Media diet (1)

My media diet this week. I’m going to be making a new post about my media diet every once in a while. I’m inspired, in this respect, by Luke Muehlhauser.

Books

Recently Read

  • Michael Sandel, Justice.
  • Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail.
  • Tyler Cowen, Stubborn Attachments.
  • Yuval Harari, Homo Deus.

Currently Reading

  • Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics.

Eagerly Anticipating

  • Allison Schrager, An Economist Walks Into a Brothel.

Plan to Read Soon

  • Will MacAskill, Doing Good Better.
  • Julia Serano, Excluded.
  • Charles Wheelan, Naked Statistics.
  • Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, Where India Goes.
  • Atul Gawande, Complications.
  • Annie Lowrey, Give People Money.
  • Juno Mac and Molly Smith, Revolting Prostitutes.

Articles

I recently read some really good material:

Videos

This video on human population is great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsBT5EQt348

Music

I’ve been newly introduced to a bunch of songs by a friend. Really like them:

  • “All We Ever Knew” by The Head in the Heart.
  • “Ophelia” by the Lumineers.
  • “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage the Elephant.
  • “You’re Somebody Else” by Flora Cash.

Apart from that, I rediscovered some old favorites:

  • “Gravity” by John Mayers.
  • “All That We See” by The Black Ryder.
  • “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star.
  • “Promise” by Ben Howard.

Congress’s guaranteed minimum income

No, not the US Congress, the Indian National Congress.

The Indian National Congress has proposed a guaranteed minimum income scheme. It has sometimes inaccurately been described as a UBI, but this proposal would involve means-tested unconditional cash transfers (though, with an appropriate tax structure, a UBI and a GMI would effectively be the same thing).

Capital in the Twenty-First Century author and prominent French economist Thomas Piketty is joined by J-PAL co-founder and MIT economist Abhijit Banerjee in helping the Congress with formulating their proposal.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Here’s some interesting reading on both sides of the issue:

  • Scott Alexander compares a basic income with jobs guarantee schemes.
  • Simon Sarris’s initial article on why jobs guarantees are better than basic incomes and his subsequent response to Scott Alexander.
  • Tyler Cowen on why he changed his mind on a universal basic income.
  • A debate on Debate.org on the subject of a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Put a Number on It defends Andrew Yang and the UBI.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion on this elsewhere on the Internet as well.

The principle of charity

This is a pretty cliché thing for blogs to say when they’re new. I’m going to say it anyway.

If you watched the Julia Galef TED talk I linked in post #1, you’d know that I think it’s really important to be willing to constantly reevaluate positions on issues, and to maintain epistemic humility about your current position on said issues.

An important area, in real life, to apply that, in my view, is in real life arguments.

I’m a high school “formal debater” – complete with coaches and tournament experience and everything. The way formal debate works is there’s two teams (or two individuals) on opposite sides arguing each other in a series of speeches for a while. After that, a judge makes a decision about who won and explains why. In debate, we’re often told to be charitable to our opponents. To say, “the best version of our opponents’ case is X; now I’m going to explain why X is wrong,” often followed by a snide “keep in mind, though, that our opponents didn’t actually make the point this well.” But in debating, it’s really hard to be charitable for a long enough period of time. Debaters tend only to be charitable to the other side to the extent that the judge is likely to be charitable to the other side. It’s very rare to see debaters actually construct the complete, fantastic argument that their opponents should have made and then rebut it.

This is for two reasons.

First, it’s difficult to come up with an argument for the other side that easily. This is a problem I often had in prep time. It’s a common mistake to start off prep time looking at the debate exclusively from the lens of your team, such that, when you’re thinking of arguments from the other side, you’re still subconsciously doing it from the lens of “which arguments should I think of which would help us win the debate” – which means you end up thinking of weak versions of the other side’s case.

Second, even when you do come up with the argument, it’s hard to rebut it. It obviously takes more effort to rebut a well-made version of the argument. It’s much easier to rebut the version made by the other side, even when the other side’s version is weaker, and to mock them about how their version isn’t a good one.

I’m not going to talk about whether it’s good strategy in a debate to be 100% charitable or where that line should be.

However, in a real life argument, we should always be open to changing our own opinions. Winning an argument is a good thing because it reaffirms a previously held position; losing an argument is also a fantastic thing because it forces you to scrutinize your current worldview. Both of these situations help you come closer to the truth.

My position is that you should make the strongest version of your argument and also the strongest version of the argument of the other side, and compare the two. Arguments in real life aren’t about winning. They’re about getting closer to the truth. Therefore, placing a high level of scrutiny on your own arguments and being as charitable as possible to the person you’re arguing against is good.

Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex explains:

“Absurdity is the natural human tendency to dismiss anything you disagree with as so stupid it doesn’t even deserve consideration. In fact, you are virtuous for not considering it, maybe even heroic! You’re refusing to dignify the evil peddlers of bunkum by acknowledging them as legitimate debate partners. Charity is the ability to override that response. To assume that if you don’t understand how someone could possibly believe something as stupid as they do, that this is more likely a failure of understanding on your part than a failure of reason on theirs.”

And that’s all on charity, for now. I hope you have a good day, a day filled with learning new things, even if they contradict things you thought you knew before.

Hello

I’ve blogged before. So, the point of this new blog is for me to blog with a bit more epistemic humility – and being a bit more willing to question my own opinions. That’s pretty much it. 

I wrote a longer version of this earlier, but it seems to have been deleted and I can’t find this. In any case, I’m going to be try to be regular with posts (and to remember to always write them in Google Docs so I don’t lose them).

In other news, here’s a TED talk by Julia Galef that I found interesting.