mostly/almost-entirely wrong, and the second mostly right.


Isyn's Rebuttal

Caeli forgot to capitalise her name once, thus her theory is false. QED

That's a joke, but you wouldn't know from the way Caeli describes Isyn.

Anyway, there are lots of idiots in the world. Lots. And bad ideas outnumber idiots a hundred to one (more actually). If Caeli really gives every idiot, complete with his hundred bad ideas, a serious hearing, trying to make sense of his crap instead of point out it sucks and move on, well where did she find time to write anything? Seriously, you *can't* give *everyone* that much opportunity to babble at you, or you'll die of old age before you hear three good ideas.

Isyn's approach is to listen until it's clear the guy is dumb, then give him a few reasons he's dumb. If he has some good responses to them, then he's interesting, so Isyn will chat more. If he has crappy responses to the first wave of criticism, then bye. he's done. not wasting any more time. this very first screening actually gets rid of nine out of ten idiots, thus saving tons of time for the people actually worth talking to.

Caeli thinks Isyn just throws criticisms out there, but learns nothing from the ones that are refuted. This isn't true at all. Just because Isyn is smart enough to think of lots of criticism, and smart enough to come up with new ones when some of his fail, and smart enough to find flaws in defenses of criticisms ... well why on earth should that mean when some of his criticisms do fail, he just erases that from memory? Of course he keeps careful track, and won't use the same failed criticism again unless he comes up with an improvement.

Caeli says Isyn strays off topic down long chains of criticism never to return. That's not true. Isyn keeps careful track of what criticisms are pending with regard to what proposed theories. If the people he's talking to can't remember, and can't be bothered to reread (Isyn generally converses in text...) things they forget, and can't keep track of what they are proposing is true, then fuck them, they aren't taking the conversation seriously enough.

Caeli says Isyn doesn't notice topic changes. Well, it's true he doesn't make a big deal about them, and they don't bother him, but he does notice. It's just that Isyn finds almost everything interesting.

Caeli's approach, on the other hand, is seriously flawed. She isn't careful to avoid adopting false ideas. She isn't very discerning about what she finds persuasive. She doesn't aggressively hunt down even her own flaws to correct them. And she certainly isn't helpful enough to find other people's flaws for them. Who would want to talk with her, if all she ever says is that your ideas are pretty nice, although not the best? That's boring. She should point out the flaws she sees, and if she sees none, then be bold and take a stance that the idea is good.

When people are half wrong, they ought to fix their view. Isyn wants to help them do that, and knows good people will be grateful. Caeli, on the other hand, will focus on the little bit the guy gets right, and praise him, and then he'll never improve.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

physical attraction

when you're born, you aren't physically attracted to anyone.

to be physically attracted to someone, requires some theories about why that person is physically attractive.

we learn these as we grow up. we figure out why certain things are physically attractive.

most guys seem to be physically attracted to woman of all races (at least in movies and in California). even though they look totally different. and also, if they saw a woman of a new race (still human), they would see her as physically attractive right away. (assume she's not fat or ugly)

this means the guys are physically attracted to some qualities common to all women. so, they see these qualities in the new girl, and the racial differences don't change them, so she's hot.

obvious candidate qualities include: breasts, ass, pussy, height, hair style (women of diff races can have same hair style, to a large extent), being skinny, and anyway you get the idea.

what if someone was not quite so indoctrinated as to find anything human shaped with breasts automatically hot?

well, for one thing he would focus on personality more. but lets ignore that. lets say he grows up around only white people. probably, he will find at least some of them hot. but for his own reasons.

now, say he meets some asians. it's totally possible the reasons he found the white people hot will be something asians are physically different about.

for example, if you were making up hotness criteria on your own, you might end up finding certain face types hot. asian faces look a bit different than white ones. it may seem subtle, but it wouldn't if you were really focussed on it.

after some time, our test subject could create some theories about asians being hot too, and become attracted to asians. but these would likely be something exclusive to asians (because if whites had them, he already would have theories about them).

and then if he met some blacks, but they aren't attractive at first. etc

i wonder if this person would be accused of racism. i wonder how many people warp their views on what's physically attractive to avoid being "racist". and i wonder how much sense it makes to find something everyone has very attractive.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

Anger Bad (Cause David Earned Forgiveness Goddammit)

I like composing on AIM.

curi42 (1:40:05 AM): if sum1 gets angry at u (wants to hurt u) then in future interactions u spend creativity trying to avoid this happening again. this creativity doesn't go to progress. and with avg ppl in our society, for just one or two instances of anger, we're talking a large proportion of all the creativity going to the interaction.
curi42 (1:41:52 AM): but that's not the only drain! even if someone has never been mad at you, if you know of any hangups they have (that you don't know how to fix), you get to spend creativity skirting them. any sort of potential meanness or immorality too.
curi42 (1:42:31 AM): this includes things as subtle as if you mention X, person will ask followup questions probably including something about Y, which will be awkward, because either for your own reasons "nevermind" would be hard to say, or b/c person won't stop pushing there.
curi42 (1:43:07 AM): almost all of this work is done inexplicitly. it just comes out as feelings of being uncomfortable with a potential action.
curi42 (1:44:06 AM): in some cases, for example socially akward situations where speaking would be a good idea, this is even known to manifest itself as being at a total loss for words
curi42 (1:45:21 AM): for most of these issues, absolutely the last way to fix it would be to sit in a circle and reveal your most private feelings on the matter. if that was gonna happen, it would only make people far more cautious to avoid issues they aren't comfortable with coming up at all (and thus progress on them happening)
curi42 (1:46:09 AM): but aside from the honesty and caring lefty solution, this problem is barely acknowledged to exist and no solutions are proffered.

to clarify, "absolutely the last way to fix it would be to sit in a circle..." isn't just a huge understatement. doing this would not only not fix it, but would hurt things.

also to clarify, the lefty example is just one example chosen b/c i don't like circle types. the point b4 is general.

PS if the title confuses u, look at the capital letters

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


was just in an argument with people who think the value of money in the hands of hungry people is more than the value of that money in the hands of rich people. and who think foodstamps are better than monetary charity. they seem to imagine all their charity cases as having American values and being fairly moral people. except people like that don't end up starving. the vast vast majority of starving ppl suck and use resources very badly.

Imagine a man who spends his days trying to get a chance to rape his neighbor's wife or steal something. At dinner, he serves himself first, as much as he likes. Sometimes he takes all the food. His family splits the rest. Half the time he doesn't finish what he takes, and then throws it away. If he catches anyone trying to take his food from the trash, he beats them. Even if he doesn't, he beats his family regularly anyway.

The wife is submissive, uncreative, and supports her husband. She thinks he is a great man and doesn't feel mistreated.

The children will grow up to be just like their parents.

Do you want to give this family charity?

And imagine they get some. It goes to the father buying whores and booze and maybe the odd donation to a nice charity like Hamas.

But that's why it's foodstamps not money, you say?

Well, if the foodstamps provide less or equal food to the current budget, then they just buy that much less, and preso chango the foodstamps are just like money.

What if they foodstamps provide more food than they currently buy? Well first off they stop buying their own food and get that money. Then they could sell the extra, or just throw it out if it's not very much. Or maybe, just maybe, the male kids will get to eat it. Even if they do, how did that help anything? They grow up big and strong to better beat their families and sap Western resources.

BTW it's not hard to imagine people much worse than the ones I described.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


when you buy perishable food, you sometimes won't be in the mood to eat it before it goes bad.

when you serve yourself a plate of food, you will sometimes put too little on the plate and get seconds. so too will you sometimes put on too much and throw the excess out.

when you cook, sometimes you will mess up, and the food will turn out gross.

some food you buy just won't be very good quality (like some fruit that turns out mushy or not sweet)

sometimes you won't read the labels closely enough, and will buy the wrong food by accident

sometimes you will make food for someone else, but because of miscommunication it won't be wanted.

sometimes you will start to cook some food, then change your mind about what you want to eat.

when you buy more than a bite of something new, you may not like it, and would thus throw most of it out.

the error rate on all these things goes down with skill. thus younger people, esp young children, tend to have a higher rate of throwing food out.

this is all to be expected. you shouldn't be upset in the slightest if 10% of the food you buy isn't eaten. more if you are young, or have young children, or have many children.

and none of these things qualify as "wasting" food.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Disney Rocks

Just watched Stuck In The Suburbs. Typical Disney movie. Simple plot, happy ending. Upbeat themes. Kind to children. Some moral themes that they get about right. Happy people succeeding. Good music.

To describe the same movie from a more typical adult perspective, and also the perspective of younger people who want to be/act grown-up, which is most teens: the movie had an absurd plot where some silly teen girls get a rock star's cellphone, find out his secrets, and become friends with him. The plot was obvious from way out, the villains were retarded and incompetent, and there wasn't really any point to the movie. Yay, they met a rock star, so what? Who cares about that? There was no action.

And so it is that most movies feature conflict, strife, and tension. Unhappy people and serious problems. Without these most people get bored. But they are missing something major: sure, if something bad happens to you, it's important to confront and solve it. But most of life is not like that. You don't have to first become a victim to succeed. A good life mostly consists of just what Disney movies show: people with no particular problems succeeding at something that, though generally not very "important", they enjoy. (Or at least, the problems most people have don't pervade their life, they're just subject-specific.)

What to do when you're *not* a victim is a far more interesting and common problem than how to fight. And it's a lot harder to write about, so few people even try.

Try to think of a movie where some *parents* just have a nice time. It's not so easy. Even something like City Slickers, they all had serious problems. They were basically trying to deal with mid-life crises.

Or think about how many love stories don't make it look like the couple is about to breakup forever a couple times before the end? Or think about why love stories almost always end when the couple gets together.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

The Crush

I just watched The Crush with Alicia Silverstone (from Clueless) and Cary Elwes (Westley from Princess Bride). Was quite good. Wasn't supposed to be (same way zombie movies aren't).

She's 14, he's 28. He rents a place in back of her parents' house. She gets a crush on him. He waffles a while, then refuses her advances because she is young. She gets upset, goes a bit crazy, ends up assaulting people, accusing him of rape, and finally is put in a mental institute (where she gets a crush on her doctor to end the movie...)

She was nuts; he was normal. He didn't do anything wrong, and once the truth came out, he was vindicated, and she was condemned. And that's that. Right?

Except, if you watch closely, it's not like that. When the girl fails, it's not graceful, and she hasn't got mechanisms to cut her losses. She should have given up on her relationship with the guy, instead of taking more extreme measures. She should have been more reluctant to involve and hurt other people (collateral damage). Those are certainly very major flaws. But they are not nearly the whole story.

The guy starts the badness and cruelness, and is very very ageist. Other people treat the girl badly, too.

Very early, she asks him what he's doing. He indicates she wouldn't understand. She insists he try, and she understands fine. He is a journalist, who's very good at researching cases, and less good at doing writeups. She edits one of his pieces, and significantly improves it. At this point he should recognise she's intelligent and stop treating her with kid gloves (he never should have made that assumption, but now it ought to be dispelled for sure). But instead he's angry! And indicates he doesn't like being shown up by a 14 year old.

It goes on. He's clearly attracted to her, but he tries to deny it. How this must frustrate her! Eventually, he tries to explain himself. He says that she is 14 and he is 28. That is his entire argument. He doesn't even know how to elaborate on why that should matter. He is nothing less than horrid.

Reasonably, he had legal fears, but never once did he mention this (even should they get along for say a year or two, breakups are kinda normal, and if she was upset then, it could be quite bad for him legally).

Reasonably, he could be worried she did not fully understand what she was getting into. But if that was his objection, he shouldn't just mention their age difference and insist they could not have a relationship. Rather, he should simply insist on a gradual progression. There are all sorts of perfectly benign, safe things they could have done together until they worked out some convergence on this issue. Examples include talking about his work, discussing writing technique, playing frisbee, researching wasps, and watching Dawson's Creek.

Reasonably, he could be worried that the relationship would be unbalanced, and that he would not like that. Because he's too busy, too scared of commitments, or just didn't like her enough. But as far as I can tell, this wasn't at all the case, and he did want her, and he did have time for her, etc

So why was he saying no? Because he was ageist. That's it. In this light, it's fairly understandable that she did not accept this answer and drop the issue. She knew she was being jerked around for no good reason, so she insisted more strongly.

Imagine you were white and asked out a black girl, and she said she didn't date white people. Alright, the best thing to do is drop it, but being a bit upset would be understandable. And if you really thought you were Meant To Be with her, you might think the only problem here is racism, and that is not your fault, so you shouldn't be rejected over it. Rather, perhaps you should get to help her fix it.

Once he decides he does not want the relationship, and puts his foot down, he is not kind to her again, all movie. Not even when being kind to her would have obviously, directly, made his own life better (he should be kind much more often than that, basically whenever they do interact and he doesn't have a compelling reason not to be, but the way he hurts himself to be cruel is very revealing). Instead he scorns her, and treats her as if she is not rational. Yes, she goes beyond the bounds of civility, but he'd already gone beyond the bounds of morality. (This isn't meant to defend some of her later, more extreme actions, but rather smaller things like stealing his photo.)

Also of note is that she is extremely competent. She steals a used condom to make her rape accusation more compelling, and puts on a good act. She escapes her parents to return to her house when they try to hide her away at a summer home. At one point she has a horse competition, and he doesn't come, which upsets her. She doesn't mope around. Rather, after it's over, she immediately finds out where he is (a business event thing) and takes a taxi to it. Walking in, she finds him and sweetly says "Hi honey" and kisses him on the cheek! Angry yelling would have gone very badly for her, but this was perfect. He was terribly embarrassed by her age, and the scene, and came off very badly to the audience (he tried to get rid of her, she tried to kiss him, he got physically forceful, she screamed a lot. He should not do that). When he tries to move, she tells his potential landlord he deals drugs. Quite effective.

In summary, she was messed up, but he was too, and I think our society is blind to his errors. Our society doesn't understand age gap relationships (or romantic ones).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Some Stuff About Parenting

Parenting as we know it is a horrid thing.

Children are dehumanised - parent knows best. You may say the parent usually does, and that's true, but usually the child doesn't disagree with his parent. In cases of a conflict, when a child is sufficiently confident to contradict his parent, his view must be taken seriously, just like one would listen if a friend thought you were in error.

Many parents consider children like clay to be sculpted into a good adult (read: valid person). This also dehumanises children who are people now. A child has preferences of his own, and these must be taken seriously, not the preferences of some imagined future person.

Parents believe that people can't always have what they want. In practice this is a transparent excuse to deny things to one's child. In principle, it says people are doomed to unhappiness. This is not true. Through a combination of creatively solving problems so people are better able realise their intentions and wants, and creatively analysing and changing their intentions and wants to better, more realisable ones, people can be very successful. There is nothing stopping them; the limiting factor is just their skill (morality).

Parents so often treat their own desires as unquestionable, unalterable truth, and from this point of view declare their children's desires impossible. Examples include the mundane (but still important) like a parent who insists he can't stand even the sound of violence and bans many movies from his home, or a parent who hates messes and insists child meticulously clean his room (why the child should clean the mess the parent hates is unclear). Another example would be a parent who says "I will feel like a failure if you do not graduate college, so you must go." Isn't it obvious this is the parent's problem and the solution is almost certainly for the parent to get over it? (unless child doesn't mind college, in which case parent is lucky and need not address his flaw) Sadly it is not.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Some Stuff About School

Skools are a horrid place. It starts with legitimised grade falsification over discipline issues like attendance and participation, and often over being sufficiently deferential to the teacher. It continues with the implicit assumption that children must be forced to learn that comes out in the constant forced feedback to make sure students are paying attention. This takes forms like graded assignments, quizzes, and participation grades. Worse still is that teachers design tests based on what they consider important, and so one must listen to teacher to pass tests. Tests should be designed by third party certification agencies, and classes should be optional things designed to help people learn the material (only the parts they want to learn, which may or may not be what's on the test - student's decision). Much like SAT prep classes (I imagine - never been to one). Of course, there would be other classes not designed for any sort of certification, with no need for grades. By separating the issues of certification and education, schools would be able to focus on one and thus do it better. And when it became popular opinion that current certification methods hurt people (we all know no one likes tests, but few people seem to care), then new certification companies sporting new methods would spring up to compete with the testing-based ones. And people would flock to them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

screw titles

At a glance, evolution and creationism are at drastic odds. One says that humans are descended from single-celled ocean creatures. The other that God created humans in approximately their current form.

Today, some argue that evolution and creationism are compatible. How can this be?

The way to argue for compatabilism is to assert that a definition of creationism, different from the common sense one, is in fact the correct one. So how are we to judge which definition is right? Let us examine the two candidate meanings of creationism.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism is that God created the world in 6 days less than 10,000 years ago, and created the animals approximately as they are today.

The compatabilist definition of creationism states: God created the world.

It may seem strange to choose between definitions when they mean different things, instead of simply assigning them different words. But ponder this question: which version of creationism should the proponents be defending, if they believe their theory is true and want to understand something through it?

There are two main things to be understood through creationism: Christianity, and physics. Thus, I propose that a bolder and scientific definition with more explanatory power would be better, and also one that matches the Bible.

Lots of explanatory power is preferable because explanations help us to understand. The incompatabilist definition says a number of things about reality, such as the age of the earth. In contrast, the compatabilist definition of creationism tells us very little; it doesn't give any details about God creating the world.

A more scientific definition is better for learning about physics because physics is concerned with scientific questions. To be scientific, a statement must be able to be criticised by observations or measurements.

Boldness is how much a statement exposes itself to criticism. Boldness is good because less bold statements are less conducive to making progress. This is because if one holds a bold theory, but is wrong, one stands the best chance of finding out his mistake and correcting it. By being exposed to criticism, bold, false ideas are best able to be replaced by better ideas.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism is partially scientific and very bold -- it would be proven false if we could show any of the following: the world is older than 10,000 years, the world was created in more or less than 6 days, or animals have changed significantly over the years. In contrast, the compatabilist definition of creationism is unscientific because no measurement or observation could possibly prove God didn't create the world. It is also less bold, because it uses vagueness to avoid being contradicted or criticised.

For creationism to help us understand Christianity, creationism must match what the Bible says about creation.

The incompatabilist definition of creationism matches the Bible very well. Someone unaware of the debate who was asked to write a book report summarising what the Bible says about creation would almost certainly say something similar. By contrast, the compatabilist definition was intentionally designed with concerns other than the scripture in mind, namely how to say something similar to the Bible without contradicting evolution. Thus it matches the Bible less well.

The incompatabilist definition has come out better on every count, and thus we shall use it.


On the incompatabilist side are arguments such as:
1) Without God, why would people act morally?
2) God created the world in 6 days, not billions of years.
3) Evolution says I came from a monkey; I didn't.

On the compatabilist side are arguments like:
4) Why can't I believe in evolution and creation?
5) Maybe God created the Big Bang then let evolution be his method of creating the world.
6) How do you know how long a day is before the sun is created? Maybe the six days God created the world in were billions of years long.

The first incompatabilist argument is a version of this argument: "If I am wrong, the world is grey and gloomy, therefore I am right." This is a fallacy because something depressing could be true.

The second argument is a claim about what creationism says. It matches our preferred definition, so it is strong for the same reasons we chose that definition.

The third argument contains a fallacy and a valid point. The valid point is that creationism says people did not come from lesser creatures, but evolution does, therefore they are in conflict. The fallacy is the implication that you should believe you didn't come from a monkey because this guy says you didn't, which is an argument from authority.

Moving on the the incompatabilist arguments, the fourth argument is ambiguous. It may mean that the arguer sees no contradiction between evolution and creation, thus they do not contradict (a fallacy -- argument from ignorance). Or it may mean that the arguer is not yet persuaded, which is no argument that he is right.

Argument five may seem reasonable, but it conflicts with our definition of creationism. It is poor for the same reasons the compatabilist definition of creationism is poor.

Argument six attacks the meaning of a day. This is very silly, because everyone, compatabilists included, live their lives as if a day is 24 hours long. For example, compatabilists show up for work on time, and do not say on Monday morning, "It's still sunday, I don't work today."

I conclude the incompatabilist position is better. Its definition of creationism is preferable, it has a strong argument behind it (that 6 days and billions of years are, in fact, different lengths of times), and no reasonable arguments for the opposing view exist.


Incompatabilist: A person who believes creationism and evolution contradict each other.

Compatabilist: A person who believes creationism and evolution do not contradict each other.

Physics: The science devoted to learning about physical reality. It contains biology, chemistry and biological evolution.

Boldness is how much a statement exposes itself to criticism.

Scientific Proposition: A proposition that can be criticised by observations or measurements.

Explanatory Power is how much something tells us (about anything).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

tetris and morality

The moral question, How To Live, is hard to answer. But it's especially hard to answer in spoken language. Many of the concepts involved are difficult to put into words. It's hard to find examples that aren't highly personal, and hard to understand for strangers. But I was just playing Tetris, and I think it will do nicely to illustrate a part of the answer.

For those who don't know, Tetris is a game of falling blocks of varied shapes, and you must choose where they fall to make them fit together into solid lines. You have to be quick to decide where to put a block because you only have a limited time before it falls.

Some people might be tempted to pause their Tetris game for every new block and calculate exactly where the best spot is. I'm sure this is possible. However, to get a good score in real time, you can't just calculate exactly what to do.

Similarly, in real life, we never have unlimited time to make a decision.

How, then, do Tetris players play, if not by calculating what choice is best? They use their intuitions. They create various patterns they are familiar with and consider good. And they set specific goals within the game and play moves designed to achieve those.

Example patterns to aim for are: higher on the edges, lower in the middle, or bumpy shapes, or flat lines. Or everything solid except one thin line to be filled in later with a single line piece for bonus points (if you clear many lines at once you get more points).

Example goals to aim for are to uncover a buried hole so it can be filled in, or to not stack more pieces over a certain feature.

So suppose we find ten people with different intuitions and have them all play 10,000 games of Tetris. We ignore the first 2,000 as just practice. During those practice games, players will learn how best to achieve their personal goals. They'll learn all the little tricks that help them get where they're trying to go. They'll learn pattern recognition and come to intuitively respond to all the common patterns.

Coming back to morality, they are learning how to get what they want.

In the later games, we will see some players are better, and some are worse. And we will see they all consistently play in certain ways which they feel are best (they were asked to try their best every game, and perhaps paid depending how well they score).

Each player represents a set of intuitions that together those intuitions are a Tetris playing strategy, and the best strategy will on average score highest. The others are doomed to mediocrity.

However, there's one more thing! I used to create holes to fill in for bonus points a lot, and if the line to fill them in didn't come for long enough, I'd lose (lines have a 1/7 chance to come, but if you play enough, sometimes you won't get one for thirty pieces). I don't do this nearly as much anymore. When I see holes like that I worry.

I used to create flat areas. They seemed less messed up. But it turns out a lot of pieces don't fit nicely onto flat, and work better on bumpy shapes.

I used to put a lot of pieces in the middle if that seemed convenient, or a bunch on the edge if that was. Didn't care which. Now I've changed this, and I go to significant lengths to stack the edges and keep the middle low.

I used to hate to bury any holes intentionally, and would put it off as long as possible, letting the holes get deeper, and sometimes getting out of it, and sometimes getting screwed. Now I do damage control early. I can recover from lots of small problems, but I can't risk any big ones if I want to score well.

So the point is, to be truly good at Tetris, one must change his intuitions, to feel that certain patterns are better, and others worse, than one originally felt. With enough changes, I've found I die much less.

And back to morality, to be truly moral, besides figuring out how to achieve what you want, like, and intend, you must also find ways to change what you want to better things. No matter how good you are at creating holes in your Tetris position in search of bonus points, or how good you are at making flat structures, you'll never be very good.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

stupid biased media


Much of what Sen. John Kerry says about Iraq is consistent and reasonable. He voted for the war because, like just about everybody else, he believed that Saddam Hussein was dangerous. He criticizes it now because Hussein turns out not to have had weapons of mass destruction after all,


and because the Bush administration's handling of reconstruction has been incompetent.

Has been just fine. Attack the president on strategy, fine, but not tactics. He is privy to info you're not and advisors you're not to decide which road which supply truck should use. You *do not* know better how to plan those details. The people planning the details are not incompetent.

Had everybody known two years ago that Hussein's weapons program had fallen apart, there would have been no convincing argument for war.

Because sponsoring terrorism and killing people doesn't justify force against him...

By insisting in Friday's debate that Hussein presented a "unique threat," President Bush made himself appear blind to reality.

what, there are other identical threats? which other threat is the same? idiot.

But the question that matters in this election is: What next? Should we fight on in Iraq? Or should we leave as soon as possible -- on the theory that all this nation-building stuff is bound to fail

It's working. If you disagree, argue it.

and that winning hearts and minds among allies will boost our security more than battling Iraq's insurgents? And beyond Iraq, what is the role for preemptive war and nation-building in the next phase of the war on terrorism?

On this crucial issue, neither candidate's position is completely clear.

Of course Bush's view is clear. His strategy is to fight offense, kill the badguys wherever they may be found, and help people be free whenever we have the opportunity. He's only said this 47 times, though...

My colleague Robert D. Novak insists that a second Bush administration would cut its losses in Iraq, despite everything the president says to the contrary.

Why quote an idiot? Why propose lunatic theories w/ no argument? Bush said he will stand firm and win, remember? He said Iraq is a key battleground that we must be victorious on, remember?

The worry with Bush is that he underestimates how hard the "hard work" is:

No, the media does that. Over and over and over. The administration never has, never will. Remember this press briefing?

media: Did you overestimate how ez it would be?

ari: no

media: didn't you say it'd be a cakewalk?

ari: no, you guys said that.

media: didn't you fail to warn us it'd be hard?

ari: we warned you on 321 occassions. *lists them all*

media: shouldn't you have warned us more clearly?

ari: we feel the 321 warnings were very clear.

media: isn't it going badly because you overestimated how ez it would be?

ari: you already asked that.

media: are you sure you sent enough body armor for our troops?

ari: Bush asked all his generals if they had everything they needed and felt comfortable with the war plan and felt it would work and we would win. They all said yes. Of course we will continue to send additional supplies, but quit arguing tactics, you don't know what you're talking about.

media: isn't it a quagmire like vietnam because they are fighting back so intensely?

ari: ask me that again in 3 days after we take the capital. this is going even faster than the last gulf war. idiots.

and that's enough of that. off to take a shower. ugh.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

School Is Like Broccoli

Parents have this broccoli stuff they've decided is Good For You, and make you eat it. They don't listen when you say you prefer steak.

Schools have this Educational Method (including homework, tests, textbooks, lectures, etc) they've decided is Good For You, and they have the Right Answers (which are sometimes wrong), which are also Good For You. They make you eat it. And they sure don't offer steak.

PS you can tell textbooks are worse than real books, because when real people (not students) go to a bookstore to buy something, they don't choose a textbook.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Romance Meme

i think the worst thing about the romance meme is the criteria for how ppl become romantically attracted to each other. sensible criteria on the matter seem to me things like: current closeness, impressiveness (to you, not in general), interest in person's worldview, shared interests.

one implication of my criteria is that as people became better friends, they would be more attracted to each other. another is not being attracted to someone who's worldview you know nothing about.

the actual criteria are something of a mystery to me. i know appearance is one. i know of the badboy/girl meme. i know people say they want someone "smart, funny, beautiful/hot". i know most people have different taste in friends and lovers (my criteria approximately are what people use for friendship). if anyone understands the romantic criteria better, do comment.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

eek it's Monday

curi42 (4:31:35 PM): here are 2 contrasting approaches: approach 1:
curi42 (4:32:57 PM): jack thinks about what he wants to do the next week. on monday he wants to go swimming, play Quake, and chat w/ Jill about bikes. on tuesday he wants to go to school, play Quake, and go for a walk w/ Jill. on wednesday he wants to cut class and go to the beach with jill, then go to a movie with jill, then play warcraft.
curi42 (4:33:19 PM): and some people might declare, *from the actions*, that they are dating.
curi42 (4:34:11 PM): approach 2: jack asks jill to be his girlfriend. he then decides that b/c she's his gf, they should do things every day. comes up w/ things for each day. may even end up w/ the same list as in approach one.
curi42 (4:34:23 PM): but the difference is, *from the type of relationship*, the actions are determined.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

"I love you, and that"™s all that matters."


"Trust me," I said, interrupting her.


I shushed her with a finger to her lips. "Trust me."


"You wouldn"™t believe it if I told you."

Fortunately, she was horny enough that she didn"™t press the issue.


I knew myself well enough to realize that I was attracted to Wren. So I didn"™t want Gina asking too many questions about her.


"What?" she asked, perplexed.


For a moment, I was confused.


My confusion only deepened


I looked at it, perplexed.

What does it all add up to?

"Don"™t ask me to explain it, but I"™ve always known that I was going
to be with you for the rest of my life."


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

The Problem of Monogamy

The knowledge to enable traditional lives is embedded in the fabric of our society. It is prudent only to struggle against the current of convention when a great moral principle is at stake. If we exert ourselves over trivialities, we will not have the stamina to triumph in the most necessary of trials. A righteous man may be tempted to take upon himself many causes, great and small, simply because he believes them for the best. But a wise man will consider where his efforts will have the greatest effect, and temper his zeal with that wisdom.

When we consider the question of monogamy, we must bear in mind that any deviation is a great undertaking. If we reject the common wisdom of our society on an issue as fundamental as what sort of family to have, and what is a good relationship, we will find ourselves always alone even amongst the many. We will be pariahs, and only a very few will ever want to be close to us. That is a path of innumerable hardships. But it may have merit. The time will come when we must advance beyond the shackles of an ancient tradition from the darkest days of man, and who is to say that time should not be now?

But the most gainful of all steps forward are gradual ones, because they start with our best and improve upon that. Starting from beginnings is a most enormous chore. Added to that is a most intricate problem: we must, at every step of the way, stand on solid ground. We need to step from one belief that is workable to another that is also workable, never staying for more than moments where we cannot stand. The most sure way to ensure constant function in our lives is to take only tiny steps, always ready to retreat. A revolutionary change is a great risk, because we cannot retreat even if we later judge it a misadventure, or even a catastrophe.

The tradition of monogamy is not a great and admirable thing. It is not a thriving, growing, inspirational way of life. It does not advance; for centuries, it has been stagnant. It gathers dust, and decays, and has the stench of irrationality. All the flaws of design, exacerbated by the years, make monogamy a most treacherous thing. Divorce and adultery are common place, and pledges of eternal love are broken like twigs. Families feud and grow bitter with resentment; romantic rivals are cast aside into the darkness. But even as we focus the spotlight on lovers, the picture is stained with pain and discolored with failed aspirations. The most passionate heights are a thing of wonder, but they come only in sporadic fits. At first, each day is filled with sunshine so great the greatest flaw can be overlooked, but sunshine fades and is replaced with the light of reason and then flaws are not overlooked. Lovers grow jealous and untrusting of whom they should trust in most. The candle of passion flickers and sputters out, despite the noblest of intentions. Who but a fool would wish to stake his fortunes and his joy on such a tempestuous creature?

There is a middle ground. We could endeavor to repair monogamy, to patch up the holes. We might look through the many aspects of monogamy with a critical eye, and make the alterations we find most necessary. But this is like cutting threads that hold a most precious artifact above a precipice, never knowing which ones will cause it to fall. We must be most cautious, and evaluate thoroughly the consequences, intended and accidental, of every change we make. And further, we must communicate all of our ideas to our partner, wary of every possible miscommunication. If all goes well, perhaps we will avoid some of the greater dangers of monogamy, and still focus most of our lives on other pursuits. But if it does not, we may find that wrestling with monogamy occupies much of our creativity, and yet we fight with a hand behind our back and a blindfold, never striving with all our might to make great and lasting improvements.

So we face a question of the utmost difficulty: to throw our lot in with a fickle and faithless custom; to fight a terrible and costly battle, outsiders in our own land; or to devote a portion of our efforts to the most delicate, and perhaps hopeless, of repairs. Each option is plausible.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Caution and Discernment in Romance

Short version:

To carefully judge a new love interest against a current spouse, and make a wise judgment about who is preferable, requires a great deal of time and attention. However, single people pledge eternal love very quickly, even though their knowledge can be no more complete.

Expanded version:

Consider a man with a loving family, who has been married to his wife for no less than two decades. He is content, he has a good job, and his children have good prospects. He never fights with his wife. But, like every man, he knows there is more that could be attained. It is only natural to think that life would be even more pleasant if his wife had more skill with rhetoric, or a greater interest in ancient history, or liked to play tennis. But it is a virtue to remain content, and not be distressed by unavailable possibilities.

This man meets a new woman, who is lovely, and witty, and kind, and shares with him some qualities, interests, hobbies, and virtues that his wife does not share. He is intrigued, and starts to fall in love with her, and wonders if his life would be better with her. At this point a wise reader will object that the man proposes a most abrupt and immoderate change, and disaster is the likely outcome. But let us put aside any qualms about sudden, large changes, and consider another argument.

To decide in favor of the new woman, and to leave his family, the man must, in his best judgment, be confident he will be happier with her, and have a better life. He must know her flaws, to be certain he will not find them more loathsome than his wife's flaws. He must know her assets, to be certain they are greater than his wife's. He must know her interests and hobbies, to be sure he prefers them, and will not be giving up some most important ones. He must spend time with her, to see what she is like after the initial infatuation wears off. He must also see her in all manner of situations: when she is angry, when she is sad, when she is happy, when she is anxious, when she is scared; in this way, he will immunise himself to the possibility of a hidden flaw in her disposition that could cause him great grief. A sagacious reader will see the great weight of tasks necessary for the man to pass a considered judgment, and will see they must, to be done properly, take a great period of time.

Let us now consider a single man, who is a young adult. He has no family, but he hopes to have one soon. He meets a woman, and quickly falls in love with her, and they marry. It is a common story. But why should this young man have any better judgment, or faster wit, than the family man we considered first? All the considerations the family man needed to make about his new potential wife, so too a young man should make them about a potential wife, if he wishes to avoid mishap. Some have said the young man has less to lose, and it is acceptable for him to assume a greater risk. But he risks his future family, which he should value no less than the family man values his own family. And so he must exercise equal prudence and caution before embarking on such a great commitment.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

Maximising Intimacy?

There is a certain school of thought that opposes monogamy on the basis that it restricts the amount of love, intimacy, and sex one can have. It considers love, intimacy, and sex terribly important and wishes to maximise them. In answer to that idea, I present this dialog:

Adam: Monogamy is restrictive.
Jane: So is everything.
Adam: Well what's the point of monogamy? Why is it a good restriction?
Jane: You've missed the point; if everything is restrictive in some way, we needn't defend against that charge by giving reasons something is worth the cost. Everything has that cost. Further, you act as if monogamy has something to prove. But it is conventional, and deviations from convention take effort. In this case, great effort. We should be monogamous unless you can show it to be such a loathsome way of life that we recoil from it, and prefer great hardships.
Adam: Monogamy limits my sex life; that's bad.
Jane: Why do you think sex important?
Adam: It is an expression of love and intimacy.
Jane: Monogamy/romance is a tradition that offers love and intimacy. It is their only known source. They are not creatures of reason, gained through argument. The specific criteria for feeling them has never been discovered. How do you hope them to remain when you scorn their brothers and sisters?
Adam: Maybe we can take part of the monogamy tradition and leave the rest.
Jane: That is a delicate matter. Maybe we can make some small changes. What specifically do you suggest?
Adam: I want to have the good and fun parts, like love and intimacy and good sex, and leave out the parts that limit how much of these I get.
Jane: Do you deny the limiting parts are an integral part of the tradition?
Adam: What do you mean?
Jane: The causal roles are unclear but we can see some surface relationships. For example, exclusivity is thought to make people feel more special and intimate.
Adam: You're suggesting the various aspects of the tradition are related in complex ways and I cannot expect them to continue to function in isolation?
Jane: That's right.
Adam: Could I devise a life support system so they continue to work?
Jane: Perhaps. But I imagine the first step to be creating explanations for how the parts you want to rid yourself of are related to the parts you want to keep. This will help you see whether your course is wise, and also see what sort of replacements are needed to retain functionality.
Adam: I'll get back to you.
Jane: Before you go, let me express my skepticism in the notion that half of the monogamy tradition is very good, and half is very bad, and that the proper course is to get more of one part by removing another part.
Adam: What do you think of love and intimacy?
Jane: I am skeptical of their rationality. This is not to say that I oppose them. But I don't see anything to be gained by seeking out as much of them as possible. Our traditions cause us to desire them to some extent, and also provide for that desire to be fulfilled. What's wrong with leaving that alone?
Adam: I'm not convinced the traditions say that, exactly. Why do you think I'm so interested in lots of sex and love?
Jane: There are many voices today, including hedonists and religious conservatives. Both make mistakes, and we needn't follow any voice exactly in order to be generally in the mold of convention. I think my interpretation is true enough to the tradition for its followers to draw on our cultural knowledge, and that my position would be considered reasonable by most. In fact, I think it would have a larger appeal than the hedonist position, because it is moderate and will not alienate any major factions.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Rational Sex?

I have been trying to imagine how rational, hangup-free people with no knowledge of our culture would deal with our sexual customs if they suddenly lived with us. Here is the result:

First, the rational people don't realise anyone cares about sex. After some public incidents which embarrass all the involved today-people, they figure out that something strange is going on, though they have no idea what and don't understand embarrassment. Next, they are too distracted by burning curiosity to have any sex, and ask incessant questions about the customs regarding sex. Then they decide to try out the customs.

Nirit asks his friend Keatac to marry him. They have a ceremony with some authentic lines from romance movies. They treat it like acting and try to stay in character, but no one understands their character's motivations very well. The part about the audience sitting and watching silently is especially odd: it seems boring and pointless. They decide not to bother with that part, and the most members of the audience spend the wedding in conversations with their neighbors. The happy couple get a hotel room and lock the door to keep all their other friends out, then dutifully wait for nightfall. At sunset, they finally have sex. They gather they are supposed to stay with the same person for a long time, and be exclusive, so they try to.

Previously, Nirit had frequent sex with his friends Keatac and Syl. Nirit fends off questions from a slightly annoyed Syl. Syl asks why Nirit chose Keatac, and Nirit tries to act in character by saying Keatac has pretty eyes. Syl watches some episodes of Friends, then lifts weights for twenty minutes and propositions Nirit again, saying they should have an affair now. Nirit doesn't understand much, but he's convinced that's against the customs no matter what Friends depicted, so he finds some Christian websites to back him up. Syl then starts asking about the purpose of the customs, and Nirit replies that he isn't sure but wants to try them. Syl gets bored with the argument but is quickly distracted by a new hobby: paintball.

Eventually, Nirit misses sex with Syl and researches what he must do to have it. He discovers breakups, and (mimicking a TV character) tells Keatac that it's over. Keatac asks for some time to look up the proper reply. The next day, Keatac says he's ready, then shouts that he hates Nirit and exits the room by stomping his feet loudly and slamming the door. Nirit claps happily; he hadn't thought to try to damage a door for no reason, but recognises good acting when he sees it.

This begins an epidemic of breakups. None of the people broken up with mind. During the entire experiment, no one lies, and they only cheat out of ignorance or to try it out. There are few breakups by phone, despite the convenience, because they try the monogamy custom seriously and realise that it is dishonorable to breakup without meeting the person face to face.

Before long, people make a habit of breaking up immediately after sex, so if they run into someone else and want to have sex, they won't have to find their last partner to breakup. Getting together is just a matter of saying they want to, and unlimited breakups with the same person are allowed, so they find this makes sense. It takes Nirit a while to figure out how monogamy actually manages to exclude any sex: at first he thinks that surely the people of today, who've had this system for millennia, must have already figured out to breakup after every sexual encounter. When Nirit tries to explain the insight to a person of today, the person comments sarcastically that college kids already figured that out. Nirit doesn't understand sarcasm, but isn't surprised that young people are ahead of the game.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Memes I

Some children are *impossible*. Some parents fight with their own children. Some girls are stunningly hot. Some guys are no less attractive, even if less effort has gone into describing it. Some people have midlife crises -- all of a sudden -- when the problem was visible for many years. Others waste their lives on trivialities and never notice. Some people go to great lengths to please others and be socially acceptable. Those same people exert effort to hurt anyone who doesn't do likewise.

These seemingly disparate situations all have a common thread. I now wish to introduce a matter of some consequence. First we will consider the effects, and afterwards I will explain how it happens. So bear with me if at first some notions strain your credulity.

Imagine that all the sins and vices of humanity are not natural, innate, inherent, God-given, or genetic. Consider that they are ideas, passed on through the generations, just like the knowledge to build fire or speak a language. This is not a very popular proposition, because it plants responsibility for the failures of humanity squarely on people and their mistakes. But that is no reason to think it untrue, and it is deeply optimistic because it insists that we are not stuck with our problems forever.

For an idea that isn't naturally reoccurring to survive very long, it must be able to get from older people to younger people. The best known and most effective means of transferring knowledge to the next generation has always been the teachings of a parent to his child. It is rare that any source rivals the influence with a child that his parents have, especially for very young children whose minds are most malleable. So if we consider that sins are ideas, and we further suppose that children do not invent all their sins anew, the most likely source of vice is from their parents.

It may seem a strange concept that parents would teach vices to their most loved ones, who they would do anything to protect. Surely no parent wants to hurt his child, or worse, doom him to a life struggling against vice and immorality. But what happens is not always what is intended to happen. It is well know that everyone has flaws, and that must include parents, no matter how virtuous their desires. Why should not their flaws make them do wrong unto their children?

Here I will ask you to again imagine a fact that seems foreign to the reality you know. We normally think of flaws in simple terms. A person might be a poor judge of romantic partners, or investment opportunities, or quality appliances. A person might have an angry streak and hurt his loved ones, or a cruel streak and hurt acquaintances, or be gullible or miserly or stupid. But where do such characteristics come from, if they are not inherent traits of humanity? They are not well liked like math, and no parent gives lessons to teach his child to be angry. So imagine that a part of the flaw was that the person behaved in such a way that he *did* teach the flaw to his children. Consider what reality would be like if this were true:

The shortcomings of humanity are now comprehensible, explicable phenomena, and we can do something about them. If defects in children are the result of parental behavior, then they can be prevented if parents behave differently. If our neighbors deficiencies are just ideas, we can reason with them. Most importantly, those parts of our own character that we find most distasteful are not outside our power to change. This view, while superficially it seems to cruelly blame people for qualities they'd do anything to give up, in actuality is a message of hope and optimism that we can all change for the better.

To see how it may be plausible that what you have imagined is accurate, let us turn our attention now to a concept that is already well accepted: the meme. A meme is an idea that, in the right circumstances, causes behavior in people so that the meme is copied into other people's minds essentially intact. Earlier we imagined flaws that caused themselves to be copied into the minds of children. If flaws are ideas, memes are a good fit.

Memes function according to the principle of evolution. Evolution simultaneously accounts for how the complexity of memes came to exist and gives us logic to see what sort of memes would come to exist. Complexity comes from competition over many generations. Over time, changes that make a meme more competitive will be favored. It is an easy proposition that improvements that help memes spread effectively would increase complexity. Think of a serious, involved debate like over abortion. Both sides have complex positions, and if you removed most of the complexity from either side it would become unconvincing.

What do memes compete over? Being passed on to younger people. Only a limited (large, but limited) amount of information is passed on. The logic of memes says that only the most competitive ones will survive, so we should expect all memes to have some characteristics to ensure they are passed on to more and more (younger) people (or to be new and on their way out).

How do memes compete? What makes a good one that will survive? It takes knowledge. This can either be knowledge of how to survive directly, or it can be knowledge of reality that people find valuable. This suggests (following David Deutsch) two distinct categories of memes: static and dynamic. The names will make sense shortly. Static memes embody knowledge of how to survive: they have knowledge of how to cause people to spread them. They contain mechanisms to cause human behavior, and function in any environment where people don't know how to resist those mechanisms. Dynamic memes have knowledge about reality, like an explanation of how to fix cars, or a theory of gravity. They function in any environment with people who value good ideas and actively seek them out.

Static and dynamic memes have different methods of ensuring continued survival, and that's where their names come from. Static memes, in essence, work to create a world of stasis. If nothing changes, they live forever. Dynamic memes are so named because they always change. They survive only as long as they remain the best ideas we have, but they are only replaced by better ideas, so the tradition of dynamic memes lives on.

Static memes might sound like a dark fantasy. Ideas that control people and suppress creative thought? However, their logic can and would work if the right ideas existed. So the only issue of their reality is in whether they were ever invented. Designing an idea capable of controlling human behavior and suppressing creativity would be virtually impossible. No one has the necessary knowledge and understanding of human behavior. However, static memes could have begun extremely ineffectively, and evolved to become more effective. At first, one might control human behavior in only a few rare cases, and only be able to suppress a few specific sorts of thoughts. But new variants that were a little more powerful -- that controlled people a little better -- would be selected for. Other qualities that would be selected for include being harder to notice having the meme, being harder (more complex or more painful) to get rid of the meme, and being better at causing people to copy the meme to children.

Returning to our initial queries, the common theme is that static memes offer an explanation of each situation. The child is impossible because his parents are hurting him which makes him irrational which makes him more accepting of static memes that don't make sense. People being attractive makes not enacting the romantic ritual painful and makes choosing mates an irrational process thus ensuring less competent parenting. People waste their lives because they are living statically. And social norms are a method by which static memes suppress new ideas.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (23)

On Banishing Iniquity From Children

School is thought to be a wonderful place, a veritable paradise for those of pure heart. Any child who truly wants to learn will find himself presented with eminently valuable opportunities. The children who do not thrive are losers who rebel against learning and thought. The virtuous children may suffer some at the hands of bullies, but it is a small price to pay for the growth available.

Childhood is thought to be a whirlwind of fun, personal development, and curiosity. Children have so many great activities to participate in, so many chances to bloom and build character, so much help and guidance, and such rich lives. And they have plenty of time to relax and enjoy it because they don't have to work and are free of responsibilities and burdens. It is a great blessing, and life is never the same again after work begins, and especially not after having children. Sometimes lazy children are tempted by sins like excessive television or marathon video game sessions, but as long as their parents do their duty, there is no danger. Being negligent would be a great disservice to those children.

Teachers are thought to be saints, famous for inspiring the best in children. They are kind and motivated. A few are lazy, and that is unfortunate and regrettable, but on balance unimportant. Teachers offer personal advice and help as appropriate, and always have something interesting or important to teach. Any child who has faith and puts his life in their hands will be well served and, when he enters adulthood on his own, will be well prepared to flourish.

The Bible teaches us that to spare the rod is to spoil the child, and promises that everyone will live happily ever after once vice is beaten out of children. Even the non-religious among us see that that is exactly right. Schools never discipline children of good character. But to leave a lazy, uncurious child to his own devices would be utterly irresponsible.

Parents take the Bible's teachings to heart, too. They love their children, and try to help them as much as they can in good conscience. But when their children refuse to listen to reason and persist in immoral actions, they must, for their own good, be saved from themselves and disciplined. Today parents have found new and more humane ways of disciplining children that don't even really hurt, like time outs and letting babies cry themselves to sleep and natural consequences.

The general model is the parent helping the child see the truths (including moral truths) that the parent knows. It is thought that the parent knows best, and that parents should take appropriate steps to make sure child understands. The parent should be as nice as humanly possible, but failing to impart critical moral knowledge, by any means necessary, would be gross negligence. No where does this formula give attention to the possibility of parental error. It is thus a recipe for entrenching mistakes forever.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Feeling Bad

Feeling bad has two distinct meanings. The first meaning we will call "coercion" and the second "inner conflict". Coercion is bad, inner conflict is good. Coercion is when you are hurt, when everything goes wrong. Inner conflict is when you wrestle with moral dilemmas and hard problems. Having conflicting theories is the same as having problems, and problems are not bad. The growth of knowledge can be seen as progress from problems to new and better problems; that's just as accurate a description as progress from solutions to more solutions. Hard problems have two different meanings. Hard problems can be problems that hurt, or just problems that are not simple, take a while to solve, matter, you might never solve. Problems hurt when you are unable to think about them in a rational way that makes progress. This feels frustrating. Not solving a problem does not inherently cause frustration. Having good problems to think about is fun; life would be boring without them. What's bad is when it hurts. We shouldn't shy away from problems for fear of being hurt. Being scared of problems is one of the mechanisms that makes them hurt.

Normally we engage in an intricate process of scheduling our thoughts, and choices, and problems, and criticism, and creativity. We constantly find short term solutions and juggle a variety of pressing issues. This is a good and necessary part of life. Coercion is when we drop the juggling pins and they fall on our head and give us brain damage. Inner conflict is just when there are a lot of pins that stay in the air a long time. There's nothing virtuous or admirable about coercion. But there is no mechanical way to avoid it. Coercion is not predictable and only happens as a result of failures of creativity. It only seems predictable when someone actively tries to hurt us, and has evolved traditions aiding them in hurting us. But in our own intellectual life, as long as we have some sense of what areas we are extraordinarily irrational about, there is little to fear. That doesn't mean coercion won't happen, it just means there is no specific thing to avoid that will help. Coercion is not caused by struggling with the conflicting theories that TV is worthwhile and a waste of time. It's caused by being unable to decide, for no good reason, whether to, as a temporary measure, watch TV today, or not. Coercion is not caused by being told that you should not hit your sister. That's just a good idea. It's caused by your parent trying to stop you from doing something you think is important to do, and you being unable to see why, and your parent not being helpful or comforting, and you believing your parent won't explain to your satisfaction later, and you being unable to see how to not mind, and you being unable to decide to think about it later in 5 seconds or 30 seconds or 5 minutes or 30 minutes or a day or a week, and you not being able to distract yourself and the issue is painful. Coercion is disasters of scheduling where problem solving goes awry and you hurt yourself. Avoiding problems does not help avoid coercion at all. It helps avoid learning. Not learning causes coercion, because it's harder to be happy when you have a bad life.

Not knowing the answer, all by itself, is not scary. Wondering what is right to do, and feeling conflicted, should not be scary. Do your best, and do it in such a way that if you're wrong you'll learn better. What more could anyone ask of you? And do one thing at a time, if that helps. Delay delay delay deciding while you do other things. Few problems need to be solved at the first moment they are thought of. Do them when it's best to. Be optimistic. You can and will make progress. There's nothing to fear. Just keep trying and you will, at the least, learn about what doesn't work. There is no reason this should hurt.

Parents should not be particularly scared of accidentally coercing their children. Innocent mistakes are as likely to cause coercion as random bad luck. That is to say, they will never cause coercion if people are rational about the subject in question. What parents should avoid is intentionally doing things designed to thwart, hurt, or oppose their children. This especially means all forms of disciplining children. If children do bad things, take their side and help them learn better. Anything that is truly good they will want for themselves. True morality doesn't hurt us, it helps us. It is not criticism, or being contradicted, that hurts anyone, so don't fear to do those. Instead focus on solving chronic problems and avoiding acting irrationally without thinking.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (8)

Positive Interpretations

Finding positive interpretations is a critical part of being optimistic. In our relationships with friends and family, positive interpretations are nearly always true because the people close to us don't want to do bad things to us, or at all. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are common occurrences, so it's wise not to jump to negative conclusions just because something seems bad.

Positive interpretations can be self-fulfilling prophecies, just as negative interpretations can be. Suppose someone asks a question, and he could mean a stupid question, or an interesting one. If we answer the interesting one, it may lead him to be interested in that and see the issue in the proper way, even if he didn't already. And we will be saying something more interesting and therefore better. Assuming the person means the stupid question, or even asking if he does, shows we think he is or may be stupid, and encourages him to see himself that way.

Positive interpretations help make life safer. For example, a child in need of advice, and partially confused about a moral issue, will want to be able to ask his parent questions and make mistakes about that issue without his parent deciding he is wicked. Rather, the parent should stick to the positive interpretation that the child is learning, and is not bad, and will be fine, and wants to be good. And most of the things the child says that seem bad won't be. Some will be glossing over an issue while focussing on a different one. Some will be harmless confusion about an unrelated topic. Some the child will be right about. Some, while the content is bad, won't indicate any defect in the child himself who's just curious about a bad thing.

Another issue is that being wrong about positive interpretations is less costly than being wrong about negative interpretations. That is why criminals only go to jail if there is no reasonable doubt: if there is any reasonable positive interpretation of events in which the man is not guilty, the risk of making a tragic mistake is too high. Similarly, to treat someone too well is nothing to be ashamed of, and no great harm will come of it. But to treat someone, especially your friend or child, too badly is a mistake you will regret.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

Binary Choices

A binary choice is a choice with two options. Most binary choices aren't. For example "boxers or briefs?" is presented as having two options, but in fact there are others, such as going commando or wearing long underwear.

There are a lot of binary choices out there, like disciplining your children or spoiling them. Being permissive or harsh. Being left or right wing. Believing certainty, or that we don't know anything. Believing in God, or not. A child sharing his toy, or being selfish. A mother making her child share, or permitting him to act badly.

Each of the above examples isn't really a binary choice. There are all sorts of alternative options. For example one can be neither permissive and negligent, nor harsh in a variety of ways. One way would be to be helpful. This avoids "letting" kids do whatever bad things they want by helping them find out what is good to do. It also avoids being harsh by helping the child to get things he wants instead of thwarting him.

Common preference finding and non-coercion don't function in a world of binary choices. They involve creating new choices just as much as finding ways to like things other than our initial preference. Frequently, none of our initial solutions are good enough, and we need to think of new options.

If your child doesn't like something, do not tell him these are the possibilities, and that's the way it is, and he can have whichever color toy he wants as long as it's red or black. Buy some pink paint. If he doesn't like the options that seem to be available, it's time to brainstorm. Be optimistic.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Google and the Anti-Capitalism of the Right

Blogs are slamming Google for cooperating with China.

I am saddened and dismayed to see anti-capitalist and anti-corporate rhetoric, especially from right-of-center blogs. Making a mistake is one thing; maybe Google did. But assuming the cause must be the profit motive is anti-capitalist. There are many ways to make a mistake that are not about greed.

I have not seen, in a single post, any actual evidence that Google is doing this out of greed. No arguments explaining why the profit motive causes mistakes. No quotes from Google executives advocating greed. No calculations about how much money Google will make by this decision, and whether that is enough to cause corruption. No discussion of whether this is profitable at all (generating negative publicity is bad for business). No explanations of why people with good ideals would turn to evil beyond assertions that money is a force for evil. The big fuss is, I have to say, nothing but unreflective calumny that one would normally expect only from very silly lefties.

I don't know if Google's cooperation is a mistake or not. I (and other bloggers) do not have the necessary inside information to accurately judge just what options Google had and exactly why it chose this. Guessing that Google is a sinful capitalist company may be fun, but it doesn't tell us why this happened or whether it was the right decision.

There are dual sins at work here. First we have the debate tactic of saying the people we disagree with have immoral motives (while failing to acknowledge their actual position). Second, we have the profit motive as the evil motive of choice.

Here is an example of an unfair headline:

Don't Be Evil - Unless It's Profitable
The Conservative Voice
The right wing anti-capitalist pieces don't seriously argue their position. What could they say? That US corporations are greedy and corrupt and if only we weren't capitalist we could live in freedom, with no censorship?

This piece calls Google evil, and suggests that caring about business may entice Google more deeply into evil. It suggests Google plans to notify users when search results are blocked, but it asserts that is only worth brownie points and makes Google a little less evil. It goes on to say:

They say that they will have a link somewhere on the page enabling users to access the U.S.-hosted version at: So that Chinese users who prefer can opt for the experience.
but doesn't believe this to absolve Google of evil because it might not be displayed prominently enough. Evil is the premise, not the conclusion.

Here is Google's explanation of its decision.

Edit: "Very silly lefties" links to the Democratic Underground. If you don't believe in conspiracy theories, that doesn't apply to you.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (11)

Anti-Human Views

This is an interesting example of a site that is against people having power and control over what they do.

Mixed into a couple reasonable arguments, it mostly opposes the "nofollow" feature on links (which makes search engines not count them) because it lets people control who they give link credit to, so now they can sell it, or not give credit to sites they don't like.

The anti-nofollow people act like nofollow is dangerous. But no one has to use it. They are really against anyone who wants to use nofollow having the option to. In other words, they want to control people they disagree with. They advocate the world being such a way no one can do anything but enact their theory of how to live.

Usually anti-human-power views are associated with, say, gun control advocates or people who hate technology. But I think it's very widespread. Any sort of authoritarian view that does not want to allow people to make their own choices is anti-human.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Paul Graham wrote:

Imagine if people in 1700 saw their lives the way we'd see them. It would have been unbearable. This denial is such a powerful force that, even when presented with possible solutions, people often prefer to believe they wouldn't work.
This is a very nice way to explain the issue, so I shall elaborate. People have, since the dawn of humanity, opposed new ideas that would reveal their lives as flawed and lacking and even miserable. This leaves two viewpoints we can take about the present: we are at the end of human progress and our lives have no serious flaws, or it is like 1700 and we are in denial about many problems.

Believing we are the best the Earth will ever offer goes against the facts. Everyone has problems. That's why it's possible to get a job as a psychotherapist or councilor. Saying there will be no more progress is really saying whatever problems we have now cannot be solved. Why say that? Because then our suffering isn't our fault. It might be possible to argue that some of our problems are insoluble, but certainly not all or most of them.

That leaves the other option: just like in 1700, we are in denial. I think this is broadly the case. When we say that temper tantrums are an inevitable part of parenting, that is not because there is no possible way to avoid fighting with our children, its because we don't want to see ourselves as failures. When we say children do bad things because they are children, that is avoiding facing the fact that we could have given better advice. (Some problems like that aren't foreseeable, but certainly some are.) When we say that "love hurts", we are denying that our own approach to relationships hurts us. When we divorce and insist vehemently that our partner is an evil bastard, we have to: if he wasn't a lying manipulator then it would have been possible to see the flaws in the relationship in advance. We didn't choose the wrong person, he tricked us! In all these examples we might be blameless, but sometimes there is something we could have done better, and assuming it might be partially our fault will help us find that out.

I want to move past this to a kinder view that expects mistakes and problems, and sees finding them as a positive step. We should feel good about discovering we were wrong: now we have a better shot at being right next time. Or if there won't be a next time for us, at least we could tell our children. And if it's important enough, we could write a book and tell the world.

We all have a lot of bad ideas. That's understandable. And it's excusable -- no, better than that: we don't need any excuse at all. But let's at least get one thing right: we aren't perfect. Most of the problems we face are caused by human mistakes. That's the most optimistic belief we can have because humans are capable of correcting their own mistakes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)


I have downloaded some lectures about computer science to watch. Some are from University, and some aren't.

I noticed the following:

I pause fairly often, and sometimes watch other videos instead then go back, or if I want to have some other sound (music, person talking).

I also pause sometimes to read the blackboard or slide, or consider something the lecturer said. Also if I don't understand part, or have a question, I might go find out the answer before continuing. Also I might try doing one of his examples.

I also need to have the option to pause if I think of something cool or important that I want to write about before I forget.

I skip forward or back in the lectures sometimes.

So so far: parts of the lecture are too fast, parts are too slow, parts are boring, and I rarely want to hear it all in one sitting.

I multi-task a lot. I am writing this with a lecture on. I also burned DVDs, chatted with people on AIM, organised files better, and read news articles.

For especially interesting parts, I watch with my full attention, but for most parts I only pay half attention. Sometimes I stop listening and miss parts. Later, I might or might not go back to hear it.

Missing stuff is OK. It's not important to understand everything the lecturer says. Not all parts of a subject are best learned through a lecture. Some gaps in my knowledge will be much easier to fill in when writing code, or watching a different lecture, or reading a book, or talking to someone.

Missing stuff does not make it impossible to learn about the later things. There are a lot of ways to understand later concepts without the previous concepts. Often I can just assume some feature works the way he says it does, and then the later features make perfect sense. Often later concepts are separate from earlier ones (perhaps they are both building blocks relevant to the conclusion).

So overall: I like to have, and extensively use, control over when I hear what parts of the lecture. Sitting through an entire lecture at once, not doing other things, is never ideal. It's not important whether I get the main point of the lecture or not.

In conclusion: the format of school lectures may be hard to change due to the practical problems presented by having in-person lectures with many students at once. But they are far from ideal for learning.

Lecture Links (Lisp stuff):



Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Information Flow

Suppose we are programming a game and want a hero to have a multishot spell that shoots 20 arrows at once. We decide a monster can only be hit by one of the arrows per casting of the spell.

You might expect we could just have the spell itself keep a list of monsters it has hit so far, and check the list when an arrow hits a monster to see if that monster has already been hit. And that is indeed possible. However, having a bunch of code that controls a spell with a central data structure that every aspect of the spell reports back to is not a very good model. It leads to confusing, hard-to-change code.

A different approach would be that the multishot spell creates 20 arrows, and gives them initial velocity, and then that's it, the spell is gone. The arrows are now all separate. There are two ways to avoid redundant hits now. Either the arrows can have a list of all the other arrows and send a message when they hit something so the others know not to damage it (alternatively arrows could have access to everything and then search through everything for the other arrows from the spell. As long as they are all uniquely marked as coming from that spell they could be found that way). Or option two is to have the monster keep track of what it's been hit by. Then when an arrow hits a monster, it can check that monster's list of multi-shot spells that already hit it to see if it should do damage.

This is interesting due to parallels with capitalism and with physics.

The capitalism parallel is that autonomous, smart agents are a better model than central control. Programmers have known this for decades (at least Lisp programmers!), and write lots of papers about it. Here is a paper on dividing problems up into smaller discrete tasks, with detailed examples, which shows how this makes programs easier to modify. It explicitly criticises trying to code single, large functions that keep track of everything, and criticises programming languages that encourage or require that. Similarly, capitalists know (and have since before Lisp existed) that central authorities don't work as well as distributed decision making. Another point in the Lisp paper I linked is that lazy evaluation making is very valuable. That means only calculating things when they are about to be used to prevent doing unnecessary calculations that might not be used. Similarly, when people make their own choices, they can frequently do it at the last moment, and they can avoid deciding things that become irrelevant. When central planners try to plan, they have to, in order to have time to tell everyone what to do, plan way in advance, so they end up calculating lots of things that, it turns out, don't matter.

The parallel with physics is that a huge amount of mysticism can be detected and refuted by a detailed analysis of information flow. For example, suppose someone claimed a certain arrow would only hurt you if you hadn't already been hit by another arrow from the same group. We would know there is no overall central control mechanism (located at the bow?) that arrows report back to (what do they report back with? light? we'd notice, and light has limited speed so it wouldn't work if the arrows went too fast). We also know arrows don't pass messages to each other about what targets they've hit (not only are arrows unable to identify what people they've hit, they don't have anything to send or receive messages with). And we know the model of the monster keeping a list of which arrows it was hit by wouldn't work either (that involved the arrow, on hitting something, checking the list, but arrows cannot do that. how would it read the list? compute whether it was on the list? also arrows aren't marked by what volley they were fired in). So we can call anyone who believes in a real multishot spell of this sort a mystic (after we ask his explanation, and it turns out he has no explanation of how his idea is possible within the laws of physics).

This arguing technique applies to a lot more than magic spells. Suppose someone said he spoke to God. We might well ask how the information got from God to him. If God communicated with light or sound it could be recorded with a video camera, and he'd need a convincing reason to think it wasn't just a natural process (there is a lot of light bouncing around. how do you know this light bounced off God?). People who believe in telepathy never explain how thoughts travel between brains, nor what they sense thoughts with (eyes? neurons?). Do psychics who do phone readings claim that reading thoughts is possible from many miles away? If it is, why can't they read the thoughts of people they aren't on the phone with? Do thoughts travel through telephone wires? Of course, phone psychics in fact just don't bother to address the issue at all. It'd be very amusing if they were asked questions like this more often. Some would be foolish enough to attempt to answer some of the questions. It's pretty hard to refuse to say the range of one's psychic powers. But it'd also be pretty embarrassing to claim telephones are a psychic amplifier. And if it's someone's voice that matters, why won't a recording do? And after the psychic says it recordings don't work, trick one and do an entire phone reading by playing pre-recorded sound bites over the phone and then ask why the psychic didn't notice he wasn't talking to a person (shouldn't his powers have not worked?).

It works on a lot of bad philosophy too. Imagine someone says that meaning is assigned to objects by humans, and can exist no other way. That is nonsense. The first thing to do is ask whether its possible to think about something before assigning it a meaning. If that's possible, begin asking about what difference it makes to human thinking whether a meaning has been assigned or not. What specifically, if anything, is impossible before a meaning is assigned? Why does assigning a meaning change that?

The more interesting case is when the person says that thinking about something that your brain hasn't yet assigned a meaning is impossible. Next he will say that meaning is assigned immediately when a person first encounters something, and not before, and not after. One issue is this needs to be done instantly, so that stray thoughts don't try to think about the object before the meaning is assigned. Thinking instantly isn't possible because electrical impulses require time to move around. Further, when the assign-meaning function is called, it needs to know: A) what the object is B) what meaning to assign. All the information necessary to assign the meaning must be there before the meaning is assigned, and thus before the object has been thought about at all. That means all meanings are assigned without thinking about what they should be! But it gets worse. If Jack will respond to seeing a rock for the first time by assigning it "hard" (that's over-simplified), then we might say he already, right now, before interacting with his first rock ... has a worldview such that rocks will be assigned the meaning "hard". So what difference does it make if Jack assigns that meaning now or later? What's so special about the act of assigning when the result could have been worked out in advance? People may say Jack could change his worldview before seeing a rock. But that doesn't really change anything: as he changes his worldview, the implied meaning of rocks according to Jack changes as well. And what about assigning meaning to objects that don't exist anymore but that we've heard of? And objects that don't exist yet but will? Were cars meaningless until they were completely invented?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


There should be a profession called an arguer. This would not be like a lawyer, because few of their arguments would focus on the law. They would be called in when a company made a controversial decision and expected a lot of public discourse. They would accept jobs on a case-by-case basis so that they only argued for things they believed in (some wouldn't operate that way, but the good ones would).

Their job would be to engage with the public. This would be nothing like a Public Relations guy giving a statement, customer service giving a run around, or a press release. They would spend their time reading comments by the public -- both in public places and sent directly to the company -- and having conversations with those people. They would not give a statement and move on, instead they would actually engage with what the person was saying.

In some circumstances, this would be a far more effective use of money than advertising. There are all these people who want to interact with the company. So why not hire people to tell them a personalised version of the company's point of view?

A good arguer would persuade a few people that the company was right, and a fair amount would become less hostile. But more than winning arguing points, he'd show the company *has* arguing points that can hold up in a sustained debate and don't fall down after a few back and forths. He'd be demonstrating that people seriously believe the company is right and have thought it out.

Another part of his job would be to relay any opposition to the company that he considered especially interesting or thought had a good point. A company has a hard time reading and filtering a huge in basket, but when you cut down incoming arguments by a factor of a thousand or so (removing duplicates and bad arguments and fluff) it gets way more manageable.

Unfortunately the primary problem I see with this idea is the difficulty of hiring qualified, competent arguers. Letting people speak for your company is risky, so you need to be sure they are good at it. And the arguers job requires a lot more skill to avoid mishaps than a press release writer's job. The arguer will write a thousand times as many words, but every single one could end up quoted by the press if he messes up.

One day in the future, arguers will not be expected to be perfect and if they messed up now and then the press would realise this doesn't reflect badly on the company.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


I think some liberals (in the modern sense meaning 'leftist') believe this or similar:

All voluntary actions are self-interest based, therefore to rise above self-interest and have an ideal society *requires* involuntary actions: government force.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

A Few Thoughts About Education

We must bear in mind that the truth is never clear. If it was, no one would ever disagree with us.

We must bear in mind that the more ignorant a person is of a subject, the more receptive he will be to our advice. Every time a person asks a question he has recognised his own ignorance, so it is a commonplace occurrence for a person to know he doesn't know everything.

We must bear in mind that pessimism and defeatism never solve problems, so it is better to be optimistic about whether a person can or will be persuaded of a good idea.

We must not be scared to disagree. People disagree all the time. But this does not make them hurt each other. It is not necessary to force agreement from a child, or worry overly about what he believes. That is his choice.

We should keep a sense of perspective. The worst that could happen is frequently better than the price of intervening.

We must stop thinking of all situations as the parent choosing what will happen. That is the model of a benevolent dictator. And one of the flaws is the enormous pressure and responsibility it puts on the *parent*.



Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)


If your child doesn't want to look for solutions, this does not mean your child doesn't want to solve problems. Really. Your child isn't insane and *would* prefer if things were better. What's going on is that previous time spent "problem solving" was unpleasant and was itself a problem. Perhaps because it seemed boring and fruitless. Or because it involved the child being pressured to make compromises or sacrifices (same thing), or lectured, or asked questions he didn't want to answer. Or maybe "problem solving" previously interrupted other things like video games.

True morality isn't unpleasant or burdensome. Moral knowledge is knowledge of how to make choices. It's a tool that has information about how to get what we want, and what we should want. It's not arbitrary or artificially limiting. If something is a bad idea, true moral knowledge on the subject will include reasons why it's a bad idea and explanations of what will actually work well. And they will be persuasive. If they aren't persuasive, that indicates a *lack of* moral knowledge. If the "moral" alternative proposed doesn't sound nice, that indicates a *lack of* moral knowledge (either the proposal is wrong, or the explanation for it isn't good enough).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

free riders

i wrote a few comments about free rider problems:

the first thing to keep in mind about free rider problems is that in many cases someone pays. if Europe is really free-riding on Iran defense, then despite the free rider problem the US *did* pay for it. this may violate someone's sense of fairness. however, if i want to buy something, and it happens to benefit others, and i know they won't consent to pay for it, and i still want to buy it at full price, that is perfectly reasonable.

the second thing to keep in mind is that what projects should be done is a tricky question. there are more available projects than their is wealth to complete them and we need to try to choose the best ones. so if a project doesn't get completed for whatever reason (such as people who stand to benefit refusing to pay for it), even if the project seems valuable, that does not prove anything has gone wrong.

the general solution to deciding which projects should be done is individualism. people complete whatever projects they want to using their own resources and free trade. this works well because it lets people put their knowledge to use if they believe it's important without having to convince the world, and the people who are more successful at their projects end up wealthier and thus more able to do more projects.

the general solution to free rider problems, and to selling things to people in general, is to use creativity to persuade people to trade with you.

some people believe the government is the solution to free rider problems. they believe that by applying force to make the project be completed, they can improve the situation, by making good things be done that wouldn't have been done otherwise. however, there is no guarantee the government will sponsor the right projects. governments have no special knowledge about which projects should be completed. governments also have problems with accountability and efficiency.

a critical issue besides which projects should be complete is: how should they be funded? when a government intervenes by force and takes $100 from all the farmers to build a dam, even if the dam ought to be built, this still may be the wrong way to build it and a bad deed. funding projects in good ways requires creativity.

the only way that force could be necessary, in principle, to make the right thing happen is if there were right things such that they should be done despite their being no possible way that anyone, or any group of people, would freely pay for it with his/their own wealth. if that's the case, in what sense is it really the right thing to be done?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Relationship Theory

This is a real conversation.

Katara: tell me about relationship theory :)
Elliot: there was an email list called ARR. autonomy respecting relationships. it's dead now. no traffic.
Elliot: ARR says that if you want to be monogamous, you have to make sure you won't break up. you have to make sure you don't learn/grow in different directions and drift apart. every time one person has a new interest that isn't shared, that's a threat. thus monogamy gets in the way of our learning. this is a problem.
Katara: omg yeah
Elliot: ARR also says that romance (used very broadly) .. at the very least it's bad to see romantic relationships as *the* type of relationship. there should be more diversity of approaches.
Katara: but romance is still good, right?
Elliot: i don't think so. i'm also against love. but on ARR list that is controversial. some people like romance. some people even claim to be anti-romance and pro-love.
Elliot: on ARR the main complaint about monogamy was it limits freedom. like you can't have sex with someone else. but what if you want to?
Elliot: the main complaint about romance and love was that it's not rational enough.
Elliot: one of my complaints about mono is that i don't think promising is rational.
Elliot: suppose i promise that i *will* do X at 3pm 2moro. 3pm comes around. i could now do X or Y.
Elliot: if I think X is the right thing to do, or best, i will do it whether i promised to or not
Elliot: if I think Y is right or best, then i will find my promise says "i will do the wrong thing"
Katara: this is true
Elliot: if you promise to stay with someone forever .. either it will be right to, or it won't. promising won't change that. it will just tempt you to do wrong.
Elliot: also, i think it's bad to make decisions early. we have less information early.
Katara: this is also true
Katara: I like romance because it makes me feel fuzzy and I like fuzzy. I'm sure there's a reason if you're a neuroscientist...
Elliot: i don't think we need to be neuroscientists to explain why many people find that romance feels nice. they believe romance *is* nice. they feel nice when they do things they consider nice.
Katara: maybe...
Elliot: the point of ARR is not to tell people to feel bad. however, if a person changes his mind about what is nice, then he can feel good about the new lifestyle. so i think what we feel nice about today cannot be a strong argument either way.
Katara: I agree
Katara: however, while I find romance nice surely there is nothing wrong with enjoying it?
Elliot: maybe. but what if you break someone's heart? or yours is broken? that won't be nice.
Katara: true
Katara: but that comes with human interaction
Elliot: maybe it doesn't have to
Elliot: one of my complaints about romance is it's too focussed on surface characteristics. eyes, appearance, charm. things you can learn about a person you just met 5 minutes ago.
Elliot: it also is too focussed on feelings. does the sex feel special/good/extraordinary? do you feel mushy when s/he looks at you? nervous/excited when with person?
Elliot: and too much on the future. can you see yourself having kids with this person? loving him for the rest of your life? moving in together? if not, the relationship is deemed not to be going anywhere.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

courts without government

posted with Lulie's consent:

Lulie: How would the courts work in anarcho-capitalism?
Elliot: a court is just a group of people who you can hire to make a judgment about something
Elliot: this is useful b/c people will often both agree to let a court decide their argument and have that be binding
Lulie: who would hire them tho? wouldn't you hire who says you're innocent/should get money?
Elliot: courts that judge badly would have bad reputations. no one would agree to use them
Elliot: courts that you know in advance will rule one way .. the other people won't agree to it
Lulie: hmm
Elliot: there are a few ways courts would be used
Elliot: 1) people argue, then agree to use one
Elliot: 2) people agree to a contract that says if X happens then a court will resolve it
Elliot: it can say which court
Lulie: who would pay for it?
Elliot: in cases 1 and 2, the people hiring the court. they could both pay half sounds normal. or loser pays
Lulie: pays after ruling?
Lulie: why loser?
Elliot: the loser is the one who was wrong but made them go to court anyway
Lulie: ah
Elliot: it's not very important when they pay. if it's a problem, they could both put up the full money in advance, then winner gets his money back
Elliot: 3) criminals. this may sound tricky: what if the criminal refuses all courts except one w/ really shit reputation that always lets criminals off?
Lulie: ya?
Elliot: so you end up with the police force deciding.
Lulie: who's police?
Elliot: however, this is no worse a problem than the police force deciding who to arrest in the first place, or any of their other policies
Elliot: like any police company
Lulie: what if the criminal hired another police force that is in competition with the first, and his says what he did was fine?
Elliot: then the companies would have a dispute
Elliot: one thing they might do is fight. if one company spends their time helping criminals, hopefully others would want to fight them
Elliot: but if all the companies operate roughly in good faith, then it would be greatly in their interest to work out deals to avoid fighting each other
Elliot: deals -> general policies they all known in advance. such as that the following list of courts are all acceptable for trying people
Elliot: then if company X tries a person in one of those courts, company Y will refuse to interfere
Lulie: What if lots of people wanted to be criminals, so wouldn't hire police?
Lulie: so there wouldn't be as many police, or enough
Elliot: if lots of people wanna be criminals, your fucked, period
Elliot: in a democracy people can elect criminals to make crime legal!
Elliot: recently terrorists were elected to palestinian government. biggest party. they're in charge
Lulie: Would there still be one president or whatever who decides if we go to war?
Elliot: no. "we go to war" is collectivist. anyone who wants to goes to war (including anyone who wants to when paid/hired) is individualist
Lulie: so.. how would going to war work? (like if you wanted to help Iraq)
Elliot: raise/hire an army
Elliot: or persuade an existing one to do it
Lulie: ah
Lulie: Sounds like you'd need a lot of money
Elliot: for your own, yes
Elliot: although once set up it could be profitable to sell your armies services
Elliot: now, some people will be afraid of having lots of armies around run by leaders who could go bad
Elliot: and they are right that that would be scary
Elliot: it's unreasonable to make a big army and set yourself up as sole leader. (or it seems so today. i could be wrong)
Elliot: so, what to do?
Elliot: you need to set it up in such a way as to reduce your ability to do bad with it
Elliot: our society knows of a variety of ways to do this. there exist others as well
Lulie: *listening*
Elliot: like our government has 3 branches with different powers
Elliot: a very similar problem is: what if a guy wants to own nukes?
Elliot: again my answer is: sure ... as long as you make it safe. you need to have security systems in place
Elliot: how good do they need to be? how hard to bribe? well ... if they are better than present day US ones that must be good enough
Elliot: the army would probably want things like written policy documents, and to sign various treaties and human rights documents
Elliot: and then to have a chain of command and have ways lower people can say "no" if u try to break one of the rules
Lulie: cool ^^
Elliot: other mechanisms that help are having decision making processes be public so people know what's going on and it's hard for bad stuff to get started before people notice
Elliot: and letting the public vote on some policies increases legitimacy. and also then u get to use the knowledge of the voters so u get better policies
Elliot: so it's perfectly plausible that some armies would have public votes and go to iraq if the vote said to
Lulie: cool
Elliot: (or let public vote on person in charge of policy, and he decides)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)

Being Sympathetic To Children

I'm going to tell a short story about what it's like to be young. It's about food, but it could just as well be about homework or cleaning or all sorts of other things. Then I'm going to make some suggestions about how to talk to young people in a sympathetic way by keeping the perspective in the story in mind.

Suppose your parents are constantly pressuring you: you must eat more beef and lettuce, and less lamb and carrots. It's for your health. And will make you skinny. But dammit you like lamb with carrots and you're tired of beef. And lettuce tastes like dirt. You'd get annoyed with them and you'd pick up they have no real arguments/reasons behind their crap. Well, you might pick that up. But it's hard. Parents bluff. A strong willed independent person will pick it up and ignore them. But that's rare, especially in young people. Not that most people are docile. Many will be unsure and conflicted. Many will sometimes ignore parents but sometimes think they might know something or have a point.

Parents would have hard time doing this alone. If TV was constantly explaining how good for you carrots are, it'd never work. Parents are thus known to complain incessantly about influences (ie sources of information that might reveal their bluffs and lies). But on a lot of issues, the TV isn't going to help much. There are other sources of information as well. Teachers, friends, books, magazines, internet

Overall a young person gets a lot of pressure on the side of your parents. Random adults he meets for dinner will make comments in support of the same bluffs his own parents made. His own friends will face similar lies from their parents, and also be unsure. And the strong independent friends will seem reckless and not good role models.

So, what he really really needs is not one more person saying that maybe his parents are right about carrots. It is someone encouraging him to make up his own mind

Conventional wisdom is true sometimes. So let's pretend you agree with the conventional wisdom about a particular issue. It doesn't matter very much which one. You still face the issue of how to communicate this while remaining sympathetic. Even if the parents are correct now and then, that doesn't mean you should be on their side. So what can you say?

Here's my suggestion:

Before you can rightly say the same thing his parents said you need to comment about how much you agree with him that they are nasty bastards and he shouldn't listen to them. They lie. Then say if they are right it's only by pure luck. Then add stuff about how he should make his own choices and only take your advice if you are persuasive. Then add stuff about how this is not a matter of life and death and he can always change his mind later and this whole issue really shouldn't be a very big deal. *Then* say you happen to think carrots are bad, and give real reasons. (Only do this if he has not heard your set of reasons before. If he is familiar with them, do not repeat, just refer to them and ask what he thinks is wrong with those reasons)

One flaw with the above is that you can't actually tell many children that their parents are nasty bastards. They rightly don't want to fight with their parents. So if you say that, they may be alienated from you. So a real statement often has the even harder task of simultaneously distancing from the parents and being sympathetic to them.

So one possible approach is to say (it really really depends on the person, and your relationship with him):

I saw you arguing with your parents about food again yesterday. Your parents mean well, but they care about you so much that they are over-zealous and over-protective. They are biased and it effects their judgment. So as much as they are trying to help, if your wellbeing is involved ... Their advice is probably perfectly safe but not necessarily the most rational. There are sometimes other choices that'd be good too. So you shouldn't feel compelled to do everything they say. You know that already. That's why you want to eat lamb and carrots, and be a chess player not a lawyer. And I agree with you about chess: being a lawyer is definitely not for everyone and you should try doing something you like. But I wanted to let you know that I actually avoid eating carrots myself (but lamb I do eat now and then). I have a book with me if you're curious about my reasons. It is about zen philosophy and explains why we shouldn't eat carrots. So if you want you can read it and make up your own mind. It's not too big a deal either way, but I thought you'd like to know there are serious reasons people don't eat carrots.

So note some of the key elements:

- Agrees with parent's conclusion (no carrots) without endorsing parents
- Shows seriousness of thinking child should make his own choices by endorsing him in a different disagreement with his parents
- Not hateful towards parents but also says they may be wrong
- Not trying to pressure child, only trying to genuinely offer helpful information
- Has reasons for position and offers them to child so he can evaluate them himself

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

How Long Before I Get Tired Of This?

So, let's go through the top 5 hits for "israel" on Google News (a site which won't include LGF).

Annan ... said Israel was responsible for most of the violations of the fragile cease-fire

Hezbollah is supposed to be disarmed, but that's not going to happen.

Lebanon is supposed to secure its borders, but that hasn't happened.

Hezbollah is supposed to release the Israelis they kidnapped to start the war, but that hasn't happened.

Hezbollah isn't supposed to smuggle new weapons into Lebanon, but that isn't going very well.

To be responsible for most of the violations, Israel will need to have a list of at least about twenty (except it wouldn't be very hard to find twenty specific violations by Hezbollah, so the list ought to be a lot longer). I can't wait to see the list.

War proof of Israel lobby's power

Why does the headline report as fact what was only alleged by two idiots?

Their argument, as best I can decode it, says that US support for Israel during the Lebanon war has increased the likelihood that Iran and Syria will continue to supply Hezbollah with weapons, because it strained the US (diplomatic) position in the Middle East.

So, we must avoid supporting Israel against Hezbollah, because that would cost us the credibility required to be able to help Israel against Hezbollah.

Third we have an article that doesn't care to differentiate between terrorists and innocents:
Israeli troops killed five Palestinians and wounded a dozen in attacks on militants in the Gaza Strip

See, it uses the word "Palestinian" where it should say "terrorist". Perhaps a case can be made that there isn't much difference, but I don't think that's what Reuters intended.

The confusion continues with comments like this:
The Israeli army has killed more than 190 Palestinians in Gaza since ... June 25

Where is the effort to figure out how many of those people should have died?

Here, I'll help generate criteria. Anyone who died while firing a machine gun at Jews, wasn't innocent. Anyone who died while planting a bomb, like the people mentioned earlier in this article, wasn't innocent.

Fourth we have an article about how most Israeli Arabs are disloyal. The author doesn't know that's what he's writing about, but he is:
Seventy-five percent of the Arab public in Israel believes that the military operation in Lebanon was a war crime


Sixty-four percent said they watched al-Jazeera, and rated it as being highly credible. Forty-six percent said they relied on al-Manar's reports, the channel which identifies with Hizbullah. Only 5 percent said the news on the Israeli network Channel One was credible


55 percent of the respondents rated Hizbullah's reports of the war as more credible than the Israeli ones. Only nine percent believed the opposite.

My main complaint about this article is the headline:
Israeli Arabs: Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon

Do we really need more headlines about how some idiot accused Israel of war crimes? Why not use, "Israeli Arabs: Hezbollah Is Credible"? It's a lot more informative than yet another accusation against Israel, and it *implies* the original title anyway.

Fifth we have an article which is a mix of accusations by a "human rights group" and insistence by Israel that it investigates abuses. Which makes a great excuse to use this in the headline:
Israel abused Palestinians

If the *Palestinians* said they investigate complaints about *their* abuses of Palestinians (let alone their abuses of Israelis) it'd be a bad joke. So why does the "human rights" group focus on the party that tries to do the right thing, over the one that does not try?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)


On Dawson's Creek, Dawson and Pacey both like Joey, and she likes both of them. There lots of tension and she feels pressured to choose one of them to be with.

Dawson and Pacey both want to have Joey in a romantic, exclusive relationship. They can't share. Sharing sounds horrible to them.

And in general, people don't see how anything but exclusivity could work. They want the girl all the time, so they'd be missing out if they only got her part of the time.

But here's the thing. In the show, for the last episode they skip forward in time 5 years, and neither is with Joey (yet). But both Dawson and Pacey are pretty much OK with that. They are both capable of getting over it, and having a happy life with no Joey.

So when you see it from that perspective, feeling that only exclusivity could work is silly. They can be happy with nothing, so certainly they don't need everything. Now compare with if Joey spent one day a week with Dawson, and one day a week with Pacey. In those 5 years, she'd have had 250 days with each of them, instead of zero. That's a lot of days. And as their lives went on, it'd be a huge improvement over having nothing.

The fact they can be happy with no Joey, proves they can also be happy with some Joey. They shouldn't think of it as "not enough", they should think of it as something positively good that they can have without anyone being hurt.

Having someone *all* the time is crazy, anyway. Everyone should have his/her own life. Everyone is different, so no two people have exactly the same interests.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Amnesty Fucking International

top google hit for: israel collateral damage

is a piece titled:
Deliberate destruction or "collateral damage"? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure

by guess who:

Amnesty International

and guess what their conclusion is

but wait, get this...

the piece is FAR WORSE than the crap i'm used to reading from like the BBC or NYT. some quotes:

The widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports, in addition to several statements by Israeli officials, suggests a policy of punishing both the Lebanese government and the civilian population in an effort to get them to turn against Hizbullah. Israeli attacks did not diminish, nor did their pattern appear to change, even when it became clear that the victims of the bombardment were predominantly civilians, which was the case from the first days of the conflict.

Israel has asserted that Hizbullah fighters have enmeshed themselves in the civilian population for the purpose of creating "human shields". While the use of civilians to shield a combatant from attack is a war crime, under international humanitarian law such use does not release the opposing party from its obligations towards the protection of the civilian population.

Many of the violations examined in this report are war crimes that give rise to individual criminal responsibility. They include directly attacking civilian objects and carrying out indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. People against whom there is prima facie evidence of responsibility for the commission of these crimes are subject to criminal accountability anywhere in the world through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Mental Illness

Imagine that 4% of the population hears voices. Imagine further that 25% of those people are psychotic (note: this may not be the proper, technical usage of the term, but it doesn't matter to my point). No amount of explaining the situation seems to help them. The psychotic rate in the general population is thus 1%. The voices drive them crazy and make them completely dysfunctional.

Now, we know that hearing voices doesn't cause psychosis all by itself. 75% of the people who hear voices function perfectly fine. They ignore their voices, or make friends with them, or write books about them. As real as their voices seem, they are able to go on with life normally.

So, we can conclude that the psychotic people have a second thing wrong, which the non-psychotic people do not have. We'll call this disorder_2. disorder_2 may be a combination of many things, but it doesn't matter to my point. It's the set of whatever things are needed to make people with disorder_1 (hearing voices) psychotic. Note there could also be multiple separate options for what disorder_2: different ways to turn hearing voices into a problem. But this also isn't important right now.

So, what do we know about disorder_2? We know that it prevents people from understanding our advice about voices. They don't seem to listen when we tell them the voices aren't real. Or they can't figure out which voices we mean. But there's something a lot cooler than we know.

Assuming disorder_1 and disorder_2 are statistically independent, then the rate of disorder_2 in the population is an amazing 25%. So we have this thing, which is very common, and it makes people not listen to reason.

First we will consider that it might be a brain lesion. But if it is, why can't we tell people that? Why can't they step back, and know their brain is damaged, and not trust their own judgment and listen to us? Well, maybe they have a second brain lesion on the part of the brain which allows for that. But then, why can't they know *that*, and get some perspective, and figure out something to do that is rationally compatible with their brain malfunctioning? Why doesn't the person say he's really confused and just sit down, and not do anything, and ask for help, and get people to help him work out what is real? Well, maybe there is a brain lesion on the part of the brain needed for *that* too. But no matter how many brain lesions we postulate, there will always be a creative solution for how to continue rationally. Unless: there's one way there won't be a creative solution: due to all the brain lesions, the person isn't creative anymore. The person isn't a thinking human being anymore.

But most psychotic people aren't that far gone. Sure they're crazy, but they are also people. They still speak English, and do all sorts of things that a cow can't do. So let's imagine that disorder_2 is *not* a brain lesion.

What else might disorder_2 be? One possibility is that it's being irrational. Bear in mind that not all irrationality is the same. So imagine there is a specific type which is disorder_2. When someone with this form of irrationality hears voices, he can't be talked into reacting rationally, because he's not a rational person. This would explain all the data.

Now, let's consider how to treat these people. First consider treating disorder_2, assuming it is an irrationality. Suppose we have a set of arguments and explanations which cures this irrationality. This would be the best course, because we know the voices will then be harmless, and we know that being irrational will have other bad effects besides causing psychosis in people who hear voices.

Now imagine we have a drug which cures hearing voices. This would instantly cure psychosis in these people. But they would remain irrational. The cure would still be a very good thing. However, there is a danger. The person might be confirmed in his irrationality. If he believed that his only problem was disorder_1, the voices, he would wrong believe his worldview wasn't causing any problems, even though it was. If one of his friends told him that part of the problem was his irrationality, he could take his cure as proof that his irrationality was not the reason for his psychosis.

To avoid this danger, what would we need to do? It's pretty simple: we'd tell people that we are not curing their real problem. We are removing something from them which is completely harmless, but which reacts badly with their real disorder (this would be true whether the real disorder is irrationality or not). We might try an analogy to explain, like this one: they are like a man who gets angry a number of things including pillows, and we've removed all pillows from his house. Instantly, he is not angry when at home. But we haven't really cured him.

So the two primary conclusions we should take from this are:

1) irrationality may be a necessary component of many mental illnesses

2) many cures for mental illness, no matter how effective they seem to be, may be just like removing pillows. they may not be cures at all.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Israel Lebanon Update

Israel Sets Goal of Pulling Troops Out of Lebanon by Sunday

I haven't read the news for a while. Last I heard, the UN was supposed to bring in 15,000 human shields (troops not allowed to shoot at terrorists, and positioned so that terrorists can shelter next to them, like they did in the Lebanon war) to protect Israel from Hezbollah. It looked like many of these soldiers would be from countries that don't recognize the state of Israel. Somehow that isn't insane enough to be laughed out of the UN. Meanwhile Israel was going to get nothing but a new government (because the current one messed up the war by taking a UN deal instead of killing more terrorists). Included in unkept promises, Israel was not going to get back the soldiers who were abducted to start the war, Hezbollah was not going to be disarmed, and Israel was not going to have security. Oh, and those UN peacekeepers would be sure to help rebuild things for terrorists. Like they did during the Lebanon war when they repaired roads that Israel had just bombed out of military necessity.

Now things are worse.
the United Nations forces, which are supposed to reinforce the Lebanese Army, were not up to strength. They number barely more than 5,000 now, only about 3,000 more than when the war ended and far short of the 15,000 called for under the resolution.

So Israel is about to leave, and the UN still hasn't really arrived. I'm actually not sure if the lack of UN presence is a good or bad thing.
last Friday ... Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, appeared in public for the first time to declare a divine victory.

That can't be good. He's no longer scared that we will kill him if he shows his face. We should kill him.
Israel also said it would continue aerial surveillance over Lebanon to prevent the resupply of weapons to Hezbollah until the resolution was fully carried out. That includes the release of two captured Israeli soldiers and the monitoring of the largely unmarked border between Lebanon and Syria, which helped to supply Hezbollah with sophisticated arms from Iran and Syria itself.

The United Nations forces say that such flights constitute Israeli violations of the cease-fire.

The UN thinks that trying to enforce the terms of the cease fire is a violation of the cease fire. No wonder they aren't enforcing the terms...
Since the cease-fire, 14 Lebanese have been killed and 90 injured by the bomblets, the United Nations said

Why don't we hear about dead Israeli kids who played with unexploded Hezbollah rockets? It's not because Hezbollah has high quality munitions that always explode. It's because Israeli parents are responsible enough to warn their kids about the danger.

Who is blamed for the irresponsibility of Lebanese people? The Jews, of course.
Israel captured the strategic plateau in the 1967 war and unilaterally annexed it in 1981. Some Israelis have suggested that given the threat from Iran, Israel should accept a Syrian offer for peace talks to try to wean Syria, a Sunni country, away from its alliance with Tehran.

Does the New York Times think this is subtle? When they want to give their opinion, they just say "some people said" and call it reporting. They even had the nerve to say this is the opinion of Israelis.

So what is their opinion? They want Israel to give away the Golan Heights to Syria so that terrorists can shoot off it to kill Jews. Why is this a good idea? Because it's appeasement, and if we learned anything from World War II, it's how well appeasement works. And if Israel doesn't understand this, it shows a lack of nuance.

So in conclusion, I'm glad I've been ignoring the news, and I will return to that policy for a while.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)


Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Will you tell me about morality?
Elliot: Morality is an area of knowledge. It includes theories about how to live well, and how to make good choices, and what's right and wrong and good and evil. You could also call morality the theory of decision making.
Caeli: How can we determine what is moral, or not?
Elliot: For a lot of questions, we don't have to figure it out. We already know. We know stealing is wrong, and murder is wrong, and being kind to our friends is right. The usual thing to do is to use the knowledge we already have. We don't have to justify it. All we have to do is be willing to improve on it if it seems to have problems or flaws. But as long as it seems to work, then philosophically there's nothing wrong with using it even if we can't prove it's right.
Caeli: Then how will our moral knowledge get better? Do we really have to wait for problems -- for things to go wrong -- before we can fix them?
Elliot: No. If you want to, you can think about morality. If you do thought experiments, and imagine situations, and what you'd do in them, you can find problems now. And if you're suspicious there might be a problem, or just curious, then go right ahead and look for improvements.
Caeli: What else will help?
Elliot: It is good to fit theories into more general frameworks, or alter them to be more universal, or connect them with other ideas we have. Doing this is interesting in its own right; it's part of how we learn. But it also helps us correct errors. When our ideas don't mesh together nicely, that is a sign they could be improved. And the more generally they apply, the more varied examples we can try them out on, which will help reveal hidden flaws.
Elliot: Note that all this is exactly the same way that we would approach any other topic.
Caeli: What if I do want to know justifications for morality? Why are things moral?
Elliot: Well that's tricky, and we don't know the whole answer. But to start with, morality is the right way to live. That means it works well, in terms of whatever criteria are important. We have a lot of ideas about what those criteria are, like happiness, wealth creation, freedom, scientific achievement, or creating a lasting and valuable political tradition such as the United States government. And there are smaller things we value, like helping a friend, or teaching our child something he wanted to know, or cooking a tasty meal, or eating a tasty meal. Some of the things I just said might be wrong. Maybe they aren't so good after all. One of the things morality is about is figuring out which are right.
Caeli: I'm getting a clearer picture, but what about the foundations? What do we justify moral ideas in terms of?
Elliot: Let me be very clear and say again that we do not have to justify ourselves. And the whole idea of foundations is confused: we never discover ultimate, final, true foundations upon which we can never improve. There are always more subtle problems that we can work on.
Elliot: And knowing the correct foundations, or the reasons for things, is often not very helpful. Just because you discover how your fear of spiders came into existence doesn't necessarily mean you're any closer to getting rid of the phobia.
Elliot: Note, again, that this is the same for other topics besides morality.
Elliot: But with that said, it is interesting to think about why things are right. We have a lot of answers to that, but they aren't very well connected, and we could do with some deeper truths. I do have thoughts about that. I think I can answer your question to your satisfaction.
Caeli: That sounds good. Go ahead.
Elliot: What does morality consist of? Well, it's not supernatural. And it's not from God. What's left? It must come from physics, logic, and epistemology.
Caeli: What's epistemology?
Elliot: It is knowledge about knowledge. It answers questions like how we learn. But it doesn't just apply to humans. Lots of things contain knowledge. The obvious example is books or computers. Those contain the knowledge we put into them. Animals and plants also contain knowledge. Or perhaps saying they express knowledge would be clearer. I don't mean they have a compartment inside in which the knowledge is stored, though they do have DNA. But consider a tree. It expresses knowledge about how to turn sunlight into energy. A wolf expresses knowledge about how to hunt prey. There's also less obvious human-made examples, like a table embodies knowledge of how to keep items in locations that are convenient for humans.
Caeli: Alright, I get the idea. You mean knowledge very broadly.
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Isn't epistemology a type of logic?
Elliot: Yes, you can think of it that way. In that sense, math is logic as well. And how to argue is a matter of logic. And how to lie with statistics is a matter of logic. I consider epistemology important enough to mention by name.
Caeli: Is logic part of physics?
Elliot: I don't know. But I do know that brains are physical objects, so our knowledge of logic comes only through physical processes, which we know about through physics.
Caeli: Alright, so morality consists of physics, logic, and epistemology. Now what?
Elliot: This might appear completely useless. It's a bit like saying a computer consists of atoms. Yes, it does. But that doesn't tell us anything about how it works.
Caeli: It's reductionist.
Elliot: Yes. But we can move on from here. Morality is going to let people get good things. Let's ignore what the things are for now, and consider the getting. How do people accomplish their goals and get what they want? What will let them do that?
Caeli: Hey, it seems like we are getting somewhere already.
Elliot: Yes. So we're going to want power, in a very general sense. The more humans can shape reality, and have the power to get what they want, the more they will be able to get good things, whatever those are.
Elliot: Second is knowledge. People will need to know what is good or they might accomplish the wrong things.
Caeli: No wonder you mentioned epistemology in particular.
Elliot: Third is error correction. People might make mistakes while getting these good things, or they might be mistaken about what is good. So we're going to need to be able to deal with that and fix mistakes.
Elliot: Fourth is consistency. If people try for contradictory things, that won't work. Another way to say this is not to be self-defeating. If you're trying to get two different things, but it's not possible to get both, then you're bound to fail.
Caeli: This is cool so far.
Elliot: So these are our ingredients to build with. Now keep in mind that I could have named other ingredients. It isn't very important. There are a lot of ways to cover the same general ideas and name them different things.
Caeli: Alright, so what's the next step?
Elliot: Next we will do a thought experiment.
Elliot: The following is partly due to David Deutsch. It was his idea that for almost all practical purposes, it does not matter what the foundations of morality are, so long as you take morality seriously and apply it universally. And it was his idea to apply this to a morality based on squirrels.
Elliot: So, we haven't said what the good stuff people are trying to get is. Let's imagine the answer is maximizing the number of living squirrels, and see what happens.
Caeli: Isn't that absurd? And easily variable: why not bison?
Elliot: Yes it's absurd. But the consequences are interesting anyway. I don't want to give away the ending, so let's keep going.
Caeli: Let's clarify first. Do we want to maximize the number of squirrels today, or how do we count?
Elliot: The goal is the most squirrels at the most times. Take the average number of live squirrels at any given time, since the universe started, until the present, and that's your current score. The goal is to increase the number as high as possible.
Caeli: So should I start a squirrel farm and raise squirrels?
Elliot: Heavens no! Squirrels are dirty rodents. They might have diseases. You won't be able to sell them. Maybe you could get the government to pay, but then you'll be beholden to them.
Caeli: It sounds like you don't like squirrels. But for the sake of the thought experiment, shouldn't you pretend that you do?
Elliot: No. That isn't one of the things we're imagining.
Caeli: But we are considered a squirrel-based morality.
Elliot: We want to maximize their number over long timeframes. We don't have to like them.
Caeli: Won't liking squirrels help us treat them better, and increase their population?
Elliot: So, you build a squirrel farm. You have thousands of squirrels for tens of years. You increase the squirrel score a tiny fraction of a point.
Caeli: Isn't that better than nothing?
Elliot: It's not good enough to get a score of one.
Caeli: What should we do instead?
Elliot: Plan for the long term. The first thing to worry about is that a meteorite, exploding sun, or other large scale disaster wipes out humanity or squirrels or both. Making sure that doesn't happen is far more important than any farm. So we should focus on science before farms.
Caeli: That's counter-intuitive.
Elliot: Next, I'm worried about nuclear war, terrorists, and large problems here at home. They probably wouldn't be able to destroy us entirely, but they'd set us back and set science back. So we need good diplomacy and foreign policy to protect our scientific research.
Caeli: OK, that makes sense.
Elliot: And we need a powerful economy in order to produce materials for setting up millions of squirrel farms (or more). So capitalism and free trade are important.
Caeli: Hey, now we're getting somewhere, you've actually mentioned squirrels again.
Elliot: Yeah. Now where should we put these farms? On Earth, they'll just get in the way of people. Squirrels are dirty rodents that no one likes, and we need happy people to do science and capitalism.
Caeli: Shouldn't people change to like squirrels? Squirrels are the focus of morality!
Elliot: I don't see any need for that. We're going to put the squirrel farms on other planets. Humans and squirrels don't need to share any planets.
Caeli: Don't people like to have some squirrels around?
Elliot: Yes, I suppose so. Our dogs need something to chase. So we'll have squirrels in parks still. The point is we don't need to locate any squirrel farms on Earth. We want human civilization concentrated to reduce travel time.
Caeli: So your general idea is that the best way to maximize squirrels is to work on science, diplomacy, capitalism, and normal things -- the same things people care about today in real life -- and then eventually, when we are powerful enough, to colonize other planets with squirrels?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Is there anything we should do differently? Maybe farmers shouldn't shoot squirrels.
Elliot: If a farmer shoots a squirrel, we get a tiny reduction in our squirrel score. If a farmer is unhappy because he didn't get to shoot a squirrel, we get a reduction in farm productivity, which will delay the squirrel colonies. Every day those are delayed, with their trillions (or whatever) of squirrels, counts for a lot.
Caeli: Will we colonize the moon with squirrels, or Mars?
Elliot: No, human colonization will come first. That will help us get the raw materials and production plants needed for a truly massive squirrel colonizing effort later.
Caeli: When will we finally make a lot of squirrels?
Elliot: Basically, once it's easy.
Caeli: Should we at least do it slightly before then. Perhaps as soon as we could do it universe-wide, instead of when it's easy to do it universe-wide?
Elliot: That's a good question. But we need to be able to do it reliably. If we barely have enough resources, and we're stretched thin, then that's very risky. Something could go wrong. When it's easy is approximately when the risks will be gone.
Caeli: OK, that makes sense. We need to get this right. We wouldn't want all the colonies to die because we made a mistake.
Caeli: I guess reliability is very important. If our ultimate goal is lots of squirrels, we should do everything we can to make absolutely sure that that happens. So, what if people forget about the plan to colonize planets with squirrels? Or change their minds about the squirrel mission?
Elliot: That's a good question. And the solution is to have institutions in our society for error correction. What that means is we must have lots of criticism, all the time. In an environment heavy on criticism, bad ideas are refuted, so no rival theories will ever be able to challenge the squirrel theory. If the criticism ever went away then what would matter is things like how easy a theory is to remember, not whether it's true. So then squirrels might lose. Criticism is their best defense against false ideas.
Caeli: Won't there also be criticism of the squirrel theory.
Elliot: Yes. But so what? It's true, so it will survive the criticism. Whatever question you ask of it, it will have an answer. And all arguments will eventually lead people to squirrels.
Elliot: As a bonus, institutions of criticism like this have the happy property that if the squirrel theory is not right, or we've slightly misunderstood it, or whatever, then that error will be corrected.
Caeli: What if we just entrench the squirrel theory. We'll indoctrinate our kids with it. Everyone will be required to believe it. I know it's heavy handed, but squirrels are worth it. Won't that be even more reliable? People can be stupid and might not understand the squirrel theory's brilliance, even though we know it's true.
Elliot: That would not work reliably at all. People might start to question the indoctrination. Or they might be indoctrinated with something else. Institutions might change over time. Preventing that is very hard. Or our civilization might go extinct because it has a static culture and can't do science. Or we might just never reach the stars and make the colonies it dreams of: we aren't indoctrinated with how to accomplish our mission, and indoctrinated people don't think freely so might not invent the answers.
Elliot: The one and only advantage squirrel theory has over rival moralities is that it's true. That does not mean it indoctrinates people better. So the only reliable thing to do is play to our strength and use criticism and persuasion.
Caeli: That makes sense, and it also is a much nicer way to live. We get to think instead of be taught to mindlessly obey.
Elliot: Yes :)
Elliot: Another thing to consider is that institutions of criticism, which keep the squirrel theory prominent, are far more important than actually creating lots of squirrels. If we neglect the squirrel project, we'll be led back to it. People will argue that we aren't making enough squirrels, and we'll change our policies. But if we ever neglect our institutions of error correction and criticism, then no matter how many squirrels we already have, we might stop caring about them and throw away the project overnight.
Caeli: OK, I think I've got the idea now. So, what's the overall point?
Elliot: This way of thinking applies to more than squirrels. Take any pattern of atoms, and make the goal to spread it across the universe, and what we'll need to do is maximize human power first, and then when we're ready, spread it in a stable, reliable, risk-free way. (Note: for squirrels, the pattern is not a single squirrel, it's a habitat with many squirrels, oxygen, water, and food.)
Elliot: So for any goal like that, we should ignore the goal and focus on human power. We need to enable ourselves first. And we need to learn how to accomplish the goal, and avoid mistakes, so knowledge and error correction come in there. And we wouldn't want to start a campaign to ban space flight, or science: that'd be inconsistent with our goal.
Caeli: OK, I see how all goals like that are best accomplished with the four ingredients you mentioned earlier.
Elliot: Amusingly, the goal of minimizing the number of squirrels also has very similar steps to maximizing squirrels. We need human power to reliably keep squirrels extinct, and make sure aliens never create any, and make sure a terrorist doesn't build a squirrel, and make sure squirrels never evolve again somewhere. So we must monitor the whole universe vigilantly, and we must keep the eradication of squirrels alive in public debate. Everything is the same, except what we do at the end.
Elliot: So, if the basis of morality is squirrels, or bison, or crystals, and we think carefully enough about what to do, then what we'd end up with is almost exactly the same morality that people believe in today: we'd first value human happiness, freedom, science, progress, peace, wealth, and so on. The only difference would be one extra step, much later in time, where we'd fill most of the universe with squirrels or bison or whatever.
Caeli: That's interesting.
Elliot: So each theory of morality is partly the same, and partly different. The part that's different could be maximizing squirrels. It could be maximizing bison. It could be minimizing squirrels. That part is easily variable, which makes it a bad explanation. But the other parts, about knowledge creation, wealth, happiness, human power, and freedom are all constant. They seem more universal. They at least universally apply to moral theories that minimize or maximize things (which includes any sort of utilitarianism).
Caeli: So, it doesn't really matter what the basis for morality is?
Elliot: Exactly. And suppose we thought the basis for morality was squirrels, but we were wrong. This would not cause any significant problems. We'd end up doing the right thing for now, and learning of our mistake long before we actually filled the universe with squirrels.
Caeli: OK. I think I'm getting the idea. But can you clarify how things like science follow from our ingredients?
Elliot: Yes, certainly. Science helps increase our knowledge. And this understanding of reality helps us better avoid errors. Power to shape reality comes from knowledge, but also from having great tools, and having resources. So we want robots, computers, factories, brooms, freezers, toilets, and so on. How do we get these? Capitalism. Free trade.
Caeli: What about fair trade, communism, and so on?
Elliot: Some people think those are what we need. It doesn't really matter to my point. We need a good economic system, whichever one it is. And we already know how to argue about which is good. We have lots of professional economists, and philosophers, who know about this. And we have lots of good books about it.
Caeli: OK. So go on.
Elliot: Acting consistently, and avoiding self-defeating policies, is a matter of knowledge too. If we wanted, we could boil it all down to knowledge, and useful physical manifestations of that knowledge. But it's better to go the other way, and boil it up to freedom, science, and so on.
Caeli: Why is freedom important?
Elliot: Thinking freely means there aren't any good ideas that are being automatically ruled out. And it means being free to question any ideas we already have, so we can find errors in them. Living freely means being able to shape our part of the universe in the best ways for us. And when everyone agrees about freedom, there will be no wars, and no fighting. Everyone will work on their own goals, and no one will mind, and no one will want to control others. Even if they disagree.
Caeli: So let me try to summarize the structure of your argument.
Elliot: Go for it.
Caeli: There are certain ingredients that help us get what we want, whatever that may be. And it turns out that what specifically we want is not critical: the way to get it will be about the same regardless. In short, the ingredients are knowledge and human power. But they imply valuing science, freedom, wealth, and roughly the same things we value today.
Elliot: That's right. So there you go. A justification of the morality we already know, from simple principles.
Caeli: What about rationality? I don't believe you mentioned it.
Elliot: You're right. We've been looking at issues on a large scale. How individuals should make choices is an important matter too. Rationality is one of the things I advocate they strive for. I'll tell you about individual-sized morality tomorrow, OK?
Caeli: Yes. :) Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (11)

Morality Is Not For God

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Elliot: Here's something I find fairly amazing. Read this quote by Jack: "Morality is about things like how can there be a good God when there is evil in the world, and honoring thy parents. I'm an atheist and don't believe in that stuff."
Caeli: What's amazing about that?
Elliot: Jack believes that a typical example of a moral question is a religious question about God or a religious commandment. He is handing morality over to religious people. He thinks it is in the religious domain. He doesn't want it.
Caeli: Should he want morality?
Elliot: Philosophically, morality is about how to live. That's an important thing to know about, so he should be interested. But he believes the utterly absurd religious dogma that morality is a matter for God.
Caeli: Why would an atheist do that?
Elliot: Well, maybe he just never questioned that idea. Maybe he was turned off of the subject by the religious perspective on it that he was taught, and then he never realized that religion was wrong about what morality consists of.
Caeli: Should he have noticed?
Elliot: If his policy was not to be faithful to religion, that would mean questioning all of it. So that isn't his policy. That's not necessarily bad: religion is massive so it's hard to question all of it. But if he has a different policy, which consists of only questioning parts of religion, how does it work? Does he question parts he doesn't like?
Caeli: He could have questioned the religious monopoly on morality, but not realized the monopoly is false.
Elliot: Perhaps. But Socrates argued convincingly that morality cannot be determined by God, and his arguments are well known. It's in the Euthyphro dialog which can be read here.
Caeli: What was Socrates' argument?
Elliot: The argument takes the form of a difficult question with two answers, and then we can examine the consequences of each answer. The question is: is God's morality right because God believes it, or does God believe it because it is right?
Elliot: Either way we answer, religious morality will lose out. First consider that God chooses his beliefs about morality because they are right. What that means is that there is a conception of right outside of God, and God has no control over it, he simply uses his wisdom to figure it out. This is analogous to if God did not create the laws of physics, but did figure them out and tell them to us. In that case, he is only a messenger.
Caeli: That is surely unacceptable to the faithful, so let's answer the other way.
Elliot: Alright. The other answer is that something is morally right because God believes it. God can choose what's right. If God changes his mind, then morality changes too. So if God decides murder and theft are good ideas, then they are morally right. If that's the case, what's so good about morality? All it means is doing what we are told, no matter how horrible it seems to us.
Caeli: Perhaps God could do that, but He wouldn't.
Elliot: Why wouldn't He? Because it'd be wrong to?
Caeli: I guess that's why.
Elliot: If so, that refers to a morality independent of God.
Caeli: Back to murder, I don't think many religious people would accept a morality like that.
Elliot: Indeed. Which means they can't honestly give that answer. But the first answer didn't work out, either.
Caeli: What do you mean that the first answer didn't work? The world you described then made sense.
Elliot: It didn't give God or religion any special relationship with morality. He was just a messenger. So if the goal is to defend a religious monopoly on moral truth, then it didn't work.
Caeli: Let's back up a little. Most people wouldn't like a morality that allows for murder. But that doesn't mean it's logically invalid.
Elliot: True. But consider this: how would we know what morality was, if it was purely what God said?
Caeli: We'd listen to him.
Elliot: God doesn't talk to us. Except insane people.
Caeli: Good point. But let's pretend he did.
Elliot: But we might mishear him. Or we might misunderstand one of his ideas. So what we'd need to do is think about whether what we believe he's said makes sense. If it doesn't, then our best guess must be that we've misunderstood.
Caeli: Isn't that how it works when talking to other people, too?
Elliot: Yes. We have to come up with an interpretation of what they were trying to communicate, and we can only believe we've understood if we can invent one that we believe makes sense.
Caeli: So back to God, then even if moral truth was whatever God said, we'd have to use our own judgment to understand what he'd said?
Elliot: That's right. So the morality we acted on would still be human morality, created in human minds, according to what humans think makes sense.
Caeli: That's cool.
Caeli: So changing topics again, are there any religious defenses against Socrates' overall argument?
Elliot: No good ones. There is one idea which says morality is an aspect of God; it's an essential part of his nature.
Caeli: What's wrong with that?
Elliot: Consider if someone said physics was a part of God's nature. First, can he change his nature? If he can, we have the same problem as when he changes his mind and approves of theft and murder.
Caeli: So let's assume he can't change this part of his nature.
Elliot: Then, he's really no more than a messenger. There is a thing that exists, call it an "aspect of God", or not, it doesn't matter, God can't change it, so it's independent of his wishes. Calling it part of God is no more than a choice of terminology.
Elliot: People can still discover the laws of physics, just as if they were not part of God. So what difference does it make, for reality, to call the laws of physics an "aspect of God"?
Caeli: Is it the same for morality as physics?
Elliot: Yes, the logic works the same. He can't change the nature of morality, and humans can discover it the same way, and everything is exactly as if morality was not an aspect of God.
Caeli: Does it make any difference if we call the laws of physics an "aspect of God"?
Elliot: If it doesn't, then nothing meaningful is being asserted. If reality acts as if there is no God, then our explanations of reality do not need to include God.
Caeli: Could there be a God that isn't part of our explanations?
Elliot: I don't see any reason to think there is. But it's not important. Socrates never denies the existence of God, and he never denies that God is good (actually, the people of Athens were polytheistic, but that's not important). He argues only for morality independent of God. It isn't anti-religious at all, or at least one need not see it as such.
Caeli: I think I'm lost. Can you remind me of the structure of the discussion so far?
Elliot: Socrates asked a question, that either way you answer, you can't reasonably hold that morality is a matter for God. There's a claim about it being part of God's nature, but that didn't work either. So the conclusion is that morality is not God's domain. And then the larger conclusion is that Jack could have known this, because the argument is ancient. But he doesn't. That's meaningful.
Caeli: What does it mean?
Elliot: That he took a religious dogma for granted, despite a well known refutation. So, when he questions religion, he does it selectively.
Caeli: How does he select what to question?
Elliot: I don't know. But the most obvious guess would be that he questions the parts he does not like, or has a problem with. For example, he doesn't like the lack of science in religion, and the lack of scientific and rational attitudes, so he questions that and changes his mind.
Caeli: Is there anything wrong with being selective like that?
Elliot: Not at all. It's a very good thing to improve parts of your beliefs that you find problematic. However, Jack is loudly anti-religious. He would surely be very surprised to know that the sort of faith and adherence to religious dogma that he hates in others, is something he himself still has in at least one major way. And it isn't just some technicality, or some flaw shared by all people because no one knows better yet. The right idea actually predates Christianity.
Caeli: Well noticed.
Elliot: Thanks.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

How To Ask Questions

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: I was told that I should ask you about parenting, but I'm not sure why.
Elliot: OK, go ahead. Perhaps you'll learn why, after you ask.
Caeli: What do you think of parents, today?
Elliot: I am not impressed.
Caeli: Why not?
Elliot: They use false epistemology, they don't think about and address the primary issues they are responsible for addressing, they don't notice when they act cruelly, or worse sometimes they do notice and continue anyway, they...
Caeli: Let's stop there for now. What are the primary issues that a parent needs to consider?
Elliot: He needs to think about what role he should play in his child's life, and what his responsibilities are, and he needs to consider whether conventional parenting practices make sense before adopting them.
Caeli: What are his responsibilities?
Elliot: A parent should help his child become independent. This has various aspects. He needs to give material support, and he needs to help the child find interests, and he needs to help the child to learn a variety of things.
Caeli: What sort of things are important for children to learn?
Elliot: Morality is near the top. That means knowledge of what a good life is, and how to make good choices. Then there's various things loosely called philosophy: how to ask questions, how to approach learning about something new, how to think of good ideas, how to solve problems, how to be optimistic, how to treat other people well, how to treat one's self well, how to decide which ideas to believe or not, how to explain reality. But let us never forget that the goal is not to force a child to learn what the parent deems important, it is to help the child learn things he is interested in. The things I've mentioned are things I think pretty much everyone would like to know and find helpful. There will also be other things. They may include how to play chess, or build lego castles, or beat a video game, but they may not.
Caeli: What if my child doesn't care for most of the things you mentioned? I don't remember meeting any children who asked me about any of those.
Elliot: Did you offer them?
Caeli: No, I guess not.
Elliot: Most people you meet already have ideas about what all the things I mentioned are. About whether they are fun, hard, useful, and what the answers are. And most people you meet have already learned that most people give bad advice about those things. So I don't think you can expect someone to just start asking you about them.
Caeli: Still, what if my child isn't interested in them?
Elliot: Well, first of all, is there a problem? If he knows other things and is doing well, maybe you shouldn't worry. And maybe he knows more about them than you've realised. So, consider what the topics have to offer, and then offer those things.
Caeli: And if he says no?
Elliot: There will be a reason. He may not tell it to you; he may not know what the reason is, explicitly. But you can try to figure it out.
Caeli: I don't know how to.
Elliot: Aha! I think you're demonstrating two things here. The first is that philosophy is very useful: your lack of knowledge of it is an obstacle to being a good parent. And second, perhaps the reason you find it difficult to imagine persuading your child that you have valuable philosophy to offer, is that in some areas, you don't.
Caeli: Am I a bad person?
Elliot: No, I didn't mean it that way. Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially because good philosophy is hard to come by. Most people don't know any, explicitly.
Caeli: What's explicitly?
Elliot: It means in a language, like English. It's like conscious thoughts. If you can put an idea into words, it's explicit, but if you can't, it isn't.
Caeli: Alright, continue.
Elliot: A bad person is someone who chooses bad things for his life, or who values bad things.
Caeli: Isn't it important to actively choose good things for my life?
Elliot: Yes, but did you ever turn down a chance to learn philosophy that looked promising?
Caeli: No, I guess not. But wouldn't it be better if I knew more, now?
Elliot: It would undoubtedly be nice if you did. But if there was no way available to you to do better, surely you've done nothing wrong. Also, bear in mind that if you did know more, you could still say, "Wouldn't it be nice if I knew more?". You can say that no matter how much you know. It's just the human condition.
Caeli: What if there was a way I could have known more already, but I didn't notice it?
Elliot: I'm sure there were ways, if you knew how to find them. But you didn't, and I don't see how anyone could fault you for that. What you're really getting at is that it's possible to do better than we actually do. And that is great thing. It means improvement is possible.
Caeli: Is it bad to not improve really fast?
Elliot: It's important to try to improve, and to care about improving. It's also important not to beat yourself up over any mistakes you might make. That won't help anything. I like you now; you ask good questions.
Caeli: Thanks, I feel better. Shall we get back to parenting?
Elliot: OK.
Caeli: So one thing a parent should do is help his child learn about life and philosophy and his interests. But you said not to force him to learn these things. Can you expand?
Elliot: The way conventional parenting works is that the parent feels a huge responsibility towards his child. There is this person, and he's vulnerable, and the parent doesn't want him to be hurt. And he could grow up to be a criminal, and the parent doesn't want that. And he could just grow up to be boring, and have a mediocre life, and the parent doesn't want that either. The parent wants to protect him, and guide him to good things.
Caeli: That sounds good to me.
Elliot: Well, the motives are good. But that doesn't mean the results will be.
Caeli: Go on.
Elliot: Parents are so keen to prevent mistakes, that when they disagree with their child, they force the child to do it their way. And they make rules, again to prevent the child from doing anything the parent thinks would be a mistake.
Caeli: Do you think children are usually right?
Elliot: No, of course not. Children have a lot of ignorance. But they aren't always wrong, especially when the issue is their own life.
Caeli: If parents are right most of the time, would it maybe be best to just always do what the parent suggests? It'd work pretty well, most of the time.
Elliot: I don't think it would. But the best way to discuss this may be to look at the alternative, which is clearly better.
Caeli: OK, what is it?
Elliot: Most of the time, parent and child will agree. The parent will say he knows best, and suggest something, and the child will have no idea what's best, so he'll take his parents advice, willingly. That's the common case. So without any mention of using force, we already have a good thing happening most of the time.
Caeli: OK, so I guess the important case must be when they disagree.
Elliot: That's right. When they disagree, what the child is saying is, "I do know something about this topic. I have some knowledge, and I think it's enough knowledge to make a decision, and this is what I want to do."
Caeli: Isn't the child probably wrong?
Elliot: I can't evaluate the probability. But it isn't important. What's important is that we don't dismiss the child out of hand. There's no good reason to, and it messes up the times the child is right. And it teaches the wrong lessons about how to think.
Caeli: What do you mean?
Elliot: It's important to think for yourself, and to learn about how good your ideas are. That way you can learn to create better ideas by avoiding mistakes you've made in the past.
Caeli: So, if the parent doesn't discuss a child's ideas, he won't find out which ones are good and which are bad?
Elliot: Right. So, when there is a disagreement, the first thing that should be tried is to consider the disagreement and try to persuade each other.
Caeli: What if they don't want to?
Elliot: If things are going well, they will want to. I think it'd be best to first consider the case where life goes smoothly, to see how things should work. Then, if you still have questions about alternative lifestyles, or how to get to the right lifestyle from a flawed one, we can address them. Does that sound good?
Caeli: Yeah, that makes sense. OK, so they are trying to persuade each other...
Elliot: Right. Now the most common thing will be that the parent persuades the child. The reason is that although both could be wrong about the subject itself, the child has less knowledge about how much knowledge he needs to venture an opinion. And he has less knowledge about what subjects might be related and important. There are a lot more ways the child is likely to go wrong.
Caeli: OK, so what's the point?
Elliot: Well, the most common case is that the child agrees immediately. In a disagreement, the most common case is that the child had a parochial misconception and is easily persuaded. But after that, the other case is that they still disagree, and then they are on even ground. There is no way to tell, automatically, who is right. We can't just assume the parent is.
Caeli: Are you sure it's even? I think a lot of parents misjudge how much they know about their child's life and interests.
Elliot: That's a very good point. Most disputes are about the child's life, so the child is in a better position to know about it.
Caeli: So what should happen if the parent and child can't agree?
Elliot: Well, first off, they can agree. It's possible. There's no powerful force stopping them.
Caeli: No? But people find it hard to agree.
Elliot: Well, communication is a very hard problem. That covers a ton of cases. And then there's the issue that maybe to come to agree they need to think of some new idea to help reconcile their positions. They can do that, and nothing is stopping them, but maybe they won't.
Caeli: OK, so they can agree. But let's say they don't. Then what.
Elliot: Well, the child's life is the child's life. Why shouldn't he make his own choices?
Caeli: He doesn't know what's best for himself.
Elliot: Well, remember we are only discussing the cases where first the parent's initial idea didn't win the child over, and then when they talked about it, the parent wasn't able to think of anything very persuasive. Or cases where the child has a really powerful idea of his own. So in these cases, either the parent hasn't been able to show that he knows what's best, or the child has an especially good idea. So this is the time it's least possible to say that children don't know what's best for themselves, because we are only discussing the few times when maybe they do.
Caeli: I'm not sure about that, but let's go on and maybe it will make more sense. Why should a child make his own choices, exactly?
Elliot: Because he's a person. A human being. One of the things we value in our culture is freedom. Everyone gets his own life, and his own property, and makes his own decisions about what to do with them. That's a great thing, and we should apply it to everyone.
Caeli: I think I'm losing track of the point. Can you summarise?
Elliot: You asked about parenting. One of the issues parents face is helping their children learn important things about life, to prepare them for independence. Parents commonly make rules, and insist on their way by force, but they shouldn't. It's better to persuade children, and in the rare cases where the parent can't figure out how to do that, he has just demonstrated his own ignorance of either the subject or the child, and either way he's now in the one situation where he'd want to use force, but also the one situation where he has lost all justification to use it.
Caeli: I'm getting tired, do you mind if we continue tomorrow? I promise I'll reread what you said. There's so many things I wanted to ask that we didn't get to. Like what is parochial, and how do you know about all this stuff, and what if the parent says persuasive things but the child won't listen.
Elliot: I don't mind taking a break. I'm glad you seem excited by this.
Caeli: By the way, why is the title "How To Ask Questions"? It was all about parenting.
Elliot: The topic was parenting. But the Caeli character asked a question for most of her lines. So this conversation serves as a good example of how to ask questions.
Caeli: Oh, that's great. I'm proud.
Elliot: You should be. Goodnight.
Caeli: Bye!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

How To Ask Questions 2

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What's parochial?
Elliot: This is going to take a little while to explain, so bear with me.
Caeli: OK.
Elliot: In the distant past, life was very different, in some ways. But in other ways, it was similar. In the distant future, life will be very different, in some ways. But in other ways, it will be similar. Things that are constant between different places, different times, and different cultures, like logic or math, are not parochial. Features of our personal circumstances that are unique to our lives, are very parochial. The main idea is that parochial thinking is lacking in perspective. It mistakes local features of reality for universal patterns. The opposite of parochial is something like universal, necessary, or fundamental.
Caeli: What do you mean by "local"?
Elliot: Local usually means "here". It's stuff that's close to us, usually physically close, like in terms of location. But more generally, a local thing is one that isn't attached to the universe in general. It's something we can think about in isolation.
Caeli: Is anything really unrelated to anything else?
Elliot: Not perfectly, but we can think about the aspects that are unrelated, or make some approximations.
Caeli: OK, so parochial ideas are like local ideas?
Elliot: That's very close. But if an idea really is local, it's not wrong to think so. Parochial thinking refers to making mistakes about what is local. It's thinking stuff is not local, when actually it is.
Caeli: Can you give an example?
Elliot: There's a saying that death and taxes are universal. The reason people think that is that they play a huge role in our lives. But the saying is very silly. Already people are putting off death for many years using new medicines. And already there are books describing how we could have a good society without taxes.
Caeli: I think I see what you mean. So, should we just avoid saying that things are universal, if we don't know?
Elliot: What we need to do, is think carefully about what we do know, and what makes sense. Explanations have their own logic which says what they apply to, and you can't make it more or less just by saying something different. Now consider taxes. Lots of societies in the past didn't have any. So it's hard to imagine how a careful thinker could conclude they are a universal feature of human existence.
Caeli: What about death?
Elliot: Well, that one is easy to forgive, at least until recently. Let's not worry too much about whether people should have known better in the past. The point is that if we try, we can identify a lot of parochial mistakes and avoid them. Surely we will be making others we don't know about, but the goal is to get better at this.
Caeli: Why is this important?
Elliot: It's related to a lot of things. For example, parenting. Because of their extreme ignorance, young children are prone to make parochial errors. They have such a small data set to work with that unless they get a lot of advice about how to not think parochially, they are bound to make a lot of mistakes.
Caeli: That's cool. I like when seemingly different topics are related.
Elliot: Yeah. It happens a lot. The reason is that explanations have reach. I was actually just talking about this a moment ago. I was saying that you can't make explanations apply to more or less stuff. So, another word for "apply" there is "reach".
Caeli: What's an example that goes the other way: making an explanation have less "reach" than it should?
Elliot: Suppose someone says that it's wrong to hit people, because hitting hurts, and hurting is wrong. That applies to all hitting, whether he likes it or not. It applies to self defense. Hitting an assailant hurts him, and hurting is wrong (or so he says).
Caeli: That's silly. Of course not all hitting, or hurting, is wrong.
Elliot: Indeed, but people say stuff like this all the time. Another example would be if a parent says that pornography is sinful, so a child can't see any. Well, if that's so, then to be consistent the parent better not look at any pornography either, or by his own logic he is a sinner.
Caeli: A lot of people think life is different for parents and children, and different rules should apply to them. Does that make sense?
Elliot: Yes and no. Parents and children have different circumstances, and different characteristics. For example, parents are generally taller, so they have less need to keep things on low shelves. I think the important thing is that any difference between what's right for parents and children has a reason. It needs to be based on different characteristics. But what is the characteristic of children that makes pornography more sinful for a child than a parent?
Caeli: I don't know. Why don't you tell me?
Elliot: I think what people say is that children can't handle it as well until they are more mature. But I don't agree with that.
Caeli: Why not?
Elliot: I don't want to dwell on this, but I'll say briefly that people's obsession with sex is very parochial, and the ideas surrounding sex are full of error.
Caeli: That sounds interesting. Can I ask you about it some time?
Elliot: Yes, I'd be happy to talk about it. I just don't want to get too far away from parenting for now.
Caeli: OK, I agree, let's try to keep focussed. So, umm, what's next?
Elliot: Yesterday you asked, "What if the parent says persuasive things but the child won't listen?"
Caeli: Oh yeah! That's a good question.
Elliot: One issue is that the word "listen" is ambiguous here. It could mean that the child still disagrees, or it could mean that he plugs his ears and doesn't hear what the parent says.
Caeli: Well, I meant that he hears the parent, but he acts like he isn't listening.
Elliot: OK, I think I see the confusion. What you're imagining is a very common scene. It's a family where a lot of things have gone wrong in the past, and now the child doesn't trust the parent, but he also doesn't know how to stand up for himself, so he doesn't like what the parent is saying, but he doesn't know what to do about it, so he just sort of ignores it.
Caeli: What should be done about that?
Elliot: That's a very hard question to answer, because it's very parochial. First, there's no universal reason that things should go disastrously wrong in that way. It's a feature of our culture, and a fairly recent phenomenon. Second, every family is different, and the solution will depend on subtle details of the people involved and their lives. Third, if we focus on the wrong way to live, that misses the point. What people really need to know is the right way. If they understood that, they could work out how to get there.
Caeli: Hmm, so I guess you want to tell me the right way to live?
Elliot: Yes :)
Caeli: What is :) ?
Elliot: It's a smiley face. It's sideways.
Caeli: Oh, I see. Neat :)
Elliot: You can add a nose, too :-), or stick out its tongue :-p
Caeli: Haha, mine is winking ;)
Elliot: When things are going right, what does it mean for a child not to listen? It means he is not persuaded. It means he disagrees. It means he thinks his own idea of what to do is best, and nothing the parent has said has changed that. (Or, more likely, the child has changed his idea in small ways because he thought the parent was right about some side issues.)
Caeli: So, what should the parent do about this?
Elliot: Well, he should consider that he might be wrong. And he should also consider that it might not be very important either way. And if he thinks he is right and it is important, he should think about how to express this better. Maybe what you're really getting at is you want to know how to be persuasive?
Caeli: Yeah, that sounds right. And also, does persuasion always work, if you're right?
Elliot: That's a good question. OK, the key elements to persuasion are argument and suggestion. By argument, I mean pointing out flaws in the ideas other than yours, and saying criticism of them. I'll call those ideas "rivals", by the way. So, we give reasons that rival theories don't work. If you can convince someone his idea is no good, he won't want to do it any longer. By suggestion, I mean suggesting your own idea that you think would be best. To be persuasive, you don't have to conclusively rule out alternatives. If you highlight the great merits of your advice, people will take it even if other courses of action still look OK.
Caeli: What if someone is having trouble seeing the merits, and you know what they are, but you're having trouble putting it into words?
Elliot: That's hard. If it's important enough, you can keep trying and you will be able to figure it out, especially with the other person's help. He can say what he understands so far, and make guesses about what you mean.
Caeli: That sounds nice. I wish the people I talked with were so helpful.
Elliot: Maybe you should suggest that they try that.
Caeli: I will, now that you mention it. So, do continue.
Elliot: Well, if it's not really important, and you can't put your idea into words, then it won't be a disaster if the other person doesn't take your advice. So just relax.
Caeli: Would it be better if he did take my advice though, if I'm right?
Elliot: You can't be certain you're right, so it's important that he make up his own mind about who's right.
Caeli: OK, but the point is he can't make up his mind because I haven't expressed my idea properly. But if I am right, and I don't express it, isn't he missing out?
Elliot: Well, yes, I guess so. But consider that the time it takes to put your idea into words could be spent doing something else, which would also be valuable.
Caeli: So, I don't think I really understand how to be persuasive, yet.
Elliot: Well, you criticise rival ideas, and suggest your own. If you explain why your idea is good, and others are flawed, and you're right, and the person understands, surely he will be persuaded.
Caeli: It sounds easy when you put it that way. But in practice isn't it hard?
Elliot: Yes. Life is complex, so there will be lots of factors to take into account. And communication is hard, so people aren't going to understand all the nuances of your position, at least not immediately.
Caeli: So let's try to tie this back to parenting. You were saying a parent should use persuasion and not force or rules?
Elliot: That's right. There are some huge benefits to doing it this way.
Caeli: What are they?
Elliot: First is error correction. If the policy is to always do what the parent originally says, then any errors the parent has in his thinking will never be corrected. But when persuasion is attempted, a lot of errors can be found. And I don't just mean that the child will point them out. When he tries to present his ideas rationally and persuasively, the parent himself will discover a lot of problems with them, and a lot of improvements that could be made.
Elliot: Second is that how is a child to learn how to think for himself if the parent never lets him? I realise parents will try to give their children some choices. But, the more the better. A child who is accustomed to considering rival ideas, and evaluating criticisms and merits will be much better prepared to be independent.
Elliot: Third, by involving the child, we have a whole new source of creativity. No longer is it the parent's sole burden to find good things for the child. Now the child will be able to help. Maybe he won't have many good ideas at first, but over time he will get better at it.
Caeli: That sounds good. Why don't more parents do it?
Elliot: They think that they do! A lot of parents say they listen and give reasons, and only "lay down the law" when their child is being really unreasonable and is obviously wrong. Unfortunately what this actually means is that if the parent fails to be persuasive, he interprets this as the child's error.
Caeli: Could it be the child's error?
Elliot: Yes, certainly. But the parent doesn't know that it is. It's never obvious that something is wrong. Sometimes it appears to be, but that could be a parochial mistake.
Caeli: Wow, this parochial thing really does come up a lot.
Elliot: Yeah, I told you :)
Caeli: Could you give an example of something that seems obvious, but is actually a parochial mistake?
Elliot: Suppose a parent sees his child pouring cereal on the floor. He may think this is obviously a mistake. The child is making a mess, for no good reason. He has some horrible misconception, or worse he's trying to hurt the parent. In the parent's worldview, there is nothing to gain by putting cereal on the floor, and a lot to lose. He assumes this must be true of everyone else's life too. But it isn't.
Caeli: What's a worldview?
Elliot: It means all of someone's ideas and values and explanations.
Caeli: Why might a child pour cereal on the floor? That doesn't sound good to me.
Elliot: Maybe it makes an interesting sound. Maybe it's fun to walk on. Maybe the child wants to have more cereal, and thinks pouring it is a way to create cereal. Maybe the child dropped something into the box, and is trying to get it back out. Maybe the child thinks the cereal is pretty and makes the floor look nicer. Maybe the child has seen the dog eating things off the floor before, and wants to see it again. Maybe the child doesn't like that cereal and wants to get rid of it.
Caeli: A lot of those aren't very good reasons to pour cereal on the floor. Like if the child lost a toy in the box, he could probably get it by reaching in, or at least he could dump the cereal into a container to avoid making a mess and to be able to eat it later.
Elliot: That's very true. There are probably improvements that could be made. But the point is that the fundamental idea the child has could be sound. There are many, many ways it could be sound. That the parent couldn't think of any shows there was a serious error in his thinking.
Caeli: Oh, I guess there was.
Elliot: What the child really needs is not for the parent to force him to stop. That's terrible. He could just use some help. It'd be good if the parent found out what he was trying to accomplish, and then gave some suggestions. Like if the child is trying to decorate, he might like to know about paint, which has a lot of advantages over cereal. And he might like to know about paper too, instead of using the floor.
Caeli: That's cool. After some improvements, the final result could probably be something the parent doesn't mind anymore.
Elliot: That's right. And also, suppose the child likes walking on cereal, and he's doing it on the kitchen floor which is actually a good place for that. Then the parent could change his mind and approve once he knows that reason, and sees that the child's action makes sense.
Caeli: What if the child's idea actually is bad?
Elliot: The worse it is, the more better ideas exist for the parent to suggest. And the worse it is, the easier it is to find bad parts that the child won't like once they're pointed out.
Caeli: Oh, that's cool. So the times it's hardest to be persuasive are the times it's least important.
Elliot: Yes, exactly!
Caeli: I need to go, but I'd love to continue another time.
Elliot: I'll be happy to oblige. Farewell.
Caeli: Bye bye!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

How To Ask Questions 3

Caeli: Hey!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Last time we talked was fun. I'm glad to be back.
Elliot: That's excellent.
Caeli: So, where were we? Oh yeah. We were talking about persuasion. I don't think you clearly said if persuasion always works, if you are right.
Elliot: It doesn't, but that's OK. Keep in mind that the more important the situation is -- the more critical the error you wish to correct -- the easier persuasion is. So when persuasion fails, we're usually talking about cases where nothing too big is at stake.
Caeli: OK, but even then wouldn't it be better if we got the right answer? If persuasion won't work, maybe we can get it another way.
Elliot: There is no such thing as a way of acting that always does the right answer. It's not possible to have a system that makes mistakes impossible. What we should look for are policies that help spread good ideas to everyone, and help prevent mistakes from spreading, and help eliminate mistakes within ourselves.
Caeli: That sounds wise. OK, how do we do that?
Elliot: Let's compare persuasion and listening to people who feel completely sure that they are right. If someone is sure he's right, and everyone is required to listen to him, good ideas will have an easy time spreading. Someone just has to think of one, and be confident that it's good. Unfortunately, bad ideas will also spread easily. Every time someone mistakes a bad idea for a good one, that will spread just as easily as a good idea. And there aren't any mechanisms for correcting errors built into this system, so once they start to spread, there's nothing to stop them.
Caeli: What about with persuasion?
Elliot: Using persuasion, good ideas will often spread, and they will spread fairly effectively. Bad ideas, on the other hand, will have an uphill battle. Every step of the way, people will challenge them and criticise them. And if someone comes up with a powerful criticism of a bad idea, that itself is a good idea, and a persuasive one that many people will be interested in, so it could spread and cause the elimination of error. Further, if I try to persuade someone of my idea, he may end up persuading me that I was wrong, or I may realise I'm wrong while examining my own idea. So there are multiple levels of error correction.
Caeli: If someone's really sure he has a good idea, isn't that important? If we take that into account, maybe we can find and spread good ideas faster, while still thinking for ourselves some too.
Elliot: It does matter. There are a lot of steps people can take to get their ideas heard. For example, they can write and publish a book. If someone cares enough to do that, more people will be exposed to his ideas. Or he can go on TV, or give lectures. People can put effort into advocating their ideas proportional to how sure they are that it's true and valuable.
Caeli: Oh, that's cool. What if the author of a good idea is really busy, though?
Elliot: If he's too busy to ever tell anyone, then no possible system could spread his idea. But if he does tell some people, they are free to advocate his idea for him, with as much passion as they think is fitting.
Caeli: Are there any of your ideas that you'd like me to advocate for you?
Elliot: That would be nice. But I don't want to say which ones. Just pick whichever you find most interesting or important, or whichever ones come up frequently in your life.
Caeli: OK, I will!
Elliot: I will do the same for you, of course.
Caeli: But I haven't said any ideas.
Elliot: You've said some, but also your questions contain ideas in them. What I meant is that I learn things from you, and I won't hesitate to pass them on when good chances present themselves.
Caeli: Oh, thanks :)
Caeli: Will you tell people that the ideas came from me?
Elliot: Probably not. It's hard to keep track of where my ideas come from, and it's not very important anyway. We should judge ideas based on their merits, not their author.
Caeli: But I want to get credit, so people know I have good ideas.
Elliot: Don't worry about that. Anyone who talks to you will instantly see that you are bright. And if he doesn't, he's silly, so don't think of him.
Caeli: OK, I guess. Maybe I'll come back to this later. What I really want to know about today is you said parents act cruelly.
Elliot: That's right. There are a lot of well known things parents do or say which are cruel. Consider: "You'll understand when you're older", "Do what I say, or else", "Eat your vegetables", "Go to your room", "You can come back when you're ready to apologize", "Because I'm your father, and I said so".
Elliot: And then there's ideas like that children need limits and boundaries. Which are only meaningful and controversial because they mean limits and boundaries that children don't want. And there's the ideas of compromises, discipline, obedience, spoiling children, that "you can't always get what you want", and that a few dollars a week is plenty of money.
Caeli: Wow, that's a lot of stuff. I see why some of them are bad, like "I said so" isn't a good reason. But what about being a father? Don't parents need to be able to make some decisions for the family?
Elliot: As we've discussed earlier, the more critical the case, the easier persuasion is. If a parent can honestly say that something is very important, but for some reason, such as time pressure, he isn't able to explain things to the child now, then won't children voluntarily go along with it?
Caeli: Don't parents try that a lot, and their children don't listen?
Elliot: Yes, but I think you're proving my point. That situation doesn't happen very often. If a parent uses it frivolously, his children may notice and distrust him in the future.
Caeli: What about if they're at a restaurant, and the child is disturbing the other customers. I think that's pretty common.
Elliot: Yes, but it's nothing like the kind of emergency I was thinking of. What's the worst that can happen? You're asked to leave the restaurant. That's not very bad. It's nothing worth damaging your relationship with your family over.
Caeli: Wouldn't it be better if the child calmed down long enough for the parent to explain, so they wouldn't get kicked out?
Elliot: Yes, it would. And that can certainly happen. The parent could say, "Please stop. I think you're making a mistake, and I want to tell you why, but first it's very urgent that you lower your voice and stop throwing things." The child will get an explanation right away if he stops, so he doesn't have anything to lose. He doesn't have to take his parent's advice on faith for more than a few minutes. And once he does this, he'll have a better idea whether to do it again in the future. I think children who won't calm down for a little while to talk have almost always tried this many times in the past, and it didn't go well.
Caeli: How would it go badly?
Elliot: Well, the parent might say, "Great, now you're calm. So, you can't act like that in restaurants. You have to be polite to the other people, and it hurts me when you act like an animal."
Caeli: Wow, that's terrible. I wouldn't want any advice at all from someone who talked like that.
Elliot: Yeah, it's unpleasant. It says the child can't have what he wants, but it doesn't explain why in any detail, and it surely doesn't explain why the suggested way of life is nice and enjoyable. And it's manipulative. The parent has chosen to be hurt by behavior he doesn't like as a way to suppress it.
Elliot: By the way, there's a very important fact we haven't yet considered. It is that a parent does not have to take his child to a formal restaurant before explaining what sort of behavior is expected there. It's quite irresponsible to go to one without giving the child any warning. On the other hand, if the child knows what's happening in advance, and has chosen that he does want to go to the restaurant, then the only things that will stop him from acting with great decorum are either if he doesn't know how to, or he changes his mind.
Caeli: So, then what?
Elliot: If he changed his mind about the restaurant visit, perhaps you should leave. Oh well, but really not a very big deal. And if he doesn't understand decorum, despite the lessons he had before coming, that is almost certainly a very small problem. Just remind him, or tell him the parts he doesn't know. If he's truly interested in trying to act appropriately for a formal restaurant, that is, if he does want to be there, then he will be happy to get advice about how to do it better.
Caeli: I see. I guess most of the problems come when the child doesn't really want to be there, or doesn't want to behave.
Elliot: That happens a lot, yes. Another issue is that parents overreact. I've seen parents discipline their kids because they thought the child was bothering me, even though I said he wasn't. The parent refused to believe me, and thought I was just being polite.
Caeli: That's a shame. Why are parents to eager to be kind and helpful to strangers, but not their own children?
Elliot: Our culture values treating strangers with care, and being helpful to them as appropriate. And it's right to do that. It's just that it is also right to be good to our children.
Caeli: If treating strangers well is valuable, then isn't the parent being helpful by making his child do it?
Elliot: I'm sure he's trying to be helpful. But this gets back to using force or persuasion. There's no need, and no justification, to threaten a child if he has made a mistake out of ignorance. Won't he be happy to be told about a very good value that is present in the world, which he can enjoy?
Caeli: Oh, it sounds so much nicer when you put it that way.
Elliot: Indeed. What's going on frequently is that the child doesn't like the parent's advice, because it isn't persuasive, and doesn't seem to be good or nice.
Caeli: If most parents are bad at persuasion, even when they are right, is it understandable if they use force instead sometimes?
Elliot: Well, are they making a large effort to become better at persuasion? Any effort at all? I don't think they can be forgiven if they aren't trying.
Caeli: What if they don't know that persuasion is better? That's just ignorance, so can't we forgive it?
Elliot: Our society values freedom, and voluntary association, and not being forced to do things. Everyone in our culture knows this. If they decide it somehow doesn't apply to children, they are arbitrarily restricting the reach of one of our values to exclude people. It's well known that you shouldn't do this to other groups like blacks or women. But, yes, it's a parochial error and the real issue shouldn't be forgiveness, it should be how to help our society move past this blindness.
Caeli: That's very noble. What do you think would help to remedy this blight?
Elliot: Maybe writing dialogs.
Caeli: Do you like self-reference?
Elliot: Yes :)
Caeli: What are some ways persuasion can go wrong even though you're right?
Elliot: Persuading another person is a matter of communicating your idea and its merits, and discovering rival theories the other person holds, and communicating criticisms of those. Fortunately, the other person will often be helpful and refute some rival theories himself.
Elliot: So, successful persuasion isn't just about being right. It's also about being able to communicate with this person, and finding out about other ideas he has which are relevant, and responding to them. All those steps can go wrong even if your main idea is true.
Caeli: You've mentioned a few times that communication is hard. That goes against common sense. People hang out to talk all the time, and often use this to relax, and find it easy.
Elliot: How hard it is depends on what you want to say, and your culture. In our culture, some communication is common and easy, because everyone has knowledge to facilitate it. But that's cheating, in a sense, because it doesn't involve much knowledge getting from one person to another, it involves both people already having shared knowledge.
Caeli: OK, so tell me about the case when they don't already share an idea.
Elliot: If someone doesn't understand my idea already, the conventional theory is that I can just tell him, and then he will. But that doesn't make sense. He doesn't know what it is. I can say words that I think can be translated into the idea, but he will only be able to guess at the correct method of translating words to idea, because he doesn't know what he's supposed to end up with.
Elliot: By the way, far and away the best reference on this topic is the book Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. See chapter 6 on The Location of Meaning.
Caeli: Can you give a brief summary, now?
Elliot: Sure. OK, imagine sending messages to space aliens. We have to put the message in a language, say English. And we have to do something to indicate that this is a message, and not just random junk, so that they notice and try to understand it. And we can include some hints about how to decode the main idea, that we think might be helpful.
Caeli: Could we just include a dictionary?
Elliot: Yes, and that might be helpful, but unfortunately they won't know how to read it, when they start.
Caeli: Oh, well how will they ever get started?
Elliot: They can look for patterns, and they can make guesses about what things mean, and then try applying the guesses to other parts of the text, and if the guess makes sense in multiple places, then we know the guess has reach and that's a sign it's good and worth trying in more places.
Caeli: This idea of reach seems to have a lot of reach.
Elliot: Yeah. Now consider when we try to say something to another person. We face all the same problems as with a space alien, except for one difference. The difference is that we already have shared knowledge. In fact, we have a lot, including the whole English dictionary. So that makes it a lot easier, because whenever we want to express a new idea, we can say something that's partly new and partly old. Then it's easier for people to get started decoding it. It's like filling in the blanks, instead of guessing the entire thing at once.
Caeli: So this relates to how you were saying communication is easy when you already share knowledge of what you're saying, but hard when you don't already share the knowledge you want to communicate?
Elliot: Yes. Communicating new ideas to a person is exactly the same kind of problem as communicating them to a space alien. It's easier because we have more shared knowledge to start with. But as many people have pointed out, we can expect to have shared knowledge with space aliens too. They will have physicists and mathematicians, and know about logic and morality, just like we do. Communication is hard in both cases because it's hard to guess what idea someone has when you don't already know it.
Elliot: Now, there's a very important fact I haven't mentioned yet. It is that a baby is just like a space alien. What I mean is that he has very little shared knowledge with other people. So communicating to him is very difficult. And that he ever understands anything is amazing. Babies don't have a whole civilisation with foreign language specialists, physicists, mathematicians, and so on, to translate messages. They only have their own brain, and their extreme ignorance.
Caeli: But babies learn language, and lots of stuff. It doesn't seem like a problem.
Elliot: That happens for a few reasons. The first is that babies have fully functional brains. They are very creative. Otherwise learning human language would not be possible. The second is that our culture has evolved traditions about raising children. What that means is that over time ways to raise kids that work less well have been eliminated, and ways that work better have been found. I don't mean better for everything, but for specific issues like raising a child who can talk, we've evolved to be very good at it. (Of course, raising a child to talk intelligently is another matter, and many people would agree with me that there's room for improvement there.)
Caeli: Are there more reasons?
Elliot: Our children are immersed in our culture. There are people talking all the time. They don't have just one message to decode. There are thousands, and if they only decode every hundredth message, that will be fine. It's easier to find patterns in such a big data set.
Caeli: That's cool. So, I read that scientists have shown that young children don't have mature brains yet, not like adults.
Elliot: Those aren't scientists, they are psychologists and "social scientists". And they are not very interesting, so I'd prefer not to talk about them much. Maybe another time. For now, let me just say: if children don't have very functional brains, what is the explanation for how they learn so much?
Caeli: I don't know.
Elliot: Indeed. And neither do those "scientists" that you mentioned.
Caeli: Actually I better go now. But I'll prepare a few questions for next time.
Elliot: OK, see you.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

How To Ask Questions 4

Caeli: Hiya!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Yesterday you were talking about ways parents are cruel, but then we got distracted discussing communication and alien babies. I want to know more about parents being cruel.
Elliot: Alien babies?
Caeli: Oh, that was a joke. I pretended to have misunderstood most of what you said in the conversation about the difficulties of communication. Was it too subtle?
Elliot: No, it's a good joke, I just wasn't clear on what you meant :)
Caeli: I'm going to quote things you said that parents say, and then you can explain what's wrong with them in more detail, OK?
Elliot: Sure.
Caeli: "You'll understand when you're older"
Elliot: All that means is, "I won't explain it to you now". Or sometimes it means "I don't know how to explain it, won't try to figure it out, and won't admit it."
Caeli: Don't parents sometimes say that because a child isn't ready to understand something?
Elliot: Sort of. By "not ready", I believe you mean there is other background knowledge that would probably be best to understand first. But so what if there is? Start there. You can make progress towards learning about this today. There's no reason to be dismissive to your child and not help him just because the answer to his question is big and complicated.
Caeli: I see. OK next is "Do what I say, or else"
Elliot: That's a threat. It's vague, admittedly, but what good thing could "or else" mean?
Caeli: Good point, OK let's move on again. "Eat your vegetables"
Elliot: Parents have a habit of making their children eat food that the child does not want to eat. That's quite a lot like torture.
Caeli: Aren't you exaggerating?
Elliot: You tell me. How would you like it if I tied you up and ... well what foods do you truly loathe?
Caeli: Cottage cheese, lima beans, and mandarin oranges.
Elliot: Alright, well I force feed you those foods. Or worse, I mix them together, and add dog kibble and a can of cat food. Doesn't that sound awful?
Caeli: But it's not like that. It's just broccoli or brussel sprouts.
Elliot: Some people hate those just as much as you hate cottage cheese.
Caeli: Isn't it important to eat healthy?
Elliot: Sure. But what constitutes eating healthy is controversial. One of the health problems we have in this country is obesity. And the cure is to not eat when you aren't hungry. Forcing children to eat when they don't want to eat will surely mean eating when they aren't hungry. That isn't preparing them to eat properly.
Caeli: Oh my! Don't parents also say "finish your plate" because they don't want to waste food?
Elliot: Indeed. Although the food isn't really wasted. The point of food -- the reason we buy it -- is to have the option to eat it. We only want to actually eat it under certain circumstances. If we'd be required to eat it a certain food, we would rarely buy that food. Foods go bad, and no one minds throwing that out. And sometimes people serve too much food on their plate. So what? You had the option to eat food without getting up to serve more. You didn't use it. It isn't useful anymore. So throw the food out.
Caeli: What about the starving kids in Africa?
Elliot: What about them. If I eat more food, that won't help them. If you want them to have food, send them money.
Caeli: Why not send them food?
Elliot: Shipping food is far more expensive than sending money. Let huge corporations deal with transporting food between countries. They're better at it.
Caeli: If we give them money, they might waste it buying things other than food.
Elliot: Indeed. So don't give money to people who have wildly different values than you do. They won't use it to further objectives that you value.
Caeli: We're losing focus. Let's move on. "Go to your room"
Elliot: It's cruel to lock a child in a room against his will. And it's a harsh way to deal with a disagreement. It's not persuasion, and it's not helpful.
Caeli: But parents usually add, "And think about what you did", so the child will learn his lesson.
Elliot: An even better idea, if the object is that the child learn, is that instead of being pushed away and told he is bad, the parent tells him that everyone makes mistakes, and he has nothing to feel bad about, and now the parent will help him to learn how to do better next time.
Caeli: Will he take it seriously if he isn't punished?
Elliot: Punishment is a terrible way to get someone to take your ideas seriously. If your ideas are so good, why aren't you arguing for them? What punishment is good at is getting people to be scared of you, and getting them to take actions to avoid being punished again. Is that what you want?
Caeli: No, I don't, I was just asking questions.
Elliot: Oh, I apologize. I didn't mean you personally. It was a rhetorical question.
Caeli: That's OK! "You can come back when you're ready to apologize"
Elliot: What that's saying is the child can come back when he agrees that he was wrong and the parent was right. It's saying the child can't come back unless he says he's persuaded. Instead of persuading the child with ideas, the parent just orders him to be persuaded.
Caeli: Is it important that children apologize for their errors?
Elliot: Not really. Perhaps it's pleasant, but it's not worth fighting over.
Caeli: That's the end of the quotes, but you mentioned a number of other topics. Let's start with compromises.
Elliot: A compromise is a way of acting that no one thinks would be best.
Caeli: Ouch! That's a sharp way to put it.
Elliot: Indeed.
Caeli: How about obedience.
Elliot: Obedience means pretending the parent is always right, and never questioning things. It means the parent can abandon reason in favor of his whim.
Caeli: Spoiling children.
Elliot: Spoiling children means letting them get what they want, a lot. This should be encouraged.
Caeli: But I've met some spoiled brats, and they weren't pleasant at all.
Elliot: There's a lot of things going on here. One is that if a parent just buys his child whatever he wants, then he's not helping the child figure out what is good to want. Getting what you want is only very effective if you have knowledge of what things are good, and if you are creating more of it.
Caeli: What if a parent and child don't have that kind of knowledge. Then should they avoid getting what they want?
Elliot: I don't see how that will help. Especially because that knowledge is probably something they'd like to have.
Caeli: It would prevent them from getting bad things.
Elliot: It would prevent them from getting the best things they know how to get. If that's so terrible it must be stopped, perhaps you should just kill them now and get it over with.
Caeli: That's gruesome. Why'd you say that?
Elliot: Because I'm serious. What's the point of life if you are thwarted from getting anything you want? You'll soon starve to death anyway. Although, it's not as if you could commit suicide: someone would stop you.
Caeli: Oh, I didn't think of it like that. I didn't realise it applied to food, and everything.
Elliot: Explanations have reach, and can't be restricted arbitrarily.
Caeli: Right, right. Thanks for reminding me. But did you have to be so graphic?
Elliot: I like strong arguments, and I like taking things to their logical conclusions. But if it upsets you, I could try to avoid certain things.
Caeli: I think it's OK, but perhaps you could warn me next time? Besides, if it really bothers me, I'll just ask you how to feel better about it.
Elliot: That's a good plan.
Caeli: You mentioned a few dollars a week being plenty of money?
Elliot: That's what some parents seem to think. They spend more on makeup and booze than their kids spend on everything combined.
Caeli: A lot of parents have tight budgets, and they buy a lot of things for their kids out of their own wallets.
Elliot: That's true. But what's going on is the parent wants to have control over what the child buys. So he gives the child very little money. Then whenever the child wants something else, he has to ask his parent, and the parent can decide whether it's a good purchase or a mistake.
Caeli: Isn't it good for parents to help their children avoid bad purchases?
Elliot: Yeah, but this isn't helping. It's not giving advice, and it's not being persuasive. It's just the parent arbitrarily saying "no" when he wants to.
Elliot: I should add that a lot of parents mislead their children about what a lot of money is and isn't. Parents will claim they can't afford a $10 toy, but never mention that they spend $150 a month on cigarettes. They don't put it in perspective, so it's easier to lie.
Caeli: If the cigarettes are already in the budget, along with rent and bills, maybe there really isn't room for the toy.
Elliot: Yeah, but how many parents have an honest discussion about these things? How many consider that maybe some of the things they buy should be up for discussion? Everything the child wants the parent can veto, but the parent only vetoes his own purchases when he decides to on his own.
Caeli: The parents earn the money, so don't they have a right to buy themselves things with it?
Elliot: They do. But they also have a responsibility to their children.
Caeli: I think this is related. You said parents say, "you can't always get what you want". But isn't it true? For example, no matter how they adjust the budget, they won't fit in a jet plane.
Elliot: It's pretty much unheard of that a child seriously wants a jet plane. It's pretty easy to understand that a plane is a huge thing that took a lot of effort by a lot of people to make, and you have to do something really important to be entitled to one. That isn't the sort of purchase that families fight about. It's almost always small stuff that would be possible to buy if the parents really wanted to. And the rest of the time, the child could stop wanting it with a bit of help to create the right knowledge.
Caeli: What about things other than purchases. Like someone might want a certain guy, say Jack Bauer, to be her husband. But she can't have that. She probably can't marry the actor, either.
Elliot: It's true that there are things that you can't have. But the issue is whether you can get what you want. In other words, is there anything that we can't have, but also can't not want? Are there things where we can't have a reasonable preference, so we're bound to be unhappy?
Caeli: Well, are there?
Elliot: If there's a reason that we can't get something, then that's reason enough not to want it. As we understand it can't be gotten, we'll stop wanting it.
Caeli: What if we don't realise that we can't get it?
Elliot: Then there's nothing wrong with pursuing it. We'll learn as we go.
Caeli: That's a good attitude.
Elliot: I think so :)
Caeli: You mentioned limits and boundaries. And you said the only controversial ones are the ones that children don't want.
Elliot: That's right. If a child found a limit, rule, or boundary to be helpful, he'd thank his parent for it, and there wouldn't be any issue. But rules and boundaries are an issue. It's well known that kids frequently fight with their parents over them. The ones that they fight about are only the ones that they think are hurting them.
Caeli: If the child thinks he's being hurt, why would the parent keep doing it?
Elliot: Because he's using force and not persuasion. Persuasion would be better. Someone is right, and it'd be best to find out who. Once they agree, they won't fight any more. There won't be anything to fight about.
Caeli: You make it sound so easy.
Elliot: It's easier than people realize. In fact, even in conventional families, persuasion is successfully used every day. It happens literally all the time. Everyone is rational about some things.
Caeli: What about the times it doesn't work?
Elliot: Unfortunately, people give up easily and declare things impossible. I think most failures weren't really very hard. If people had had more optimism and tried a little more, they soon would have found a solution.
Caeli: What about the remaining hard cases?
Elliot: On the few, rare occasions that persuasion is very difficult to come by, there are still plenty of things to do. First, persuasion is possible. Second, attempting persuasion will help the people understand the problem better, which will make it easier to solve. Third, there are lots of ways to get along, and not hurt each other, without agreeing about everything.
Caeli: I don't agree with my neighbors about everything, or the people on the bus, or my friends and family for that matter.
Elliot: That's right. Everyone you see out on the street is different, but fights are rare.
Caeli: That's great. How does that happen?
Elliot: We live in a peaceful society. We value voluntary interaction, which means people choose to interact only if they want to, and don't use force. And we value freedom, and think it's better to let people live a way we disagree with than to force them to live our way.
Caeli: You'll have to tell me more about that sometime, but I've got to go now.
Elliot: It was nice talking.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

How To Ask Questions 5

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: You said that parents use false epistemology.
Elliot: I did.
Caeli: How so?
Elliot: There are a few main forms of false epistemology. One is induction. One is the idea that knowledge is justified, true belief. There's relativism, positivism, solipsism, instrumentalism. There's the sponge theory of brains. There's foundationalism.
Caeli: And parents use those?
Elliot: Everyone uses them, except for a few people who know better.
Caeli: Is it fair to complain specifically about parents, then?
Elliot: Parents and teachers. Epistemology plays a large role in theories of education and learning, so parents and teachers are people that especially ought to care about it.
Caeli: What is epistemology?
Elliot: It is the field of knowledge about knowledge. It covers what knowledge is, and how we can get it, and its qualities.
Caeli: Oh. That does sound important if you want to help a young child learn.
Elliot: Exactly.
Caeli: Tell me about epistemology.
Elliot: The primary form of false epistemology is the justified, true belief view of knowledge. All the others I mentioned are related to it in some way. But let's start with good epistemology. Then we can compare.
Elliot: Before we begin, let me mention a few outside sources. One of the best philosophers was Karl Popper. He wrote a lot about epistemology and it's worth taking a look at his books. There's also a few chapters about epistemology in The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch which are excellent. Finally, a very good thinker and writer about education was William Godwin. Whereas Popper's focus was on epistemology, Godwin focussed more on the morality of education and parenting. Godwin's books are out of copyright now and you can download one for free at this link.
Caeli: So, what's the right epistemology?
Elliot: Knowledge is created through a process of conjecture and refutation. What this means is you make guesses and then you reject the guesses that are bad. When you find flaws in guesses, you don't have to throw them out entirely. Strictly speaking, that guess is no good. But you can create new guesses that are only slightly different and no longer have the flaw.
Elliot: By removing flaws and errors, our set of guesses constantly improves. So, we end up with new knowledge. This process is called evolution.
Caeli: I thought evolution was about animals.
Elliot: How to be an effective animal that survives and has offspring is a type of knowledge, and it is the best known example of evolution. Another well known example is memes. But the reach of evolution can't be arbitrarily restricted. The logic applies to any kind of knowledge.
Caeli: Do we need to start with true ideas? If we make small changes to false ideas, they'll still be false.
Elliot: It's not important where we start. Well, it sort of is. We should start in the best places we know how to. But it doesn't change the principle of the matter. For all we know, the ideas we are discussing now are largely false. That's OK. We can improve them. Doing so makes life better and lets us solve problems.
Caeli: So you're saying the goal is not to worry about having perfect ideas, but just to improve the ones we have?
Elliot: That's right.
Caeli: And the way to improve them are to find flaws and eliminate the flaws by making new ideas that are changed to not have the flaws anymore?
Elliot: Yeah.
Caeli: How am I supposed to know what the flaws are?
Elliot: People have problems in their life. One person might wish his door would stop getting stuck in the Winter. Another wants his child to be a doctor, but doesn't know how to make that happen. Another wants to marry a girl he met, but isn't sure how to act around her.
Caeli: You make it sound like problems are a lack of knowledge.
Elliot: Well noticed. They are. The only obstacles to doing things are knowing how and wanting to.
Caeli: So, I can't figure out how to get my door to stop sticking. How does that help me find flaws?
Elliot: The door embodies ideas about how to build a door. What shape to make it, and what materials to use, and what features to include to facilitate maintenance or replacement or to resist damage and malfunction. And it embodies ideas about what an aesthetic door would be, and what sort of door would go well with the other things in people's houses, and what sort of doors should be created given the resources available on Earth (including raw materials, technology, and labor).
Caeli: So, when it sticks, that is a criticism of some of the knowledge in the design?
Elliot: Yes, you've got it.
Caeli: How do we tell which knowledge?
Elliot: There's no formula for it. What we need to do is create an explanation of what's going on. It will explain why the door sticks. If we expand it, we can also explain what causes doors to stick or not, in general, and then work out what sorts of doors would not stick, and then use that to propose new ideas about what types of doors to build.
Caeli: Want to go through this example?
Elliot: OK. The door sticks because moisture in the air in Winter is absorbed into the wood, and this makes the door larger. Solutions would include making the door out of water-resistant materials, or coating it with something, or making slightly smaller doors (or slightly larger doorways), or using a lubricant to make it easier to push open even when there is friction with the doorway.
Caeli: You see so much detail in the ordinary.
Elliot: Doors aren't ordinary. They didn't exist for most of the history of the Earth. We create them through complicated processes that people take for granted, but shouldn't. Our civilization is a great wonder. There's a classic example economists give, which is that no one knows how to make a pencil. What they mean is that all the different labor involved is divided among so many people that no one knows how to do all the parts. A pencil includes wood, carbon, paint, rubber, and metal, and each of those things must be harvested, prepared, and put together, and then the pencils must be distributed to stores, and the stores and complex too, as are the ways of shipping things to stores. Shipping raw materials to factories involves trucks or trains. Those involve engines, and thousands of parts, and fuel, and many workers.
Caeli: Wow.
Elliot: Indeed.
Caeli: So, how do we know our criticism is correct? Couldn't we be mistaken when we think we find a flaw.
Elliot: We can be mistaken, but it's no big deal. A way I like to think about ideas is that they grow more complex over time. Instead of just inventing new ideas that don't fall victim to flaws we find, we can include in a new idea an explanation of the issue the flaw was about, and our current best ideas about how to deal with it.
Elliot: Now, suppose we make a mistake when we alter one of our ideas. That's OK. Now our knowledge includes the old idea, and the supposed problem with it, and the new idea, and supposed reason it is better. When we learn yet another new thing, we may see the old idea is better, but we won't ever go back to the past. We'll go to a new view of having an idea, plus a criticism of it, plus a criticism of that criticism. We'll be learning more even if we make mistakes sometimes.
Caeli: What if we made mistakes most of the time? Maybe we'd end up going backwards, or just never get anywhere. Why should we be right enough of the time to make progress? Aren't there more ways to be wrong than right?
Elliot: There are more ways to be wrong, but the ways to be right have more reach, so right away things don't look so gloomy. Every good idea we find counts for a lot, and will help us in many ways. But bad ideas we find will rarely matter to any other subjects.
Caeli: Don't we find a lot of bad ideas because they do have reach to other subjects, but they imply false things about the other subjects?
Elliot: That's a good point. I think the reason that happens is because we are looking for ideas with reach. We want to find general principles. But this policy has the effect of ruling out huge numbers of bad ideas, and few, if any, good ideas.
Elliot: Back to your question about how can we be sure to make progress. I should mention we can't be certain we are getting things right. Although having explored more bad ideas does count as progress. When we do learn better, we'll be less likely to mistake them for good ideas, because we'll have such thorough knowledge of them.
Elliot: But the primary answer is that criticism isn't arbitrary. We don't make it up. We don't just choose what to believe and hope we're right. As you saw in the door example, the problem was a fact of reality. The door was getting stuck. And the proposed solutions will either work, or they won't.
Caeli: I see how science will make progress, because we can verify our results. But what about moral and philosophical issues? For example, should we make the door stop sticking, or would it be better the way it is?
Elliot: There are many modes of criticism available to us for more airy topics. For example, almost all our untestable ideas claim to be compatible with present-day logic. If we discover they aren't, we can reject them. Next, good ideas are part of our explanations of the world. They don't just say "unstuck doors are good" and leave it at that. We'd want to know why that was so, and find the claim unpersuasive if there aren't answers to our followup questions. But if there are answers, then the idea is saying a lot of different things, and we can look for internal consistency, and consistency with our other ideas.
Caeli: Can you give an example of how we can relate our moral ideas to the real world to get some sense of whether they are any good?
Elliot: We can compare how pleasant life is it different societies (including past ones) which have different values. We can notice that our society is peaceful, as we've commented on previously, and this is an amazingly good thing, and extremely rare in history. Whatever moral values are behind that must have some truth to them.
Caeli: They must?
Elliot: I think they do.
Caeli: Can you say more about the interplay between moral ideas and real life?
Elliot: Which moral ideas we believe affects our life. How nice it is, how successful it is. Complex moral ideas usually (always?) have parts about how to live, and other parts about what nice things will result from living this way. This can in fact work, or not. Further, moral ideas have to offer explanations involving real-world events and facts. Our moral ideas need to have something to say when someone commits a murder, or a war starts, or we get in a fight.
Elliot: And other people can criticize our moral ideas. A lot of people think it's right and good that children be blindly obedient. What do you think of that?
Caeli: That's awful. As you've said, we live in a society that rightly values freedom and voluntary interactions. And we value people thinking for themselves. And there's no reason that shouldn't apply to children.
Elliot: Indeed. And if you go around telling people that, some will be convinced.
Caeli: What about someone who doesn't like our society. He wouldn't be convinced.
Elliot: You'd have two options. You could either find some shared beliefs and make reference to those in your argument. Or you could try to teach him the values of a free society. Communicating new ideas is hard, as we've discussed, but if he managed to create that knowledge he could certainly like it and then agree with you about kids.
Caeli: Couldn't I be wrong? I grew up in a society that said to value these things.
Elliot: Well, that same society said they don't apply to kids very much. You haven't taken your society's values on faith or authority, you've only adopted the ones that seem good to you.
Caeli: And ones I haven't thought about much.
Elliot: Yeah, but that's no big deal. If they come up and affect your life much, then you'll be reminded to think about them then. Just when they're important.
Caeli: Haha, that's cool. So, I'm still a bit fuzzy about how to link morality to the real world.
Elliot: It's tricky, because we don't know as much about the nature of morality as we might like. We have a lot of evolved moral ideas in real life which we can use. And they don't need to be justified, and it's not important where they came from. They'll get better over time as people think about them. But that doesn't really answer the question. If the real world wasn't linked to morality, maybe they wouldn't get better over time with thought.
Elliot: One thing to do is compare different groups of people that value the same thing, but try to achieve it in different ways. The group that better achieves its goals is more moral in some way.
Caeli: Couldn't they be lucky? Like they have more natural resources.
Elliot: Yes, that's possible. But you can form explanations of why they succeeded. If it's because of their policy of intense political debate and democracy, then that wasn't luck.
Elliot: Another thing to consider is that any morality which doesn't relate to the real world in any way is useless. So, if it doesn't relate, you can criticise it on those grounds. Any true morality must have a way it ties into life.
Caeli: What about people who debate nonsense and never get anywhere? Will their ideas evolve?
Elliot: If they have some rules to their debate, the ideas will evolve in accordance with those rules. But their ideas won't evolve usefully. What you should look at is: are these ideas solving problems people have in their lives, and accomplishing things, or not? If they aren't, you should be very concerned that it's arbitrary and pointless. But if the ideas are proving their value, then clearly they matter.
Caeli: That's cool. So what's next?
Elliot: Next is a brief summary of true epistemology, and then a comparison to various false ideas of epistemology.
Caeli: I think I'll go now. That summary would be a better way to start a discussion than end one.
Elliot: You're right. OK, bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

How To Ask Questions 6

Caeli: Hi, Elliot.
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: I believe you were going to summarize true epistemology.
Elliot: We have ideas. It's not critical what they are. What's critical is that we evolve them, by thinking of new ideas that may be improvements, and using criticism to reject flawed ideas. In this way, we can solve our problems and make progress.
Caeli: What is the justified, true belief view you mentioned earlier?
Elliot: It says that knowledge is justified, true beliefs. Every part of this is wrong.
Caeli: Knowledge shouldn't be true?
Elliot: Newton's laws of physics are incorrect. We know that now. But they contain truth in them. They were a great discovery. The insistence that knowledge must be perfectly true in order to count is silly. Nothing we have is perfect.
Caeli: OK, what about belief?
Elliot: They mean we only have a certain piece of knowledge if we believe it. But people have all sorts of knowledge that isn't beliefs. For example, our intuition contains knowledge.
Elliot: Further, there's knowledge that isn't in people at all. A book can contain knowledge even if no one currently knows the things in the book. Books don't have beliefs.
Caeli: Are you sure about intuition?
Elliot: If it didn't contain knowledge, it'd be random how it worked. But in real life, it reacts fairly appropriately to a wide variety of situations. Those appropriate reactions demonstrate it has some knowledge of those situations.
Caeli: Alright, and what about justification?
Elliot: The way they tell it, you could hold a true belief for the wrong reasons, and that's not knowledge. You have to also have justified believing that. You need to actually know it's true.
Caeli: That makes sense.
Elliot: It's true that sometimes people adopt beliefs without proper consideration, and it shouldn't be assumed that they have deep knowledge of the subject even if they happen to be right. But there is a wide range of possibilities in the middle. In fact, in every real case people have more than zero reason, but also less than perfect reasons.
Elliot: Basically what they're saying is that unless you can prove that your belief is true, with unlimited precision and perfection, then it's not really knowledge.
Caeli: Why would they say something like that? What's the point?
Elliot: Because they don't allow for the idea of imperfect knowledge. They want total certainty. And you can't have total certainty without complete proof. Unfortunately for them, you can't have those things at all.
Caeli: You can't possibly have certainty, no matter what? Are you certain?
Elliot: That is my best understanding. One reason is that no matter what reasons you give to be certain of a proposition, I can question how you are certain those reasons work. Whatever proof you give, you'll need to give a proof of that proof. And whatever you say, I'll ask again. And again. You might try to invent a proof that proves something and proves itself. But that won't work. There will be some logic involved in proving itself. A reason it does prove itself. And that can be questioned.
Caeli: What's the point of questioning everything like that?
Elliot: There isn't any point. It's not useful to do so. It's just a thought experiment which rules out perfect, complete certainty. To be absolutely sure you're right, you have to answer all possible policies for objecting or questioning your position.
Caeli: I see. So, how do parents use false epistemology?
Elliot: I've actually given a speech about the consequences of the justified, true belief theory for parenting. You can read it at this link.
Caeli: Cool, a speech.
Elliot: *bows*
Caeli: What are those stars?
Elliot: Sometimes they indicate emphasis, but in this case they indicate an action. *smile*
Caeli: *understands*
Caeli: Do many parents really use the JTB (justified, true belief) approach? I hadn't even heard of it before.
Elliot: It's rarely on their mind explicitly. But the JTB approach to knowledge has informed most epistemology, and is implicitly behind a lot of educational theory. And parents are not embarrassed to be anti-fallibilist, so the JTB approach, with it's notion of certain truth, is behind a lot of that.
Caeli: You said a lot of things. What's fallibilism?
Elliot: It's the belief that we can be wrong, even if we feel really sure. It means that we can't have certain, perfect, truth. It means we can make mistakes even when we think we haven't.
Caeli: That sounds pretty obvious.
Elliot: Indeed. But, alas, it is not.
Caeli: In what way are parents anti-fallibilist?
Elliot: They often insist that they are right. They say they know best. They don't admit that the child might possibly be right.
Caeli: Maybe they usually think it's too unlikely that the child is right to bother about.
Elliot: Perhaps. But that's not very different. And it's not on any better of a philosophical basis. What, exactly, is the procedure for determining the probability that a child might be right?
Caeli: I don't know.
Elliot: There isn't one.
Caeli: How can parents be so certain they are right about everything when the divorce rate is so high? Or when divorces exist at all. Each one indicates that adults made a mistake, or in all probability, many mistakes.
Elliot: That's a good point. Parents don't apply their certainty to their whole lives. They only do it to their children, and only some of the time. Plus, perhaps, a few other things that they are irrational about.
Elliot: An interesting fact is that there is no subject that all parents are irrational about. For every single issue, some parents treat it in a perfectly reasonable manner. This goes a long way towards proving that rational parenting is possible.
Elliot: So, there is no fact that all parents are certain of. Or put another way, for any disagreement with a child, some parents would think the child may have a point. There is never a total consensus against the child, on any issue, even among parents.
Elliot: One of the consequences is that one can't reasonably believe that any of these issues are completely obvious, and certainly not that any view on them is certain truth. For all of them, some parents who seem perfectly reasonable would disagree.
Caeli: You keep mentioning parents doing this or that thing which is very unreasonable. But is it really that common?
Elliot: Yes. Try to think about your own parents, and those of your friends. Think about parents you know now, and how you've seen them treat their kids. And consider how you see families depicted on TV.
Caeli: Hmm. I see your point some. But I'm still not sure if you're exaggerating.
Elliot: I'll try to point out examples to you in the future.
Caeli: OK. That sounds fun!
Caeli: What are some bad consequences when parents use JTB? I know you have a speech about this, but can you just say briefly?
Elliot: Sure. Justifications are very complex because they need to be perfect, so children can't make their own. Truths are hard to come by, so children can't expect to find any. If the parent thinks he has the truth, he won't be interested in criticism or objections. Anything but listening obediently is a waste of time. And when parents give justifications, children won't understand them in full, and will have to take them on faith.
Caeli: That's terrible.
Elliot: Yeah.
Caeli: You said that even though JTB isn't on people's minds explicitly, it informs a lot of educational theory. What did you mean?
Elliot: That's right. I meant that even though people aren't thinking to themselves "my belief is justified and true, and the students' beliefs aren't justified" and stuff like that, the ideas are still there. Students are expected to learn the truths that their teachers impart. That's the dynamic. The dynamic is not joint truth seeking. No one expects the students to have any good ideas, or to disagree with their teacher, except in very limited ways.
Caeli: Aren't there in-class discussions?
Elliot: Yes, but either they don't reach a conclusion, or the teacher is considered the arbiter of who was right.
Elliot: A good example is tests. A test doesn't determine what the truth is. Its purpose is to determine if the pupil has learned the master's view. If children frequently disagreed with teachers, then the whole idea of testing wouldn't make sense, because grading is in terms of the instructor's ideas.
Caeli: I have a feeling that you have more to say about tests.
Elliot: I sure do. What are they for? Not the child's benefit. If he's happy with what he knows about the subject, he doesn't need a test. And if he isn't, he needs another lesson, not a test. The point of tests is for the teacher to find out if a child is learning the material. Why? So that if he isn't, he can be forced to. Tests are to deal with children who don't want to learn the ideas their teacher presents. If the child did want to be there, there'd be no point.
Caeli: Which do you think is more disrespectful to children, schools or parents?
Elliot: Parents, by far. Which is unfortunate, given that schools blatantly use force against unwilling pupils, assume they are right, grade children, and so on.
Caeli: What's wrong with grading?
Elliot: It's a way to pressure people to conform to the teacher's ideas. If you don't, you'll get a low grade. If everyone was there because they wanted to be, and was learning what they wanted to, no one would care about grades. They wouldn't be competing with each other to best do what the teacher wants, they'd just be living their own lives, and many of them would be doing different things.
Caeli: Isn't the problem with public schools the lack of funding to get good teachers?
Elliot: It's possible that is a problem, but one can't blame having entirely the wrong approach on funding. Imagine a parent who spanked and said it's because he is poor. That's insane. Being poor may cause problems, but it certainly didn't force him to hit his child.
Caeli: We've gone far astray. Let's go over some of the other false epistemic ideas. How about induction?
Elliot: Let's skip induction. It's a major topic by itself. So is foundationalism. Let's do the others for now.
Caeli: OK, how about instrumentalism.
Elliot: Instrumentalism says that ideas are just instruments to be used to make factual predictions. Related is positivism, which says the only true knowledge is scientific. An extreme version says that statements which aren't about science and prediction are meaningless.
Caeli: What should we use ideas for besides to make predictions?
Elliot: To explain things.
Caeli: You mention explanation a lot. Do you want to say anything more about it?
Elliot: Predictions are very limited. They tell us the train will arrive at 5 PM, or the atom will perform certain motions in the experiment. Explanations answer all our other questions. They tell us why the train will arrive then, and how trains can move, and whatever else we might like to know about trains. A prediction can tell us if a certain design for railroad tracks will break under a train of a certain weight. But an explanation can tell us why one design is better than another, and what the principles behind each design are. Only with an explanation will we be able to make changes or improvements. Predictions have no reach. It's just a fact, and that's it. If you want to know about another design, you'll need another prediction. And if you want to know about a train of another weight, you'll need another prediction. But when we understand things, we'll know there's no point checking a heavier train if we know that the tracks can't hold this one. And we'll know that isn't universally true: if the heavier train is longer, so the weight is distributed over a longer length of tracks, then that may be fine. There's so much stuff to understand. Understanding is what explanations are for.
Caeli: Oh, that's lovely.
Elliot: Logical positivism, by the way, which says only scientific statements are meaningful, is not a scientific claim. So it denies being meaningful. That's a good example of how we can criticize a theory without needing to observe or test anything.
Caeli: What if they changed it to say that all non-scientific statements except logical positivism are meaningless?
Elliot: Then they are reducing the reach of their view, without providing an explanation for why it doesn't fully apply.
Caeli: What if they came up with a reason?
Elliot: That'd be fine. We could discuss if it was good or not. Can you think of a reasonable reason that all philosophy except logical positivism might be meaningless?
Caeli: No. I can't even think of a reason that any philosophy should be meaningless. That would mean all our conversations are pointless, but I like them.
Elliot: Well noticed. The logical positivism theory has distant consequences, such as asserting that our conversation is meaningless. And if those seem silly, then logical positivism itself must be equally silly.
Caeli: What about relativism?
Elliot: Relativism says that the truth is relative to your perspective. It's different for each person, or each culture. One of the unfortunate consequences of relativism is it means we have no common ground with other people, and therefore the problem of communication cannot possibly be solved.
Caeli: Why is that unfortunate?
Elliot: Because people do talk to each other, and therefore relativism is false.
Caeli: How about solipsism.
Elliot: Solipsism says that no one else exists; they are just my imagination.
Caeli: I'm not imaginary.
Elliot: I know, it's silly. There's a joke about it. A philosophy professor gives a lecture on solipsism. Afterwards a student comes up and says, "That was a great lecture. I totally agree with you." And the teacher replies, "You agree that you're just part of my imagination?"
Caeli: Haha. They'll argue about which one of them is real all day.
Elliot: I expect they won't. They'll get bored and stop long before that. If they actually enjoyed arguing for entire days then they wouldn't be solipsists.
Caeli: What's the sponge theory of brains?
Elliot: It says that brains are like sponges. They absorb whatever ideas touch them. This is useful for saying that TV is dangerous, but little else.
Caeli: Isn't it also useful for saying books are dangerous.
Elliot: Yes :) And people used to do that. But they don't any longer. There is no explanation of why this argument no longer applies to books, they just stopped applying it. But as we've said, you can't arbitrarily restrict the reach of explanations. On a similar note, shouldn't the sponge theory reach to adults?
Caeli: Do people really take this stuff seriously?
Elliot: They don't say it in quite these words. But they are often scared about "influences" such as TV. They think children are unable to be discriminating; that their brains absorb ideas with no choice involved.
Caeli: How do you know that the don't?
Elliot: Well, every teacher knows that the sponge theory is false. His lectures often go in one ear and out the other. It's hard to get students to learn the material. They don't just absorb it automatically.
Caeli: What's the difference? Why do children pick up so many ideas from TV, and so few from school?
Elliot: The difference is that people learn things when they want to be there and like what they're learning, but rarely otherwise.
Elliot: By the way, you wanted examples of bad things parents do. Well, they restrict TV watching, by force. There's also grounding, timeouts, curfews, taking away allowances, restricting usage of a car, and deciding if the child is allowed to go on a trip or not.
Elliot: Further, activists who don't like government schools take the position that government shouldn't decide what our children learn ... parents should. No one takes the position that children should decide for themselves. So these issues, including bad epistemology, are very prevalent in our culture.
Caeli: Oh dear. Something should be done.
Elliot: I know.
Elliot: By the way, solipsism, induction and more are addressed very well in The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch.
Caeli: What doesn't that book cover?
Elliot: Morality, education, and aardvarks.
Caeli: I've got to go in a moment, is there anything you'd like to add first? Besides that I should buy and read that book. Because I will, already :)
Elliot: The idea of children as gullible sponges, and the idea of children as extraordinary stubborn are both very common in parenting. This shows a lack of careful thinking. Watch out for it.
Caeli: What are some more examples of each?
Elliot: Until recently, the general idea was that children needed to be physically beaten to break their stubbornness. It's that hard a task to make them submit and start listening to your ideas.
Elliot: Meanwhile, parents are deathly concerned that their children may hang out with the wrong friends, because they could very easily pick up some bad ideas from them.
Caeli: That certainly does contradict. I better go now.
Elliot: It was nice talking, Caeli.
Caeli: Bye!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Learning By Force

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Are time outs OK?
Elliot: No. They aren't voluntary.
Caeli: Why do they need to be?
Elliot: Well, it depends what they are for. If the goal is to get rid of the kid, by force, because the parent wants a break, then they work OK. But tying the kid up with rope would be more effective. On the other hand, if the goal is for the child to learn something, then using force is no good.
Caeli: Can't people be forced to learn?
Elliot: No.
Caeli: Consider all young people. Some are uninterested in learning. Of those people, some will go on to learn things. It can't be voluntary, because they didn't want to. Therefore some people were forced to learn.
Elliot: Good try, but no. There aren't any people who are completely uninterested in learning all topics. No one is irrational about everything.
Caeli: Do rational people always want to learn?
Elliot: Yes. There are always things they want to learn.
Caeli: What about a kid who hates the piano, but his parents make him take lessons, and he grows up to be a skilled pianist. When he was six, he was not a skilled pianist. In the meantime, he learned. If his parents had not used force, he wouldn't have learned that skill.
Elliot: The child didn't learn from being forced. Let me remind you what force is like. It's when your mother shrieks that you're really upsetting her, and threatens to take away your property and freedom if you don't listen to her. And your father, sternly, says you better do as your told real fast. And you have a feeling that if you don't, he'll start shouting or maybe hit you.
Caeli: That's awful.
Elliot: Yeah. So, your parents do all that. Now the child has an easy choice. He can go to piano lessons, or face that scene every day. So he goes. Now, while he's there, the piano teacher forcibly prevents him from doing something else, like reading Popper. He is unable to pursue his other interests during this time. What sort of the force does the piano teacher use? Well, threatening to tell his parents that the child isn't applying himself is probably enough. But the teacher is in a position of authority and power and will have other leverage over the child as well.
Elliot: So, now what? Well, the child can either waste his time, or try to learn something he isn't interested in. Further, if he doesn't learn it, he will be under increasing pressure to make progress, and perform songs for his parents, and so on. And if he does find a way to learn about it, his time won't be completed wasted, and lessons will be less unpleasant because he won't always be fighting with his teacher.
Elliot: So, what's the result? Well, ninety nine times out of a hundred, the result is nothing but unhappiness all around. Never forget that. But what about the other time? That one other time, the child manages to, despite that it's absolutely the wrong thing for him, figure out a way to become interested in piano and learn about it. Shall we celebrate now? Of course not. If he'd spent all that time learning something that wasn't an uphill battle, that would be a much more reliable way to become successful. And the worst part, by far, is the force. If someone gets it into his head to learn piano, even though he's bad at it and has always hated it, that's no big deal, if he can quit whenever he wants to. The worst that can happen is he won't like it and will stop. But when force is involved, disaster always looms. And there's is such great pressure on everyone, especially the child, that it's very hard to think. It's hard to be creative. If only the child had been gotten to the piano lessons with less or no force, his chances to learn piano would be far greater.
Caeli: Good points. But imagine another child, of an even rarer variety, who is actually a pianist at heart, but doesn't know it. He believes he isn't interested in piano, but he is. Soon after lessons start, he discovers this, and everything goes smoothly. Force played a role as a catalyst.
Elliot: First, bear in mind that the reason this scenario goes more smoothly is that it contains far less force. Almost the entire thing is voluntary. So, of course it comes out better. But, from where the parents are sitting, this is nothing more than good luck. They can't have reasonably expected anything but disaster, and they did it anyway. That's awful.
Caeli: What about for the child?
Elliot: Imagine ten kids with potential, who are pianists at heart, but believe they aren't. If you forced all of them to try piano, nine would hate it for the rest of their lives. They'd be turned against it, by the huge pressure on them, and the, well, force. It's violent, wrong, distasteful, and to be avoided. It will be entirely reasonable if most of these kids stay far, far away from a topic that has brought such pain and agony, whenever they are able to.
Caeli: And what about that other child. Did force help him?
Elliot: Nope. He managed, somehow, to ignore the force. That was hard, and almost ended in disaster, but through some miracle of human creativity, he defeated the force and became a pianist in spite of it.
Caeli: But if the parents hadn't used force, he wouldn't have become a pianist at all.
Elliot: First of all, if a parent never says much about pianos, his children may still become pianists. It happens.
Elliot: Second, the parent can't know the force will "work". There is no way for him to know that his child is that one-in-a-thousand case you are talking about. It's overwhelmingly likely that he isn't.
Elliot: Third, and this is my original point, children never learn from force. They learn, as I've described, despite the overwhelmingly horrible experience that force brings. What they actually learn from, unsurprisingly enough, is some combination of piano lessons and thinking.
Elliot: Fourth, there are other things the parents could have done. Suppose they actually did have some reason to think their child would make a good pianist. Or even less than that, a reason that being a pianist is more wonderful than most people give it credit. Well, they could tell their child about this. They could persuade him. All these parents willing to go to such extreme measures seem to be very sure their child will be an expert pianist (despite that fact that many other parents have thought the same thing, and tried the same methods, and failed miserably). So, surely these parents draw their certainty from something. They can present this something to the child. If it's worthy of the parent being so certain, surely the child can be persuaded to give piano a try. And if he does that, then by the premise that this child is a natural who only needs to get started, then he will succeed, with no force.
Caeli: Oh. That's a nice way to look at these things.
Elliot: Yeah :)
Caeli: So let me summarize what we've said. First, time outs are bad because they are forceful: the child doesn't want to stay in his room, but is made to.
Elliot: Yes, but let me add that if the child did want to stay in his room -- if he thought that was a good idea -- then a time out would not be needed: the parent could simply suggest that the child might like to go to his room now, and the child will agree that that sounds nice.
Caeli: Cool. So, second, we discussed if force can be used to make people learn. You described in detail how force is distasteful, and almost always makes things much worse. Next, I honed in on the rare case where it seems to help. But, finally, you pointed out that there are much better solutions to even that case.
Elliot: That sounds right.
Caeli: I think we got distracted though. The purpose of time outs isn't learning. Isn't it important that children be punished when they act wrongly?
Elliot: Let me remind you that parents often say that time outs help children "learn their lesson", or they order children to "think about what they did".
Elliot: But anyway, what's the point of punishment?
Caeli: Maybe it's to learn to stop doing bad things.
Elliot: But that's learning, and we agreed that force doesn't cause learning.
Caeli: Oh, oops. Well, maybe it's not about the child. Maybe it's about the people he hurt.
Elliot: And what do they gain from his timeout?
Caeli: Maybe they'll feel better by getting a break from him, or because he was punished.
Elliot: If they feel better because he was punished (forcibly hurt), that is perverse. That doesn't help them in any way. And he's a human being, and they shouldn't want to see him suffer.
Caeli: What about getting a break?
Elliot: They could leave. Or they could ask him to, nicely.
Caeli: Why should they have to leave if the child hurt them?
Elliot: They don't have to. It's just an option. Imagine that your friend hurt you. Wouldn't you consider leaving and avoiding her?
Caeli: Yeah, I guess I would. But let's consider the case where the victim doesn't want to leave. And also, the child doesn't want to leave when asked.
Elliot: At this point I want to question the idea that the child has hurt someone. That wasn't the original premise. You've only added it when you needed a way to excuse treating the child badly.
Caeli: So what? It's useful to change hypothetical scenarios while we discuss them, to make the questions we want to ask about work better.
Elliot: That's fair enough. But there's a danger. Consider a parent who at first declares a time out for a bad reason. But when pressed, starts saying the child acted wrongly, and then elaborating that therefore the child hurt other people and that's unacceptable. But if the child hurting people was such a big deal -- say he used a knife and the victim is now in the hospital -- then that would be obvious from the outset, no one would even consider that a time out is the appropriate response, and there would be no issue about the victim and child staying in the room together. Everything would be very clear. The only reason that things are murky is that, in fact, the child did not hurt anyone badly.
Caeli: OK. I see how the idea of the child making a moral error got exaggerated to hurting someone, and then it got as severe as necessary to excuse whatever was being done to the child. But let's get back to my question: no one wants too leave the room. Now what?
Elliot: Well, suppose the child really did hurt this person. Then, tell him. He'll be apologetic and happy to leave the room if that would help.
Caeli: How can you expect that? That never happens.
Elliot: And why not? Isn't it the most natural thing? Isn't it what you would do?
Caeli: I might do that. I hope I would, now that I think about it. I see that it's natural in a way. But few people act that way. It's not well known in our culture. How can you expect a child to do it?
Elliot: Well, I don't expect him to. I was just saying what should happen. If it doesn't happen, there will be a reason it doesn't. And the reason, as you've just argued, is not that the child is unusually bad and wicked. He can't be expected to do this. Few people know how to. So any further problems are probably not the child's fault.
Caeli: That's a very nice point.
Elliot: We should be careful not to dismiss optimism out of hand. It's important, even when the ideal thing that we think of doesn't actually happen. It can cheer us up with glimpses of nice and possible ways of life. It can draw us closer to those things. If anyone bothers to suggest something wildly optimistic, sometimes people actually manage to do it. Often they do part of it. It's important to know good things to aim for.
Elliot: A further and related point is that children are not innately wicked. Ignorant yes, wicked no. So suppose a child does something wrong. What should we expect next? For the child not to know what to do? Sure. For the child to continue acting wrongly, persist in fighting with people, make things worse, or resist good ideas? No, none of those.
Caeli: Don't those things happen a lot, in practice?
Elliot: Yes. But when they do, it's not because you're dealing with a child. As I've just shown, the attributes of childhood don't cause those things.
Caeli: I see. So, what does cause them?
Elliot: Past history of fighting between the parent and child, past history of the parent giving bad advice or hurting the child. Past history of the child being thwarted. That sort of thing.
Caeli: What about past history of the child doing things like that to the parent?
Elliot: Children have no power to thwart their parents.
Caeli: Yes they do. Parents have responsibilities that children can use against them.
Elliot: Responsibilities? Like what? Parents often use threats to not fulfill their responsibilities as leverage. For example, a parent might threaten not to feed the child dinner, or not to help him travel to an event.
Caeli: Like if the parent wants to go out, but can't find a babysitter because the child has driven away all his sitters (by being horrible) and none want to come back.
Elliot: They could hire a thug. He'll handle the child, no problem.
Caeli: They don't want to.
Elliot: So, the child has devilishly trapped the parents by using their own good will against them?
Caeli: Right.
Elliot: And why would he do that?
Caeli: I don't know. But doesn't that happen a lot?
Elliot: I think what happened is that the child was forced to endure babysitters that he did not want to spend time with. The experience was unpleasant for all involved, so the sitters didn't want to come back. The parents then felt guilty about hurting their child, and that's why they don't want to hire a more harsh sitter. But they don't know how to solve the problem, and they desperately want to have a free evening again. So they start getting resentful, and blaming the child, even though all he wanted was to not be left alone in the power of people he doesn't like. They start thinking that if this is the consequence of his desire, then he must be asking for too much.
Caeli: Oh. I guess that would make sense. So, what should they do to fix it?
Elliot: I'll tell you next time, OK?
Caeli: Alright. Bye bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Learning By Force 2

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: Here's what you said last time about a scenario we discussed:
I think what happened is that the child was forced to endure babysitters that he did not want to spend time with. The experience was unpleasant for all involved, so the sitters didn't want to come back. The parents then felt guilty about hurting their child, and that's why they don't want to hire a more harsh sitter. But they don't know how to solve the problem, and they desperately want to have a free evening again. So they start getting resentful, and blaming the child, even though all he wanted was to not be left alone in the power of people he doesn't like. They start thinking that if this is the consequence of his desire, then he must be asking for too much.
Elliot: Correct.
Caeli: I asked: what should they do to fix it?
Elliot: One issue is the idea of "asking too much". Why is that too much? Why can't there be enough that the child can have all he wants? The likely reason is that the parent imagines a limited amount of stuff that people can get and have, and imagines that problem solving means compromising means dividing up what's available.
Caeli: What's the right view?
Elliot: That problem solving involves knowledge creation. This creates new property, new stuff, so there is more to go around. There is no reason we can't create enough for everyone to be happy.
Caeli: A good analogy might be comparing wealth redistribution with just making more stuff. What would you say about that?
Elliot: Excellent idea. Yes. Consider when there were not nearly enough TVs to go around. Or computers, or something else. People could have focussed on sharing them fairly, and trying to make do with what they had. But that is at best a band-aid. It doesn't make the world awesome. What's much more effective is to mass produce TVs and computers. Now they are very cheap.
Caeli: Who should get TVs while there are still only a few?
Elliot: That is just details. It's not too important. It's parochial. It doesn't effect whether the overall policy is going to end the scarcity.
Caeli: Fair enough, but I'd still like to know.
Elliot: We have a very good system. They go to the people who value them enough to trade wealth for them.
Caeli: I'd trade wealth for them. But I don't have very much to trade.
Elliot: The general reason that people don't have much wealth to trade is that they've chosen not to. They have preferred to do all sorts of other things besides maximize the amount of wealth they create. That's perfectly reasonable, but they shouldn't then complain that they have less wealth, in the form of TVs or otherwise.
Caeli: Not everyone chose not to have much wealth. For example children, and people in poor countries.
Elliot: That children don't have much wealth is their parents doing. But it's also just a parochial detail that will sort itself out in time.
Elliot: As for people in poor countries, I'm sorry the world isn't as nice a place as they would have liked. But it never will be: people will always be able to say, "I wish my country was richer". So that complaint must be empty. There are things to be done. They can move to another country, if there is one they prefer. Or they can take steps to improve their country. Or they can make themselves into an unusual person, who is wealthier than his neighbors.
Caeli: Most people who try to get rich, fail.
Elliot: As many rich people will tell you, it's not very hard, if you just keep trying, and really dedicate your life to it. The primary reasons people fail are their own faults. They give up far too easily, or they let other priorities get in the way.
Caeli: Isn't it good to have other priorities?
Elliot: If you make something other than being rich a priority, that is a perfectly good way of life, but you should then stop complaining that you are less wealthy than other people who make wealth a higher priority.
Caeli: Isn't money just a stupid game? Wouldn't it be better to focus on creating things that help people, like dialogs?
Elliot: Money is like an "I owe you" for wealth. Wealth means stuff that people want. Stuff that's valuable. When you create valuable things, people will trade you for them. Instead of trading you their own valuables, it's more convenient if they give you money, which you can then trade to someone else for whatever wealth you want.
Caeli: Don't people want dialogs, but not pay for them?
Elliot: People buy lots of books, magazines, subscriptions to websites with written content, and so on.
Caeli: Don't they pay in large measure when they have to, not based on when something is worth it?
Elliot: Yes. But look, if people really wanted my dialogs, I would charge for them, and people would buy them. The reason it's difficult to charge is that people are not yet persuaded that my dialogs are worth buying.
Caeli: So why do you write them?
Elliot: I like to.
Caeli: Might people become persuaded of their value when they read them?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: If they don't, will you be sad and wish you hadn't written them?
Elliot: No.
Caeli: Why not?
Elliot: Because I will still have liked writing them.
Caeli: So back to the parents with no babysitter. The first thing they should do is reject the idea that the child is asking too much, and accept the idea that whatever he wants can be created.
Elliot: Yes, basically. But there's another issue. His preferences are not set in stone. It might be better for him to have other preferences, and want other things. Those other things might be easier to create. They might also be harder. But if the original preference is not possible, then another one would be better.
Caeli: Wait, it might not be possible? Before you were saying we can make stuff.
Elliot: We can be happy. We can create many things. We don't have a fixed supply of things to divide up. But we do have laws of physics to contend with. But that's OK. We don't have to want anything that's physically impossible, and if we do, we can change our mind.
Caeli: When people don't get something, but change their mind to not want it anymore, don't they often secretly still want it and remain unhappy?
Elliot: Yes. But what you're discussing is the case where the person didn't actually change his preference. Further, by pretending he did, he has tricked everyone into not trying to help him fulfill it. And he has made it hard for him to pursue getting what he wants himself while keeping up his charade. So, not only is this no criticism of actual changes of preference, but it's a harmful policy that makes solutions much harder to come by.
Caeli: What do you mean by a solution?
Elliot: A course of action that everyone involved prefers. Or, I will also take a course of action that I prefer, and I am morally right to do.
Caeli: Isn't it reaching for the sky to find something everyone prefers? That is ideal, but usually the best we can find are compromises, that everyone thinks is OK, but it's not their top preference.
Elliot: That's incorrect. Usually we find genuine solutions. The reason you think otherwise is that you are only noticing failures. Most problems are solved with no fanfare. People often don't realize there was a problem, because they solve it so easily.
Caeli: Well, let's only consider hard problems then.
Elliot: OK, but bear in mind that which problems seem hard varies drastically by family. There are no problems that all families find hard. Or put another way, for every problem, some families find it very easy to create real, genuine solutions. And this proves that in every case, "ideal" solutions are possible.
Caeli: Are compromises really that bad?
Elliot: No one gets what he wants.
Caeli: They get most of what they want.
Elliot: That doesn't make sense. You can't mix different people's ideas to get compromises. Ideas do not mix. A compromise is a genuinely new idea about what to do, that isn't what anyone wanted.
Caeli: Why don't ideas mix?
Elliot: Well suppose I want to go to the beach, and you to the forest, and we only have one car. How do you mix our ideas?
Caeli: Easy. We'll go to a beach that has trees.
Elliot: There are infinite ways to mix the ideas so that elements of both remain. We could just as well go to a forest with sand, or just put sand and leaves in a bag and go to the mall. Or read a book that includes a forest and a swimming contest.
Caeli: Why is infinite ways of mixing the same as none?
Elliot: Because it means that whatever people come up with, which they say is the proper way to mix them, is actually their own idea about what to do, and what elements of each plan to keep. They are not just taking the two original ideas and following a recipe for proper mixing. They are using their own ideas about what is important.
Caeli: I guess your point is that there is no way to determine, on general principles, a fair mix.
Elliot: Right. What matters is whether the new idea contains the things that everyone wants, or not. If it doesn't, someone is not getting what he wanted. He may change his preference, and if he does, that's fine, and it's no longer a compromise. But if he doesn't, then that is not fine.
Caeli: What's so bad about not getting what you want.
Elliot: How about I demonstrate by killing you.
Caeli: But I don't want to die.
Elliot: Exactly my point.
Caeli: But what about if I wanted a cookie, and didn't get it. Is that so bad?
Elliot: The reason a cookie is not such a big deal is that it's pretty easy to stop wanting. Aren't you yourself thinking, "It wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't get my cookie?" That is a sign that you don't have a strong preference about the cookie, and are almost ready to stop wanting it. You'd like a cookie if it's convenient, but if it's too much trouble, you won't mind not having one.
Caeli: I see. But what if it's not like that. What if I really, really want it?
Elliot: Then not getting it will hurt.
Caeli: Oh. That does matter. So, where were we?
Elliot: What should the parents do about not having sitters, and resenting their child for this? First, the things their child wants, such as not to be left alone with horrible, boring, cruel people, are possible. Second, if he wants any things that actually are impossible, or are just bad ideas, he can be persuaded to change his mind.
Caeli: "Don't want that, that's impossible." is a pretty strong argument, isn't it?
Elliot: Yeah.
Elliot: Third, maybe the parents should stay home with their child. That might be nice. There are ways they could enjoy it. Fourth, there are good babysitters they could find. Or they, or the child, could make friends with cool adults. Fifth, getting resentful isn't helping anything. The child is not trying to torture them. Or hurt them at all. All he wants is to be happy. To get perfectly reasonable things for his life, such as not to be in the power of anyone he doesn't trust.
Caeli: He shouldn't be in the power of people he doesn't trust!
Elliot: Yeah. His parents can feel good about making sure he never is.
Caeli: You said in your original summary that the parents don't know how to solve the problem. Doesn't that mean they don't know how to do the stuff above?
Elliot: Yes. But they can learn. They can apply general problem solving techniques, such as thinking about what everyone wants, and what actions might get those things.
Caeli: Wouldn't they have already tried that?
Elliot: You'd be surprised. Most of the time that people fight, they are being irrational, and they haven't even taken minimal steps to actually solve the problem. They often don't clearly know why the other person wants what he wants. And if they don't understand the reasons, how can they expect to come up with solutions? You need to understand someone's motivation to know what else might also satisfy him. Or to know why his thing is important and it might be nice to make sure he gets it.
Caeli: That's a shame.
Elliot: Indeed.
Caeli: I'm leaving. Nice talking.
Elliot: Ditto.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (3)

Parents As Rulers

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What do you think of the "parent as ruler" model?
Elliot: It's awful. Bad for parents as well as children.
Caeli: Why do parents do it if it's bad for them?
Elliot: Because they don't know better.
Caeli: What are the bad effects?
Elliot: An unhappy child who is thwarted from doing and getting things he wants. A stressed parent who must constantly watch his child to enforce the rules and make decisions before the child does. Worse decisions about the child's life because the parent often doesn't know what's best for the child, because he doesn't know the intimate details of what the child wants.
Caeli: Don't parents usually know what's good more than children?
Elliot: In general, sure, but they can convey this information as advice. But what I mean is parents don't know the personal details of their child well enough: what mood he is in, what he's trying to accomplish right this second, what has struck his interest, and so on.
Caeli: Shouldn't a good parent know those things?
Elliot: Sort of. Parents should be paying attention but it's not possible to know those things with perfect detail. And in fact parents are often quite mystified by their children. They often don't see what makes them tick.
Caeli: I guess that's especially true for teenagers. Parents don't understand them at all.
Elliot: Yeah, but young kids as well. Consider the "terrible twos" where a child might bang pots and pans. Parents sometimes say he is trying to annoy them, but that is mostly just bitterness talking.
Elliot: Parents primarily say things like "that is just how children are" and they say it's natural or genetic. That is a retreat from explanation. They are saying they don't know why, it just is. So they really don't understand their child's motivations very well.
Caeli: Isn't it kind of obvious? He's interested in the noises it makes, and the feelings of hitting things together which makes them vibrate.
Elliot: That could be it. Most adults have been bored with things like that for many years, and because of their parochial mindset, they can't imagine that anyone else would be interested in them.
Elliot: But it also really can be an attempt to hurt the parents. The classic psychological explanation for this would be that the child does it to get attention. That is possible. But also, parents treat their children badly in a variety of ways, and they don't know this, and the child doesn't know it's wrong, but he may know he's unhappy.
Elliot: And as is somewhat well known, family dynamics get set up where the people habitually poke each other. Each person, when poked, reacts badly, upsetting the other, and thus causing him to do more poking. It's a cycle.
Caeli: Poking?
Elliot: It's a generic word for doing something to something. More concrete examples include banging on pans for children, or leaving toys on the floor. And for parents, there is yelling at the child for the pans and other things, getting frustrated/upset and blaming child for the toys, or being annoyingly over-protective and nagging.
Caeli: Aren't there good reasons to leave things on the floor? My floor isn't empty. For example, it has table and chair legs on it. Also some books, a frisbee, some clothes, some boxes.
Elliot: Very good. The way of dividing up which things are allowed to be on the floor is parochial. It says that toys are "a mess", but chair legs are so normal people don't even think of counting them. But why is that? For example, with proper design chairs can be stacked and put in the corner or closet, or folded up, or paired to take half as much space. Why shouldn't they be put away?
Caeli: Because they are used so often, and it's too much trouble to put them away.
Elliot: Correct. But the same can be said of a child's favorite toys.
Caeli: Right. There are good reasons to leave toys out. So why did you list it as something children do to poke their parents?
Elliot: Well, parents habitually get mad about it. Sometimes children throw a bunch of toys on the floor just to poke their parents. In many cases, children believe the false theory of what a clean room should be, so they would clean up if they weren't acting irrationally and in a cycle of fighting with their parents.
Caeli: How can people get out of a cycle like that?
Elliot: The cycles only work so long as the people are not self-aware enough to notice what's going on while it's happening. If they are, they can just stop doing it. Revenge is pointless, poking the other gets them nothing useful and is bad for the poker since he does live there.
Caeli: Why is revenge pointless?
Elliot: It doesn't make your own life nicer to have hurt someone else.
Caeli: How is it bad for the person who does the poking, precisely?
Elliot: It's bad for everyone when any family member is upset. Conversely it's good for everyone when that person is flourishing.
Caeli: What are some ways it is good/bad?
Elliot: A flourishing family member will find new music and TV and share it, and write nice dialogs, and bring over interesting guests, and help solve any interesting problems that the others around him have.
Elliot: An upset family member will ask for help (but not of the person who hurt him), and be less creative and therefore less interesting.
Caeli: How does one become more self-aware?
Elliot: By thinking carefully.
Caeli: Is that brief answer a sign that you don't know how to explain it?
Elliot: Maybe. I might know if you asked a different question.
Caeli: Wait. You aren't sure if you know how to explain it?
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: How can that be?
Elliot: Why would I know? No one told me.
Caeli: The thing under discussion is ideas in your own head. No one needs to tell you. Don't you know what's there?
Elliot: I don't know all of it at once. But even if I did, that wouldn't help. Consider a sprinter who knows how strong his muscles are. Can he win a race? He may not know. Even figuring out what time he can get would take a lot of physics calculations.
Elliot: Now consider puzzles where you are given a situation and some information about it, which is enough to reach the solution, and you have to figure out the solution. What's the point of them? Well, it's not obvious how to get from knowing the resources available to knowing their best use.
Elliot: What a given set of stuff can do, if used properly, is an emergent property of that stuff which can't be seen just by looking at it. So even if I knew all the ideas in my head, that wouldn't mean I'd know what can be done with them.
Caeli: That all sounds right in theory. But I still don't see how you can not be sure if you can explain how to be more self-aware. Don't you just think about what the answer is, and what to say, and either you have ideas about it or you don't?
Elliot: I have ideas. Forming them into a coherent, English explanation is tricky. But there's the further issue of my audience. I want to answer your question. That means, among other things, that I need to know what your question means. If we talk more, I'll learn about what you want to know, and what you do and don't understand, and then it'll be easier to see what would be good to tell you. Giving a brief answer is one way to get you talking, and it also gauges your interest: if you don't ask again, you evidently didn't care very much.
Caeli: I do care; I've just been distracted by this other topic.
Elliot: Oh, I wasn't commenting on you just now, only in general. If you're interested you will ask again. It might be in a month, or a year. Whenever you ask, I'll figure you're interested then.
Caeli: Oh. That's nice of you. Some people would be resentful after a year. They might say, "So, you've come crawling back? Now you want my help? Well too bad."
Elliot: I wouldn't say that. It's cruel and silly. What do I know about your interests? Maybe you've scheduled what to work on perfectly, and it involves asking that question in a year. And why be resentful? You haven't hurt or wronged me if you don't ask any questions, let alone not asking one particular one for a while.
Caeli: Why is it cruel?
Elliot: The crawling part is insulting. And saying too bad is cruel. It's just being spiteful. Trying to hurt the questioner for the sake of hurting him. It's saying he doesn't have any reasons to give for why he won't answer, he's just not going to.
Caeli: Isn't the year delay a reason?
Elliot: Why would it be? Unless he forgot the answer, in which case he could just say that.
Caeli: People don't like to wait so long.
Elliot: But why was he waiting? He should have gotten on with his life immediately.
Caeli: Isn't it better to have a conversation more quickly than that?
Elliot: There are various advantages. But people have other things to do. Sometimes they are important, and take a year, or ten.
Caeli: What are the advantages?
Elliot: Remembering the topic and the context. The full context includes what other things were said recently, and current events, and so on. It makes for a richer conversation more interwoven with the rest of life. And one may not be interested in the topic anymore in a year. Interests often drift a bit, and hopefully move on to progressively more advanced or subtle things, and sometimes they change wildly.
Caeli: Why might they change wildly?
Elliot: A person could convert to a religion, or discover a very good philosopher, or have a mid-life crisis.
Caeli: The conversation could drift to match the new interests. Consider our conversation: it went from parents as rulers to being self-aware to knowing how to explain things to delays in conversations to why it's morally right for Elliot to give money to Caeli.
Elliot: Hmm. Money...?
Caeli: Yeah. Don't you remember?
Elliot: Oh! Now I remember. I was going to pay you $0.50 to pull all the weeds in my garden. And it'd be wrong not to pay you, after you did all that work.
Caeli: I give up. You win. :)
Elliot: So you wanted to know about being more self-aware.
Caeli: Oh, right. I forgot to ask another question. I guess that's a bad sign.
Elliot: I wouldn't worry. You asked other things instead.
Caeli: OK, so, I find it hard to keep track of everything important, all at once. And I have habits and do them without thinking enough and applying all my ideas from other parts of life.
Elliot: One thing that helps is forming good intuitions.
Caeli: Isn't that the opposite of being self-aware? It's acting intuitively instead of carefully thinking.
Elliot: We can't keep track of everything at once. What we need to do is create policies about how to live which we can keep track of. The policy itself can say in what situations to use it, and in what situations you better stop and think carefully.
Caeli: Won't things go wrong if we just follow policies? They won't be right all the time.
Elliot: We can make improvements to them when we find they don't work the way we'd like in a situation. We can think carefully about what policies to have and what improvements to make, so they will be full of our best knowledge.
Caeli: Then what makes them easier to remember?
Elliot: One thing is that there's less to remember: a policy about how to live doesn't have to include all the reasons for why to live that way. You only need to remember your conclusions.
Caeli: You seem to have a really good memory though. Whenever I ask stuff you have answers ready.
Elliot: Your questions remind me. But it's easy to remember stuff when it's interesting enough, and it comes up in context. And in many cases I've thought about how to answer what you're asking about somewhat recently.
Caeli: You've thought about all these things before?
Elliot: Mostly, yeah.
Caeli: How'd you manage that?
Elliot: If someone asks you the same thing next month, what will you say?
Caeli: Oh, I suppose I now know about all the things we've discussed. So I'll say I had conversations.
Elliot: Indeed. So, that's a lot of the answer. The rest is mostly reading and thinking.
Caeli: Cool. I think there are some loose ends but I need to go. Can we finish up tomorrow?
Elliot: Sure. Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Parents As Rulers 2

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: The first thing you told me about how to be more self-aware was about how to create and improve policies which tell me how to act in many situations. By having policies that I can remember, which are designed to represent my values, I'll be able to act on my values better than if I tried to address every situation, in real time, from first principles.
Elliot: Yes, and further, you can create policies with reach. They will apply to many situations. So you won't need to have remember something for every situation, because policies can cover many situations that share common themes.
Caeli: Can you give an example?
Elliot: One of my policies is not to shame people, especially in public, but also in private. So if I'm considering making a joke at someone's expense, this policy can tell me what to do. Or if someone makes a mistake, the policy will tell me to carefully only criticize the idea and not the person, and possibly in private if people might misunderstand. And the policy also applies to how I treat myself: it's bad to be self-deprecating. It's better to be respectful of people, including myself. Even if I make a mistake, that doesn't mean I'm bad, and I should be confident that I am not, rather than put myself down.
Caeli: It's not exact, you know. Not shaming yourself and not putting yourself down are similar but also somewhat different.
Elliot: That's true, but the policy has applicability and helps me with that issue all the same. It doesn't have to fit perfectly to be meaningful.
Caeli: Can I have another example?
Elliot: May you.
Caeli: Oh. Is the difference important?
Elliot: In some contexts it is important to use English correctly. But mostly I thought that either you didn't know the proper word, or were not self-aware enough to notice.
Caeli: Why would this indicate a lack of self-awareness?
Elliot: Is there any advantage to using the wrong word?
Caeli: Oh. I suppose not. Are you sure it's wrong?
Elliot: I can give you another example. In other words, I am capable of doing so. But that's not what you wanted to know.
Caeli: I see. Thanks for pointing it out. I hadn't thought of that, but I'll try to use language precisely and pay attention to what my words mean.
Elliot: Another policy I have is to distrust categories. People frequently use categories to gloss over the issue of whether the actual qualities of something lead to their conclusion. It helps them not make part of their argument without people noticing.
Caeli: What are some examples? It'd be good if they were wildly different to help illustrate how the one policy can apply to wildly different issues.
Elliot: Some people say that all stories can be divided into seven categories. Doing this is an information-losing process: knowing a story's category has much less information than knowing the details of the story. People then proceed to say things about a story based on its category, without considering if the actual details of the story support this very well or not. First they lose information, then they ignore it, so they don't have to argue with it.
Elliot: This sort of glossing over details is very common in psychology. They say there are different types of people, like introverts and extroverts. Then people actually say things like, "because you are an introvert, it's hard for you to speak in public". But that is absolutely horrible as an analysis. What we should do is look at what qualities make it hard to speak in public, and see if the person has those. Plenty of generally introverted qualities have nothing to do with speaking in public, and plenty of public speakers would be called introverts.
Elliot: Another way being distrustful of categorizations is useful is for detecting logical fallacies. People often say there are three kinds of dog, and then argue that a dog is not the first or second type, and therefore must be the third type. That doesn't work, because there might be other types of dog the person hadn't thought of.
Caeli: Do you think of all these things yourself?
Elliot: Not all. A friend told me it's bad to shame people. I hadn't put it in those words before. Identifying that categories are a sign of bad arguments has probably been done by others, but I thought of it myself. But maybe it hasn't: philosophers think categories and definitions are signs of good arguments.
Caeli: Are you implying that something is wrong with definitions?
Elliot: Yes. We already have a good sense of what words mean, and trying to discuss it explicitly rarely helps much. Further, it distracts from the actual topic. And further, it is used in a bad way very similar to categorization.
Elliot: Writing explicit definitions for words is an information losing process. When you write down definitions you can't express all the subtleties and connotations that the word has. People often make arguments that follow from the definition of a word they have chosen, but they forget that their definition isn't the whole story.
Caeli: Well noticed.
Elliot: There's a further issue with definitions (and sometimes categories) which is that they are part of a quest for certainty and justification. People, especially philosophers, want to avoid errors, so they try to make their arguments air tight. They try to hard to get perfect premises that they get distracted away from thinking about anything interesting. It's easy to argue with people's definitions and categories. They always have perversities if you look closely enough. But it's boring to do so. We should be focussed on creating useful knowledge, not trying to express minute details such that mistakes are impossible.
Caeli: What's wrong with trying to avoid errors?
Elliot: First of all, it doesn't work. We aren't perfect, so we can't do it. Second of all, it misses the point. What we need to be good at is solving problems, and correcting errors. That will help us deal with both present and future problems, instead of only a proportion of future problems.
Caeli: That does sound better. But maybe we should do some of both?
Elliot: Sort of. For example, how do you deal with the problem of apologizing to your wife after you hit her? Mostly just avoid facing that problem in the first place. But that's just a sort of problem solving in advance. You know of a problem and take steps to make nothing bad happen. A separate issue is what to do about unknown future problems. The ones we don't see coming. We can't avoid those very well, because we don't know what they are. That leaves problem solving as the only reasonable option.
Caeli: Hmm.
Elliot: David Deutsch gave a speech which discusses it. I think you'd like it.
Caeli: So one step towards being more self-aware is to craft intelligent policies about how to live. Do people actually do this very much?
Elliot: Yes. For example, most people have policies about how much to tip, if anything. They rarely fully consider the issues involved in tipping, and generally just use their pre-existing policy. And that's OK: they only need change it if it seems to have a problem.
Caeli: This doesn't seem like it's really about self-awareness.
Elliot: Perhaps it's just the right way to live. But it frees up attention to be more aware of other things. And there is the issue of whether we think about our policies and try to improve them frequently, or not. There is the issue of whether we realize we are executing policies, and whether we realize we could do otherwise.
Caeli: Doesn't everyone know they could do otherwise?
Elliot: Many people never seriously consider not leaving tips (unless they are poor). It's just something they do and assume, without consideration, is how life works.
Caeli: What are some other steps to take to become more self-aware?
Elliot: There is the standard advice: question everything, think before you act, reflect after you act. But it doesn't work very well. Many people think they do that, but don't at all.
Caeli: For example?
Elliot: If you ask most people about marriage you will discover they haven't thought about it very much. They will have a strongly held position about how great monogamy and commitment are, but there arguments will just be the standard ones that everybody knows. They won't have looked any deeper. People who fancy themselves free thinkers are rarely any better about this than conservatives. The same holds true of other issues, like parenting.
Caeli: So one of the keys to being self-aware is not to have blind spots?
Elliot: Yeah. A lot of "free thinkers" seem to think that they don't have blind spots, and it's only other people who are dumb. They are never right about this. One thing that's needed is a humble attitude which assumes we do have blind spots, and will make mistakes, and what's needed is to find and correct our errors.
Caeli: That has parallels to what you said about needing to focus on problem fixing.
Elliot: Yup. The idea has reach.
Caeli: So, I still don't really know what to do.
Elliot: It's a large issue. What to do is basically to try to explain the world. While learning, and connecting topics, and considering the reasons for things, we will get a better perspective, and find errors when things don't fit together well. And bear in mind that the worst enemy of bad ideas is criticism, but by contrast criticism is the best friend of good ideas: it helps to prove their worth.
Caeli: How does being criticized show an idea is good?
Elliot: A good idea will withstand criticism. It will be easy to defend the criticism, or make minor modifications to meet it. A bad idea will be unable to cope with criticism: it will be hard to change or fix, because analysis only finds more problems that need fixing. And it will be hard to defend, because there is plenty of true criticism of it.
Caeli: I believe the general idea of what you've just said is that we should embark on an open-ended quest to learn and to rationally explain reality. Is that right?
Elliot: Yes. And there are various things to recommend this approach, like that it isn't parochial. It doesn't reference any of the unique features of the human situation.
Caeli: Isn't learning unique to humans?
Elliot: Knowledge creation plays a part in the laws of physics. Intelligent aliens would also create knowledge. A parochial feature of our world is sky scrapers. On another planet with different available resources, and different gravity, and different weather conditions, there might very well not be any sky scrapers. Maybe everyone would live underground. But there would be explanations.
Caeli: It's cool that you know to question things like sky scrapers. But a lot of people never thought of that. How can you blame them?
Elliot: I don't. Ignorance isn't wicked. What's much worse is that people often reject good ideas without much consideration, or they realize one of their ideas is flawed but they never do much about it. Or they know they have a problem, but they try to ignore it.
Caeli: What if they were ignorant of how to consider ideas too? Then it wouldn't be their fault they didn't listen.
Elliot: People make choices. Some people come from much worse circumstances, with much less help, but still manage to be great. Others mess up their life in unconventional ways. They could have lived conventionally, but chose not to.
Elliot: More generally, the concepts of free choice and responsibility for our actions are a critical part of our explanation of what people are, and how life works. And they contain a lot of valuable truth. We don't need to give perfect justifications for them in order to be right to use them.
Caeli: Do you admit they are hard to defend precisely?
Elliot: Everything is hard to defend precisely.
Caeli: So, yes?
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: The original topic was parents are rulers. Can you remind me how this connects to that?
Elliot: We got to discussing bad cycles in families, and a key element in getting rid of those is self-awareness. People often get in patterns of hurting each other habitually, and what's needed is not just good intentions and kindness (though those are important), it's also the awareness to realize what is going on, and to keep perspective, and to stop it. We can choose not to continue if we pay enough attention.
Caeli: What do you mean about keeping perspective?
Elliot: Is it really so important that your sister stole your toy? It matters, but most times that happens it's not worth fighting over. Most things aren't worth fighting over. Fighting sucks. Life is grand. Just go live your life, nevermind this or that little way you were wronged. Things go wrong all the time. If you make your life nice, that will more than make up for it. Getting your sister back won't make up for it.
Caeli: That sounds cool.
Elliot: Another example is that some workers steal from their companies. I don't mean a lot, just some materials or tools. A wise man once said about this: "I am making money faster than they can steal it." And it was true. They were not trying to ruin him, and it was best to just let it go. He was still making money.
Caeli: Remind me why parents shouldn't be rulers.
Elliot: It makes them responsible for their children's lives, which is a huge burden. It takes away their children's freedom, and makes it harder for their children to learn how to live. The children will pay for their parent's mistakes, and that's a bad incentive structure. The parents have no right to control their children.
Caeli: Why don't parents have a right to control their kids?
Elliot: The right way to parent must be a universally applicable educational policy for helping ignorant people to learn. Right?
Caeli: Yes, sounds right.
Elliot: So, it must be workable in a wide variety of situations. On other planets, with different weather, and different natural resources, and different cultures. And critically, it must work if the pupils are larger and stronger and more powerful than the educators. In that case, the parents can't control their children even if they want to. The correct educational policies would work anyway, so they can't rely on having power over the learner.
Caeli: Oh. I see.
Elliot: I'm leaving now. Bye.
Caeli: Bye!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (2)


Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: What's wrong with monogamy?
Elliot: One of the problems with monogamy is that you only get to try out one theory of who you should be with, for all of time.
Caeli: Is it really forever?
Elliot: You have to commit to not change partners anymore to really call it monogamy. If you kept changing partners as much as you wanted (say, a few times a day, depending who you were with) that would be something else entirely.
Caeli: I see. Plus forever is how marriage is supposed to work.
Elliot: Right. So, you have this one partner forever. You can't try out rival ideas of who you should be with. This is very bad.
Caeli: What's so bad about it? If your partner tried out someone else, he might like it and leave.
Elliot: If he did find a better life for himself, wouldn't that be good?
Caeli: Not for me.
Elliot: Would you want to hold back someone you loved, selfishly, and keep him from being as happy as he could be?
Caeli: No, I guess not.
Elliot: You may be worried he will leave because of New Relationship Energy: because he's excited by benefits with the new person that won't last. This does indeed happen. It's a parochial error. It means he's lost perspective on his life, and is misjudging which things will have lasting importance.
Caeli: OK, so how do you avoid that mistake?
Elliot: Well, one way is not to be monogamous in the first place. But never mind that for now. If the new relationship has temporary benefits, wouldn't it be a shame to miss out on that? He'll learn cool stuff, and when he comes back, he will share it with you. You'll both be better for it.
Caeli: Hmm, maybe.
Elliot: In general, criticism makes good theories stable, and crushes bad theories. Good theories only appear good when you compare them to their rivals. Just by themselves, we have no way to judge them. We don't know how close to the truth we are. We only know if they seem to solve our current problems. Having a history of being adaptable, and defeating rivals, is a way to boost our confidence in a theory.
Caeli: So what does that mean for relationships?
Elliot: It means that trying lots of relationships will make it clearer which are good and which are bad, and help you see why the good ones are better than the others.
Caeli: People usually do try a lot of relationships before they settle down.
Elliot: Yes, and that's good. But once they settle down, they stop doing this. They stop learning about relationships in this way. They limit themselves, and don't try new relationships they think would be valuable. They avoid them without learning about them. As long as their are still temptations, it proves the person still has more to learn (or is in the wrong relationship).
Caeli: Can you give some more concrete examples?
Elliot: Marriages get unstable after a while because people forget what being in other relationships is like. There is actually a common experience in stories and on TV of someone who cheats on his longtime partner only to realize that he prefers to be with his partner. He just needed to be free to spend time with other people, and compare, to see that being with his partner was best. But he wasn't allowed to, and had to cheat to learn about the issue. That's bad for everyone involved. Who would really want a partner to stay with him in ignorance?
Caeli: That's not appealing. Like if he said he loved me, I couldn't believe him, because he wouldn't really know.
Elliot: Spending time with lots of people increases our perspective. Like with everything else, the ideal policy as far as learning is concerned is to do it as much as we are interested in.
Caeli: What about STDs?
Elliot: They are parochial, they have nothing to do with learning, or what the ideal sorts of relationships are, and you are assuming that relationships have something to do with sex.
Caeli: Don't they?
Elliot: In our culture people equate the two. But there is no good reason to. Sex isn't very interesting, and it doesn't make sense to choose who to live with based on who we like to have sex with.
Caeli: But you should live together if you want to share a bed.
Elliot: Sharing a bed is annoying. You have to deal with snoring, and waking each other up, and it makes it less convenient to sleep at different times. And there is no need to share a bed in order to have sex. (Though if you sometimes fall asleep together, there's nothing wrong with that.) Everyone should have a room, and a bed, of her own.
Caeli: Why "her" own? You usually use masculine pronouns when you are not talking about a specific person.
Elliot: Because "a room of her own" is a famous quote by Virginia Woolf.
Caeli: Why isn't sex very interesting?
Elliot: It consists of rubbing your bodies together, and playing with ancient remnants of our animal past. That part is very simple. More complex is the ideas our culture has about sex, but those are extremely parochial. And none of them have much to do with learning, they are just things purported to make people happy. But happiness is a bad goal.
Caeli: Is it wise to attack happiness while criticizing monogamy? Should you pick so many fights at once?
Elliot: Do you mind?
Caeli: I guess not. So what's wrong with happiness?
Elliot: Nothing is wrong with happiness. The problem is aiming for it. It should be an indirect consequence of a good life. Trying to get happiness directly is either meaningless (because we only do what we think is moral), or it means we sometimes do things that we do not think are moral.
Caeli: I thought the happiness thing would be very controversial, but your argument seems solid. Except, why is morality the right thing to aim for?
Elliot: Morality is about how to live. By definition it's our best ideas about how to live. Whether they provide happiness, money, knowledge, whatever. And it takes into account, by definition, whether we are treating others rightly or not, and so on. Seeking happiness does not necessarily take all those things into account.
Caeli: People often say the reason they want to do something, like go get ice cream, is that they will enjoy it. In other words, it will make them happy. Do you object?
Elliot: That's fine. If an activity provides one valuable thing, that is a noteworthy fact about that activity, and a good answer to why to do it.
Caeli: So let's get back on topic. You were saying sex is boring and has nothing to do with relationships.
Elliot: That's right. In general, a relationship (which is not a very good word) just means people cooperating in some way. Well, it generally doesn't mean free trade. What we mean is a personal relationship. So, if it's not about wealth or stuff, then what's the point? Well, people can share ideas.
Caeli: What's a better term than relationship?
Elliot: Human coordination is better.
Caeli: What do you mean by coordination?
Elliot: People who share goals (or parts of goals) can coordinate (act in a way that works together) to achieve those goals. Coordinating means people changing what they do so that the overall result of the actions of a group of people achieves what they want better.
Caeli: That does seem like a more universal way to look at it. But what does it have to do with sex?
Elliot: Not much. That's part of my point. :)
Caeli: What do you think of love?
Elliot: It's a vague word. Do you mean strong liking?
Caeli: Have you been in love? I don't think it's vague.
Elliot: It doesn't matter if I have.
Caeli: Yes it does. How can you know about it if you haven't?
Elliot: If there is an important part that is hard to figure out without being in love, you can tell me about it. Even people who had been in love might not have noticed it.
Caeli: OK. Well, when people commit to each other they feel safer. And when they love each other, they try to help each other. They are able to trust each other. They both benefit. And it makes them happy.
Elliot: That's a lot of purported benefits. First, we should keep in mind that those are not the usual experience. People often are in love then break that trust and hurt each other. Lovers and families have some of the worst fights (excepting wars and other deadly violence).
Caeli: If they break the trust, it wasn't true love.
Elliot: A policy of calling all instances of love that ended badly, "fake love", does exist. But if you want to talk about it that way, then what we should really discuss is the state of thinking you are in love, but not being sure. And since you can never be entirely sure it won't end badly tomorrow, that will be the only kind of love there is.
Caeli: Oh, hmm. Is there no way to be sure it will last?
Elliot: If there is, no one has found it. If someone did, he would write a book and get very rich.
Caeli: Maybe some of the people who have lasting marriages do know.
Elliot: But people try to take advice from them, and it does not work reliably.
Caeli: So can you reply to more of the benefits I said?
Elliot: Yes. Trust is bad. Trusting someone is just refusing to take responsibility for your own expectations of the person. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Once you know a person, you should make your own predictions about what he will do, and if you are wrong, you should not hold that against the person. If you can't safely expect someone to do as he said, then make sure your plans don't count on him doing it. Trusting people is just setting yourself up to have fights.
Caeli: Are you against making promises as well, then?
Elliot: Yes, exactly. Don't take people's word for what they will do, and play the victim if they don't. Be a responsible, independent person who prevents being let down by proactively considering what will happen, not taking anything on trust or faith.
Caeli: What about feeling safe together?
Elliot: Partly that is a matter of trust. Partly that is a matter of knowing each other well, and having genuine reasons to consider the person safe. The second thing is purely good, but it can be isolated away from the term love.
Caeli: Why isolate things away?
Elliot: If we can identify components of love, and pull them out, we can then see if there is anything good left we haven't identified. If there doesn't seem to be, we will know what love is, or at least the good part: it's the individual parts we identified. Doing this will help it to be less vague.
Caeli: OK. So what about helping each other?
Elliot: First, people should help themselves. Second, if a policy of cooperating seems mutually beneficial, and also they are willing to risk that the other person may not do as expected, then great, help each other. This happens all the time. People who aren't in love do it.
Caeli: Maybe people who are in love want to do it more.
Elliot: People should cooperate when their rational judgment tells them it is best, and not otherwise.
Caeli: Isn't it helpful to have someone who will go out on a limb for you, without being persuaded?
Elliot: Most of the time, no it is not. It's better to persuade people to do things. They won't have to trust you, so they won't blame you if it goes wrong. And they will understand what's happening better. But now and then, there is a reason not to explain, such as a great rush, or needing to protect someone's privacy. In that case a person who will "go out on a limb for you" is valuable. What he should be doing is using his best judgment to decide he should help out. He doesn't know the reasons, but his best judgment tells him that you do have good reasons.
Elliot: Let me add that I don't see this to have anything to do with love. The default policy of many people is to help strangers in relatively minor ways if they ask for help. This is a good thing. Living in a society where help is easily available makes us all more powerful. It's easier for everyone to achieve their objectives. Most people in our society have good objectives. And in general people try to have good objectives. Humans being powerful is good. The opposite, humans being weak, would only ensure our destruction (one day an asteroid will come, or whatever, and if we don't have good enough science then -- if we aren't powerful enough yet -- then we will all die).
Caeli: What about love making people happy?
Elliot: People should be happy about love if and only if love is a good, rational thing. So this can't settle the argument.
Caeli: I guess we'll discuss this again. Can you summarize your main point?
Elliot: We shouldn't be scared of trying things that aren't best, and if something is genuinely good, it shouldn't fear criticism and rivals. If it's good, it will beat those rivals. Trying bad things helps us see why the good ones are better, so it stabilising good things. It helps make sure we'll stick to good things in the future. It means when you have second thoughts, you'll be able to remember why that thing was bad. And if you're still not sure, try it more. Learn and find out what's best. Marriage means not trying rival theories about who to live with and have sex with anymore. It means committing yourself not to. That is bad for learning.
Caeli: Maybe marriage isn't about learning.
Elliot: Maybe. But learning matters a lot. And if people admit marriage harms knowledge growth, that'd be a good first step.
Caeli: See you later!
Elliot: Bye.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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. :)
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)


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 t