SciFi Science: Part 1

People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority, of course, adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx. -David Stove

The Matrix
Political theory is weird, and it has bugged me for years. There is obviously something useful in lots of political theory, but it doesn’t mesh nicely with empirical and scientific ideals of experimentation. Plenty of theorists, and even English professors write criticisms of Neoliberalism. They clearly think they are uncovering something interesting or true. Economists view most of these guys as idiots.

The problem is sometimes theorists are right (or at least sound right), even though they don’t follow understood scientific methods super closely. And sometimes experimental practitioners are wrong, even though they follow the scientific method closely. This varies between fields and problems. It ends up being very awkward. Frequently smart scientists will write inane political posts on Facebook, which they view as being separate and distinct from the scientific methodology they use.

I can’t stand having a scientific methodology that is so strangely inconsistent, and has no way of incorporating Facebook posts, political commentary, books, and random Post-modern theory, other than claiming it’s wrong. If it is wrong, we need to be able to explain why.

I always try to start my methods comparisons by imagining God’s matrix, and working backwards. God’s matrix is the computer that simulates our universe. God has no interest in different models of the world. After all, the best model of a cat is another cat, preferably the same one. Reality is a perfect model of itself, there is only one file. In order to test counterfactual worlds, all God has to do is copy the matrix to another simulation and change some conditions. Here I imagine God as some sort of algorithmic version of Laplace’s demon. I don’t know if this is the right way to think of the world, but it’s at least consistent with how we understand scientific and counterfactual inference to work.


When we run experiments we wish we could create a counterfactual universe, but we can’t. So instead we try to create a counterfactual universe within our own reality. Two random samples of 100 people is a lot like using the same 100 people but duplicating the universe. It’s not the same — but we can use sampling statistics to try and measure our variance. What does this have to do with political theory?

Before we go to political theory, I want to explain what I think of humans. Recently the technological progress of humans has created advanced algorithms to model the world. It’s hard to survey all of human writing and research, but in past writing on human nature we always sort of viewed humans as mythical. Most of the old theorists of political theory and human nature, were religious.

It’s sort of interesting actually the way guys like Hobbes wrestled with religion. It’s hard to simulate in your own mind, but you can tell something felt off for Hobbes, but he couldn’t really understand. It’s hard for us to understand how radical and atypical it was at the time to not believe in God.

Even as religion faded, there was still no basis for understanding the human brain. In the 20th century as math and computers got cooler, they were still immensely distinct from the human brain.

None of the computers built in the 20th century were particularly smart, even though the humans who coded the machines were. The equations themselves of the world had to be specified in the code. A human had to study math, stare out his window at the world, and then try to think of the right equation to impose on the world. This is still mostly true, but now it’s possible to see how it might not be true.

Most of the things that we think are easy as opposed to hard don’t actually map to complexity in the world. Our brains evolved for specific purposes, and are optimized to find patterns that help us survive and reproduce.

The idea is that there is no meaningful difference between the world we live in, and the computer world. Reality is nothing more than a constant refreshing set of information, following a set of physical rules. We observe it, and our brains project a picture of reality that we interact with. The distinction between binary computer code and machine, and human, is meaningless. It only feels like it’s distinct. We’re both information processing devices that take input and produce output.

Another way to think about it, is an AI would never know the difference between being stationary and solving differential equations, and standing up and stacking blocks on top of each other. In both cases it’s receiving a set up inputs, using them to solve some function, and producing a set of outputs.  The difference is only meaningful to us because we evolved to be interested in things that interact with our project of reality.

This idea has existed in some form for a while. There were hints of it in old Greek philosophy, but I don’t give them any credit because they wrote lots of garbage, and then we look back and go “Oh wow if you reread their argument with current knowledge you can tell they secretly knew it all along!”.

There were also guys like Bertrand Russell who sort of picked up on the idea that chairs are sensory data reconstructions. It was interesting at the time, because knowledge of reality was growing from math and physics, but still not exceptionally useful. Bertrand Russell wrote about tables, well before we had this computational matrix view of the world:

To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate attention on the table. To the eye it is oblong, brown and shiny, to the touch it is smooth and cool and hard; when I tap it, it gives out a wooden sound. Any one else who sees and feels and hears the table will agree with this description, so that it might seem as if no difficulty would arise; but as soon as we try to be more precise our troubles begin. Although I believe that the table is ‘really’ of the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some parts look white because of reflected light. I know that, if I move, the parts that reflect the light will be different, so that the apparent distribution of colours on the table will change. It follows that if several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected.

He uses words like ‘sensory data’ to discuss the way humans interact with the world. I read his book on these problems of philosophy years ago. At the time I couldn’t really understand what he was trying to prove. There was this vague notion that sensory data and perception were weird or something.

There was some other garbage as well, by Jean Baudrillard. I actually think this quote is beautiful, it takes work to be so nonsensical.

“And so art is everywhere, since artifice is at the very heart of reality. And so art is dead, not only because its critical transcendence is gone, but because reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.”

It makes more sense when you realize there is a set of information in God’s matrix, and we are program interacting with that information in a way to optimize our evolutionary function. We notice and build tables because they are useful to us, and we evolved to build useful things.



2001 Space Odyssey opens with a primate tribe fighting with another tribe over a watering hole. In a moment of evolutionary transcendence, one of the primates realizes he can use a bone as a weapon.

Since we literally evolved through that state it’s not complex for us to imagine what it would be like, and why using a tool would be obvious. The amount of information processing required though is incredibly complex: For the primate you would think that there is another tribe that has been agitating recently. You are also concerned the leader of your tribe is ineffective and needs to be overthrown. You’re currently leading a small raiding party. You’re simultaneously surveying the landscape, thinking of attack paths, considering leadership dynamics, and estimating backup plans. In addition, using primitive languages you’re communicating this information you’re receiving through your senses to other members of your tribe. As far as the raw sensory input, it is a lot of memory.

Not only can this brain absorb phenomenal amounts of information, but can actively process it, formulate and update it, and convert it to very low-information speech to communicate this information. Our silicon computers are very very far away from this ability. It’s easy to gloss over this point, but it’s important to appreciate. Our senses are absorbing massive amounts of information at every tick of time, you can envision it as matrix-type information where 101010s are scrolling past at incredible speeds. Our brains than take in this information and create a projection of reality within our brains.

From this point in pre-history it takes tens of thousands of years for the smartest humans to understand and solve partial differential equations. In terms of complexity, outside of human biology, this mapping of PDE input to output is much simpler. We are not optimized to do it. Consider Gauss or Von Neuman, through a combination of genetic accident their brains were very very slightly different than ours. This difference let them solve math and traditionally complex problems with an ease most of us can only dream. The reality is historically these small quirks in their brains probably wouldn’t help them survive and reproduce. Yet they were just the right quirks to advance human scientific knowledge by decades, maybe more.

We evolved to understand causality in a very specific way. It was never to our advantage to understand causality as 100, 1,000, or an arbitrarily high number of interacting events. It was relationship, tribal, and environmentally based. The same way in which we understand wars, elections, or history, is in that same relatively low-dimensional storybook way that is similar to a tribal history or strategic recapping of a buffalo hunt. This retelling of causality is perhaps meaningless to Laplace’s demon–or God’s matrix.

The field of causal inference and methodology has worked remarkably well for building a framework for us to run medical tests and controlled experiments. Imagining counterfactual worlds seems similar to the idea that the world is simulated.

It hasn’t worked as well in building a great encompassing theory on causality. The following are refinements on causality. Each time someone tries to make a nice statement, it turns out someone else can play around with it and make some example where it falls apart, so then they refine what causality means.

This first excerpt from the Stanford Philosophy page on Causality states the most bare bones interpretation.

Where c and e are two distinct actual events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were not to occur e would not occur.

Then some people complained or had a fit or something, because there could be things in between or whatever. It was refined:

c is a cause of e if and only if there exists a causal chain leading from c to e

Then there was concern that this might miss some (potential) probabilistic features of reality. It was refined again:

Where c and e are distinct actual events, e causally depends on c if and only if, if c were not occurred, the chance of e‘s occurring would be much less than its actual chance.

From here there has been more research–lots of it brilliant–trying to pin down a fully consistent model of causality.

My view is that since we only understand and interpret a specific set of information from reality, it’s nonsensical for us to have an encompassing law of causality. Our distinctions between events are more related to a storied interpretation of the world based on evolution, than some true documentation of reality.

If you imagine a gigantic computer screen of all binary information on earth, updating on small ticks of time, the information we extract from it is very small and only that which is evolutionarily relevant to our survival. In this conception of reality, causality is the pattern linking the past to the future.

We see specific patterns in the information, but those patterns are not fundamentally different or more important than ones on different scales that are invisible to us. And within each pattern are intersecting and weaving subpatterns throughout space and time. Whether the future flows deterministically from the past, or how it relates simultaneously with the microscopic physical structure of reality up to the level of abstraction that is easiest for us to understand, is probably an empirical question that we need to employ a future learning super-computer to analyse.

Even then, our ability to understand causality is an arbitrary way to understand the world. It works well enough though, since in practice we often use it to understand things like medicine and the benefit of education salary. Which we can think of as strictly empirical and predictive strategies, where we don’t really care about proving the true causal path.

This method does seem to go a little haywire though when we try to use it to understand grand histories. Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ on this exact point, sort of. At the time everyone was working to understand Napolean’s genius and the specific explanations behind his every action and victory. Tolstoy on the other hand viewed Napolean’s grand strategy, and the outcomes of specific battles, as far more due to random and undocumented events.

All he had to do was point out a series of dependencies. He ‘rolled’ the chain of causality up. It’s weird, but not hard, to imagine it rolled up further, into dimensions that don’t fit our storied interpretation of the world.

To us, their descendants, who are not historians and are not carried away by the process of research and can therefore regard the event with unclouded common sense, an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence—apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes—to occasion the event. To us, the wish or objection of this or that French corporal to serve a second term appears as much a cause as Napoleon’s refusal to withdraw his troops beyond the Vistula and to restore the duchy of Oldenburg; for had he not wished to serve, and had a second, a third, and a thousandth corporal and private also refused, there would have been so many less men in Napoleon’s army and the war could not have occurred.

Had Napoleon not taken offense at the demand that he should withdraw beyond the Vistula, and not ordered his troops to advance, there would have been no war; but had all his sergeants objected to serving a second term then also there could have been no war. Nor could there have been a war had there been no English intrigues and no Duke of Oldenburg, and had Alexander not felt insulted, and had there not been an autocratic government in Russia, or a Revolution in France and a subsequent dictatorship and Empire, or all the things that produced the French Revolution, and so on. Without each of these causes nothing could have happened. So all these causes—myriads of causes—coincided to bring it about. And so there was no one cause for that occurrence, but it had to occur because it had to. Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

We can switch back into our mathy-matrix view of the world now. The historians of the time were reading relentlessly into the specific details, and overfitting their models. Their brains were using words to generate non-linear models to classify and explain the Napoleonic wars into a causal story that best satisfies the way the human brain likes to understand the world. That’s fine, but they were over-fitting by using idiosyncratic events in a way that perfectly explained the story. Napolean was a ‘great man’ so every action he took had to have been calculated genius. It wasn’t. And yet Napolean seemed to be a military genius, so he had to have made some brilliant choices we can learn from.

Tolstoy was on to something, but didn’t have the scientific context to place it. In actuality it’s an empirical question as to how much of Napolean’s success can be attributed to his strategic ability. This question though is itself based on previous history — after all — what is strategic ability? We classify strategic ability based on previous events where a military leader succeeded. In this sense getting an idea of what strategic ability is can be viewed as a  filtering algorithm that is searching for the structure of attributes an individual has that contribute to military success.

We would then need to test this by looking at all past military leaders, scoring their success, and searching for attributes correlated with success. That’s actually really hard. We can try to do this as a rough approximation by reading history books, but it’s hard to ever be sure we are on to something given how much information processing is required to do this the right way.

Hume made a good case that proving causality is a lost cause, but you can get arbitrarily close. For example, I can’t prove the sun will rise tomorrow, but it seems likely as we observe it in the past, and it predicts the future perfectly. This works for Napolean and military strategy as well, as we notice patterns we test them by using them to predict the future. Then if we were able to predict the future, it means the model we used to predict the future is valid. So the more we correctly predict the future, the better our conception of the scientific method and causality becomes. Predicting the future gives us a chance to test the structure of our world, and see if we can understand the signal within current observed patterns.




“The only trouble is, one thing remains with you. Somewhere you picked it up so hard that you can’t shake the idea ‘liberal’ means good and ‘reactionary’ means evil. That’s your frame of reference, two words. That’s why you don’t know a damn thing.” -The General, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer

“The study of the past with one eye upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history. It is the essence of what we mean by the word “unhistorical”.” The Whig Interpretation of History by Herbert Butterfield

It’s hard to get myself to care about the most fashionable modern activist cause. I don’t think that’s a good thing, but I’ll try to explain why it might not be bad.

Currently there is political tension for the North Dakota access pipeline. An oil pipeline is being built, Natives are protesting it, and as a result many are being arrested. These events always map to a view on historical justice, morality, and how it weaves through history and is attributed to past groups and their modern counterparts. It’s easy to build a shared story that traces these roots back over time. When you start to dig, the story falls apart. History is complex.

All of our ancestors did horrible things, many suffered. Trying to reconstruct the score-card of history and balance the accounting today is pointless. Some people conquered others, and the world continues. The conquered people sometimes are all killed, assimilate, dissipate, or linger. Looking back through history and thinking “that was a bad thing your ancestors did” is meaningless. We’re all only a few generations removed from atrocity.

I’m not an expert on Native American history, but the rosy image of a peaceful pre-Columbus America is absurd. The only real difference was the Europeans had the power and a sort of accidental biological-warfare WMD to unilaterally take the lands. Else the enslavement, rape, and murder, of intra-tribe conflict was commonplace. The state of nature was always hellish, the European men probably weren’t morally worse.

The same thing is going on now in Syria. Assad’s forces have overseen atrocities and attacks on his own people. If he were to fall the strongest prediction is Islamists would take over. I’m not going to guess who would be worse, but when both counterfactual are horrible, how do you evaluate the situation?

A counter-argument is that not knowing the counterfactual isn’t a sufficient argument for not trying to do something, such as topple Assad’s regime. And that these abstractions conveniently ignore more concrete examples, such as credible examples of police brutality on Native tribes.

The first point is fair, but it’s empirical. I would like to see way way less theorizing on what we ought to do, and more concrete predictions. Human rights groups shouldn’t try to operate on first principles, but instead on empirical methods. Given a set of resources, whether monetary or political capital, what are the best returns we can hope to achieve? With what probability do we expect interfering in the middle east will improve a key set of measurable outcomes? If this methodology had been followed over the past few decades we could ask questions of our past predictions data.

The second point is also fair, and I have no problem at all recognizing these issues. Individually they are awful, and signal that the dynamic between authority, civilian, and capital/property in the US could be better optimized. My point is that we should be scientific in these issues rather than accepting the party line of some specific conception of history. The reason the native American story is more popular than anything else going on in the US–and there are always a lot of things going on that aren’t reported–is because it confirms a model of the world that is built around supporting oppressed minorities.

One view of the world is that this is very important, as it highlights a long-standing persecution or oppression of native tribes, and standing up for them and devoting your energy to this cause is the morally just thing to do.

My own view is that these causes are cherry-picked out because they confirm the biases of a base set of models that are found to be the most efficient at uniting a series of groups together. A series of groups who in combination constitute a rough 50%+1 cross-section of the US voting population. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s the way collective action algorithms try to solve democracy. But it is why I don’t feel that same sense of outrage or deep concern.

The collective action algorithms have no reason to paint a representative picture of reality. They exist only to optimize political power, which is why they find events that support the model of the world, build outrage, and generate political action for the in-group. The ‘other side’ is focusing on instances of illegal immigrants killing American citizens. More boring issues that don’t intersect with identity groups or voting blocks are ignored. How many lives could be saved with a few common sense changes to organ donation policy? That’s boring.

The problem though is this all gets messy and requires thinking about how we individually contribute to aggregate political algorithms, thinking about how they would run in a counter-factual world, and knowing enough about what is happening in the world by spending an incredible amount of time reading boring news and history to recognize when the causes that we are supposed to care about are instead fitting within a pattern of politically convenient confirmation bias.

When people are emotionally invested in a cause, excitable, angry, and pumped up to fight for justice, it’s sort of awkward, and even impolite, trying to say:

“Yes, that issue does have aspects that are awful and unacceptable, such as too much police abuse against the tribe. But it was generated by a model that is biased towards supporting a specific view of history, which itself implies a policy set that tries to fix the past by re-weighting benefits in the present.

We should instead focus on a model with a view of historiography that takes into account the fact that there is no reason to believe the counter-factual world where the ancestors of modern oppressed minorities had won the game of rapid technological advancement, and instead focus on a universal set of standards free from overtly distinct attachments to past identities.

While this specific circumstance is bad, it provides really low returns on investment. If we actually cared about human suffering, there are about a thousand other non-partisan issues with already established solution concepts that are waiting to be tested. That’s why I don’t find myself particularly interested in helping out or caring about this specific issue, and would rather we work to find a model of the world that is less biased in the causes we should devote our energy towards.”

That’s hard though. It’s slightly easier to instead build up the opposite viewpoint in support of Ann Coulter, after all, there are more than enough crimes committed against whites by illegal immigrants to cherry-pick a compelling counter narrative. In the end though, it’s not at all scientific. It’s a farce.

Election Forecasting

Nassim Taleb just posted a draft for election forecasting refinement.
The math isn’t super important to see why it’s so cool. His model seems to be that we should try to forecast the election outcome, including uncertainty between now and the end date, rather than build a forecast that takes current poll numbers and implicitly assumes nothing changes.
The mechanism of his model focuses on forming an unbiased time-series, formulated using stochastic methods. As far as I’m aware, the mainstream methods as of now focus on multi-level Bayesian methods.
That seems like it makes more sense. While it’s safe to assume a candidate will always want to have the highest chances of winning, the process by which two candidates interact is highly dynamic and strategic with respect to the election date.
When you stop to think about it, it’s actually remarkable that elections are so incredibly close to 50-50, with a 3-5% victory being generally immense. It captures this underlying dynamic of political game theory, which is itself a higher level abstraction of a simultaneous and recursive algorithm that runs through all citizens.

At the more local level this isn’t always true, due to issues such as incumbent advantage, local party domination, strategic funding choices, and various other issues. The point though is that when those frictions are ameliorated due to the importance of the presidency, we find ourselves in a scenario where the equilibrium is essentially 50-50.

So back to the mechanism of the model, Taleb imposes a no-arbitrage condition (borrowed from options pricing) to impose time-varying consistency on the Brier score. Intuitively, you can think of this as the idea that if you’re 1 month out from the election, and your candidate based on the latest polls has a 70% probability to win, however, variance over the past month has been massive, your model would be more efficient to state that your candidate has closer to a 50% chance to win, due to high uncertainty.

To simplify a little more, you can think of this as using a specific mathematical condition to filter out a ‘true’ probability of winning, from a highly uncertain output that is based on the latest polls data, but doesn’t take into consideration the time-series dynamics of that polls data.

For example, if 3 months out the polls give candidate A a near 100% chance of winning, the ‘true’ probability of winning might be a fair bit lower, as a function of the poll variance up until that point. That is to say, you’d want to bet lower since something could go wrong to lower it, but not increase it.

This would also explain why the variance in forecaster models is much higher than prediction market variance (no empirical data here, this is an observation I had).









Review #3: Trump

Those Who Created The Prophecy

Of course, plenty of people already think they know what reactionary modernism looks like, and amidst the current collapse back into the 1930s their concerns are only likely to grow. Basically, it’s what the ‘F’ word is for, at least in its progressive usage. A flight from democracy under these circumstances conforms so perfectly to expectations that it eludes specific recognition, appearing merely as an atavism, or confirmation of dire repetition.

Still, something is happening, and it is – at least in part – something else. One milestone was the April 2009 discussion hosted at Cato Unbound among libertarian thinkers (including Patri Friedman and Peter Thiel) in which disillusionment with the direction and possibilities of democratic politics was expressed with unusual forthrightness. Thiel summarized the trend bluntly: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”

Nick Land on The Dark Enlightenment

Universalism itself is a kind of nationalism. Or racism, even. It accepts only one nation: the entire planet. It knows only one race: the human race. Reading these sentences, any Universalist will nod his head and smile at the unsurpassable beauty of his own faith. Which in fact is unsurpassed only in its potential for gigantic and diabolical evil. As Nock put it, people who believe in world government are like people who believe that if a teaspoon of cyanide will kill you, a whole bottle is just the thing to do you good. —Unqualified Reservations on White Nationalism, from ~2008

Those Who Understand

When I talk to Trump supporters, it’s not usually about doubting climate change, or thinking Trump will take the conservative movement in the right direction, or even immigration. It’s about the feeling that a group of arrogant, intolerant, sanctimonious elites have seized control of a lot of national culture and are using it mostly to spread falsehood and belittle anybody different than them. And Trump is both uniquely separate from these elites and uniquely repugnant to them – which makes him look pretty good to everyone else.

This is definitely true. Please vote Hillary anyway.

Slate Star Codex Endorses Hillary

Domestic politics in the United States are worse at this moment than they have ever been in my sad 46 years of life. And if your response is “they did it”, whoever they are, you are, I think missing the point, missing the problem. We are in this together. Once we’ve made a civil war of it we have already lost, however just the side you choose to fight on. Often moral errors feel like moral imperatives at the time. —Interfluidity Urges Mutual Respect

The Thoughtful Few:

Nationalists see patriotism as a virtue; they think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving. This is a real moral commitment, not a pose to cover up racist bigotry. Some nationalists do believe that their country is better than all others, and some nationalisms are plainly illiberal and overtly racist. But as many defenders of patriotism have pointed out, you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others. Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens interests above the interests of people in other countries.There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust. —Jonathan Haidt On Moral Psychology And Nationalism

Labor Day is an appropriate moment to reflect on a quiet catastrophe: the collapse, over two generations, of work for American men. During the past half-century, work rates for U.S. males spiraled relentlessly downward. America is now home to a vast army of jobless men who are no longer even looking for work—roughly seven million of them age 25 to 54, the traditional prime of working life.

This is arguably a crisis, but it is hardly ever discussed in the public square. Received wisdom holds that the U.S. is at or near “full employment.” Most readers have probably heard this, perhaps from the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, who said in a speech last week that “it is a remarkable, and perhaps underappreciated, achievement that the economy has returned to near-full employment in a relatively short time after the Great Recession.” — Labor Economist On Male Unemployment

But what happens in the very long run? As immigrants shape the culture of their new homelands, will they import more than just new ethnic cuisines? Will they also import attitudes and policies that wound the golden goose of first-world prosperity? Ultimately, will migrants make the countries they move to a lot like the countries they came from? —Evonomics On Pitfalls Of Immigration

It’s not surprising—it’s inevitable—that when Trump is attacked for his attacks on women, women of a particular cultural identity will be among those  who most aggressively “reject the controversy over his sexual behavior as a legitimate issue” and “rally” to his side.

So if you want to learn something about cultural norms in America, stay tuned.  Not to the simplistic narrative that dominates our homogenous, homogenized media. But to the complex, divided reactions of real people, men and women, who are fundamentally divided in their perceptions of who deserves esteem for what and hence divided in their perceptions of who did what to whom.

The Yale Cultural Cognition Project On Women and Trump

Anne Case and Angus Deaton have reported a startling increase in midlife mortality among white Americans without a college degree, “largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis.” Stratification by sex reveals that this phenomenon has hit white working class women especially hard. Trends in criminal justice tell a similar story: the incarceration rate for white women has risen by a staggering fifty percent since 2000, while that for black women has fallen more than 30%. Similar, but much less striking trends are in evidence for males.  —Barnard Economist On The White Working Class

How exactly will social/economic institutions change when we import people? God only knows. They might change for the better; they might change for the worse. It depends on them; it depends on us. But they almost certainly will change. And if you can’t even see that question, and wonder about it, then you really are missing something that even the great unwashed uneducated rabble can see. And the great unwashed uneducated rabble are going to put even less credence on what you intellectual elites are telling them they ought to think. —A (Canadian) Economics Blog on Immigration

Those Who Grew Frustrated

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad. He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president. I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney. —The Daily Beast; Anti-Krugman

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club. —Nassim Taleb On the Intellectual Idiot

The trouble is that stupid hicks don’t know what’s good for them. They’re getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that’ve made them so wrong. They don’t know any better. That’s why they’re voting against their own self-interest. —Vox On Smug Liberals

Currently there is a populist mood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.–Conservative News Against Campus Politics

 I have watched this play out on campus after campus. I have watched dissident student groups invite Milo Yiannopoulos to speak—not because they particularly agree with his views, but because he denounces censorship and undermines political correctness. I have watched students cheer his theatrics, his insulting behavior, and his narcissism solely because the enforcers of campus goodthink are outraged by it. It’s not about his ideas, or policies. It’s not even about him. It’s about vengeance for social oppression. —Reason Reflects on Trump’s Victory

Those who Tremble With Anger

By contrast, simply building a wall and enforcing immigration law will help enormously, by cutting off the flood of newcomers that perpetuates ethnic separatism and by incentivizing the English language and American norms in the workplace. These policies will have the added benefit of aligning the economic interests of, and (we may hope) fostering solidarity among, the working, lower middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities. The same can be said for Trumpian trade policies and anti-globalization instincts. Who cares if productivity numbers tick down, or if our already somnambulant GDP sinks a bit further into its pillow? Nearly all the gains of the last 20 years have accrued to the junta anyway. It would, at this point, be better for the nation to divide up more equitably a slightly smaller pie than to add one extra slice—only to ensure that it and eight of the other nine go first to the government and its rentiers, and the rest to the same four industries and 200 families. —The Flight 93 Election/

If you call “good” bad long enough, the definition of the word changes. If everyone is racist, nobody is. They have been accusing the West of being evil for so long, we’re now embracing evil. Trump personifies everything they hate and as they scream about how racist, sexist, and homophobic he is, we smile and say, “Good.” —Gavin Mcinnes No Longer Cares

The election of Barack Obama, “the most liberal man in the Senate,” is a crowning moment for a federal welfare state that’s grown steadily for over 50 years, regardless of which party was in office. Each individual state is merely an administrative unit for a centralized bureaucracy. All important decisions are made by the Supreme Court. On social issues, conservatives have been in abject retreat, even as leftists bemoan the rise of “Christian fascism.” The ban on school prayer, enacted in 1962 with Engel vs. Vitale, has about as much chance of being overturned as the 1964 Civil Right Act. Gay marriage is a reality in several states. Mass immigration from the Third World is not just permitted but hailed as a moral imperative and encouraged by leaders of both political parties. The children of those immigrants receive preferences in education and job placement over Americans whose roots go back to the Founders. —Radix Journal’s Alternative Right

Those Who Remain

I’ve been trying to figure out what common trait binds Clinton supporters together. As far as I can tell, the most unifying characteristic is a willingness to bully in all its forms.

If you have a Trump sign in your lawn, they will steal it.

If you have a Trump bumper sticker, they will deface your car.

if you speak of Trump at work you could get fired.

Scott Adams Strange, Entertaining, Blog

The Residual Error

Because now Trump comes along and says “Fine — they want to call us racists for daring ask questions, like are Muslims dangerous? And should we be so accepting of illegal immigrants? They want to look down on you guys and call you dumb country idiots? They make fun of you across the board on all left media and entertainment? All of the trendy celebs think we’re backwards? Well fuck them, fine we are racist. We don’t give a shit what you call us anymore, we’re doing shit our way now. We aren’t dancing around and using the safe politically correct words required to get you to take us seriously, when you end up calling us rascists all the same.”

An Old Post I Wrote On Trump

The populist xenophobes of our Western world miss the dignity of work and the safety of cultural homogeneity. The problem is when you explain these people’s beliefs and actions due to racism and xenophobia, what you’re really saying is “fuck you.” You’re attributing their behavior due to some degenerate moral condition or uneducation. If only they were as smart and educated as us they would appreciate their more violent neighborhoods and overcrowded hospitals.

Not to mention their desire to prefer living among their own traditional culture is viewed as a deeply racist preferences not worthy of our respect. My background is culturally and ethnically diverse, but when you ask me to tell you–to prove to you–why it is so deeply and obviously wrong for towns and cultures to prefer homogeneity I can’t come up with an answer. Who am I to tell them what they are right or wrong to want? Maybe if I had religious beliefs it would be obvious, but I have none.

An Old Post I Wrote On Empathy

It forces you to view your opponents in one of two categories: Either they must be evil or they must be stupid. There is no alternative. If you replace the word stupid with uneducated though, it lets you feign a sort of condescending empathy. If you look at British Leave voters you can see half the articles are on racist bigots, and the other half on a campaign of misinformation and lies interacting with the uneducated masses. I used google to get those two links, there are thousands. It’s the hot thing to do to write one of two archetypal posts if you’re a smart progressive who is horribly depressed. — An Old Post

The problem is that as you obsess over your in-group and fighting the out-group, you slowly form a contorted and twisted version of the world. You’re presented with a picture of reality that states some set of issues are the issues. Your opponents take their stance on the issues. What are the issues? They tend to be the specific policy questions that best split the population into two and can be incorporated into one of two parties. The question we have to ask yourselves is does this group vs. group battle over the issues portray an accurate picture of reality? Or do we get so caught up in our side, our battle, our righteousness, that we completely lose sight of just how complex our world is? And if we do lose sight, who is going to tell us? Where is the guy, detached from any group mentality, reading primary sources from the past and present, that will tap you on the shoulder and say “I think you’ve given in to the hot blooded excitement of tribalism, and have gone slightly off course.” — An Old Post

Empathy Models


I am not a progressive, but most of my friends are progressives. That’s cool. My disagreements with progressivism are nerdy and have to do with their conception of historiography. If you consider yourself a progressive and spend your time or money to help people who are suffering that’s good. If you spend your time trying to gain more political power and expressing outrage and shaming people on the internet, well, that’s something you can do.

As with any political movement, it helps to know the ways different individuals perceive their interaction with other people and the economy. This tends to be pretty hard and requires radically debasing yourself from your own experiences. It’s like the scientific version of getting baked and staring out your window trying to look at the world in some new way you’ve never thought of before. It doesn’t even require you to change your own views of the world, although it might. If you still want to advocate for politicians or policies, understanding your opponent can only help. If your opponent mistrusts and hates you, it helps to know why.

If you want to dismiss your opponents as some combination of strictly less intelligent than you, sorely misguided, or evil, that’s also something you can do. It’s what the New York Times editorial team does. I don’t think that’s the case, so I’ll try to explain why. Part of this explanation requires taking seriously experiences or ideas that are ignored on the basis of being hateful or racist. That doesn’t mean I’m hateful or racist. Please remember that difference. On the other hand I’m not going to avoid uncomfortable arguments, and I’m not going to turn them into sanitized strawmen either (which I imagine to be a scarecrow dipped in rubbing alcohol that we set on fire).

Given the enormous complexity of the world, despite my sticking to relatively scientific arguments, for all we know they are individually robust but in totality represent a biased view of the world. That’s actually okay. My point here even as I try my best to be methodological isn’t that I’m right. It’s that a reasonable person could construct a view of the world in this way such that it has the same claim to validity as any other construction. We are getting useful observations of the world, it’s just that we have too many degrees of freedom.

Where to start? There are three books that are important to understand. Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism, Butterfield’s Whig History, and Stovers essay. That’s where I should start, but I’m going to save that for the next post.

Instead let’s start with alt-right provocations. The alt-right might not be right, but they have a remarkably consistent model of the world. We’ll start with Milo Yiannapolis because he’s hilarious, but if you’re looking at him to understand why folks like Trump and Farage are gaining some power then you’re only going to become upset. Milo wants to post stupid memes to provoke you and rile up the future of the party and his career. His most intellectual post was a brief history of the alt-right, which is a fine article, but he’s no heavyweight.

Then there is Scott Alexanders anti-reactionary FAQ, which reads like a parent telling their kids “Ecstasy is really fun, but the risks don’t outweigh the rewards –which let me tell you–will blow your fucking MIND.” That was a brave post for him to write. You notice how he calls it anti-reactionary in the title? He also includes tons of trigger warnings. He’s essentially admitted himself he uses these rhetorical techniques to shield himself from accusations of racism by using tribal code-words to signal that he’s part of their group. He does this well, everything thinks Scott Alexander is on their side. Could anyone else be welcomed to a bar by both progressive intellectuals and neo-reactionaries? He deserves every ounce of his fame.

Could… could neo-reactionaries and progressives find common ground? I am certain they could if they actually tried. In the far reaches of the alt-right movement we have Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe. It’s strangely hilarious, but they are only half-joking either. It’s sardonic, it’s irreverent, it’s a ‘fuck you.’ When a cultural movement is built around criticizing and deconstructing whiteness, with modern academics writing ‘research papers’ on popstars, is it any a surprise that, as Moldbug says, “clever 19-year-olds discover that insulting it is now the funniest fucking thing in the world?”

Why is the alt-right rising? The reactosphere of neoreactionary, antisemetic, and anti-progressive internet denizens is growing quickly. Trump tapped into it, but it was growing before him in lockstep with the online social justice movement, which is fashionable. If you want to know what the fashionable position is ask yourself “If I posted this particular political meme on my facebook am I more likely to get likes? Or lose all my friends?” What’s peculiar is the alt-right has formed a one-sided alliance with the unfashionable white lower middle working class. I say one-sided because I don’t think the white lower middle class knows the alliance exists.

Why would you lose your friends though? Is it because your ideas are unfashionable? Or because they are simple and hateful, and we (rightly) don’t associate with hateful people?

When I lived in London I was in a neighborhood called Elephant and Castle. It is now home to a large Nigerian immigrant population, as well as ethnic Brits (which if you read Hume’s Volume 1 on England — which you should– means a mess of barbarian, pagan, and Roman populations — whatever). We had to be careful late at night due to muggings, which were perceived to be mostly from the poorer Nigerians. They looked scary, because we knew they drove the crime statistics. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t on edge because I’m not a liar. Every night around midnight, more so on weekends, a group of 10-30 Nigerian men and teenagers would get drunk outside my first floor dorm. They would yell and fight for hours in the street. Sometimes there would be screams from the fighting. Once they stared through my flatmates window at 2am and started yelling, until she came to my room asking to stay there because she was scared. Another time I heard someone get severely hurt, I rushed to the main entrance and told the dorm supervisor, who himself was a kindly Nigerian immigrant, that he ought to call the police. He said that wasn’t a good idea, you don’t want to get police involved around here. Just ignore it. Violence in the streets of London is the natural state of order, we would only cause more harm by interfering. I think he made the right call, but I was naive at the time.

What is interesting is this experience of mine has zero model of the world embedded. It’s a recounting of a personal experience I had, nothing more. If my blog had more than three readers there is a good chance some would feel uncomfortable. Uncomfortable might be the wrong word, but we can agree that in good cosmopolitan company this wouldn’t be an appropriate story to tell. The problem is we impose models of the world on people based on what they say. The type of person who would talk about the downsides of immigration or outcomes associated with a nationality or race is a bad type of person. Why? Because that type of person is correlated with the type of person who historically did bad things.

I call it the Hitler and Slave-owner experiment. If you walk into a bar with Hitler and a Southern Antebellum slave owner and tell your story, would they give you a nod and sip their beer? If so it’s implied your experience validates their model of the world. Is that a bad thing? Well, it’s not a good thing. But is it a bad thing? For example, we could have another model that embeds experiences that validate their model, but also include other experiences and use a function that doesn’t at all imply anything horrific.

Anyway, for those of us living in London we were thankfully at a great school. In fact, our school was founded by the great Soviet loving progressives of the time, which struck me as bitterly ironic as LSE is famous now as an investment banking school. As a result most of us made enough money to move to nicer neighborhoods after graduation, plus, it’s not as though we were raising a family in that area. For a year, unless you were like one of my friends that got mugged, we can just call it unpleasant.


The problem is some British families have lived in those neighborhoods for decades, and they remember back when the neighborhoods were safer and culturally homogenous. As far as safer goes, it’s based on the communities perception of security and safety. Should a community have a better knowledge of its safety than official statistics?

Official statistics are aggregate numbers broken down by predetermined dimensions. You have to have a hunch as to what data to track, how to track it, and how to segment it, before you actually go ahead and structure data collection.

Even then, it’s so easy to lie with statistics as to make them rarely more useful than the filtered experiences of a community. A community lacks that formality and attribution, and instead they approximate reality using a distributed process to filter out information, like around what housing developments does crime happen, what alley is most dangerous, and what do the criminals tend to look like.

The data is more granular and there are more data points, it’s less official and it’s less rigorous. A trade-off. It’s like a mix between the bias-variance tradeoff of modern day machine learning and Hayek’s point on knowledge in society. The model has lower variance because it can fit the data better at a granular level. Unfortunately, it might have more bias. But do the official statistics not have a bias? What if all groups can’t help but embed information from their model of how the world ought to be in their objectivity?

Consider the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal Click through them and read the names of those who committed the acts. There was initially a cover up, due to fear that reporting this information in the official records would inflame racism. Yeah, it probably would have. The common people have a more granular understanding of the data points regarding how other cultures interact among their communities. Of course, there is also a strong reason to believe we dislike someone from the outgroup attacking us far more than we care about the same attack from our own ingroup.

Let’s look at Japan for a second. There are huge protests because an American killed a Japanese women. There isn’t a great reason to believe Americans do this more than ethnic Japanese. We’re not part of their identity though, we’re an outsider. When outsiders attack your brain screams “fuck them fuck them fuck them.” It’s probably an evolutionary thing.

So here is the question you have to answer, why is this outgroup bias considered wrong? Let’s take the null hypothesis to be that child sexual exploitation is not correlated with ethnicity or immigrant status. We don’t know if it is or isn’t, it’s not as though the British aristocracy has a stellar record of not raping kids. If they don’t know that they are wrong, should they? Who is keeping track of this stuff in a way that’s sufficiently rigorous to be free from ingroup and statistical bias? And if it can be proven that per capita pedophelia is the same, can we impose that they are being irrational? Or is it legitimate to be angrier if someone from outside your identity commits a crime to someone within your identity? That’s the history of human conflict, isn’t it?

The point of this post, this blog, and really my entire point on the philosophy of science, is that our methods of filtering out signals from reality are broken and weird. It doesn’t take a sophisticated philosophy of science though to ask for the counterfactual. After all, if per capita pedophelia sex gangs are equally distributed across immigrants and non-immigrants then do we have a problem? Well obviously we have a problem, but you know what I mean.


The populist xenophobes of our Western world miss the dignity of work and the safety of cultural homogeneity. The problem is when you explain these people’s beliefs and actions due to racism and xenophobia, what you’re really saying is “fuck you.” You’re attributing their behavior due to some degenerate moral condition or uneducation. If only they were as smart and educated as us they would appreciate their more violent neighborhoods and overcrowded hospitals.

Not to mention their desire to prefer living among their own traditional culture is viewed as a deeply racist preferences not worthy of our respect. My background is culturally and ethnically diverse, but when you ask me to tell you–to prove to you–why it is so deeply and obviously wrong for towns and cultures to prefer homogeneity I can’t come up with an answer. Who am I to tell them what they are right or wrong to want? Maybe if I had religious beliefs it would be obvious, but I have none.

If I started to build and speculate on an optimal societal structure, and I really shouldn’t, but if I did I might think it’s okay to prefer homogenous cultures, religions and values. So long as they welcome any person who is able to seamlessly integrate as well as contribute economically to this state of the world. If outsiders come in and do not assimilate to your values, often holding values that run counter to yours, and also damaged your economic standing, is it not natural to build resentment?

I’m generally of the belief that individuals in aggregate are better at understanding their circumstances than academics. Let’s see if I can cherry-pick any financial reports or research that back up this claim:

The costs associated with unauthorized immigrants immigrants are mainly concentrated in three areas: K-12 education, emergency medical care and incarceration, estimated by the researchers’ at approximately $116.6 million per year.

Fairley, Elena and Rich Jones. Colorado’s Undocumented Immigrants: What they pay, what they cost in taxes, The Bell Policy Center, April, 2011.

The overall taxes unauthorized immigrants pay into the system is greater than the amount of benefits they receive. However, many states and local public entities experience a net deficit because the costs of certain public services (education, health care, law enforcement, etc.) exceed the tax revenues they collect from unauthorized immigrant workers.

Coffey, Sarah Beth. Undocumented Immigrants in Georgia: Tax Contribution and Fiscal Concerns. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. January 2006.

It is estimated that the total revenue contribution, including state revenues and school property tax, from unauthorized immigrants was $1.58 billion. The total estimated cost of unauthorized immigrants, including education, health care, and incarceration, was $1.16 billion leaving the net benefit to the state at $424 million in fiscal year 2005.

Combs, Susan. Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A Financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy. Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. December 2006.

I might be a little elitist, because the Texas Comptroller doesn’t strike me as a credible source, and I don’t know anything about the Georgia policy institute. They might not be as smart as real academics, on the other hand they might be less concerned about being fashionable and more interested in just putting out a good report. Conjecture on my end, I have no idea honestly.

We also have David Autor who brings us more credibility on econtalk. He writes about how the benefits of trade with China might have been overstated in so far as they benefit our entire country. It seems rather that some of our country keeps losing jobs with no replacement. Huh.

Our point here is to show that it’s entirely feasible for communities to suffer due to immigration on purely economic terms. You notice in many of these scenarios they pay in more than they take, but not in such a way that compensates the direct public services they use? Their taxes go to the general economy, and the work they do provides value to the aggregate consumer surplus and shareholders of a firm.

The school the townies take their kids to, and the emergency rooms they rely on, are overcrowded and overused. Their wages are depressed, which we usually measure as a positive thing for the economy in aggregate, but obviously sucks for them. Increased drug and gang violence seeps in, which is largely due to failed drug war policies from the federal government. But manifests itself as drug addicted communities and crowded jails.

And while we are lucky that our Christian culture has heavy overlap with Mexicans, it doesn’t with Muslim immigrants. The Banlieues in Paris is a Muslim ghetto, “The kids in the banlieues live in this perpetual present of weed, girls, gangsters, Islam.” Maybe things would be different in the U.S. with massive immigration. Maybe they wouldn’t. What are the benefits for the lower middle class culturally homogenous Christian communities that are already suffering for meaningful jobs and enjoy their townie values?

I’m trying to help you see the world from their eyes. If you view them as the uneducated proles or unwashed masses you’re not seeing it from their perspective. And if you aren’t willing to empathize with them then you aren’t willing to understand them. You’re giving them the middle finger. Empathizing and understanding the world from the perspective of people you disagree with is incredibly challenging.

Keynes did a pretty good job. Still, it took decades before it became common knowledge that the post-WWI punishments might have created the nazis. I’m sure a few smart guys spotted it in that time, but were probably afraid to say it.

After all, if Trump supporters and Brexit voters are simply evil and uneducated, then it’s hopeless. Because you’re not evil, and you are educated. So when you try to imagine it you just imagine “What if I had an irrational hatred of non-whites” than you think “thank God I don’t, could one imagine being so base?”

The problem is what if it is explained by factors you don’t appreciate? If an old British lady in Elephant and Castle said “I miss the days before these Nigerian immigrants” and you launch into a 5 minute speech on her misunderstanding of the world, I think you’re the one who doesn’t get it, because it’s really simple. In the past she wasn’t scared when everyone shared her culture and were part of her in-group. Now she is scared and hears people who are foreign to her fighting and getting drunk outside her home. This may or may not be true, but it’s how she perceives the world. And when she explains to you her perceptions, you call her a xenophobe.


Imagine the US shares a 4-dimensional hyperplane with intelliglandia. We just discovered this border last year, and it’s a country where the average person has an IQ 3 standard deviations above our own. At first they just visit us for tourism, but over time some of their less educated realize they can live relatively incredible lives in our country. At first they start coming to our best schools, soon our top 30 schools are 70% intellipeople. They then start getting jobs in high-finance and tech.

They then explain, look, there is this thing called the lump-labor fallacy, and we are providing incredible new value to your economy. I understand your generation was aspiring to breaking research, working at top tech firms, and working at hedge funds, but maybe it’s time to reskill and realize these aren’t the best jobs for you. I know your father, and his father before you, worked on computer science research and wrote code for the most elite firms, but there is a great accounts payable job at the QFC headquarters that you’re more suited for. I know it’s going to seem like you’re making 60% less money than your parents. But because society as a whole is so much richer due to the incredible value we add to society you’re actually going to enjoy a better quality of life. You’re welcome.

Most of my friends would be upset. Because for most of us it’s not the money or the cause-to-do-good that drives us. It’s the social praise. It’s being respected and appreciated by our family, our peers, and most of all strangers. The feeling of knowing others admire and respect you for your hard work and intellect is one of the strongest drivers. If you gut that, you gut the person’s drive for accomplishment.

If you want to understand the other side of America, or the UK, the Trump supporters or townies, you need to understand their feelings of social loss. They feel that they have lose not only their respectable work, but their desire for social accomplishment. The reason is complex, with some parts being hard to attribute.

The creative destruction of industry is nearly impossible to predict. Even if this could be delayed by 5 or 10 years, it seems inevitable. Still, it’s a smoking gun of why jobs are lost and not replaced. The next reason is immigration. When immigrants come in and push your wages down, that really sucks. Imagine you are doing research at your university, or coding for Microsoft, or doing analytics for a hedge fund, and a team of intellipeople come in and start doing the same job equal or better. Your boss goes “Look, you do great work here, but we’re going to pay you $70k a year now, down from your $150k, because you’re no longer as valuable.” Or the ambitious paper you submitted to a top journal was rejected because an intellipreson did the same thing but spotted a few biases you missed. Aren’t you happy? This is creative destruction, the economy is growing due to more value being added,

Nothing I wrote proves anything, it scratches the surface. You can believe it’s all false, or at least core parts of it are false, but you should at least understand this is the perception of those who voted leave, or vote for Trump. This is how they see the world. As far as I’m concerned it’s a reasonable way to see it from their perspective, and they deserve to be taken seriously. When you dismiss them as being uneducated, or call them bigots, you’re saying “fuck you.” Why be surprised when they give you the finger back? If you truly are the morally just one, then it might be that these other people do feel the same hot-blooded righteousness and outrage that you feel, it’s just that they are actually the wrong ones. That’s a position you can take if you want.

Why Rationalists (sometimes) Madden Me

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a short Facebook comment this week. It’s not really fair to take him so seriously and comment on it here, but I’m going to anyway, because it highlights why rationalists (sometimes) drive me crazy.

This is the guy who wrote Politics is the Mind Killer, and is highly respected for his insights on human bias and rationality.

My (cheeky) response:

I know you’re probably joking, but there are other emotional and civilized considerations behind these types of choices. Rationality can’t override all biological subroutines, and these are the types of choices that can send off very poor signals, which have the potential to deeply damage existing and future relationships.
“Wow, you have a really nice place! How did you afford it? I’m glad I asked you out on a date!” “Oh, I was a prostitute when I was younger. Only once though. I made lots of money because I’m so rational.” “Wow you’re such a rational women! What a wonderful quality to find in a mate.”

The idea behind Eliezer’s rationalism is that humans are biased emotional machines, but if we think in a structure parameterized fashion, we can evaluate choices in such a way that we end at different outcomes than our base instincts. It’s fundamentally using applied scientific methods to live our lives. This is a great idea, as most people make choices on base instinct.

The litmus test though has to be a clear acknowledgement of our bias when the truth is revealed. The best examples are those that highlight a consistent bias in our neural network approximation, which is put on display by a structured model.

For example, sometimes apartments will give renters a choice of either the first month free *or* a cheaper rate. One of these choices is mathematically optimal, and if someone makes the wrong choice they are wrong.

Retirement funds can be slightly more confusing. If someone puts 100% of their funds in a bond index, that seems like a really bad idea. We can’t tell them their risk preferences are wrong though, it’s their preference. What we can say is “Your risk preference would have to match this distribution to justify your choice: Does it?”

See, in these cases someone who isn’t thinking too hard, or isn’t smart enough, or doesn’t care, uses their brain’s untrained base model to spit out an answer. Our brains love to spit out answers, we didn’t evolve to develop espistemic reverence. Then someone else builds a more refined model that points out that there was a clear bias, which can be easily represented mathematically (or at least in a very structured manner).

I’m being a little lazy here for two reasons: 1.) Someone could point out that I’m assuming the person who made the initial biased error is smart enough to observe and learn that they were initially mistaken. And 2.) That I’m assuming there is a discrete distinction between self-evident mathematical biases and other types of bias. I can live with this laziness for now.

In the case of prostitution, let’s start by mapping out the dynamics of the situation. There is around a $120,000 premia for a young (presumably attractive) women to sell her virginity. Why? Well, it is because she is only able to do this in Nevada, must be willing to suffer through the act, and potentially messes up her personal and familial relationships. If these things risks didn’t exist, and we all lived in a sexually liberated world where no one cared about prostitution, it’s safe to say she’d get an order of magnitude less for the trade.

In short, the price is currently the equilibria price for a marginal sale conditional on these expected costs. In this case it only makes sense if you have a good reason to believe your expected costs are lower than the revenue you would receive.

Eliezer, however, seems to think and imply this trade isn’t happening enough. Because, unlike rationalists, people haven’t thought through the trade-offs enough and are making choices based on their emotional biases.

For what group would these expected costs be low? Well, the daughters of rationalists would know their parents wouldn’t judge them negatively, and if they are part of the community they could avoid lots of negative social repercussions. It only stands to reason men like Eliezer should encourage their daughters to sell their virginity.

And to what sane man does this sound acceptable? For now, we are not computers, we are men. I understand that my brain runs biological algorithms that are beyond *ahem* pure reason. This doesn’t mean that the feelings aren’t real. I can concede the point that combining intellect, rationality, and base instinct is challenging. It’s hard to tell where we draw the line. For me, this is that line.

I’m a science obsessed guy, so It always feels strange for me to appeal towards an appreciation for a moral civilization and intuitive ethical preferences. As I’ve grown older though I don’t see these two as in contradiction. If humans are nothing more than a special case of a robot, than our collective programming could result in some optimal and suboptimal outcomes at the societal level.

There is no real way to prove any of this, but in my optimal society our women are never encouraged to sell their virginity. I don’t know. It’s what feels right to me. I don’t consider it irrational.

I have, however, now come up with a better definition of Neo-Reactionary: A Rationalist who doesn’t want to pimp out his daughter.





Before Work

It’s a rainy and dark day in Seattle. As I was drinking my coffee before work I checked the Mosul live stream, so I could see how the battle was going.  It’s hard to tell what’s going on, but as the sun set you can see fire, intermittent explosions, and small arms fire.

In the foreground of the camera you can see fireflies as well, flying around like tracers encircling the war.

It’s hard to imagine that in this picture there are so many men younger than me desperately fighting, some having fun and most terrified.

Anyway, time to work.