Q&A With Alan Jacobs, Author of ‘How to Think’ – The Atlantic

Source: Q&A With Alan Jacobs, Author of ‘How to Think’ – The Atlantic

Maybe it’s inevitable that today’s hyper-partisanship and lightening-fast news cycles have left the open-minded Jacobs frustrated with America’s low tolerance for disagreement—a political order characterized by “willful incomprehension [and] toxic suspicion”

In a pluralistic society, people struggle to deal with difference. One of the ways in which we typically deal with difference is by drawing really clear lines of belonging and not-belonging.

Green: Do you think people are obligated to engage with an opposing viewpoint if enough people hold that view?

Jacobs: I do think that’s true. When a position is really widely held, it’s not really a safe option to deem it out of bounds.

I want to be generous, and I want to be civil, and I want to be kind. I want to listen to people who are very different from me. I want to keep doing that, even if I don’t make things better. I also want to be aware of the ways in which a plea for civility can be a way of consolidating power. It’s pretty easy to be me in America. … I want to remember that and not chastise people for being uncivil when they have what Martin Luther King Jr. called “legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” I do want to promote civility, but I want to promote it more by example than by lecturing people on how they can be more civil.

Is the American Idea Doomed? – The Atlantic

Source: Is the American Idea Doomed? – The Atlantic, by Yoni Appelbaum

Not yet—but it has precious few supporters on either the left or the right.

The American idea, Parker declared in an 1850 speech, comprised three elements: that all people are created equal, that all possess unalienable rights, and that all should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights. Securing them required “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” Parker said.

When the Union prevailed, it enshrined this vision in the Constitution … The United States and its allies triumphed in two world wars and in a third that was undeclared—the first, Woodrow Wilson said, waged so that the world might “be made safe for democracy”; the second, Franklin D. Roosevelt explained, “to meet the threat to our democratic faith”; and the third, Ronald Reagan declared, to settle “the question of freedom for all mankind.” Each victory brought with it a fresh surge of democratization around the world. And each surge ebbed, in part because the pursuit of equality, rights, and opportunity guarantees ongoing contention while the alternatives offer the illusion of stability.

It is no surprise that younger Americans have lost faith in a system that no longer seems to deliver on its promise—and yet, the degree of their disillusionment is stunning.

Even as the left is made queasy by the notion that an idea can be both good and distinctively American, many on the right now doubt that America is a land defined by a distinctive idea at all.

The greatest danger facing American democracy is complacence. The democratic experiment is fragile, and its continued survival improbable. Salvaging it will require enlarging opportunity, restoring rights, and pursuing equality, and thereby renewing faith in the system that delivers them. This, really, is the American idea: that prosperity and justice do not exist in tension, but flow from each other. Achieving that ideal will require fighting as if the fate of democracy itself rests upon the struggle—because it does.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian

Source: ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian

The Google, Apple and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet. Paul Lewis reports on the Silicon Valley refuseniks who worry the race for human attention has created a world of perpetual distraction that could ultimately end in disaster

“One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before,” Rosenstein says. It may or may not be relevant that Rosenstein, Pearlman and most of the tech insiders questioning today’s attention economy are in their 30s, members of the last generation that can remember a world in which telephones were plugged into walls.

It is revealing that many of these younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: never get high on your own supply.

Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”

But are we? If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected to exercise our free will?

[Roger McNamee] identifies the advent of the smartphone as a turning point, raising the stakes in an arms race for people’s attention. “Facebook and Google assert with merit that they are giving users what they want,” McNamee says. “The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers.”

“The people who run Facebook and Google are good people, whose well-intentioned strategies have led to horrific unintended consequences,” he says. “The problem is that there is nothing the companies can do to address the harm unless they abandon their current advertising models.”

If the attention economy erodes our ability to remember, to reason, to make decisions for ourselves – faculties that are essential to self-governance – what hope is there for democracy itself?

The Rules of the Gun Control Debate – The Atlantic

Source: The Rules of the Gun Control Debate – The Atlantic

The rules for discussing firearms in the United States obscure the obvious solutions.

A village has been built in the deepest gully of a floodplain.

At regular intervals, flash floods wipe away houses, killing all inside. Less dramatic—but more lethal—is the steady toll as individual villagers slip and drown in the marshes around them.

After especially deadly events, the villagers solemnly discuss what they might do to protect themselves. Perhaps they might raise their homes on stilts? But a powerful faction among the villagers is always at hand to explain why these ideas won’t work. “No law can keep our village safe! The answer is that our people must learn to be better swimmers – and oh by the way, you said ‘stilts’ when the proper term is ‘piles,’ so why should anybody listen to you?”

So the argument rages, without result, year after year, decade after decade, fatalities mounting all the while. Nearby villages, built in the hills, marvel that the gully-dwellers persist in their seemingly reckless way of life. But the gully-dwellers counter that they are following the wishes of their Founders, whose decisions two centuries ago must always be upheld by their descendants.

the surest sign that gun advocates know how lethal the science is for their cause is their determination to suppress it: since the mid-1990s, Republicans in Congress have successfully cut off federal funding for non-industry gun-safety research. That’s not what you do when the facts are on your side.

Americans insist instead on seeking the one technical fix that would save lives without reducing guns. It’s an illusion for which Americans annually pay a higher price in blood than they shed in most of the nation’s wars.

Challenging the Dogmas of Right and Left – The Atlantic

Source: Challenging the Dogmas of Right and Left – The Atlantic, by David Frum

Two authors, Mark Lilla and Henry Olsen, see a politics rejecting the broad messages of Roosevelt and Reagan for the narrow claims of victim-group grievance and purist ideology.

Olsen and Lilla share a message: Politics must be affirmative. Opposition—whether to “big government” or “white supremacy”—is a mood, not a program.

The haunting question behind both books, however, is whether there still exists the social basis for the politics they want.

 

RE:
The Once and Future Liberal, by Mark Lilla
The Working Class Republican, by Henry Olsen

Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » The Kolmogorov option

Source: Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » The Kolmogorov option

It seems likely that in every culture, there have been truths, which moreover everyone knows to be true on some level, but which are so corrosive to the culture’s moral self-conception that one can’t assert them, or even entertain them seriously, without (in the best case) being ostracized for the rest of one’s life.

Does this mean that, like Winston Smith, the iconoclast simply must accept that 2+2=5, and that a boot will stamp on a human face forever? No, not at all. Instead the iconoclast can choose what I think of as the Kolmogorov option. This is where you build up fortresses of truth in places the ideological authorities don’t particularly understand or care about, like pure math, or butterfly taxonomy, or irregular verbs. You avoid a direct assault on any beliefs your culture considers necessary for it to operate. You even seek out common ground with the local enforcers of orthodoxy. Best of all is a shared enemy, and a way your knowledge and skills might be useful against that enemy. … Meanwhile, you wait for a moment when, because of social tectonic shifts beyond your control, the ruling ideology has become fragile enough that truth-tellers acting in concert really can bring it down. You accept that this moment of reckoning might never arrive, or not in your lifetime. But even if so, you could still be honored by future generations for building your local pocket of truth, and for not giving falsehood any more aid or comfort than was necessary for your survival.

Hilbert said that science, unlike religion, has no need for martyrs, because it’s based on facts that can’t be denied indefinitely.

There’s a quiet dignity to Kolmogorov’s (and Galileo’s) approach: a dignity that I suspect will be alien to many, but recognizable to those in the business of science.

Against Signal-Boosting As Doxxing | Slate Star Codex

Source: Against Signal-Boosting As Doxxing | Slate Star Codex

the goal of being pro-free-speech isn’t to make a really liberal-sounding law code. It’s to create a society where it’s actually possible to hold dissenting opinions, where ideas really do get judged by merit rather than by who’s powerful enough to shut down whom.

A quick philosophical digression: what are we even doing here? My thought is: we’re trying to hash out a social norm. We expect this social norm to be sometimes in our favor and sometimes against us, so we want it to be universalizable and desirable under a veil of ignorance.

On that note: let him who is without sin throw the first stone. Have any of you ever said or done anything which, if signal-boosted [and taken out of context], would be very embarrassing and might prevent you from getting a job?

In a world where an average of 250 resumes are received for each corporate position, how convincing does an effort have to be to ruin somebody’s life? Do you think your dream company is going to spend a long time sorting through each claim and counterclaim to determine that the highly-Google-ranked page about you claiming you’re unfit to work in your industry is mostly unfair? No. They’re just going to cut their risks and move on to the other 249 candidates.

But don’t let the fact that it’s bizarre make you think it isn’t important. How many of us can say, honestly, that we could bear the Panopticon? If every valley were raised up and every mountain pulled down, so there was nowhere to hide, and we were rendered naked to any eye anywhere in the world, how long could we endure? Wouldn’t we retreat into ourselves, turtle-like, afraid to ever speak at all?

it’s a package deal, people. Either promote good social norms, or be destroyed by the bad ones when the tide turns against you.

The Mystery of Why Japanese People Are Having So Few Babies – The Atlantic

Source: The Mystery of Why Japanese People Are Having So Few Babies – The Atlantic

Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.

Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.

Japan’s problems have implications for the United States, where temporary jobs are common, and where union power is getting weaker with every year. As I’ve written before, men are struggling in many regions of the country because of the decline of manufacturing and the opioid epidemic. And studies have shown that as men’s economic prospects decline, so do their chances of marrying. The U.S.’s fertility rate is already at historic lows—and worsening economic conditions for men could further depress it.

I Blame The Babel Fish · Jacques Mattheij

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”
— ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams

 

Why is the world moving towards a more authoritarian kind of rule all of a sudden, and why is this happening now. Me, I blame the Babel Fish.

Source: I Blame The Babel Fish · Jacques Mattheij

The cost of almost all forms of communication, written, voice, video, worldwide to an unbelievably large audience is now essentially zero. The language barrier is still there but automatic translation is getting better and better and it won’t be forever or we really can communicate with everybody, instantaneously. That kind of power – because it is a power, I don’t doubt that one bit – comes with great responsibility.

If what you say or write is heard only by people already in your environment, who know you and who can apply some contextual filters then the damage that you can do is somewhat limited.

But if you start handing out megaphones that can reach untold millions of people in a heartbeat, and combine that with the unfiltered, raw output and responses of another couple of million of people then something qualitatively changes

Removing barriers is generally good, and should be welcomed. But we also should be aware that those barriers may have had positive sides and that as a species we are not very well positioned to deal with such immense changes in a very short time.

Great power comes with great responsibility, the power to communicate with anybody instantaneously at zero cost is such a power.

Against Murderism | Slate Star Codex

People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.

Source: Against Murderism | Slate Star Codex, by Scott Alexander