Life is Short

Having kids showed me how to convert a continuous quantity, time, into discrete quantities. You only get 52 weekends with your 2 year old. If Christmas-as-magic lasts from say ages 3 to 10, you only get to watch your child experience it 8 times.

If life is short, we should expect its shortness to take us by surprise. And that is just what tends to happen. You take things for granted, and then they’re gone. You think you can always write that book, or climb that mountain, or whatever, and then you realize the window has closed. The saddest windows close when other people die. Their lives are short too.

One heuristic for distinguishing stuff that matters is to ask yourself whether you’ll care about it in the future. Fake stuff that matters usually has a sharp peak of seeming to matter. That’s how it tricks you. The area under the curve is small, but its shape jabs into your consciousness like a pin.

Cultivate a habit of impatience about the things you most want to do. Don’t wait before climbing that mountain or writing that book or visiting your mother. You don’t need to be constantly reminding yourself why you shouldn’t wait. Just don’t wait.

Source: Life is Short, by Paul Graham

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts – The New York Times

As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture. What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from.

A misleading distinction between fact and opinion is embedded in the Common Core.

When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

First, the definition of a fact waffles between truth and proof — two obviously different features. Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.

But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both.

How does the dichotomy between fact and opinion relate to morality? … Kids are asked to sort facts from opinions and, without fail, every value claim is labeled as an opinion.

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.

We can do better. Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct.

Source: Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts – The New York Times

What You Can’t Say

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.

obviously false statements might be treated as jokes, or at worst as evidence of insanity, but they are not likely to make anyone mad. The statements that make people mad are the ones they worry might be believed. I suspect the statements that make people maddest are those they worry might be true.

What if no one happens to have gotten in trouble for a particular idea yet? What if some idea would be so radioactively controversial that no one would dare express it in public? How can we find these too?

Another approach is to follow that word, heresy. In every period of history, there seem to have been labels that got applied to statements to shoot them down before anyone had a chance to ask if they were true or not.

So another way to figure out which of our taboos future generations will laugh at is to start with the labels. Take a label—”sexist”, for example—and try to think of some ideas that would be called that. Then for each ask, might this be true?

Just start listing ideas at random? Yes, because they won’t really be random. The ideas that come to mind first will be the most plausible ones. They’ll be things you’ve already noticed but didn’t let yourself think.

I suspect the only taboos that are more than taboos are the ones that are universal, or nearly so. Murder for example.

How do moral fashions arise, and why are they adopted? If we can understand this mechanism, we may be able to see it at work in our own time.

Moral fashions more often seem to be created deliberately. When there’s something we can’t say, it’s often because some group doesn’t want us to. The prohibition will be strongest when the group is nervous.

When you find something you can’t say, what do you do with it? My advice is, don’t say it. Or at least, pick your battles. … I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. … The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work.

A lot of the questions people get hot about are actually quite complicated. There is no prize for getting the answer quickly.

It’s not just the mob you need to learn to watch from a distance. You need to be able to watch your own thoughts from a distance.

Source: What You Can’t Say by Paul Graham

The psychology of hate: How we deny human beings their humanity –

From slavery to genocide, society has shown a terrifying ability to disregard the personhood of others. Here’s why

For psychologists, distance is not just physical space. It is also psychological space, the degree to which you feel closely connected to someone else. … Distance keeps your sixth sense disengaged for at least two reasons. First, your ability to understand the minds of others can be triggered by your physical senses. When you’re too far away in physical space, those triggers do not get pulled. Second, your ability to understand the minds of others is also engaged by your cognitive inferences. Too far away in psychological space—too different, too foreign, too other—and those triggers, again, do not get pulled.

The mistake that can arise when you fail to engage with the minds of others is that you may come to think of them as relatively mindless. That is, you may come to think that these others have less going on between their ears than, say, you do. … the most basic and fundamental experience you have of your own mind: your sense of free will. … Are others as free to choose as you are, or do they have less free will? Are they more beholden to their circumstances or their environments or their rigid ideologies than you are?

When the mind of another person looks relatively dim because you are not engaged with it directly, it does not mean that the other person’s mind is actually dimmer. … More subtle versions of that disengagement are common, and the mistakes they create can lead us to be less wise about the minds of others than we could be.

Source: The psychology of hate: How we deny human beings their humanity –

Welcome to the world of tomorrow | Knowledge Brings Fear

This article is a bit old at this point, but the article is still coherent.

Strategically it all points to massive investments into internal security.

Presenting the problem to the population as a mutually exclusive choice between an uncertain dangerous freedom and an assured survival under the securing umbrella of the trustworthy state becomes more easy the further the various crises develop. The more wealthy parts of the population will certainly require protection from illegal immigrants, criminals, terrorists and implicitly also from the anger of less affluent citizens.

“Terrorism” is the theme of the day, others will follow. And these “themes” can and will be used to mold the western societies into something that has never been seen before: a democratically legitimated police state, ruled by an unaccountable elite with total surveillance, made efficient and largely unobtrusive by modern technology. With the enemy (immigrants, terrorists, climate catastrophe refugees, criminals, the poor, mad scientists, strange diseases) at the gates, the price that needs to be paid for “security” will look acceptable.

First principle of 21st century police state: All those who “have nothing to hide” should not be bothered unnecessarily.

With access to all the information outlined above, we will end up with a system of selective enforcement. It is impossible to live in a complex society without violating a rule here and there from time to time, often even without noticing it. If all these violations are documented and available for prosecution, the whole fabric of society changes dramatically.

Thinking about what can be done with the results of one’s work is one thing. Refusing to do the job because it could be to the worse of mankind is something completely different.

We will need to build technology to preserve the freedom of speech, the freedom of thought, the freedom of communication, there is no other long-term solution. Political barriers to total surveillance have a very limited half-life period. … Maintaining the political breathing spaces becomes more important than what this space is used for.

Often there is considerable freedom to design within the limits of our day jobs. We need to use this freedom to build systems in a way that they collect as little data as possible, use encryption and provide anonymity as much as possible. We need to create a culture around that.

We are facing an enemy that is euphemistically called “Global Observer” in research papers. This is meant literally. You can no longer rely on information or communication being “overlooked” or “hidden in the noise”. Everything is on file. Forever. And it can and will be used against you.

Source: Welcome to the world of tomorrow | Knowledge Brings Fear