Freshman Philosophy Thread

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Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Mon Aug 11, 2014 9:27 pm

Meditations on Moloch

So, warning: This is long (by the standards of an internet article it's enormous, but it's not that long objectively). You see those parts? There are nine of them.

That said, I thought this was some of the best thought I've seen in a while. basically it's a medication on a variety of things, but mostly on the intersection of human agency and social/biological determinism. He discusses the phenomenon known in various guises and forms as a competitiveness trap, a downward spiral, race to the bottom, prisoner's dilemma, tragedy of the commons, etc. - in short, entropy in human societies - and the various responses human society has instituted to try and deal with (or in some cases encourage this).

It's an exploration piece so the author isn't slamming his hand on the table arguing forcefully for a fixed position and it goes a lot of interesting places and has a little poetic fun mixed in.

I don't know if anyone wants to talk about it, but some of you might like it as a read anyway.

EDIT: One of the reasons I liked this essay is because even if it's bad (and I think it's pretty decent), I've complained in the past about the fact that our ideas for social governance and government are so old (mostly derived from the Enlightenment, thrashed out and codified during the 19th century, and fought over in the 20th) and that we're way overdue for new social philosophies to sprout. The blog doesn't actually advocate a genuinely new position, but it's the sort of blended musing on philosophy, science, and poetry that's needed to form the potting soil in the zeitgeist's garden before new ideas can take root. It's a little thing, but it's hopeful for all that.

300 years is an eyeblink on a geological timeframe, but it's an eon when measured against the current pace of technological change.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:54 am

As if by cooincidence, Cracked has one of their periodic "Hey this is actually pretty good!" articles (usually by David Wong, of John Dies At The End fame, as in this case), which is sorta orthogonal to this subject (ignore the stupid Buzzfeed headline): Sabatoging Your Own Life
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Brentai » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:21 am

When you were little and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you tell them? Did you stick with the standard "doctor" or "veterinarian," or did you shoot for the moon with "pop star" or "astronaut"? Whatever it was, I'd say for about 95 percent of you the answer is hilarious in retrospect (I told my parents I wanted to "out-funk Prince").


I wanted to work for Square.

Most of this reads like The War of Art, a book that I read and found some moderate success with but had to stop touting because it spent a great deal of time talking about how Tiger Woods had it all figured out and then it turned out, uh, he really does not*. But the same basic principles are there: If you want something, make it your job, figure out what you're going to do today to get closer to it, and set about it with grim determination.

This is more like a self-help conversation than a philosophy one, but Lord knows this community could probably use a couple of those.


* EDIT: And it sort of dredges up the same problem I have with where the article is leading before it stops, which is the implication that being called successful requires sacrificing some of one's basic humanity. We all know this to be patently untrue, which is why I'd rather keep looking for a third path.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Tue Aug 12, 2014 1:47 am

I think the reason that people assume that "Being successful" equates to "Sacrificing some of one's basic humanity" is because - as the pop-culture reference goes - that really is the quicker, easier path.

Winning without cutting corners or cheating is a damn sight more difficult and people are really good at rationalizing "one little thing". Combine that with the well-known monkeysphere problem and you can see why success and evil are seen as fellow-travellers.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Thad » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:15 am

Brentai wrote:If you want something, make it your job, figure out what you're going to do today to get closer to it, and set about it with grim determination.




I remember a transcript floating around shortly after the event but can't find it now, possibly because you can now buy it as a book (affiliate link).

At any rate, I remember there's a good bit in there about making sure that whatever you do is a step closer to the mountain you want to get to, no matter how small a step it may be.

By that standard, my career trajectory doesn't sound so damn bad.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Wed Oct 01, 2014 3:58 am

Another very solid Slatestarcodex essay. This one is some thoughts on otherness, "outgroups", belonging, tribalism and the recent rise in people apparently hating their own tribe, and "Red" America vs. "Blue" America.

I know his stuff is long, but this is one of the ones that are really worth the look. I'm not sure I fully agree, but it's very compelling and plausible.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby zaratustra » Thu Oct 02, 2014 8:30 am

A big part of it is how much knowledge you have of the group's workings.

If I say (for example) "transexuals are an affront to God", anyone can correctly point that I don't have the slightest clue of what it's like to have gender dysphoria or any of the other reasons one might have to change genders.

But if I say (again for example) "male gamers suck", that's from the experience of someone that's been playing games for more than two thirds of my life, and someone that knows exactly how ugly little nerd thoughts form. Someone assumed I was reneging the clause of 'gamer' for myself; while I hate labeling myself a 'gamer' despite doing nothing but games all day, I'll argue that yes, if I'm a gamer, I suck.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Thu Oct 02, 2014 11:24 am

Yeah, group membership has also become a bit more fluid and it's difficult to address that. As far as "Gamers" go, I'm actually not sure that that's a valid social distinction anymore. We may have reached the point where calling yourself a "Gamer" is tribal in the way a person might say they're "A movie fan" or "A sports fan", which is to say it's an activity so mainstream that it ceases to be very defining unless you're really a sort of bizarre extremist. I also think that in the case of gamers, the lines are blurred because up until perhaps ten years ago, gaming WAS narrow enough that it functioned as a tribal designate, so we have living individuals who recall that and are having trouble letting go, or who don't even realize things have changed.

Actually, what's interesting to me is that after several days, the parts of the essay that are sticking most with me is the analysis of how American tribalism is shaking out as well as ways that compares to historic modern tribal conflicts (like say, in the Balkans).
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby pacobird » Sat Oct 04, 2014 1:02 am

zaratustra wrote:But if I say (again for example) "male gamers suck", that's from the experience of someone that's been playing games for more than two thirds of my life, and someone that knows exactly how ugly little nerd thoughts form. Someone assumed I was reneging the clause of 'gamer' for myself; while I hate labeling myself a 'gamer' despite doing nothing but games all day, I'll argue that yes, if I'm a gamer, I suck.


This is true as far as it goes but the thing it misses (and he misses) is that unless we're talking about the occasional rural expat his Blue tribe has no earthly idea why the Reds think, act, and want the way they do.

That a group of people can spend so much energy trying to empathize with and understand other cultures can denigrate a group that holds a particular set of cultural markers ("America", as defined in this essay) and then completely miss the ressentiment in how loudly they do this AT YOU never ceases to amaze.

(they could talk like you if they wanted to, dipshits)

EDIT: The biggest tell in this article is maybe not so related to this. He votes himself his own group: the "Grey Tribe" of techno-libertarians that he feels are significant enough to warrant their own spin-off from Limousine Liberals and Coal-Rollers. Why? Even if we grant that such a group exists outside his own head, what makes these people worthy of pushing the total number from 2 to 2.5? Are they more significant than Capitalist/Petty Bougies? Black Protestants? Red Sox fans?
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Fri Oct 17, 2014 2:50 am

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/10/16/fi ... icization/

Slate Star explores his "Red Tribe vs Blue Tribe" narrative further, trying to build a picture of just how polarized things really have become.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Wed Nov 12, 2014 12:18 am

This has apparently become my thread for posting SlateStarCodex links (I think I'm in love...)

These two actually aren't very philosophical at all. In these he's looking at the rise of the sort of arguments you see more and more online and even in the real world, the ones where people are effectively giving nonsense replies.

I thought these were great because they really help deconstruct these absurd arguments and demonstrate that it is sometimes (but not always) possible to counter them, if you understand what is going on. Thad, I think you might appreciate these more than most but anyone but I think a lot of you might find his analysis interesting.

The Motte-and-Bailey fallacy. This one is quite short (by regular person standards, not by SSC standards!) and if you only read one of the two, at least give this one a look.

"Ethnic Tension" and other meaningless arguments. This is something of an expansion on Motte-and-Bailey, but is really more of a direct look at where nonsense arguments fit among other argument styles and how they break down. He also goes a bit into engaging in "Bravery debates", which has come up before (essentially the sort of nonsense that starts with someone saying "I know I'm going to get attacks for saying this, but...")

Basically these two act as a sort of "idiots guides to seemingly-idiotic-but-actually-quite-insidious-idiots".
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:49 pm

Another SSC link. The Toxoplasma of Rage

This is easily one of his very best. It's a study of the way modern memes and discussion topics will inherently tend towards controversy, generating rage, breeding further controversy, and self-perpetuating in a cycle that is essentially parasitic. Our own social memes can actually be effectively treated as some sort of separate, parasitic life form.

I guess many of you don't read these because they're long, or ramble all over the place, or whatever. But if you've read even one and didn't mind it, this one is worth reading. Seriously. It's an amazing take and is on par with Marshal McLuhan's analyses of the previous generation's media.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Fri Dec 19, 2014 2:40 am

Something that isn't SSC!

Harpers: Power and Paranoia in Silicon Valley

This is pretty neat. It's basically a sort-of-average man's trip down the rabbit hole into the strange world of the bizarre hyperlibertarian too-intelligent-for-their own-good Silicon Valley high-talent crowd.

At the bottom of each year’s list are suggestive statistical irrelevancies: “every optimizing system’s a dictator and I’m not sure which one I want in charge,” “Autocracy (important: myself as autocrat),” “Bayesian (aspiring) Rationalist. Technocratic. Human-centric Extropian Coherent Extrapolated Volition.”

“Bayesian” refers to Bayes’s Theorem, a mathematical formula that describes uncertainty in probabilistic terms, telling you how much to update your beliefs when given new information. This is a formalization and calibration of the way we operate naturally, but “Bayesian” has a special status in the rationalist community because it’s the least imperfect way to think. “Extropy,” the antonym of “entropy,” is a decades-old doctrine of continuous human improvement, and “coherent extrapolated volition” is one of Yudkowsky’s pet concepts for friendly artificial intelligence. Rather than our having to solve moral philosophy in order to arrive at a complete human goal structure, C.E.V. would computationally simulate eons of moral progress, like some kind of Whiggish Pangloss machine.


It is by turns hilarious, horrifying (not so much for the idea that this crowd is correct, but for the idea that any of them might be put in charge of anything important someday), and more than a little sad.

It also has this HOLY SHIT moment that had me laughing for ten minutes straight.

He recited lines from Kipling’s “If—” in no particular order and advised the actuary on how to change his life: Become a pro poker player with the $100k he had in the bank, then hit the Magic: The Gathering pro circuit; make more money; develop more rationality skills; launch the first Costco in Northern Europe.

The cat's outta the bag folks! The self-professed smartest guys in the world have figured out the secret font of riches that await the brave daredevil willing to tackle the Magic: The Gathering PRO TOUR.

Man, these people. These are the people who think they will save the world.

It was refreshing to be there with Courtney, who had grown up nearby but since lived in New York, Los Angeles, and India. She told me she had started a fight during a discussion about time management and how mathematicians have a hard time getting laid. Someone proposed a solution: Employers should hire prostitutes so the mathematicians wouldn’t waste precious hours at bars. That was incredibly sexist, Courtney had said, and a shirtless man had replied, “But the heuristic is that mathematicians are male!” “Aren’t we here to think about radically different futures,” she’d said, “and, um, is it inconceivable that there might be female mathematicians?”

“Great, even better, was the response. They could be the prostitutes, and the bedrooms could be mic’d with baby monitors, in case of productive pillow talk.”


"Kid, you're educated, but that don't mean you're stupid. These other guys though..."
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Brentai » Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:04 am

Proving for once and all that intelligence can't be measured on a single-axis scale.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Friday » Fri Dec 19, 2014 12:39 pm

“Great, even better, was the response. They could be the prostitutes, and the bedrooms could be mic’d with baby monitors, in case of productive pillow talk.”


holy good god

I mean

That might actually be the dumbest fucking thing anyone has ever said and meant seriously? like I don't even mean "when you consider their intelligence" I just mean fucking period.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Classic » Fri Dec 19, 2014 2:17 pm

I think there comes a point when you're so "high context" you start losing the ability to tell which of your "out of the box" ideas are serious. Or maybe you lose the ability to care.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Friday » Fri Dec 19, 2014 3:07 pm

The Guild threshold.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Mon Jan 12, 2015 4:19 am

One of the things I do pretty much CONSTANTLY is weigh and criticize my own beliefs, to the point where this is like high-frequency mental background chatter for a good portion of every day. Sometimes this goes down the rabbit hole, where I reaffirm a belief but worry I'm just rationalizing a bias, lol. But it's always good to get outside input too.

Anyway, I had a thought today about the recent SKELETAL JUSTICE stuff and the large number of similar movements online (we all want to read more essays on online arguing, right?) and offline too and it just sort of occurs to me that really what's might be going on is that educated people are falling for a well-intentioned but ultimately self-defeating snare where they basically come to believe in what is essentially "Broken Windows" policy of conversation and social interaction.

That's why you see so many absolutes and labels. Seldom are people allowed to be partially racist, they are just Racist or Not Racist. Or they are Misogynists, or Aggressors, or whatever else has come up hot recently. So we see a pretty large number of people who are ready to jump all over the smallest of transgressions (which, incidentally, are much easier for people online to speak up about or "take action" against), out of some hazy idea that by doing so, they will prevent the larger ones from occurring. Which might be a laudable goal if true, but in practice most of the criticisms against "Broken Windows" community policing can probably be levelled against people who seek to aggressively police conversation, online or otherwise.

There more to it than that. There was that SSC talk about the way people are seemingly ready to disown their own tribe because we have misread modern tribalism (the example given was liberal Americans saying "I hate America!", which is really code in that case for "I hate Republicans!"). But I feel like the Broken Windows, of the idea of being part of a thin line holding back the darkness, thing helps to explain why some people have such zeal for these fights.
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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Classic » Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:59 pm

Mongrel wrote:That's why you see so many absolutes and labels. Seldom are people allowed to be partially racist, they are just Racist or Not Racist. Or they are Misogynists, or Aggressors, or whatever else has come up hot recently.
Only a Republican Sith deals in absolutes.

It has seemed to me that there are a lot of people who want to be on team "good guys" but for some (or many), a large part of being on that team is the politics of maintaining your status within that team. This is why for every person who sincerely asks you not to use the word "retard" as a pejorative, or at all, because it is a currently offensive and charged term there are a not-worth-counting number of people who'd rather double down on their choice to be inconsiderate (fuck you JonTron) or are doing it less because they know people who are hurt by the offending action than that they want to impress how much of an ally they are to others who would comment sincerely.

And, like, it could be an effort to exploit the "foot in the door" principle, where if you do a small favor for someone without special status (i.e. a stranger, not someone you identify as an enemy) you are more likely to do a large favor requested thereafter. But I don't think most of this policy has a larger strategic purpose.

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Re: Freshman Philosophy Thread

Postby Mongrel » Fri Jan 16, 2015 9:41 pm

Word to the wise: Don't waste your time with any of Alexander's (i.e. Slate Star Codex) columns where he discusses feminism or similar issues.

As a self-declared "awkward nerdy shy guy" he has that "I'm going to roll all the feminists into an amorphous menacing mass and rant about them" going on, only instead of ranting about them he writes something that's way too long and way too rambling even by SSC's standards. I mean, they even cross MY event horizon for digressions, they're so unreadably bad. They're also guilty of some pretty terrible false equivocation (What's that old saying? "Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them." Yeah.)

There's maybe a few tiny nuggets of corn in the godawfully long turd columns this has produced, but they're not any sort of unique insight (things that boil down to, say, "we could try being nice instead of attacking each other") and there's no way that it's worth reading the whole mess to pick them out.

Oh well, I suppose most folks have their blind spots.

EDIT: Alexander, not Aaronson. HURRDURRRRR.
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