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This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

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Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

Changing someone's mind is very difficult, that's why I like puzzles most people get wrong: to try to open their mind. Challenging the claim that 2+2 is unequivocally 4 is one of my favorites to get people to reconsider what they think is true with 100% certainty.

-15

I have never read a book in my life. I might as well be illiterate, and most people around me might as well be too. Most libraries are vacant, and bookstores are gone. But all these people are doing fine - we put anything down on paper, and despite its incoherence it seems fine by standards that have stooped for reasons I do not know. I can turn in something that makes absolutely no sense, and an instructor from a decent school will tell me that he enjoyed it. Or an instructor won’t enjoy it, but since most people don’t write anything comprehensible anymore I’ll still be fine. I can cruise through my education and get a job while barely having read much at all. Everyone frequents some variant of flimsy entertainment - cable news, cartoons, social media - so why bother trying to read anything worthwhile anyways if nobody else is? Does reading actually make you more curious, more intelligent, more human?

The phrase "light only comes from heat" sounds so judicious. Who wouldn't want a pleasant, decorous argument where everyone respects everyone, no one's feelings are hurt, and plenty of light is generate, but no nasty heat.

Yet, if you think about it, where else does light come from but heat? Things that are very cold give off no light, yet everything that emits light will also be hot. If you don't like heat, you've no desire for light. If you want light, you musk risk heat.

Speaking from my own experience, it is the forceful, honest and clear arguments that have persuaded me, or have at the very least lodged the seed of doubt in my own mind, not those who argue by endlessly trying to flatter me, or search for middle ground, or who pretend to respect my argument more than they actually do.

All truth seekers should expunge this silly cliche from their vocabulary.

I end with the immortal words of John Milton:

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat

From my (gen-ed required) Philosophy of Sexuality class:

Premise 1: We are obligated not to racially select our friends, even if this is motivated by a preference for a certain race of friends.

Premise 2: If we are obligated not to racially select our friends, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Conclusion A: Therefore, we're obligated not to racially select our romantic and sexual partners.

Premise 3: If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is an immutable characteristic. So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other immutable characteristics. (Modified version: swap "immutable" with "non-desert based") (Modification 2: With one qualification: except in cases where doing so comes at an unreasonably extreme cost to oneself.)*

Conclusion B: Therefore, we must be all-inclusive with respect to immutable characteristics in friendship and dating.

So the implication is that we all have an obligation to become bisexual. Why? Because no one would accept "I just don't desire them as such" as a justification for why one systematically doesn't befriend black people. I'm suspicious of this argument, but I can't identify a knock-down flaw. So maybe I should just accept it? I don't want to, but if I'm being honest I can't find "the problem" yet.

Objection to Premise 3: There's cases where it's wrong to discriminate that aren't based on immutable characteristics (hair color, for example). This implies that the best explanation of what makes discrimination wrong is that it fails to track desert instead. But then, no one deserves to have ASD, and yet I don't think people would agree I am compelled to select friends from a subset of people who are violent and nonverbal due to severe ASD. Maybe this could be dealt with by modifying premise 3 to include a "reasonable burdensomeness qualification": your habits of selective association should track desert unless doing so comes at an unreasonably harsh cost to yourself. So if the boredom of befriending a nonverbal person is too intense, or if their violence is too much for you, you would be excused from the general obligation described by premise 3, but that wouldn't permit racism or ableism in general.

But now I'm puzzled, because A) I feel like I have a moral obligation not to racially discriminate in friendship, but B) I don't feel like I have an obligation not to choose not to befriend a tennis player just because I don't have the necessary desires, even though tennis players don't deserve friendship any less than black people.

Objection to Premise 2: I think romantic/sexual attraction to someone is a lot more immutable than who you're friends with, but to the extent that you can change your preferences without assuming an unreasonably harsh burden, or act despite your desires, shouldn't you? Imagine if you had a mild disgust reaction every time you thought about black people, and for that reason you decided never to befriend black people. Wouldn't it be incumbent on you to repress or replace that disgust reaction if doing so was within your power? How disgusting would black people have to be to you before it was no longer morally necessary for you to suck it up and act inclusively despite it? For whatever reason society has an unspoken agreement that racial dating preferences are okay, especially if it's within race. But maybe there's some independent reason why it's okay in certain contexts, despite being wrong in general?

*The defense of premise 3 is:

A) Since Premise 1 (it's wrong to racially select our friends) is an uncontroversial judgement, an explanation is called for.

B) The best explanation is going to be something that identifies a feature all cases of racial discrimination have in common.

C) Immutable characteristics is the feature my professor thinks most promising.

I objected to this because it seems like someone who thinks racially selecting their friends is wrong also wants to say selecting based on hairstyles or hair color is wrong, even though that could be changed.

But then, my prof replied by saying "in that case, what all the cases have in common is that discrimination is happening without a desert-based justification."

So, she proposes a modified version of premise 3: "If we're obligated not to racially select our friends, romantic, or sexual partners, this is because race is not a desert-relevant characteristic. So, we're also obligated not to select our partners based on any other desert-relevant characteristics."

How many lives did COVID-19 vaccines save? A criticism of treating models as reality.

In the diagram below, you can see Our World in Data’s chart, showing actual cumulative U.S. Covid-19 deaths – 350,555 in 2020 and 475,059 in 2021. Our annotations are in pink, blue, and gray. Despite the administration of 520 million vaccine doses in 2021, Covid took 124,504 more American lives in 2021 than 2020. Blowing right past this apparent failure, Lindsey claims, based on the Commonwealth Fund analysis, that vaccines saved 1.087 million Americans from dying in 2021. How can this be?

Scrolling trough window sort of works with great marking of new comments but is quite absurd.

Also, if new comment is hidden in some "show more comments" branch one will not spot it.

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Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

This dropped a few days ago: the head of ASIS (Australia's version of MI6 and the CIA) gave an interview. It's 26 minutes with no speedup option, so while most of it's pretty interesting I'll give some timestamps for things that are relevant to the broader geopolitical situation and thus might be the most interesting for non-Australians (as opposed to "how does ASIS work" and "reflection on specific past incidents"): 5:00-7:00, 9:17-11:17, 21:59-25:29 and to some extent 16:25-18:19.

Thought this might be of interest to you guys; also interested in what others think he meant with the various vague allusions, since I have my own ideas but I could be projecting my prejudices.

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So I recently heard about this supplement called Nicotinamide Mononucleotide. It's heralded as this great medicine that reduces aging, and gets rid of many issues.

And I really want to believe it, but there's something snakeoil salesmany about it.

  • It's heralded as a magical cure with no downside

  • It resolves so many issues and problems with your body it's unreal

  • From brain to liver, to ankles and skin, it's all covered

It all sounds too good to be true to me. I don't think it has negative effects and it's actually malicious, but I think it's just a fad that's being pushed. I don't think it can do really bad harm, but I don't think there's any better effects than a tummy ache.

What do you think? Do you have experience with this supplement?

Highlights:

  • PredictIt vs Kalshi vs CFTC saga continues

  • Future Fund announces $1M+ prize for arguments which shift their probabilities about AI timelines and dangers

  • Dan Luu looks at the track record of futurists

Highlights

I'd prefer comments or questions here on account of themotte.org site being pretty young. Long live The Motte!

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A modest idea for those who want to try their hand at AI alignment problem but is deterred by the lack of actual AI to try it on.

Let's consider a simpler (I think?) stepping stone - a multi-billionaire alignment problem. Especially in the aftermath of recent events where different billionaires caused different turmoils in different areas with different results, I think it makes sense to ask ourselves, as a society, whether we can - or should - have some kind of billionaire alignment program, and how we should approach it, before we try the same towards more alien entities such as AIs.

The input is:

  1. We have a bunch on intelligent - but not super-intelligent yet, so the task is easier - entities. For this task we presume human-level intelligence, probably on the higher end of the spectrum but nothing overwhelming.

  2. These entities control resources comparable to the power of middle-of-the-road nation-state, and deploy them with little effective oversight from anyone.

  3. They deploy those resources to achieve their goals, which may go contrary to goals of the other people, and could cause - even when very well intentioned - enormous harm. A misguided economic intervention can lead to an economic collapse of a country, a misguided social policy can make a major city as unlivable as a bombing campaign (maybe more as the effects are more permanent), a misguided medical policy can rob generations of years of life, new modes of communication can destroy social bonds and cause widespread cultural disruptions, etc. etc. Of course, they are also capable of selfishness and outright evil, though we do not presume they are more inclined to it than average human being (or less, either).

  4. For the sake of this task, we do not consider it moral or practical to destroy these entities or their resources, but want to minimize the potential harm caused by them, including unintentional harm, and potentially maximize their benefit to humanity (workable definition of "benefit to humanity" should be included in the solution, but if you eventually will attempt to align the AI, you must have some ideas what you are aligning it to, right?).

  5. We assume, for the sake of the exercise, that there's no magic lever that we could pull (like: "you do this or we destroy you/take your resources/torture you/kill your dog") to instantly put these entities to somebody else's complete control, or that people that are in control of the lever would be likely under the control of at least one of the entities above, and possibly multiple ones.

  6. In the interest of saving time, we declare all the variants of "we just need to have the right people in control of it and everything will be ok" as a non-solution since a) it just changes the personal or collective entity that needs to be aligned and b) it doesn't provide any practical actionable suggestions.

Any ideas how we could approach solving this task?

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Be advised; this thread is not for serious in depth discussion of weighty topics (we have a link for that), this thread is not for anything Culture War related. This thread is for Fun. You got jokes? Share 'em. You got silly questions? Ask 'em.

3

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).

This is a fascinating video. At 7:00, Tom Rowsell (SurviveTheJive) reads out some excerpts of the Srimad Bhagvatam(an important hindu scripture) where many if not every single prophecy comes true. The higher values are replaced by lower ones. Ones only worth in society is based upon their level of affluence and sex, people have no loyalty to their own family, culture or values. The only thing people will satisfy will be their genitals and bellies.

Everything will decay but there is a glimmer of hope. Just taking the name of Krishna would help one escape life and attain moksha.

Tom makes references from other indo european religions as well, this is not a culture war or culture war adjacent thing, mostly just something I found super fascinating given that they all were faiths that were very similar for the most part and got many things about the future right. The issue with kaliyuga is that of values, we have seen astounding technological and economical growth, the truth in many places is that many have lost values that were considered important by those who appreciate antiquity (I do at least). Many will not agree but even then, would appreciate any thots on this.

3

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

3

I noticed that the comment counts don't seem to line up with the total comments on this post, and a couple others. Do we already have shadow bans in place here, or is this just some delay issue?

/images/1662333864401946.webp

4

The Wednesday Wellness threads are meant to encourage users to ask for and provide advice and motivation to improve their lives. It isn't intended as a 'containment thread' and any content which could go here could instead be posted in its own thread. You could post:

  • Requests for advice and / or encouragement. On basically any topic and for any scale of problem.

  • Updates to let us know how you are doing. This provides valuable feedback on past advice / encouragement and will hopefully make people feel a little more motivated to follow through. If you want to be reminded to post your update, see the post titled 'update reminders', below.

  • Advice. This can be in response to a request for advice or just something that you think could be generally useful for many people here.

  • Encouragement. Probably best directed at specific users, but if you feel like just encouraging people in general I don't think anyone is going to object. I don't think I really need to say this, but just to be clear; encouragement should have a generally positive tone and not shame people (if people feel that shame might be an effective tool for motivating people, please discuss this so we can form a group consensus on how to use it rather than just trying it).