Monday, March 06, 2017

'Them' and 'Them'

What is a conservative? or right wing? or alt-right? how does alt-right differ from neo-con? and what of the other side, the people across the line, what is liberal? or left-wing? how do the progressives differ from libertarians? is there a difference? why can't there be both?

Most of these questions are uninteresting. Given that there are sufficiently uninteresting people in the world who have no doubt populated wikipedia articles I haven't bothered to verify the existence of with a synthesis of the scholarly history and discussion of the parameters of the nuanced differences between an alt-right or a neo-con or libertarian and progressive vs a new-dealer etc. It would be redundant for me to even bother answering these questions.

But I can share my simple definitions, that are my rules of thumb and inform much of my own behavior as it has quickly adapted. I don't need heuristics for dealing with anyone in my own camp. People in my own camp are like me, and much like the Quakers are not dogmatic and don't really proselytize. In fact, I can't really prove that anyone in my camp is in my camp, we don't tend to talk about it.

Conservatives

The defining psychological trait of a conservative is somebody whose identity is emotionally invested in the 'Just World Hypothesis'

Figuratively speaking, a conservative is somebody walking around in running gear with a medal hanging around their neck, and that medal means the world to them.

Some concession has to be made to the phenomena of medal-less conservatives though who do exist in surprising numbers and whose life's ambition is to obtain a medal just like those with medals whom they somehow admire. The only difference between the two though is whether they are positively or negatively emotionally invested in the Just-World Hypothesis.

Progressives

The defining psychological trait of progressives is an almost total ignorance and insensitivity to 'belief perseverance', even though they are almost certainly prone to it themselves. Thus behaviorally speaking a progressive expects people to update their beliefs as knowledge progresses.

Figuratively speaking (but bordering on literally) a progressive watches the latest episode of Jon Oliver's Last Week Tonight and calibrates their beliefs to whatever has just been presented.

Or if it's easier to picture, a progressive plays the role of Jerry in the Seinfeld episode 7-16 'The Doll' who informs Elaine that there's an electric toothbrush that is better than the one she has, and can't understand that she likes hers even though he's telling her that it's better.

So What?

You may notice that one is a definition of a broad-catch all political alignment - Conservatives or The Right or whatever whereas the other is a definition of a sub-genre.

This is because everyone is prone to confirmation bias. And if you are reading this you probably share my opinions, where you broadly identify as left-wing, don't particularly like right-wing politics but find many of your own friends annoying on social media who seemingly have the same left-wing orientation as you. These definitions aren't binding, they are simply the way I bet across populations even those bets are placed on individuals in conversations.

And that bet is that both are wrong. But how?

That is an interesting question, to gather the low-hanging fruit, Conservatives are wrong about a natural order, at the very least to the extent they are emotionally invested in one. Progressives are wrong about progress. Best illustrated by putting our two figurative people together.

So a progressive is watching Last Week Tonight on Youtube because it's free, and Jon Oliver does a piece on how some running race is rigged, black people aren't allowed to enter, nor are women allowed to compete against men for the greatest prize money but can only win 30% less and also don't have access to the same trainers, scholarships and what not. If they were born a woman but transition to being men and vice versa they are subjected to testing and not allowed to compete in the category they identify with as well as suffering public shaming and discrimination. Furthermore it is unveiled that many of the people who win the race cheat by breaking a bunch of rules that are inconsistently enforced and take shortcuts and handicaps that are inherited and what not.

Then this progressive goes outside to order some ethnic food for lunch and comes across a person they thought they knew well walking down the street sticky with sweat with a big smile on their face and a medal around their neck. 'Woah!' says the progressive to their acquaintance, 'I didn't know you were a Conservative?!' and they say 'Yeah, I just ran the race today, got this sweet Medal' and they hold it up high anticipating some admiring comments from this Progressive they thought they knew.

'That's disgusting, you know those races are rigged? and you probably cheated cheater. Cheating in a rigged race, aren't you ashamed of yourself?'

The Consevative retorts 'Hey, I worked hard for this medal, and maybe if you did something other than watch youtube and eat fatty ethnic foods you too would have a medal and you'd probably feel differently.'

And the Conservative goes and seeks their own kind to feel reassured and validated and the Progressive does the exact same thing. As we all do.

Hopefully most people would agree that informing somebody who had just completed a a Marathon that the race wasn't actually regulation distance or the supplements their coach had been giving them were actually illegal performance enhancing drugs is a dick move, but consider a capacity in which you are conservative.

Imagine a piece of evidence that supported a 'natural order theory' for example a population census data that supported a conclusion that white people are smarter than any other ethnicity, or a defended and peer reviewed doctoral thesis that found men are more creative than women.

Just in case you are panicking, to my knowledge no such 'evidence' exists to support any of these, but if you are a human being with an identity that leans towards a fair and just society with broad equality - chances are you felt some kind of resistance to the very exercise of imagining a piece of evidence that would convince you that all things being equal some group might have a natural advantage over you or you over them, or that your spiritual connection to the universe is actually a figment of your imagination, or that your migrant grandparents actually didn't arrive with nothing and build themselves up through grit and determination against prejudice but in fact arrived with abundant job opportunities affordable housing and were encouraged to migrate with discounted passage.

And I've had someone say to me 'I don't like evolutionary psychology because it's condescending to women' which is fascinating.

The book superforecasting has a good summary about belief perseverance and should be noted that psychological phenomena is not partisan.

The other great degree in which progressives make common naive errors is in failing to recognize progress is a spectrum, and that we live in a world in which some people alive today maintain the exact same lifestyle as humans lived 10,000 years ago. Such communities are not just goldmines for anthropologists, they are largely ignored by most people because people living in hunter gatherer communities have almost no impact on geopolitics.

But hunter gatherer tribes or stone age communities in the Amazon not only are not up to speed with Transgender issues, they perhaps never progressed to the stage of achieving transphobia, along with bronze working, fly fishing, finance, constitutional monarchy, germ theory and twitter.

And yet these often marginalized people whose way of life is under constant threat from environmental degradation, urban development and religious intolerance are as likely to achieve a real and meaningful life as they are unlikely to participate in combating Islamophobia on college campuses.

And what of conservatives? Why am I so confident they are wrong? I don't believe there is a natural order, nor do I believe that the ordering of our society is entirely arbitrary. Guns, Germs and Steel is a good place to go and have racist notions of a natural order dispelled (provided you are receptive to such a message) but the only tragic conservatives really are those that do not benefit from the status quo except psychically from believing that working hard will deliver to them a better life.

Conservatives who thus are not benificieries of the status quo are sad, and conservatives who do benefit from the status quo have little to no incentive to challenge the just world hypothesis. Except that wealth keeps concentrating, such that Pareto's 20% is itself carved up into 80-20 distribution from which we derive the 1% and even among the 1% you would be naively optimistic to assume the equilibrium has been reached.

But you'd note, I don't have to do anything about that. Conservatives are for the most part due for their come uppance, I just simply avoid their company because they tend to be dicks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Horse To Ride

Career going well? Be careful, or rather, ask yourself 'why?' I don't know why but for some reason the two consultants that wrote the book on marketing, namely Al Ries and Jack Trout 'Positioning the battle for your mind' I seem to recall writing a bunch of career advice into the end of a book about marketing. It could have been in the end of 'The 22 Immutable laws of Marketing' or whatever it was called, it's been a long time since I've read either.

But they advised an eponymous pony called 'A horse to ride' saying you needed a horse to ride. What they meant is, that your success needs to be bundled in with something that is actually going somewhere. If you can't ride a horse, you better hope you are a leech, sucking your fill from the dead and dying.

It's taken over a decade to understand just how important this advice is. You see, without trying to incriminate myself or anyone else. It is possible to observe people who are rewarded not for being good at their job, but doing what their management like them to do. Like a political candidate appealing to their voter base, does not actually need to be good at governance. Hopefully you can think of an example of that phenomena at hand, if you can't look at the track record of the American Republican party in the economic department for the past say... 4 Republican administrations.

But in an organizational setting you are probably more likely to stumble across this phenomena in a meaningful way. Because there's a business saying that goes a little something like 'what gets measured gets done.' I would say most junior managers interpret this in some tingly proactive way, rather than hearing a stern warning to be very careful about what you measure.

Unfortunately, if you are picturing the typical management type, you are probably not thinking 'philosopher' somebody who steps back, observes and theorises, questions why. You like me and most managerial literature probably envision somebody who gets things done. Somebody direct, motivated, disciplined, energetic and with good posture.

These unfortunately are not the people who say 'are these KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) the right ones?' for what does that even mean to most managers, the right ones. Most managers the KPIs are what measure their performance and therefore what needs addressing.

So let's step back all the way to the first paragraph, that very first question - is your career going well? You may be the top performer at a company that is hemorraging money - so is your career going well? Are you the captain's favorite able seamen on the Titanic? And then also, why? Are you very effective at cutting costs? That should be cause for concern. Cost cutting can increase profit in the short term but do damage to a brand that is very expensive to reverse. And yet you are being rewarded for doing expensive damage to the company reputation.

It's kind of fucked that it's impossible to know if you are incompetent or not, but it sucks even more if it is necessary to navigate life by being able to identify when the hand that feeds you is attached to somebody truly incompetent.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sweating to the Oldies

Like Kanye West I'm a proud non-reader of books, maybe too proud. In fact... almost certainly too proud. But I have my workaround - and that workaround is called Audiobooks. I actually am a member of Audible.com and receive a credit every month in exchange for $$$. But though it may be a workaround, I still have so little interest in books that I'm now in the habit of allowing my credits accumulate until they can no longer be rolled over before I'll actually put any thought or effort into acquiring new books to listen to.

And it's hard in a world where there is often more to be learned about the world we live in by watching back episodes of cooking reality contests than there is listening to *respectable* news. Scarily listening to fake-news might actually become more informative. 

Anyway, in the month that followed the US election, there was a huge gaping behemoth sized whole in my life which was where to get information from. Currently I'm plugging that hole with the Roman Empire. Specifically Marcus Aurelius and his merry meditations. 

I tried googling for the exact quote and it didn't come up and I can't be bothered digging up my copy of 'The Bed of Procrustes' and finding where in it the aphorism I had in mind came from but it goes something like 'to get a true sense of progress consider that in 2000 years we've gone from Cicero to Sarah Palin in our standard of politicians. If you really want to scare yourself, extrapolate that trend out into the future.' and as a matter of interest this was written while President Trump was a completely unforeseen future.

Now I was told (via book, by I think Peter Drucker) that the entire administration of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt fit in one building (probably the west wing) where as it has to be acknowledged, that there are just a fuckload more politicians and bueracrats and what not now than the entirety of everyone to serve in the senate of the Roman Republic/Empire. There's enough politicians in the world that we have politicians that smoke crack. So to some extent you'd just expect that the present day will always produce worse politicians than history ever did because the probabilities always increase that an unlikely candidate will come into office somewhere and get our attention through some act of stupidity.

But, I notice, we are also not living in an era that seems to routinely produce the best politicians history has ever seen, even though in the sheer numbers game - the best leaders in the world have more avenue than ever to get into public service. One explanation could be that that the private sector is in fact the fragmented but real world power and that's the darwinian jungle people worth their mettle go into, rather than public service. 

Whatever, the world is very complicated, and that complicated world is largely complicated noise. So after watching Trump get elected, and concluding that I really didn't know anything about the world even though I had more warning than others on top of global trends that should have made the result much less surprising than it was to stupid old me. I decided to go listen to some old dudes.

And the first old dude was Marcus Aurelius. And from listening to it, here is what I have to say. The world has changed very little in 2000 years. Case in point, the first book of meditations is a long list of people Marcus feels he has learned virtues from like "Of Alexander the Platonic, not often nor without great necessity to say, or to write to any man in a letter, 'I am not at leisure'; nor in this manner still to put off those duties, which we owe to our friends and acquaintances (to every one in his kind) under pretence of urgent affairs." which is to say, his friend Alexander is great because he isn't one of those cunts that constantly tells people 'I'm busy' and puts off meaningful interaction. That's advice well suited to my social environment in every direction, yet this was clearly an excuse people used in 160 BC. The unfairness of the comparison from now to then being that far more people in 160 BC probably had to work to actually survive. And I don't mean pay the bills or mortgage but literally had to work the fields in order to live through the winter and shit. Very few people are required to produce food for themselves and everyone else these days.

This is a digression though, consider this, if you were to acquire two nuclear warheads, as portable and independently/self-sufficiently launching warheads and a time machine and went back and handed one warhead to the Romans and one to the Visegoths or Egyptians or Persians or whoever who cares, you would probably see the two newly minted nuclear world powers basically handling their policy and diplomacy in the exact same way that modern minds have. 

I feel a good place to start looking at how government and governance works then it's Machiavelli's 'The Prince' but I read that a long time ago. After reading the degustation of governance that is Niccilo's menu, I'm now of the mind (clearly) that you want to walk upstream, get the story from the horses mouth and listen to the successful rulers of history.

There's huge advantages to doing so - firstly, history has judged these rulers now. Probably thousands of times over. There consensus to say, this person drove good policy, people's welfare increased, the state became more secure blah blah blah. And in the case of the '5 good emperor's' much fewer of them tended to be stabbed to death by the disaffected. The 5 good emperor's didn't really even use security to protect them from assassination. 

So they got to sit down and write books or letters being 'this is how I think it should be done'. Obviously they are going to be as prone as any other successful person as downplaying the role of luck in their lives. But they are not, like modern day leaders going to wildly speculate as to the role of social media and how it's changed politics.

So I have Marcy Marcus' meditations to finish, then about 30 hours of Seneca to get through. I'm looking forward to some stoic drawing sessions ahead. Let me know how reading progressive blogs about the alt-right phenomena works out for you.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Things of interest

I'm struggling to find time between vices and obligations to actually write here. Thus allow me to present an unsatisfying degustation/taster menu of the concepts I find interesting at the moment and why, without actually exploring them to any level of satisfaction:

boredom - I'm fascinated by it, clearly a negative emotional state - but what exactly? What do evolutionary psychologists have to say about it? And why does it seem to increase in my case in proportion to my access to entertainment? Why are we almost never bored in the presence of a mirror but I'm often easily bored by the internet? Does anyone else find the major internet media players obsession with tayloring content via algorithms something that has made the internet much less interesting than a decade ago? Do people with more routine, simpler lives find they experience less boredom rather than the intuitive expectation they would experience more? Since practicing mindfulness I've also experienced that boredom is seemingly an entirely optional emotional experience. I also wonder if boredom relates to guilt? How related is it to procrastination? When historically did boredom emerge as a concept?

fascinating.

Infantilization - Has been on the plate for a while, but not while enough for the touted concept to become a recognised word by google spell-check. I imagine there'd be two ways of looking at it not necessarily mutually exclusive, the first being a regression by adults to childhood, the second being an extention of the duration of an infancy period. However the phenomena is certainly readily observable in my social environment and even on my travels. There's the easily identified economic/demographic footprint of infantilization everywhere as well - staying in school longer and/or returning to tertiary education, later marriage ages, later reproduction, later moving out of the parents house etc. And beyond socio-economic factors that explain the more mundance elements - mortgage inflation exceeding property rental inflation exceeding wage inflation vs return on personal investment in education ever diminishing - there's the generational aspect as well, in terms of Baby Boomers holding most management and leadership positions for 40 or 50 years. Then there's the consumption by adults of entertainment and products previously stigmatized as childish. I'm not a big believer in widespread cultural phenomena like that being 'designed' and when you don't believe in the illuminati convincing us to be spoon-fed babies in order to control us...profits! Then such phenomena becomes actually interesting.

hmmm...

The redundant channels of progress - Is something that has been lingering literally for years but I've never actually written about it. The catalyst being when I used to sit and listen to petty semantic arguments between members of an organisation I used to be involved with at board meetings when patently, the organisation at the time was not really achieving much. (Since those days I've become less involved and the organisation more successful. Coincidence?) Sitting in those meetings though, I observed a lot of proclamations that people were all after the same thing, but borderline insane acts of organisational sabotage. It occurred to me (and I recognized in myself) that I was witnessing not just a desire to 'fix the problem' but the desire for 'me to fix the problem' in terms of, it wasn't good enough for the problem to be fixed, intrinsic in the thought process was that 'we' needed to be the ones to fix it. If you will, it was not important that somebody climbed Everest, I need to climb Everest and everyone needed to know that I did.
So I wonder broadly what this attitude of needing to be the one, costs us in terms of common achievement. For arguments sake, do Oxfam and The Salvation Army need to both exist? I'm sure there are meaningful and important differences between them, but lets just pretend they both are charity organizations that aim to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Why do I have choices between multiple organizations often addressing the same causes? How much waste and inefficiency between them? And as an economist, what is optimal for progress redundancy and competition, or monopolies spared having to compete between fickle donars. Or is there some optimal coopetition that the market is already achieving?

which leads me to

Capitalisation - in the sense Malcolm Gladwell is obsessed with. Again this has been long simmering on the hob, but recently the question has become fascinating again because I've started to doubt the conclusion I took for granted. I think about it often because I work in a call center, one of the most diverse work places I've ever experienced. It attracts ungraduated university students, recovering addicts and artists and other deadbeats. I imagine one could pick through the resumes of the employees on the books and even briefly conduct some interviews and create a 'skillbank' of all the various skills and knowledge my employer actually sits on. The brains trust of the call center staff. Then the question becomes 'is this the most valuable thing we can do with this collection of talent?'
A separate anecdote that relates was one from my old work mentor - he asked us if we knew what the most recent developed piece of tech was in the first working Television. The answer I was told was the cathode ray tube (why TV's are/were refered to as 'the tube') which were invented aprrox 50 years before the first Television sets. The point being that sometimes the components for something are all already there we just need to figure out the right configuration.
So when you have a diverse team of 100 people, is the best thing those people can achieve for the wages paid them by the company, what they actually do, routinely with little variation? I used to think the obvious answer was 'no' there are far more valuable things (even in the strict capitalist-monetary sense) than cold calling. Now I am not so sure. Chiefly because figuring out the right way to configure all those diverse skills to maximise return is some kind of nightmare.
I'm fascinated with questions of capitalization because I suspect the better world we imagine we want to live in is perhaps often a logistical nightmare. Consider the distribution of wealth and questions of fairness. If it the following premises are true a) we don't need everyone to work to generate our current GDP and b) we don't want all the wealth to concentrate in two small a population, then how do you go about distributing income? This scenario kind of featured in a trailer for a documentary I never watched 'Hypernormalization' where the v/o suggested that many of us work in fake jobs while our real job was to shop. Something in my intuition tells me it is not so easy to dispense with the fake jobs, and at the same time, nobody wants an economic system where the minority of people who do all the actual productive work are the only ones with income. Hence we insist people at least make a show of working in order to be distributed the income necessary for them to fulfill there basic needs and some of their wants. That's fucking tricky to devise an alternative yo.

and eternally fascinating

why are smart people so stupid/ineffective? - I'm constantly amazed in life how well informed everyone is. watch Russell Brands 'the Trews' and probably everything he says won't actually be news to you. Watch some New Age speakers and while suppressing your strong distaste for woowoo notice on how many issues you actually kind of agree. I mean that might differ between you and me, but while I feel notions like a 'source consciousness' are vapid containers of bullshit, as is talk of 'vibrations' and 'frequencies' in some inter-dimensional sense, I do basically agree that alienation is systemically being increased in our society and community needs to be reestablished to fix much of the problems of the world.
While I don't advocate joining any new-age movements, what I notice is a large echochamber of lucid arguments that have a consensus on what's up, and yet this body of intelligent people appear unable to actually change the world in any significant way. Myself included.
That is interesting to me.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What I mean when I talk about Everyone?

I was relatively recently given feedback by my friend that I use 'Everyone does...' and 'But everyone thinks...' type arguments a bunch. This conversation was actually recorded, so I could go back and listen to it specifically but it's good feedback.

Firstly because 'Everyone' statements are much weaker arguments than 'I' statements. Even though our mathematical intuitions may be telling us that surely the argument 'Everybody thinks you're a joke' has got to weigh more than 'I think you are a joke.' But fact is, claims about what Everyone thinks, feels, says or does are almost never literally true - therefore easy to disprove, and when a handy exception is seized, the argument worded so strongly can be easily discarded. Whereas an argument about your internal subjective state is very hard to disprove by your adversary. Just please be honest when presenting statements of how you think, do and feel.

But what of everyone as some non-literal undefined term I nevertheless expect to have currency when I throw it lazily about in descriptions of the world I live in? What the fuck do I think I'm talking about? Who am I talking about?

I've given this some thought and though I don't really know exactly the context of use that I was pulled up on, I feel it worthwhile to describe who I think these Everyone are.

A few posts or so ago I titled a post Zombiecide in which I speculated as to why Zombie apocalypse where such a popular and sustained genre, even when zombies are pretty boring monsters in the Monster Hall of Fame.

When I talk about 'Everyone' I feel I'm referring to the fact that cities don't really exist. There's no community of 4 million people on Earth let alone Melbourne and to suggest a city like New York or Tokyo is a cohesive community of ascendingly vast populations is something I say fie to as well.

We all live in villages, and perhaps with all the synthetic community substitutes, we increasingly live on farmsteads in reality. We know at any given time about 30 people really well, and max out at about 150-200 people we know.

Which is to say, I may know about 1000 of the denizens of Melbourne, but not all live in my village. Furthermore technology has allowed my village to exist as a diaspora across the vastness of Melbourne instead of plots of land along a main road or in some mountain valley or clustered together on a lush plain.

Author China Mieville wrote this book the City and the City that if you're familiar with that story may help to think of. In that book two cities lived on top of each other and had strict laws against 'breaching' from one city into the other, the citizens of both cities trained into ignoring eachother's existence.

Old London may be a useful concept to think of as well. London is now a massive city, but it has actually engulfed small towns as the city expanded over years and incorporated these villages into areas now regarded as suburbs and subsequently parts of London.

I'm going to say we live in a social village, due to the limits of the part of our brain that can process social functions and physical cities.

When I talk about everyone, I'm talking about everyone I don't know. All those people that like the City & the City, are kind of out of focus in my life. I don't particularly care what they think, what they are doing and my eye is no more trained to really pick out individuals than it is to discern which fish is which in an aquarium contained school of sardines.

Rather I notice how they are the same, and Everyone begins to become an individual an individual that is the averaged stable behaviors of everyone I don't know. All the common patterns that not quite anyone actually possesses all of.

So Everyone uses their phone far too much, depends on it, is averse to risk, emotionally invested in the notion that hard work is rewarded and those rewards can be used to consume things that will make them happier, is ignorant on any given subject under the sun yet considers themselves informed enough to opine and act on their often second hand beliefs. Everyone is time poor, and obsessed with boasting of the fact in the guise of a complaint. Everyone is an addict, and often with slow acting but debilitating mental and physical issues. Everyone hates everyone.

That's who I'm talking to. Pluck a sardine from the school of Everyone and say 'Here's Everyone' it's going to say 'My name is Brandon.' or some shit. You've seen everyone around though. They can change over time. That's everyone's most redeeming feature.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Education Reform

Although I quickly became not a fan of TED talks, and there's nothing that ensures a lasting uncomfortable distance between myself and a new friend like sending me a link to the Eat Pray Love ladies TED talk. It's not like the success of TED came from nowhere, there's good content on there even if it is incredibly low yield.

And one talk that not-accidently everyone's seen and is now - despite very little progress - old news, is Sir Ken whatever's 'Thinks schools kill creativity' in which he observed and is true to my experience, that everybody is interested in education.

Which probably doesn't help reform, because if the education system is horribly flawed, a lot of people who were subsequently poorly educated will want to weigh in. Which may conjure up some image in your mind of the 'uneducated masses' however, I'm referring to people educated into functional stupidity - economists come to mind as a ready example. And consider the teaming masses of educated people who take pride in their mathematics performance and consider the arts a waste of time.

I don't intend to rehash Ken's speech and talk about the importance of dance and shit. I will rehash a conversation I had at a birthday dinner with an educator about school lunches who introduced me to the compelling idea that one function of education is 'to eliminate advantage' hence hencely one of the things a school can do is equalize the nutrition of the students ensuring that the kids endowed with nutrition conscious parents don't surge ahead of their more convenience parented peers.

It's an interesting idea, and in which case the first reform I'd like to see is the abolition of Private Schools. There may be some cross cultural confusion because I have a vague understanding that in England the Public/Private correlation to elitism is reversed. In Australia Private schools operate in the way I would feel is intuitive - they receive government funding (sometimes more than Public Schools) but also are free to charge tuition fees to parents - in country towns this can be thousands of dollars a year, in the big smoke tens of thousands.

The best argument for private schools is a laboratory - that is resourcing up a school system to experiment and break the molds of education - constant revolution. A school with resources can not just potentially design new and innovative trial programs but it can also double down should one of those programs fail so the test-subject students aren't penalized.

That's the best argument and it isn't a good one. Namely because private schools are run as business, and the main reason I believe them (opinion, not necessarily fact) to exist is that people of wealth/advantage would never abide that their children be judged on their actual merits all else being equal. Those parents are the customers of the private school business and my own personal experience, and secondary experience of my siblings for various reasons attending other private schools suggests that rather than discovering innovative new ways to enhance learning - private schools are actually evolving into gaming the tests that are used to distribute scarce Tertiary places. (Private primary schools exist but there isn't an argument for their existence at all, unless that argument is I want my children to never socialize in their formative years with children different to them.)

Lest you have no experience of private schools to speak of, when I say 'gaming' the VCE tests I'm not suggesting that anything shady and illegal has gone on. There is basic stuff like having the resources to hand every student a phone book sized selection of practice exams and past exam papers to learn by rote. There's also the well intentioned subject scaling system - a frank admission that not all subjects are equal under the sun, so more challenging subjects get scaled upwards so students aren't penalized for studying something difficult or rewarded for studying something easy. Except that students are, precisely because of scaling - so my brothers school offered Latin as a language for it's generous scaling, and both our schools encouraged their best mathematics students to do Further Mathematics in year 11 because it is easy to get a perfect score in and not penalized enough. (If you follow that link you'll see that often easy subjects scaled down will be adjusted at the top end of scores so the penalty is less to zilch).

So fuck private schools they are out, and I believe there's a dash of Hammurabi's laws in their as well, namely that those who are responsible for designing and maintaining the standard of education has no recourse but to apply that standard to their own children. What would indeed happen if politicians children had to attend the least resourced school in their electorate?

Then of course there's the inefficiencies like homework which world leader Finland ousted and even reduced the hours children attend school. Michael Moore's latest film covered that and I don't have anything of particular interest to add.

So get fucking nationalism out of schools, in all forms. There's a throwback to assumptions that probably predate the industrial revolution. Some progress was made - I believe my parents had pictures of the Queen in their classrooms. But I'm talking about having kids do projects on the Olympics or Commonwealth games in the classroom, singing the National Anthem at assemblies, learning that Australia Day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet (or whatever it commemorates) and everything and anything else that gives kids the notion that there is pride or shame in anything completely out of your individual control.

As one of my dismayed British friends posted to his facebook post-Brexit 'Nationalism teaches you to take pride in shit you've never done & hate people you've never met.' and there's not much more to it than that. I feel strongly though that nationalism being all around useless does not come in benign varieties as a result. I don't feel nationalist exercises in school can be defended by crying 'slippery slope' arguments.

The best argument for national pride curriculum is probably variety, as in it gives teachers an easy exercise in coming up with lesson plans in primary school etc. but that's not a strong argument, nor would its removal devastate uninspired teachers. The second best argument I can imagine is a vaccination/prisoners dilemma type argument - that is that we're acknowledging that nationalism is taught in other countries and this may result in some disadvantage when kids with no national pride go out into the world and are confronted with people with national pride. I'm not sure if that's even an argument, although there are circumstances where people with irrational beliefs can trump those with rational beliefs - like optimists are often bad at estimating actual odds which across populations (not necessarily individuals) can result in an advantage over a majority that actually estimates odds more accurately. But I'm not sure that would translate into any advantage with Nationalism, looking at the world mediascape, Nationalism appears to be a disadvantage.

I can't imagine an argument for nationalism that isn't the equivalent of a 'Yeah I won't turn my phone off I just won't look at it' argument, which is to say I'd be biased listening to a pro-nationalism (or patriotism or whatever other euphemism for nationalism) argument because I don't believe it to come from any other place but 'I don't want to believe my national pride is irrational.'

As for adding curriculum in? I'd like to see more soft skills or transferable skills - I feel everything in my own education overemphasised hard skills. Which isn't so bad, at some point one needs to acquire specialist knowledge. But specialist knowledge applies mostly to the specifics of a job, and I believe most jobs can generally afford to do the fine tuning on the job - with notable exceptions like medicine, but even surgery is study undertaken by working doctors post-graduate. More valuable pound-for-pound would be inculcating transferable skills like search skills - the ability to seek out and inform oneself - or critical thinking, logic, fallacies.

Most importantly, the ability to bet and gamble. Not mathematical probability (which does get covered) but the more generally applicable in life. Since publishing my previous post on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares I've laid awake feeling I neglected to mention the major flaw of the show's format (particularly the US series) which is that it rewards negligence and incompetent owners - investing money in businesses unlikely to succeed and often faced with crippling debts. But such a show can serve a greater good in creating an educational research on how to detect fire from smoke. That's something every kid should learn - the ability to detect bullshit, to recognize woo woo.

I firmly believe the simplicity and value of educating people to recognize and categorize the major ways people avoid taking responsibility should be basic curriculum. Every last person society wide should be able to count off '1. Denial 2. Excuses 3. Blaming. 4. Deflection' so such behaviors are easy to call out and you create a culture of accountability. I can see parents growing uncomfortable that their headstrong teenagers can suddenly out manouvre them in arguments, that's a danger, but you could also teach kids the donning-kruger effect rather than preaching values of humility in religious instruction.

Speaking of which we live in an age where I believe there to be actual expertise on what contributes to quality of life, what doesn't and what detracts from it. For example, we know that increasing income hits a threshold after which it doesn't increase people's happiness and life satisfaction can actually decrease as income increases.

I believe educational institutions can teach values, and with more license than religious institutions. A lot of people feel squeemish about teaching values because it can seem like indoctrination. However it's already happening in the aforementioned nationalism - take the outrageous claim that Australian's believe in 'a fair go' not only is there contrary evidence available that we don't, whether it be in sporting scandels, economic policies or even immigration, but a belief in fairness is not unique to Australians. It's not like the people of Iran teach their kids that Iranians believe in 'getting yours at anyone's expense'. But a kid can grow up believing that their nationality has them being so fair minded, even when they aren't.

Dr Gordon Livingston wrote a book called 'How To Love' about values to avoid and those to seek out in partners. Indeed, who we partner with and how we partner with people probably has a bigger impact on quality of life than the careers we choose. To take it full circle to the 'eliminating advantage' my friend Sez once pointed out that as it stands, we basically rely on kids having not fucked up parents to model the skills of partner selection. Attachment theory bares that out.

That should be valued, in proportion to its ability to make citizens enjoy their sole shot at life. Warren Buffet in turn addressed a graduating class of MBAs and asked them to look around their class and ask who among their fellow graduates they would invest a 10% ownership stake in the future of, and furthermore who among them they would sell a 10% ownershup stake of their future (predicted) losses. He observed there that it was unlikely to be the students with the best grades - something that endears me to Buffet, as an investor particularly where his competition often confuse the map for the ground.

You could probably abolish grading, I might go too far their, but I wouldn't mind it if we basically forced the next stage institutions to simply go through the effort of interviewing candidates face to face. Both tertiary education institutions and employers. I personally feel from what I've observed that neither academic grades, resumes or references are reliable predictors of best candidates and that the face to face meeting is indispensable.

Malcolm Gladwell is obsessed with the problems of education and he and other thinkers all make better points and better arguments than I can. I've tried to touch on those and particularly the ones I don't hear enter the discussion as often.

I expect most educational reform will in practice address the over-inflated impact of technology and attempting to bridge a digital divide that actually probably works counter to our perceptions of it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

10 People You Should Stop Listening To!

I'm being facetious of course. I actually don't have a list of 10 people to stop listening to simply and this isn't a command imperitive 'stop listening' like an edict issued by a cult to stop associating with non-believers because I strongly believe there is nothing wrong with indulging in some morbid curiosity from time to time. If you have a memetic immunity strong enough you can listen to anything you like.

Of course 'memetic immunity' is a made up concept, and those who can recall that brief period of 30 years where 'memes' were a concept of Richard Dawkin's that basically meant thought-genes or reproducing ideas and not shitty jokes clogging up your feeds, you can probably piece together that a memetic immunity is the ability to resist certain ideas. And of course, you may dismiss such a concept as redundant given that people demonstrate a resilience to ideas all the time - a relatively well known concept called confirmation bias. But pause.

Take a breath.

And consider it might be valuable to have some resilience to ideas you want to believe are true, a resistance to your own confirmation bias - one such resistance is the empirical method a process that works against our assumptions as we try to disprove our hypothesis to advance our knowledge.

With all that preamble though, I'm basically saying here are some behaviors to be wary of, so lets start with the list populaters.


Fun fact, I don't know anything about Liza Koshy. But the internet is full of content organized into lists of 3, 5, 8, 10, 15 and multiples of 5 onwards. Conan has an irregular segment called 'Buzzfeed is running out of lists...' and for the very reason list populaters are problematic, clicking on that link may send you spiraling into distraction - though technically it isn't list based content.

There was a time way back that I can't be bothered digging up, where I myself was seduced by the idea of writing lists as blog posts - and wary of my nemesis' caution that nobody likes a meta-blog I'll keep it brief and just say that what is problematic about lists I learned is that they are lazy and mechanical.

The reason the internet swarms with '5 reasons to...' and '3 warning signs...' and '10 telltale signs...' headlines is because a list is an easy framework through which to generate content. Furthermore if I were to set you the assignment of writing an essay '3 reasons suicide squad sucked' and '10 reasons suicide squad sucked' you would probably not find the second essay 3x harder than the first. This indicates that the number of items on any given list is often arbitrary.

I've sat and looked at organisational strategic plans and realised that the 5 action items for the forthcoming year aren't there because they've been carefully selected as the optimal uses of limited resources - but because the planners managed to come up with 5 ideas.

From my own direct experience the number in the title of a post is going to be arrived at in 2 ways. The author a) writes the article/script then b) counts up the number of points they've made and then titles the post/video accordingly OR the author sets themselves an arbitrary goal of things to say about a given topic (assume 10) then attempts to write on that topic and starts a) struggling at a lower number or b) bloats out to a higher number, then they rename the post accordingly.

List-headlines suggest or imply some comprehensive checklist, particularly when it pertains to advice - but rarely is this the case, simply because so many of them come out they are anything but comprehensive well considered reductions of any particular issue down to its essential core-components. So I feel it healthy to be skeptical about content organised into lists even from reputable or more serious sites than those that publish videos involving the words 'guys' and 'girls'. For the same reason a lot of smart people are aware that the 24 hour news channels have resulted in lower quality journalism, Cracked.com publishing a new 5 reasons blah blah blah are secretly terrifying video 3 times a week is not the best dedication of your attention. (yet the same smart people seemingly can't break their addiction to news content).

I don't deal in certainties, and prefer heuristics and as such tempting though it is to bridge a small gap of boredom with some list based curiosity, I'm betting against the credibility of the author precisely because they are probably shitting out content for contents sake. Few list shitters then I suspect treat like a 'drawing a day' challenge of artist to build up the discipline of drawing daily, or to warm up before going onto a more serious piece or to develop new skills and competences but instead to build up followers and try and train an audience that you are a ready source of distraction.

Another far more speculative thing to be leery of with lists is that they are easy to digest. A concession perhaps as to the scarcity of attention. Instead of reading a rambling length of prose like this they are giving you individually wrapped slices of processed thought for you. Almost like someone is giving you a 30 second cram prep to make a speech. I don't know how true it is or if anyone's looked at this aspect but it perhaps contributes to the worldwide phenomena of conversations becoming far more homogenous, simply because the content is delivered in a way to discourage behavior like 'active listening' which I'm not good at but generally involves rephrasing what you've just been told by somebody and clarifying whether that is what they are saying. Why do that if you just have 5 reasons 9-11 was an inside job? You just have to remember 5 things and you can regurgitate the case right up for whoever is willing to listen.

I don't want to present no possible solutions, so here are some to plug the gap that list based articles may leave on your touchscreen phone as you sit on the can at work on an unofficial break - mindfulness of course eliminates the phenomena of boredom in your life and is kind of a blanket solution for all media-consumption related problems. If you can't be bothered meditating though what I much prefer doing is looking up a specific concept:
Notice how there's an actual exhaustive list for the subject you are interested in. Look for specific concept rather than distraction. You could also try looking up the etymology of words, that often works for me as an insightful distraction.

Anyway, although this isn't a formal list, someone else you should probably stop listening to is Jon Oliver. And of course Jon Oliver is a pariah in this sense because he simply sits atop the heirarchy of people characterized as 'progressive' 'social justice warriors' 'PC liberals' etc. Of these I like 'progressive' the best because it is the most descriptive of the behavior. And I should clarify, I am not a conservative myself. I most often agree with the positions Jon Oliver takes, what I disagree with is the effectiveness of his methodology albeit he's more effective than most of his progressive fans.

The reason I like progressive as the prefered term is because it intuitively captures the naivete of such arguments. Basically it goes like this 'the reason this is bad is simply because you don't know it is bad, I'm telling you it's bad so now you know - now if you keep doing the bad thing you are bad and unless you want to be bad you must not do the bad thing anymore in order to be good.' Which is embarrassingly naive and almost universally tempting.

While doctors often suffer from ignorance of the domain specific nature of their learnedness (they are I'm told, notoriously bad investors) one thing I'm sure many of them do learn in their rookie years is that problems are rarely solved simply through informing. Smokers are not ignorant of the health risks cigarettes pose, or the addictive nature of nicotene just as overweight patients are not ignorant that eating healthy and exercising will reduce a lot of their needs for medical attention. I doubt you would lack the experience of knowing not to procrastinate on an assignment or not to buy some piece of shit and then doing it anyway for emotional reasons.

These are all straightforward easy to understand examples when compared with the sort of things Jon Oliver advocates with righteous indignation. Transgender issues are quite complicated, often counter-intuitive and largely irrelevant to most people's lives. It's not to say that they should be ignored because that's precisely what allows minorities to be oppressed consistently over time, but nor should it be a crusade to punish anyone that caves to quite common emotions and intuitions on the subject - furthermore for all the digging I've done on gender (it is fascinating) where I stand is incredibly vague making it an easy example to identify and pick as problematic.

More problematic though, is that however comprehensive Oliver's research is Last Week Tonight is not so much a satirical news program as a news program. And it isn't so much a news program as an etiquette mill. What's an etiquette mill? It's a place that introduces etiquette to a mass - this is how to behave if you want membership to a group. I'm sure I've written on the distinction between etiquette and manners quite recently, but for self-containment I'll reiterate - manners are a community building set of behavior because they particularly focus on establishing behaviors regarding the treatment of strangers. Etiquette is a community dividing set of behaviors because they focus on identifying members of an in-group.

Last-week-tonight could be a really great program, it seemed to be initially given that it only came out once a week (a contrarian approach to the 24 hours newstainment channels) and that they seemed to deliberately avoid being topical - a newsprogram that was truly investigative and seemed to have as its mission finding stories that were important rather than simply recent. To a greater extent than not, this holds up. What to be wary of, and failing an ability to be guarded perhaps to simply avoid, is checking in with Jon Oliver because you think he is smart and to learn what smart people think because that is what you should think because you are smart and you certainly aren't dumb like all those dumb people who don't understand Trans-rights, net nuetrality, the Indian election, the infrastructure crisis, football stadium contracts, state lottery ad nauseum.

Be concerned if you want to be an elite thinker, rather than a mythical and actual elite - the people who somehow do have an impact on the world but don't agree with you for some reason we never really think about. I mean be empirical, Oliver isn't the only one, Colbert and Seth Myers invested many many hours, much more than Oliver into ridiculing Trump and also Brexit. Yet nothing about making sure their audiences understood just how wrong these things were allowed both President Trump or Brexit to be avoided. You could be forgiven for saying that Brexit empirically doesn't prove shit, because these are all American commentators that did most of their commenting after the fact. But post November 2nd you have to conclude that all the information you absorbed, all that knowledge didn't ripple out and stop what you knew to be wrong from winning out.

I've looked at this myself, and here's what I feel might be a good approach to enacting meaningful change - if 5 months ago someone simply asked me 'Trump or Clinton' and I said 'Clinton' I didn't need any more information from the media to know how I felt. But I did, I watched with voyeuristic glee monologue after monologue of the entertaining things Trump did every day. Which in hindsight tells me I wasn't getting armed and equipped with effective knowledge - know how that I could use to effect something somehow. I was hunkering down in a shelter and hoping the storm would blow over.

I find myself skewered by my own need for personal consistency - I can't hold my head in sympathetic embarrassment for all those certified fools known commonly as economists and financiers who couldn't admit that the GFC debunked neoclassical economics and gaussian based risk management, They are almost a decade on doing the same shit and teaching the same shit.

It isn't like progressives aren't informative. They are people with a hard on for the frontiers of knowledge. By keeping up to speed with the forefront of human thought they are emotionally invested in a simple recipe for navigating life, and frustrated by life's inability to conform with an assumed universally applicable informational advantage. Frustrated but seldom defeated.

Be mindful firstly that it's impossible to tell if you are incompetent. Mark Twain had this beautiful caution that reaches across a century now -  'The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.' So if you think you are smart pick an easy target for folly like a 9-11 truther or vaccine skeptic and consider that whatever fragments of information they find sufficient to convince themselves of their position in the face of contrary evidence suspect that you may too have been easily persuaded to take a stance on some/any topic that you actually know next to nothing about.

Then get empirical, as you applaud the Canadian Prime Minister for remarking that it's 2016 so equal cabinet positions for women, remind yourself that it is 2016 and their are people walking the earth who haven't foresaken hunter-gathering lifestyles yet (and are possibly/probably recruiting) It's 2016 and young people are discovering Led Zeppelin and Seinfeld every day, and Jesus' admonition to first remove the log from thine own eye is still up-to-the-second-relevant appreciate the irony of calling someone out for reducing gender to a binary when you yourself fail to recognize 'progress' as a spectrum.

So apart from accepting that informed etiquette doesn't work, what else to plug the Jon hole that remains? Finding an in group that appeals to your sense of alienation within your own community can be hard to go cold turkey on - may I suggest just watering your beverage of choice down? Seth Myer's closer look segment is more frequent and quite similar to Last Week Tonight in Sentiment but with less emphasis on finding neglected news stories. It does come with one advantage though - Seth himself is less charismatic than Jon and as such you are less likely to put a halo around him and second guess when he tells you how it is.

I also recommend looking for listeners as well. Much better to listen to a listener than a teller. Malcolm Gladwell is great, he feels passionate about his topics and has that rare ability to not be emotionally invested in any of the solutions or findings he has sought out. He's a genuinely curious person, his indignation seems sincere rather than a reliable comedy shtick to wack like Oliver's more righteous breed of indignation. Dave McCraney's podcast/blog series is great because it deals with bias' fallacies and irrationality - a perfect antidote for those frustrated by the limits of reason to reach emotional people.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that you should stop listening to the news. And by news I'm tempted to say 'actual news' but it feels inappropriate. I was watching old footage of Jon Stewart appearing on something (not his own show) some years ago so I am not going to bother digging up the clip but he dropped a very curious but important concept in the interview. He mentioned that Fox News viewers were consistently found to be the most misinformed. It occured to me then and there that you can actually objectively measure a lot of the time - how informed or misinformed someone is.

Climate change makes for an easy example, because it is a hard science. That means indisputable facts are known - so you can just like administering a test on algebra - determine what someone knows and doesn't know. It would be tedious to constantly test the population in this way, but less so to actually objectively grade news sources on whether they are informative or anti-informative.

I myself was persuaded long before Jon Stewart, that one can actually increase they're level of informedness by reducing their intake of information. I was persuaded by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his 'narrative fallacy' is worth looking into. I was convinced though on the uselessness of news by reflecting on the most usefull piece of news I'd ever known to have been broadcast. It is documented in Eli Wiesal's autobiography 'Night' recounting his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

If ever there was news anyone could use, it was what Shlomo offered his fellow Jews one evening when he ran into town and informed them that German's were rounding up Jews, deporting them and killing them. And they ignored this most useful piece of news ever, and hence we have the book 'Night'. Which above and beyond having news services that deny the severity and origins of climate change, we need to keep stock that we aren't particularly good at hearing news we don't want to be true. So why then, devote so much time to watching the news and 'getting informed'?

It's really a mystery to me.