Viral Outrage Is Collapsing Our Worlds | The Atlantic

Source: Viral Outrage Is Collapsing Our Worlds | The Atlantic, by Conor Friedersdorf

The ability to slip into a domain and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining identities in other domains is something most Americans value, both to live in peace amid difference and for personal reasons.

I wonder whether ongoing debates about matters as varied as Facebook user-data practices, “the right to be forgotten,” NSA data collection, and any number of public-shaming controversies are usefully considered under the umbrella framework of How is new technology affecting our ability to keep our various worlds from colliding when we don’t want them to, and what, if anything, should we do about that?

What would the implications be of adopting the norm that it is often wrong, or only rarely appropriate, to rob an individual of the ability to slip into a given domain and adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate while retaining their identities in other domains?

What would be the worst consequences? How might we shift the cultural equilibrium to value domain-slipping more highly while recognizing its practical and moral limits? What tradeoffs are involved?

Believing without evidence is always morally wrong | Aeon

Source: Believing without evidence is always morally wrong | Aeon, by Francisco Mejia Uribe

[William Kingdon Clifford’s] once seemingly exaggerated claim that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality.

In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. … The most natural objection to this first argument is that while it might be true that some of our beliefs do lead to actions that can be devastating for others, in reality most of what we believe is probably inconsequential for our fellow humans. … I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined.

The second argument Clifford provides to back his claim that it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. Clifford puts it nicely: ‘No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character.’

Clifford’s third and final argument as to why believing without evidence is morally wrong is that, in our capacity as communicators of belief, we have the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge. … While Clifford’s final argument rings true, it again seems exaggerated to claim that every little false belief we harbour is a moral affront to common knowledge. Yet reality, once more, is aligning with Clifford, and his words seem prophetic. Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us. And it’s the same reservoir that search engines tap into when we seek answers to our questions and acquire new beliefs. Add the wrong ingredients into the Big Data recipe, and what you’ll get is a potentially toxic output. If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now.

A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come | The Atlantic

Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.

Source: A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come | The Atlantic, by Anne Applebaum

Who gets to define a nation? And who, therefore, gets to rule a nation? For a long time, we have imagined that these questions were settled—but why should they ever be?

In monarchies such as prerevolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: … we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

Lenin’s one-party state was based on different values. It overthrew the aristocratic order. But it did not put a competitive model in place. The Bolshevik one-party state was not merely undemocratic; it was also anticompetitive and antimeritocratic. Places in universities, civil-service jobs, and roles in government and industry did not go to the most industrious or the most capable. Instead, they went to the most loyal.

You can call this sort of thing by many names: nepotism, state capture. But if you so choose, you can also describe it in positive terms: It represents the end of the hateful notions of meritocracy and competition, principles that, by definition, never benefited the less successful. A rigged and uncompetitive system sounds bad if you want to live in a society run by the talented. But if that isn’t your primary interest, then what’s wrong with it? … Why should different parties be allowed to compete on an even playing field if only one of them has the moral right to form the government? Why should businesses be allowed to compete in a free market if only some of them are loyal to the party and therefore deserving of wealth?

In truth, the argument about who gets to rule is never over, particularly in an era when people have rejected aristocracy, and no longer believe that leadership is inherited at birth or that the ruling class is endorsed by God. Some of us, in Europe and North America, have settled on the idea that various forms of democratic and economic competition are the fairest alternative to inherited or ordained power.

But we should not have been surprised—I should not have been surprised—when the principles of meritocracy and competition were challenged. Democracy and free markets can produce unsatisfying outcomes, after all, especially when badly regulated, or when nobody trusts the regulators, or when people are entering the contest from very different starting points. Sooner or later, the losers of the competition were always going to challenge the value of the competition itself.

More to the point, the principles of competition, even when they encourage talent and create upward mobility, don’t necessarily answer deeper questions about national identity, or satisfy the human desire to belong to a moral community. The authoritarian state, or even the semi-authoritarian state—the one-party state, the illiberal state—offers that promise: that the nation will be ruled by the best people, the deserving people, the members of the party, the believers in the Medium-Size Lie. It may be that democracy has to be bent or business corrupted or court systems wrecked in order to achieve that state. But if you believe that you are one of those deserving people, you will do it.

Americans Own Less Stuff, and That’s Reason to Be Nervous | Bloomberg Opinion

Source: Americans Own Less Stuff, and That’s Reason to Be Nervous | Bloomberg Opinion, by Tyler Cowen

What happens when a nation built on the concept of individual property ownership starts to give that up? … Lately I’ve been worrying about … the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.

The nation was based on the notion that property ownership gives individuals a stake in the system. It set Americans apart from feudal peasants, taught us how property rights and incentives operate, and was a kind of training for future entrepreneurship. Do we not, as parents, often give our children pets or other valuable possessions to teach them basic lessons of life and stewardship?

We’re hardly at a point where American property has been abolished, but I am still nervous that we are finding ownership to be so inconvenient. The notion of “possessive individualism” is sometimes mocked, but in fact it is a significant source of autonomy and initiative. Perhaps we are becoming more communal and caring in positive ways, but it also seems to be more conformist and to generate fewer empire builders and entrepreneurs.

The libertarian political theorist might tell you that arrangement is simply freedom of contract in action. But the more commonsensical, broad libertarian intuitions of the American public encapsulate a more brutish and direct sense that some things we simply own and hold the rights to.

Those are intuitions which are growing increasingly disconnected from reality, and no one knows what lies on the other side of this social experiment.


From Comments:

The article identifies some problems but totally misses their actual source. The problem isn’t that we own less stuff, it’s that the ownership is replaced by a dependency on a handful of corporations which we have no ability to influence or appeal to.

The substitution of individual ownership for a communal one in which individuals retain a stake – a real community, or at a larger scale, a democracy – is not inherently bad. The problem with our recent trend is that we aren’t getting communal ownership in return; we’re getting nothing but convenience.


Renting is giving up money for conditional access to an item. Owning is giving up liquidity for unconditional access to an item.

In renting, when you are done with the item, you terminate, yielding access and recouping none of the money. In ownership, when you are done with the item, you sell, yielding access and recouping some money.

High-end hobbyist equipment such as camera lenses and woodworking tools are great things to own; they offer great enjoyment, tend to retain value, and you can typically find a buyer if and when you want to sell.

Things that are difficult to sell and poor at retaining their value are good things to rent.

I’ve heard compelling arguments for both Renting and Owning of Houses and Cars and it really comes down to circumstances, but it’s always good to own something you can use and sell if the need arises.


> It’s pretty obvious to me that a deliberate and intentional effort has been made to ensure that only people who own a lot of property have any voice in the system; to flip that relationship around and make it a moral statement is frankly a little scary.

That’s not true. The reason why property ownership was required to vote is because in a democracy, the founders knew that if the majority of voters didn’t have property then they would eventually just vote to take away the property of others. But they also knew that if the majority of people didn’t own property then the government would also fail. So their solution was to only allow property owners to vote, but to make it easy and basically free for all citizens to become a property owners, and to heavily incentivize them to do so.

Early American democracy only worked because there was basically an unlimited amount of free land to give way. And to the extent that it still works, it’s because technology and intellectual property have replaced land as the primary sources of capital.

American democracy is designed around broad-based capital ownership, not broad-based ownership of stupid shit you don’t need. This is why this article doesn’t make sense, because it would be far better for democracy if e.g. the average American owned $20,000 worth of Uber stock rather than $20,000 worth of car. Stock is capital, whereas a personal car isn’t.


To understand the point of the author you need to look back, deeply back, at the history of human society. For most of human history, most people did not own any property. In a feudal society, for example, a few lords owned everything, and everyone else worked for them and owned nothing.

The “American experiment” was radical in that it placed the individual at the center of governance. The U.S. system of government is “built up” from citizen consent, not “pushed down” from a divinely-granted right of hereditary rule.

In order for this system to work, citizens must own property. Otherwise, they don’t have the resources to collectively enact change. The Bill of Rights presumes citizens who have the resources to speak, associate, petition, etc. That’s why it is worded to constrain the government’s power, not worded to grants things to citizens.

The fundamental idea behind American democracy is that Americans have the means to pursue their goals and to influence each other.

This is why it was so much easier for early U.S. citizens to found churches and corporations than it was in Europe. European churches and corporations were top-down, and therefore few and conservative. U.S. organizations were bottom-up, and therefore many, diverse, and innovative.

So… that’s why property ownership is at the heart of American democracy.

But what about:

> deliberate and intentional effort has been made to ensure that only people who own a lot of property have any voice in the system

There’s actually a lot of evidence against this, for example the entire labor and environmental movements. Collective citizen action has worked a lot of change to the U.S. over the years, and I predict it will continue to do so.

All that said, I think it’s a pretty far reach to claim that the American experiment is at risk because a few people don’t want to buy CD’s or cars anymore. People still like money and things! The real estate market is not drying up. There’s plenty of property being owned and desired by Americans.

I think that lack of money is a bigger issue. Over 40 million people in the U.S. live below the poverty line! I think that’s a much bigger problem for American “stake in the game” than whether someone who has disposable income decides to spend it on a Kindle instead of books.

Balding Out | Balding’s World

Source: Balding Out | Balding’s World, by Christopher Balding

If the law exists it should be enforced and consistent, otherwise it should be removed. Currently, the United States is going further and further in a direction where laws are applied inconsistently shifting from varying enforcement regimes under different executives. Law is not law if the government can choose whether to enforce it.

This applies as well to how everyone is treated. From a President we may have reason to suspect of illegal activity to an immigrant fighting for asylum, all are innocent until proven guilty and treated humanely. … America will not return to its principles by partisans justifying increasingly coarse behavior and rhetoric.

One of the reasons principles matter is that each side feels locked in a death struggle. Principles are unwelcome to many because there are times we do not like those principles or where our side will lose if we abide by that principle. The principle matters more than the short term win or loss. All powers we demand can be used against us at some point. America needs to return to seeking to uphold the highest of principles knowing there will be times our side loses because we chose to uphold a principle. In a democracy, you are going to lose based upon historical precedent, probably about 50% of the time. That is the point of democracy.