Chosen Tidbits 4

Previously: One / Two / Three


Heads I Win, Tails?—Never Heard of Her; Or, Selective Reporting and the Tragedy of the Green Rationalists

The reliability of the Bayesian belief-updating process depends entirely on how facts are being reported. If someone distorts the reporting, it won't work.

Within your faction you are disincentivized to report things that are coded to the other faction. So Bayesian updating becomes broken unless you take this distortion into account.


The Mind of Donald Trump

More than even Ronald Reagan, Trump seems supremely cognizant of the fact that he is always acting. He moves through life like a man who knows he is always being observed. If all human beings are, by their very nature, social actors, then Donald Trump seems to be more so—superhuman, in this one primal sense.

For Trump, the concept of “the deal” represents what psychologists call a personal schema — a way of knowing the world that permeates his thoughts. Cognitive-science research suggests that people rely on personal schemata to process new social information efficiently and effectively. By their very nature, however, schemata narrow a person’s focus to a few well-worn approaches that may have worked in the past, but may not necessarily bend to accommodate changing circumstances. A key to successful decision making is knowing what your schemata are, so that you can change them when you need to.

Like all of us, presidents create in their minds personal life stories—or what psychologists call narrative identities—to explain how they came to be who they are. This process is often unconscious, involving the selective reinterpretation of the past and imagination of the future. A growing body of research in personality, developmental, and social psychology demonstrates that a life story provides adults with a sense of coherence, purpose, and continuity over time.

Trump has never forgotten the lesson he learned from his father and from his teachers at the academy: The world is a dangerous place. You have to be ready to fight. The same lesson was reinforced in the greatest tragedy that Trump has heretofore known—the death of his older brother at age 43. Freddy Trump was never able to thrive in the competitive environment that his father created. Described by Blair in The Trumps as “too much the sweet lightweight, a mawkish but lovable loser,” Freddy failed to impress his father in the family business and eventually became an airline pilot. Alcoholism contributed to his early death. Donald, who doesn’t drink, loved his brother and grieved when he died. “Freddy just wasn’t a killer,” he concluded.


Book Review: Impro by Keith Johnstone

Play-acting to avoid failure:

Students will arrive with many techniques for avoiding the pain of failure. John Holt’s ‘How Children Fail’ (Penguin, 1969, Pitman, 1970) gives examples of children learning to get round problems, rather than learning to find solutions to problems. If you screw your face up and bite on your pencil to show you’re ‘trying’, the teacher may write out the answer for you... I explain to the students the devices they’re using to avoid tackling the problems – however easy the problems are – and the release of tension is often amazing…

This realisation that as adults we are avoiding problems by play-acting “please be nice to me” signals, signals we learned as children to please overworked teachers, that are a pointless distraction from actually doing something seems an excellent insight.

On status:

Johnstone came up with the idea of Status when finding a problem with his actors in the studio – ordinary conversations on the stage seemed to be incredibly dull and lifeless. At one point while watching another play, he was inspired to think of strong or weak motivations for characters to do things, and eventually asked his actors to try to seem very slightly higher or lower in status than their partner. This method transformed the work.

Most people understand status very intuitively.

These are just tricks to get students to experience status changes. If I speak with a still head, then I’ll do many other high-status things quite automatically. I’ll speak in complete sentences, I’ll hold eye contact. I’ll move more smoothly, and occupy more ’space’. If I talk with my toes pointing inwards I’m more likely to give a hesitant little ‘er’ before each sentence, and I’ll smile with my teeth covering my bottom lip, and I’ll sound a little breathless and so on. We were amazed to find that apparently unrelated things could so strongly influence each other; it didn’t seem reasonable that the position of the feet could influence sentence structure and eye contact, but it is so.

But sometimes it's not so intuitive:

As soon as I introduced status work at the Studio, we found that people play one status while convinced that they are playing the opposite. This obviously makes for very bad social meshing… and many of us had to revise out whole idea of ourselves. In my own case I was astounded to find that when I thought I was being friendly, I was actually being hostile! If some had said ‘I like your play’, I would have said ‘Oh, it’s not up to much’, perceiving myself as ‘charmingly modest’. In reality I would have been implying that my admirer had bad taste. I experience the opposite situation when people come up, looking friendly and supportive and say, ‘We did enjoy the end of Act One’, leaving me to wonder what was wrong with the rest.

The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal.


Visakanv on Friendship

Possibly the most important thing in a friendship - including one with yourself, or your spouse, or your child - is attention. Deep, focused, undivided, non-judgemental attention.

To really see + hear the other person, in a world where people constantly feel unseen & unheard.


The Great Awokening Conspiracy Theory

The conspiracy theory is that the emergence of a socialist protest movement three years after the economic collapse of 2008 terrified the rich. But they noticed that Occupy was easily distracted from its class warfare by its urge to indulge the perpetually wounded feelings of the “progressive stack.” The more intersectional Pokémon Points that would-be speakers possess, the more likely they are chosen to orate.

Rich white guys, who aren’t dumb, would have quickly figured out that their biggest worry is not-rich white guys. In contrast, privileging more intersectional personalities, such as black women, tended to get leftists sidetracked from discussing confiscatory taxes into passionate diatribes about how white Beckys were dissing their Afros.

This theory that Woke Capital cynically conspired to divide and conquer economic leftism by promoting the Great Awokening sounds plausible enough. Certainly, Bernie Sanders feels that now-fashionable notions like reparations and open borders are millstones around the necks of any Democrats’ seriously hoping to stick it to the billionaires.


Tweet by Courtland Allen

Underrated: The ability to steal the essence of what makes something else work well, without also copying the superficial idiosyncratic details.


New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed

New Atheism was a failed hamartiology.

“Hamartiology” is a subfield of theology dealing with the study of sin, in particular, how sin enters the universe. Orthodox Christian hamartiology says we all have original sin because Adam and Eve ate the apple. Gnostic hamartiologies say we sin because we are ignorant of our true nature as celestial beings. Some heretical hamartiologies say that all of this is irrelevant, and we sin because we choose to.

Most movement atheists weren’t in it for the religion. They were in it for the hamartiology. Once they got the message that the culture-at-large had settled on a different, better hamartiology, there was no psychological impediment to switching over. We woke up one morning and the atheist bloggers had all quietly became social justice bloggers.

As it took its first baby steps, the Blue Tribe started asking itself “Who am I? What defines me?”, trying to figure out how it conceived of itself. New Atheism had an answer – “You are the people who aren’t blinded by fundamentalism” – and for a while the tribe toyed with accepting it.

During the Bush administration, with all its struggles over Radical Islam and Intelligent Design and Faith-Based Charity, this seemed like it might be a reasonable answer. The atheist movement and the network of journalists/academics/pundits/operatives who made up the tribe’s core started drifting closer together.

Gradually the Blue Tribe got a little bit more self-awareness and realized this was not a great idea. Their coalition contained too many Catholic Latinos, too many Muslim Arabs, too many Baptist African-Americans. Remember that in 2008, “what if all the Hispanic people end up going Republican?” was considered a major and plausible concern. It became somewhat less amenable to New Atheism’s answer to its identity question – but absent a better one, the New Atheists continued to wield some social power.

Betweem 2008 and 2016, two things happened. First, Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush as president. Second, Ferguson. The Blue Tribe kept posing its same identity question: “Who am I? What defines me?”, and now Black Lives Matter gave them an answer they liked better “You are the people who aren’t blinded by sexism and racism.”

Again, it was beautiful, simple, and perfect. We were “the reality-based community”. They were ignoring Reason and basing all of their opinions on blind hatred and prejudice. There was nothing confusing or unsettling at all about the situation, and we did not need to question any of our own beliefs. It was just that some people had been brainwashed by white supremacy and an all-consuming desire to protect their own privilege, and so they did. Sin began with the apple tree in Eden; conservativism began with the cotton plant in Jamestown. Language separates us from the apes; not being blinded by bigotry separates us from the Republicans.


Comment on "Thriving on the Technical Leadership Path"

My experience has been that the value of very senior technical staff is not that they solve "extremely high level" technical problems but they are very easily able to see how what appears to be a complex problem is isomorphic to a much simpler, easy to solve problem.

The difference between expert and advanced/intermediate technical staff is that the advanced engineer has an understanding of complex solution and mistakenly tries to apply them everywhere, so the net effect is to increase complexity. The expert typically sees simple solutions and method of resolving complexity and has a net effect of reducing overall system complexity.

Believing that the value add of experienced technical staff is to only solve really hard problem is likely caused by having too many advanced/intermediate people playing the role of experienced technical leads. All of the great technical team member I worked with always make call solutions simpler and easier to implement by knowing exactly what doesn't need to be done and what is essential.