We Are All Confident Idiots

In many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

What this study illustrates is another general way — in addition to our cradle-born errors — in which humans frequently generate misbeliefs: We import knowledge from appropriate settings into ones where it is inappropriate.

Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise not from primitive childlike intuitions or careless category errors, but from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals.

The way we traditionally conceive of ignorance — as an absence of knowledge — leads us to think of education as its natural antidote. But education can produce illusory confidence.

In the classroom, some of best techniques for disarming misconceptions are essentially variations on the Socratic method. … Then, of course, there is the problem of rampant misinformation in places that, unlike classrooms, are hard to control — like the Internet and news media. In these Wild West settings, it’s best not to repeat common misbeliefs at all.

The most difficult misconceptions to dispel, of course, are those that reflect sacrosanct beliefs. And the truth is that often these notions can’t be changed.

But here is the real challenge: How can we learn to recognize our own ignorance and misbeliefs? … For individuals, the trick is to be your own devil’s advocate: to think through how your favored conclusions might be misguided; to ask yourself how you might be wrong, or how things might turn out differently from what you expect.

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all.

The built-in features of our brains, and the life experiences we accumulate, do in fact fill our heads with immense knowledge; what they do not confer is insight into the dimensions of our ignorance. As such, wisdom may not involve facts and formulas so much as the ability to recognize when a limit has been reached. Stumbling through all our cognitive clutter just to recognize a true “I don’t know” may not constitute failure as much as it does an enviable success, a crucial signpost that shows us we are traveling in the right direction toward the truth.

Source: We Are All Confident Idiots

Peekaboo, I See You: Government Authority Intended for Terrorism is Used for Other Purposes | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Patriot Act continues to wreak its havoc on civil liberties. Section 213 was included in the Patriot Act over the protests of privacy advocates and granted law enforcement the power to conduct a search while delaying notice to the suspect of the search. Known as a “sneak and peek” warrant, law enforcement was adamant Section 213 was needed to protect against terrorism. But the latest government report detailing the numbers of “sneak and peek” warrants reveals that out of a total of over 11,000 sneak and peek requests, only 51 were used for terrorism.

Source: Peekaboo, I See You: Government Authority Intended for Terrorism is Used for Other Purposes | Electronic Frontier Foundation


I think the most frightening thing is considering this information alongside the “targeted killing” drone assassination program permitted to target even American citizens for death, anywhere on Earth, at any time, for secret reasons that a person meets a secret definition of the enemy, based on secret evidence, in a secret process undertaken by unidentified officials. Oh sure, the first few targets were legitimate terrorism targets, but what about the next thousand?

The Grand Illusion | Lapham’s Quarterly

this sense of flow is a monstrous illusion—so says contemporary physics. And Newton was as much a victim of this illusion as the rest of us are. It was Albert Einstein who initiated the revolution in our understanding of time. In 1905, Einstein proved that time, as it had been understood by physicist and plain man alike, was a fiction. Our idea of time, Einstein realized, is abstracted from our experience with rhythmic phenomena: heartbeats, planetary rotations and revolutions, the swinging of pendulums, the ticking of clocks. Time judgments always come down to judgments of what happens at the same time—of simultaneity. … What Einstein had shown was that there is no universal “now.” Whether two events are simultaneous is relative to the observer. And once simultaneity goes by the board, the very division of moments into “past,” “present,” and “future” becomes meaningless.

Does time have a future? Yes, but how much of a future depends on what the ultimate fate of the cosmos turns out to be.

If there is one proposition about time that all scientifically inclined thinkers can agree on, it might be one due to the nonscientist Hector Berlioz, who is reputed to have quipped, “Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils.”

Source: The Grand Illusion | Lapham’s Quarterly

Prohibition, Affirmative Consent | Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Similar sexual assault policy changes at Harvard have spurred 28 Harvard Law professors to write a letter of objection, noting that due process and the rights of the accused are seriously threatened by policies that compromise the presumption of innocence and affirmative burden of proof. But those who defend the law likely have a legitimate complaint with the burden of proof as it currently stands: namely, people don’t tend to believe women when they claim they’ve been assaulted.

I agree: the fact that women are not generally perceived to be as credible as men is a real feminist issue. … Affirmative consent laws will not actually address the problem that women are generally viewed as less credible than men.

Nobody is claiming rape isn’t wrong or that it isn’t a problem, but the fact is that it is already illegal, and much of the struggle against the failures of the legal system in handling rape cases will consist of destroying the delusion that women are not credible agents. Affirmative consent laws will be no help there, and may well do some harm.

Source: Prohibition, Affirmative Consent | Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
archive: Prohibition, Affirmative Consent | Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Additional: An Appalling Case for Affirmative-Consent Laws – The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf

China’s Dangerous Game – The Atlantic

The country’s intensifying efforts to redraw maritime borders have its neighbors, and the U.S., fearing war. But does the aggression reflect a government growing in power—or one facing a crisis of legitimacy?

However willy-nilly these provocations may at first appear, the struggle that China has launched for dominance of the western Pacific is anything but indiscriminate.

paradoxically, China’s new behavior appears to be a reflection not only of rising capability or self-confidence, but also of rising insecurity among the Communist Party leadership, whose legitimacy in the country’s post-ideological era has always rested on the narrow twin pillars of strong economic performance and nationalism.

Source: China’s Dangerous Game – The Atlantic

Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters | TED Talk | TED.com

There is a very common sentiment that arises in this debate, … which says that there is no real harm that comes from this large-scale invasion because only people who are engaged in bad acts have a reason to want to hide and to care about their privacy. This worldview is implicitly grounded in the proposition that there are two kinds of people in the world, good people and bad people.

What they’re really saying is, “I have agreed to make myself such a harmless and unthreatening and uninteresting person that I actually don’t fear having the government know what it is that I’m doing.”

when you say, “somebody who is doing bad things,” you probably mean things like plotting a terrorist attack or engaging in violent criminality, a much narrower conception of what people who wield power mean when they say, “doing bad things.” For them, “doing bad things” typically means doing something that poses meaningful challenges to the exercise of our own power.

Source: Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

On YouTube: Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

Transcript: Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters

The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women – The Atlantic

Under the banner of free speech, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been host to rape videos and revenge porn—which makes female users feel anything but free.

All of this raised a series of troubling questions: Who’s proliferating this violent content? Who’s controlling its dissemination? Should someone be?

Jillian C. York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is one of many civil libertarians who believe Facebook and other social media platforms should not screen this, or any, content at all. “It of course must be noted that the company—like any company—is well within its rights to regulate speech as it sees fit,” she wrote in a May 2013 piece in Slate in response to growing activism. “The question is not can Facebook censor speech, but rather, should it?” She argues that censoring any content “sets a dangerous precedent for special interest groups looking to bring their pet issue to the attention of Facebook’s censors.”

When the problem involves half the world’s population, it’s difficult to classify it as a “pet issue.” What’s more, there are free speech issues on both sides of the regulated content equation. “We have the expressive interests of the harassers to threaten, to post photos, to spread defamation, rape threats, lies on the one hand,” explains Citron. “And on the other hand you have the free speech interests, among others, of the victims, who are silenced and are driven offline.”

Soraya, Bates, and Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action, and Media, a media justice advocacy group, joined forces and launched a social media campaign designed to attract advertisers’ attention. The ultimate goal was to press Facebook to recognize explicit violence against women as a violation of its own prohibitions against hate speech, graphic violence, and harassment.

As President Obama put it in mid-September, “It is on all of us to reject the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and to refuse to accept what’s unacceptable.”

Source: The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women – The Atlantic


I think the platform is an extremely important factor in the seriousness of communication because of its foundation for the context of that communication. Furthermore, specifically for the internet, there are jurisdictional issues which would have far ranging consequences if solved with only “violence against women” in mind. Many empowered western-culture women may reasonably wish to have threatening internet comments prosecuted the same way as if those comments had been physically snail-mailed to them, even if the sender/commenter is foreign from abroad. However, that opens the door to the question about prosecutions in the other direction, which I would find far more problematic.

This to me begs the question “What is good enough?”

iPhone Encryption and the Return of the Crypto Wars – Schneier on Security

You can’t build a backdoor that only the good guys can walk through. Encryption protects against cybercriminals, industrial competitors, the Chinese secret police and the FBI. You’re either vulnerable to eavesdropping by any of them, or you’re secure from eavesdropping from all of them.

Source: iPhone Encryption and the Return of the Crypto Wars – Schneier on Security