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Kerry's Shortform 2020-03-19T04:05:28.490Z

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Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-14T08:07:38.327Z · LW · GW

Final Section of Preface of Genealogy of Morals (see previous short forms)

Section 8 concludes the preface with a few important points.

If this writing be obscure to any individual, and jar on his ears, I do not think that it is necessarily I who am to blame. It is clear enough, on the hypothesis which I presuppose, namely, that the reader has first read my previous writings and has not grudged them a certain amount of trouble: it is not, indeed, a simple matter to get really at their essence. 

So, I need to read is early book, as he says, but just pointing out that he emphasizes the necessity of understanding the work as a whole, and really grappling with it.

Take, for instance, my Zarathustra; I allow no one to pass muster as knowing that book, unless every single word therein has at some time wrought in him a profound wound, and at some time exercised on him a profound enchantment: then and not till then can he enjoy the privilege of participating reverently in the halcyon element, from which that work is born, in its sunny brilliance, its distance, its spaciousness, its certainty. 

Again, his work is not something to be taken lightly or technically, but really wrestled with, absorbed word by word and found transformative.

In other cases the aphoristic form produces difficulty, but this is only because this form is treated too casually. An aphorism properly coined and cast into its final mould is far from being "deciphered" as soon as it has been read; on the contrary, it is then that it first—requires to be expounded of course for that purpose an art of exposition is necessary. 

Reminder against taking the aphorisms too casually or thinking the meaning is simple or clear at first glance. He must give examples and explain it more fully. 

The third essay in this book provides an example of what is offered, of what in such cases I call exposition: an aphorism is prefixed to that essay, the essay itself is its commentary. Certainly one quality which nowadays has been best forgotten— and that is why it will take some time yet for my writings—to become readable-- is essential in order to practise reading as an art--a quality for the exercise of which it is necessary to be a cow, and under no circumstances a modern man--rumination.

The grammar falls apart here again--or maybe not. Maybe just an awkward sentence structure. My paraphrase would be that he believes it will take some time for people to understanding his readings, because modern people lack a quality essential to practicing reading as an art: rumination. The implication would be they're not supposed to think too hard for too long.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-13T22:28:35.585Z · LW · GW

Nietzsche Preface Part 7  (Paraphrase---see previous short-forms)

 

N concludes the preface by explaining that after this new world of ideas opened up to him, he began to search for "learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day)."

So he wanted to find others who had the ability and fortitude to explore this world with him, and it as been an ongoing process. This last part seems kind of rambling and confused to me compared to other parts...the tense shifts are weird. Could be a bad translation.

Enough, that after this vista had disclosed itself to me, I myself had reason to search for learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day). It means traversing with new clamorous questions, and at the same time with new eyes, the immense, distant, and—completely unexplored land of morality of a morality which has actually existed and been actually lived ! and is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land? If, in this context, I thought, amongst others, of the aforesaid Dr. Ree, I did so because I had no doubt that from the very nature of his questions he would be compelled to have recourse to a truer method, in order to obtain his answers. Have I deceived myself on that score? I wished at all events to give a better direction of vision to an eye of such keenness and such impartiality. I wished to direct him to the real history of morality, and to warn him, while there was yet time, against a world of English theories that culminated in the blue vacuum of heaven.

What stands out to me:

"It means" -- what does this refer to? That's what I mean about the grammar falling apart. What is the "it"? Being his colleague? Exploring the vista? 

So this world of morality is completely unexplored, but also something that people have already lived in accordance with? How does that work? What does he mean by "is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land?" Something tells me this may be a sloppy translation or something, because it is so all over the place logically, but there are the outlines of a coherent argument. Is he just saying that he rediscovered the thought process of societies with different moral structures that his society had forgotten about?  And so it was a new discovery for him and contemporaries able to explore it, and thus very exciting and significant, but not actually something new and unexplored for humanity in general? That's how I read it, anyway, in order to make any sense of it.

And that he appealed to others, like Ree (whom he knew quite well), and who seemed like they might be able to get it if he called this to their attention, given their interest and hard work on the topic? Surely they'd be desperate to learn the truth, to satisfy their intellectual curiosity, even if it meant leaving erroneous assumptions behind? If N could just direct him to the actual historical record, Ree would see the error of the English theories that had misled everyone recently? Idk exactly what the blue vacuum of heaven means, but I assume he thinks that is a kind of pleasant delusion that provokes complacency. 

The conclusion continues to be an illogical mess, but I think he's just saying he wanted to reconnect Ree to the obscured connections between ideas that had built up over time---to help him retrace morality's steps, get him to take things seriously rather than in the casual modern way, in which Darwin's discoveries were no big deal and not unsettling to traditional assumptions. He saw a confused philosophy had arisen from trying to fuse incompatible ideas while not thinking hard enough to notice the problem--not taking morality seriously. Similar complaints are made today about the lack of seriousness and taking things for granted among intellectuals, and I think he's getting at the same point: the justifications behind the conclusions aren't solid, and if people don't realize this, the moral conclusions they take for granted will erode over time unexpectedly because no one is explaining them.

He says it is difficult but enjoyable and rewarding to take it seriously and dive into the weeds. But you have to be the type who wants to know, who loves to find truth at all costs, and to do detailed investigations, and only a few people have this capacity. My guess is Ree disappointed him, as did most others. But one day, he says, "we" will realize our current beliefs on this are a joke, and move into a new plot. The grammar here confuses me again--who is the he who both "will use" this new plot and is already "the great ancient eternal dramatist of the comedy of our existence." The timeline doesn't make sense here, and the latter seems to refer to either God or an archetype or the rules of the world, but why would any of those need new material to do this? Is he just saying an opening would arise for certain moral forces or archetypal figures to take the stage again? That's my guess. 

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-13T11:03:15.062Z · LW · GW

Nietzsche Preface Part 6 (Paraphrase---see previous short-forms)

I realize now that I was referring to N's first two books, and that they were not actually his first two books--for some reason, the preface gave me the impression that this was his second book, after Human, All Too Human. This must have been the second book on this topic, maybe. I can't quite figure it out because many of his books were published long after they were written, or became known long after, and it's hard to disentangle the list. The out of order publication, and of course his later deterioration, inability to clarify or respond, and edits by others all seem pretty significant. It would be good to read them in the order they were written. I started Human, All Too Human, and probably should have done that first, but oh well. I only now realize the preface was 1887.

I also determined he must have read a great deal of Emerson by this time, and that's why his conspicuous lack of commentary on Emerson and America is of interest to me. Emerson was a huge influence, almost certainly N's greatest. Most people are still very skeptical of this, but being an Emerson fan, I can confirm how much of N's work is unquestionably taken from Emerson (due to phrasing and combinations of unique concepts). Privately, he talked about Emerson quite a bit, and his influence, but not publicly. But Emerson pretty much formed the basis of his thought. I'm not sure if he was able to read everything Emerson wrote, but I find it weird he seems to be so down on England, while Emerson raved about England and wrote a whole book about England's moral strength published in 1860. Plus, Emerson had gotten somewhat involved in campaigning for Lincoln in 1864, and I think it is weird that N has apparently little to say on that or Lincoln, as the topic was big in Europe. I'm not being America-centric and fixated on my own interests out of nowhere, but specifically because N was so obsessed with Emerson, especially at age 19, which would have been during the Civil War. Was he just incurious about what Emerson had to say after writing his major works in N's childhood? Didn't he wonder about the comparably lively world Emerson described?

Anyway, Part 6:

This problem of the value of pity and of the pity-morality (I am an opponent of the modern infamous emasculation of our emotions) seems at the first blush a mere isolated problem, a note of interrogation for itself; he, however, who once halts at this problem, and learns how to put questions, will experience what I experienced: —sense of potentiality seizes him like a vertigo, every species of doubt, mistrust, and fear springs up, the belief in — a new and immense vista unfolds itself before him, a morality, nay, in all morality, totters, --finally a new demand voices itself.

So he thought it was a relatively minor issue, or not central issue, and then he realized it opened up a real can of worms. All of morality appears suspect o corrupted, and once the disorientation fades, he feels a demand to get to the bottom of the matter an reconstruction the genealogy of morals---how they developed and became distorted. Notes that no one has ever bothered to look into this too deeply. (I'd say that's false, but I get his point, and he probably didn't have easy access to a compendium of existing critiques--still, it seems like quite a few theologians and preachers, at the very least, have dug into this stuff for a while, without just saying "God gave us morals! That's all!"). Also, saying "the modern infamous emasculation" seems to suggest that this was already a much-discussed issue. 

He says no one has really looked into whether a man considered good is of a higher value than one considered bad (by common judgement). He says he means higher value "with regard specifically to human progress, utility, and prosperity generally, not forgetting the future." So, advancement is his standard. "What? Suppose the converse were the truth! What?" It was common at this time to do the double "What?" or, more, often the double "What!" This indicated that the idea would be met disbelief, similar to how we'd say "Really?"

Suppose there lurked in the "good man" a symptom of retrogression, such as a danger, a temptation, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present battened on the future! More comfortable and less risky perhaps than its opposite, but also pettier, meaner! So that morality would really be saddled with the guilt, if the maximum potentiality of the power and splendour of the human species were never to be attained?

Pretty straightforward: what if some of the traits we consider good have non-obvious downsides that make them complacent, not sufficiently interested in bettering the future, dragging humanity down from its max potential? 

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-13T08:16:51.963Z · LW · GW

Part II of paraphrasing Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, this time focusing on Section 5 of the Preface. I want to record my initial impressions of reading Nietzsche without much knowledge of other people's analysis--mainly for the reason he describes here: trying to get to the underlying commonalities in various theories before getting attached to a theory. Especially because I've found 20c intellectuals made a lot of errors interpreting the 19c, and I like to use 19c primary sources. This part (section 5 of the preface) seems pretty important. 

In reality I had set my heart at that time on something much more important than the nature of the theories of myself or others concerning the origin of morality (or, more precisely, the real function from my view of these theories was to point an end to which they were one among many means). 

Nietzsche (who I will abbreviate as N from now on) makes it clear that he's trying to call attention not to the theories themselves, but what they had in common, to get at what was solid and underlying them. They would be picking up on the same things in different ways where they were valid. The source of these insights was the key, and it could be discovered from different angles. Below, he says this source was "the value" of morality---why do people care so much about defining morality to begin with? That's the key.

The issue for me was the value of morality, and on that subject I had to place myself in a state of abstraction, in which I was almost alone with my great teacher Schopenhauer, 

So being in a state of abstraction was anomalous for him and rare in general. I'm pretty sure what he means in this: he had to dismiss all his assumptions so that the could see past the theories to the essence: what they had in common. He had to discover it from the ground up like someone who never internalized any theories. Fieldwork; investigation. Apparently he learned how to do this mostly from Schopenhauer's example.

to whom that book, with all its passion and inherent contradiction (for that book also was a polemic), turned for present help as though he were still alive.

N makes a point of emphasizing both this book and his first one are polemics. Let's stop and think about this, because this is why I think modern interpretations of N are so off. Modern western thinking doesn't really acknowledge this exact concept, which was central to 19c writing, almost none of which had the tone we now associate with serious or scientific writing--neutral, objective, professional, bureaucratic, etc. It's not that it wasn't serious, but it was inherently playful or engaging, meandering, not technical. That was just considered normal---some were much better than others at it, more interesting or clever, but it wasn't significant that someone wrote this way. There were also a lot of allusions, used as shorthand, instead of jargon like we use today. This is still common in official correspondence in some parts of the world--I've noticed many Americans read statements by the CCP and wonder why it sounds "religious" or "inspirational." This is simply default 19c intellectual language, often referred to with bafflement as "flowery" or "romantic" now (which was often quite combative and blunt by our standards.) It was pretty influenced by religion, specifically Biblical and classical language, and western works translated documents from Asia or the Middle East using the same framework. When I use a term like playful, I don't mean anyone was joking. Just that they aren't making entirely literal or factual statements, like you would find in an instruction manual---that was considered inappropriate outside of very specific circumstances, like giving instructions for a simple process. You can't just stop at face value.

Some definitions, for clarity:

  • A polemic is an aggressive, uncompromisingly critical verbal assault.
  • Polemical is the adjective form of the noun polemic, which itself comes from the Greek word, polemos, meaning "war."
  • A polemic is something that stirs up controversy by having a negative opinion, usually aimed at a particular group.
  • polemic (/pəˈlɛmɪk/) is contentious rhetoric that is intended to support a specific position by forthright claims and undermining of the opposing position.

So N was explicitly assuming a stance, which was common at the time, to tear apart a specific target, not merely offering his ideas spontaneously. He was responding. I realize this is obvious to many, but I've noticed this understanding is absent in a lot of later analysis of 19c stuff. A polemic is consciously an attack and is shaped as such, but modern critics will say a polemicist was biased as though this is significant and makes the work less credible. N's first two books, at least, can only be understood in this context: in light of what he was specifically opposing and reacting to, which necessarily set the terms of the debate. This would explain focus and emphasis. He also notes the first book was full of inherent contradiction. 

I haven't read much Schopenhauer, but will make a mental note to do so. I can tell from reading most of the available summaries that the general understanding of him is confused, because they're all contradictory in predictable ways. He was used in service of a variety of competing philosophies later on, and various fields, resulting in essentially many alleged versions of Schopenhauer. What I take from it is that he believed that appearance and reality were different things, and that some sort of Buddhist-like detachment was advisable, rather than the romanticism of his time, which assumed people could know and do more than they could. So, life is full of suffering, so resign oneself to that instead of trying to control everything and torturing oneself with desire and being overly rational. But he was more empirical than mystical, demanding evidence for beliefs, and atheistic. I'm sure that is an extreme simplification and at least partly wrong, but that's the only thing that seems solidly supported by all the sources. And he wrote a lot of polemics, especially towards Hegel's positions, which of course modern sources fail to appreciate, and therefore spend a lot of time complaining that Schopenhauer was pushy and biased and personally fixated---which was the entire point. He was trying to take down contemporaries he thought were wrong. They all also imply that he "coincidentally" generated ideas similar to  Buddhism, as though he could not have been aware of its existence and been informed by it, o commented on the similarities and differences--philosophers at this time knew what Buddhism was, and many studied it. Anyway.

As N notes, Schopenhauer (S from now on) was an outlier at this time, especially in the German intellectual world, and he found his style attractive. But not the content. S had idealized the instincts of pity, self-denial, and self-sacrifice, making them sound inherently valuable by building such a vivid case for them. He sincerely believed in these ideals, "on the strength of which he uttered both to Life and to himself his own negation," N says. 

But against these very instincts there voiced itself in my soul a more and more fundamental mistrust, a scepticism that dug ever deeper and deeper: and in this very instinct I saw the great danger of mankind, its most sublime temptation and seduction seduction to what? to nothingness? in these very instincts I saw the beginning of the end, stability, the exhaustion that gazes backwards, the will turning against Life, the last illness announcing itself with its own mincing melancholy: I realised that the morality of pity which spread wider and wider, and whose grip infected even philosophers with its disease, was the most sinister symptom of our modern European civilisation; I realised that it was the route along which that civilisation slid on its way to a new Buddhism? a European Buddhism?—Nihilism? This exaggerated estimation in which modern philosophers have held pity, is quite a new phenomenon: up to that time philosophers were absolutely unanimous as to the worthlessness of pity. I need only mention Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Kant—four minds as mutually different as is possible, but united on one point; their contempt of pity.

So, I guess as he read S for help with his strategy, he became deeply disturbed by the implications---again, his inner self detected something very wrong. If one started thinking this way--and I think this is related to concerns about the dangers of intellectually-minded people getting into the habit of mainly abstract thought and building air castles, since he seems to think the state of abstraction somewhat odd and associates with S--all that is solid dissolves into abstractions; there's no life, nothing seems wort it; one can see that everything is futile, that nothing can be known enough to justify the confidence to act. And it appears also a complacency ("stability"?), where all you can do is look back because there's no future imaginable.  And then depression and moralization and nihilism. He could see how easy it was to fall down this path, and even if it seemed logical, the results were clearly abnormal historically and bad in their overall outcome. Obviously, N is familiar with Buddhism and makes the connection easily. (It isn't clear that he opposes Buddhism itself, but a bastardized version of it alien to Europe.) Then he connects this with the larger, less intellectual/abstract problem of the "morality of pity" that was spreading through people throughout "our modern European civilisation" (wonder what he thought about America at this point in comparison?) and "even philosophers." He is noting an ongoing change, a stark break with the past, specifically in modern Europe. It is "quite new," a problem of modern philosophy. And it is a sharp reversal--something people should be very suspicious of when we're talking about the fundamentals of life--what does it mean when humanity changes its mind about such a thing? It's at the very least calling out for closer analysis. 

Also important is that he keeps returning to the significance of different theorists having commonalities, and the value one would expect to find in the commonalities, which likely correspond to something real they are all picking up on. And N considers them all very different. And they all think pity is useless (as in, not helpful or admirable, not something to encourage).

Just for reference, Plato lived in ancient Greece, much earlier than the rest. Kant lived in the 1700s, the other two in the 1600s. So we're probably talking about a shift that happened, at earliest, in the late 1700s, and most likely in N's own century, the 1800s.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-13T02:04:46.941Z · LW · GW

Thanks--glad you found it somewhat useful!

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-12T06:07:06.745Z · LW · GW

Found a brief summary of Ree's book---guess they knew each other! 

he Origin of the Moral Sensations was largely written in the autumn of 1877 in Sorrento, where Rée and Nietzsche both worked by invitation of Malwida von Meysenbug. The book sought to answer two questions. First, Rée attempted to explain the occurrence of altruistic feelings in human beings. Second, Rée tried to explain the interpretive process which denoted altruistic feelings as moral. Reiterating the conclusions of Psychological Observations, Rée claimed altruism was an innate human drive that over the course of centuries has been strengthened by selection.

Main point: Ree was interested in altruism, and believed it was an evolutionary selected for instinct. 

Published in 1877, The Origin of the Moral Sensations was Rée's second book. Its standpoint, Rée announced in the foreword, was inductive. Rée first observed the empirical phenomena he thought constituted man's moral nature and then looked into their origin. Rée proceeded from the premise that we feel that some actions to be good and others to be evil. From the latter came the guilty conscience. Rée also followed many philosophers in rejecting free will. The error of free will, Rée claims, lies behind the development of the feeling of justice:

Main point: I can see why Nietzsche reacted badly to these arguments, but wasn't offended by them. Ree worked backwards from categories of morals he'd made up, so that was kind of an issue, in his searching for an explanation to back up his assumptions. If you don't have good judgment on these things, like Niezsche did, this can get ridiculous very quickly. He also seems to think our sense of morality is something we emotionally feel about actions, which seems not the best assumption, and that the guilty conscience comes after these intuitions instead of being intertwined? It was probably more sophisticated than that in the book. But we're unable to control these feelings, and shouldn't feel guilty, because we can't choose anyway, but we feel we choose the wrong thing, and that when this happens, it has to be remedied--so we crave justice. It's not clear if these are reasoning errors or more like evolutionary intuitive/emotional errors.

"The feeling of justice thus arises out of two errors, namely, because the punishments inflicted by authorities and educators appear as acts of retribution, and because people believe in the freedom of the will."

Oh. Okay. So basically since kids are yelled at and told they are responsible for doing bad things, they assume this is true and they deserve what they have coming. This seems kind of all over the place. Authority figures feel some actions are bad, and treat kids as thought that is the case and they can choose not to do them, and this is credible to the kids because they also innately feel these actions are bad and that they have choice. Therefore they see the punishment as necessary and logical.

Rée rejected metaphysical explanations of good and evil; he thought that the best explanations were those of offered by Darwin and Lamarck, who had traced moral phenomena back to their natural causes. Rée argued that our moral sentiments were the result of changes that had occurred over the course of many generations. Like Lamarck and Darwin, Rée argued that acquired habits could be passed to later generations as innate characteristics. As an acquired habit, altruistic behavior eventually became an innate characteristic. Altruistic behavior was so beneficial, Rée claimed, that it came to be praised unconditionally, as something good in itself, apart from its outcomes.

This sounds like it would be "moral foundations theory" or something, but this really doesn't seem to have developed reasoning about which traits would evolve from certain natural causes. Maybe the summary just doesn't bother to say. But he doesn't seem able to come up with the idea that altruism would have evolutionary benefits, although it doesn't seem like this idea would have been hard to generate even at the time, as animals cooperate. Actually, I think I misunderstood, and he did make some evolutionary argument. But basically we found altruistic people so attractive that even when unnecessary, it was selected for--overly altruistic people were selected for, even if it led to bad outcomes, because it is itself an impressive virtue. I can see why Nietzsche would freak out about this.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-11-12T05:49:31.846Z · LW · GW

Attempt to understand Nietzsche and paraphrase him, since it seems a lot of people are interpreting him various ways that strike me as incorrect and even absurd. I may be the one who is wrong, but I want to sketch it out. (Some academics likely have it right, but their stuff isn't easily accessible.) 

Genealogy of Morals

Preface

People don't reflect enough on what it is they're doing in life--this part strikes me as weirdly vague in its phrasing. I'm not quite sure if he's saying they don't know what they really want, or what their purpose is, or what it is they are supposed to be understanding. I gather from what he says about the hive that he believes something like the purpose of human life is to acquire knowledge that provides meaningful satisfaction to the human spirit. But this is clearly a brief intro which will be expanded upon.

He then talks about how he has been exploring where morality came from for years at this point, and writing about it, and he's happy to see his ideas cohering--they fit together, which means he is on to something real. This strikes me as very important and a generally underappreciated aspect of Nietzsche and philosophy in general---way too many people think they can pick and choose individual sentences and understand what is going on, but these things are part of a coherent value system connected to a larger truth. You really have to absorb and marinate in this type of writing, not take it at face value. They can be extremely dysfunctional or just useless if used out of context. They're "of a piece." Extremely important passage:

That is the only state of affairs that is proper in the case of a philosopher. We have no right to be "disconnected"; we must neither err "disconnectedly" nor strike the truth "disconnectedly." Rather with the necessity with which a tree bears its fruit, so do our thoughts, our values, our Yes's and No's and If's and Whether's, grow connected and interrelated, mutual witnesses of one will,

 

The next part was slightly confusing to me, but basically he says that from a very young age, he was obsessed with why something was considered right or wrong, and what made it so. He felt he had to question things, in a way so at odds with the behavior of people around him that he thought he was somehow unique or unprecedented (a priori). His personality/nature would cause him to freeze and analyze any inconsistency until he reconciled it or could explain the concept, pretty much. I am the same way; Lincoln said something similar. He explored philosophical problems that were commonly presented to students at that time, and sounds quite similar to Emerson here in saying he decided to argue God created evil and thought he was quite clear. Emerson told his schoolmaster that he trusted his instincts, and was asked what if they came from the devil. He then said "well, I guess I'm a creature of the devil, then, and have to follow my nature." Note that Emerson was from a long line of preachers and in a New England Christian community in the early 1800s, so that was risky. Nietzsche seems more neurotic, and so wonders what in his nature caused him to make that argument, which was "immoral" or "at least amoral." What about his constitution resisted simply accepting that evil came from the Devil, not God? Was it just being clever, or was that what he really believed deep down at age 13? He notes his inner self spoke to him in categorical imperatives, insisting on one consistent rule, no inconsistency. Took me a minute to figure out the "Kantian article" reference. Info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_peace Still not sure exactly the point---simply that his own argument wasn't so insistent on doing the morally good thing? That it was freaky to consider that God created evil, and all its implications? Yeah, it appears he was stressed about violating Christian teachings, but soon learned how to take a secular approach, and seems to imply he became an atheist. No longer thought supernatural origins were in play.

Instead, values were created by men--not God or the Devil--and the question is on what basis did they generate them, are they actually valuable, and do they help or hinder humanity? The "helping" view would mean "is it in them that is manifested the fulness, the strength, and the will of Life, its courage, its self-confidence, its future?" This is what Nietzsche considers valuable. 

He basically then says he dove into the problem and constructed an elaborate intellectual framework over some period of time, and relished the satisfaction of playing around with his discoveries, but kept it mostly quiet, until inspired to publish by an interesting book on morals, that expressed the polar opposite of his own views and thus fascinated him. Despite disagreement on everything, he read it without getting worked up--I assume he means the approach of the author was "fair" and well-reasoned, so he could respect it intellectually and really grasp it. It was the first time he'd encountered this value system clearly and coherently--he makes a point of saying this was the English kind, which he finds alien. That book inspired him to write his later books--to refute its arguments and discuss the origin of morality. Note to self: read the book described as follows:

I owe to a clear, well-written, and even precocious little book, in which a perverse and vicious kind of moral philosophy (your real English kind) was definitely presented to me for the first time; and this attracted me—with that magnetic attraction, inherent in that which is diametrically opposed and antithetical to one's own ideas. The title of the book was The Origin of the Moral Emotions; its author, Dr. Paul Ree; the year of its appearance, 1877.

Note on timeline: Nietzsche mentions he spent a lot of time thinking this stuff over in the 1870s, especially mid-late. Have to look at what was going on, but I believe Bismarck was doing his thing. Emerson was alive but failing. The U.S. was just starting to become modern, at a rapid pace, in terms of big business especially, then sliding into imperialism and government-by-expert. I think Europe was reasonably stable (excepting Russia?), but I'll probably turn out to be very wrong on that.

I referred accordingly both in season and out of season in the previous works, at which I was then working, to the arguments of that book,—
not to refute them for what have I got to do with mere—
refutations but substituting, as is natural to a positive mind, for an improbable theory one which is more probable, and occasionally no doubt for one philosophic error another. In that early period I gave, as I have said, the first public expression to those theories of origin to which these essays are devoted, but with a clumsiness which I was the last to conceal from myself, for I was as yet cramped, being still without a special language for these special subjects,

Nietzsche makes a point of noting he takes a positive approach--meaning he wants to build a case for the correct system, not negate others'. So where he thought something made an unlikely assumption relative to his own, he spelled that out, admitting he was wrong at times and that his ideas took a while to express effectively, but have stayed consistent. Interesting that he thinks he needed jargon--not sure which special subjects/language he means, but I could see how certain things would be useful shorthand. Also, this must have been translated into German, which may have made things a little weird when talking about certain concepts and technical terms.

Will continue with Part 5. 

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels · 2020-09-09T07:59:41.048Z · LW · GW

There's definitely truth in that, but I think it's below 80 on both counts, at least in 2020. Going about one's business even in an ordinary way requires an understanding of a lot of higher meanings. Very little directly corresponds to reality.

I think it is correct that "please pass the potatoes" is Stage 1, but it's not the best example for describing what this article is talking about. It's more about the hearer than the speaker, in some ways, and what broader context they bring to a straightforward statement.

I think the idea is more like that at level 2, the child no longer passes the potatoes just because it's the moral and practical thing to do, but sees it as an imposition and wants to know why he has to. The parent may be using the phrase exactly the same, but has failed to teach the child to appreciate his wider social obligations and what needs to be done to keep the community going. At level 3, the child thinks "better do what mom says and pass the potatoes or get yelled at/grounded," but again sees it as a hassle rather than healthy interaction. This is because whenever she asks why, she gets told "because I said so." Even though the reason her mom would ask is common sense, if you're used to getting that answer, you often stop observing your own surroundings and think of things in a self-absorbed rather than common sense manner. At level 4, you may to get a point where a child casually passes a platter with one potato left, not thinking to get more or warn they are gone, because they don't get that the request implies you want to eat the potatoes, not just possess a plate with scraps. Or they might get embarrassed by not knowing what to do and asked to be excused.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels · 2020-09-08T01:43:03.298Z · LW · GW

Forgot to add that I think there is a lot of overlap between stage 2 and 3, such that they may not necessarily be different levels of progress so much as different personality types who exist on the same level, which is nihilistic in character. Or, maybe, that a minority of 2 and 3 types exist at every stage---the former is the string-pullers of any age, and the latter is the abstract intellectual type. These people generally make up the elite class, and their behavior will differ depending on the stage of society. Most people never hit this level of cynicism or abstraction, but regular people borrow random 2 and 3 behaviors/concepts that appeal to their needs. I suspect the way it works is that the general public stays rooted for a long period at 1, but when their selectively collected 2/3 ideas reach a certain level of salience, the discrepancies shift them rapidly to stage 4, and the elites find they can't influence things the way they used to.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on The Four Children of the Seder as the Simulacra Levels · 2020-09-08T01:21:08.902Z · LW · GW

Brilliant! Agree the story is getting at the same concept as simulacra levels, which can be far more "low-tech" than people realize. The increased abstraction or speed of change are not the drivers, but both a causes and effects of knowledge decay, which is the real driver. I believe the phenomenon is cyclical, and correlates broadly with generational change.

You may not agree with this, but I've been desperately trying to explain to people older than me that a critical mass of (mostly young) people have hit level 5, and it is our responsibility to get things back on track, because they literally cannot do so. This can only be done by re-anchoring ourselves in object-level reality, as expressed in a concept of natural order and a sincere commitment to wisdom and truth. If we don't do it, society will eventually crash into reality and be forced to rediscover it for themselves, but starting from scratch would be tragic given all the past experience we have to guide us. We already know what works--the details don't matter as much as we think they do.

I'm 31. This is an extremely low-resolution generalization, but the way I see it, my parents were born and raised in a stage 3-4 transition, and I was born and raised in a stage 4-5 transition. As you suggest, stage 4 people don't pass anything on to their kids, but they're oblivious to the problem, because already in a pretty oblivious state, but with enough of a sense of earlier stages to keep this from impairing their functioning in immediately obvious ways. Caught somewhat in the middle, I can get into the minds of both and see the disconnect. I was also able to recover an understanding of stages 1 and 2, and get a general sense of what we're missing and why. But I'm not sure where to go from here. My sense is that this stage is usually exited when people turn in desperation to the minority of with a Stage 1 mindset for leadership, because they've crashed into reality and can no longer focus on punishing the wise. But in a complex, highly mediated and interrelated society, it's much harder for this sort of thing to get going. And most American adults are extremely averse to the idea of a natural order outside of delineated areas convenient to them, because of the limits or choices it imposes. I think there are ways to reconcile things into a transcendent order that is not nearly as extreme, impractical, or unfamiliar as they suppose, but that's hard to convey in a society where everyone has a linear idea of progress. In the last few years, I've become convinced that is a highly mistaken concept.

I'm interested in the length of the stages, which don't seem to be exactly the same. 4-5 is a rapid transition, and 3-4 is probably pretty quick. My grandparents seemed to be in stage 3. It seems like stage 1 and 2 last much longer, and that the boundaries between stages are pretty diffuse until stage 4, when it rapidly goes to hell, for reasons you did an excellent job articulating.

Sorry for the long response, but I'm so excited to see someone else who gets this, and can communicate it so well!

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Tearing down the Chesterton's Fence principle · 2020-08-02T18:06:42.696Z · LW · GW

I think in the modern world there are a lot more truly "unnecessary" things around for no good reason, largely because we have so many resources and our society is so structured. This makes the calculus a lot trickier. But I think it's still a very important idea.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on New Paper on Herd Immunity Thresholds · 2020-07-30T16:49:55.220Z · LW · GW

In some people, antibodies start to wane at that point, but they still have antibodies for some time. So there's definitely at least some immunity for longer than that, plus other types of immunity (T-cell, etc.) Plus, if everyone is losing immunity over different time frames, they're not going to contract it nearly as easily as when we were all at zero, since many others around them will still be immune. The staggering probably helps a lot. I think the same is true for colds, and I don't get a cold every couple of months, though I know some people do. More like once a year, and colds are caused by a bunch of different viruses, so it's not even once a year for each virus.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on New Paper on Herd Immunity Thresholds · 2020-07-30T07:07:06.563Z · LW · GW
The 60%-70% result is based on a fully naive SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model in which all of the following are assumed to be true:
People are identical, and have identical susceptibility to the virus.
People are identical, and have identical ability to spread the virus.
People are identical, and have identical exposure to the virus.
People are identical, and have contacts completely at random.
The only intervention considered is immunity. No help from behavior adjustments.

Ugh. I just can't believe how ridiculous this all is, and how no one can see through it, and how those who can don't say anything because they'll get yelled at. And I can't believe someone insisted on using such a model for such major decisions and that our leaders went along with it. But I've seen enough of this stuff to know it's not all that shocking.

I think a lot of people really don't grasp the insight. Like, for me, I can just envision a bunch of people in my had and picture them going about their lives in different ways, and it's very easy for me to see how there would be huge variance here. But most people are shockingly bad at replicating how people behave, especially when it involves a bunch of different behaviors at one time for no real reason. Even though they can see this with their own eyes.

In my head, I immediately run through images of a person who is a loud talker and socializer going around spreading it everywhere. Once he or she stops doing that and gets at least some immunity, you are going to have way fewer cases. I picture an essential worker with a lot of public contact going home and infecting his or her family. Picture these types of people x1000 in a community, and picture what happens when all these people are immune, or, sadly, in some cases, dead. You will most likely see a huge drop in infection rates. Not perfect, but a big drop, and makes social distancing measures more effective for vulnerable people, since they will be less exposed overall. Even if immunity wanes, there will be less virus out there for you to pick up again. I know people want black and white answers, but you can definitely see how it would depend on community dynamics as to when someone infected becomes unlikely to come in close contact with someone who isn't immune.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-30T06:51:42.342Z · LW · GW

It was before that took off, but I'm pretty positive Pinker or a friend of his wrote it up as a pretext for interviews on the topic.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Thiel on Progress and Stagnation · 2020-07-22T20:23:01.298Z · LW · GW

Most or all of these ideas appear in other works, but many of them may still be original in the sense that he generated them largely from his own observations. A lot of it what someone with his intellect and personality would pick up on from personal experiences and by synthesizing wide reading. Few ideas haven't been independently reached by other people, whether or not they've been popularized or applied the same way. To pick one, "And if you don't say those things, well we know you're not the person to get tenure," is pretty much Chomsky's point about how journalists end up replicating the narratives of the system: "I don't say you're self-censoring. I'm sure you believe everything you're saying. But what I'm saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn't been sitting where you're sitting." And many others have said the same thing in other contexts.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-07-19T17:48:36.752Z · LW · GW

Adding a few more *possibilities*, not all of which I think are likely. I'm not as sure on some of the fundamentals as I once was, partly due to new evidence. The evidence remains poorly presented overall so I could be more off than I thought, but in most cases that would be true for almost everyone.

  • I'd been confident for a while much of spread was presymptomatic and aerosolized, with handwashing likely not doing much at all. I now think there's a small possibility something like fecal spread is involved, and that possibly the WHO is right about it being more about large droplets. But they could also be very wrong, and I think they probably are. Even then, one would think masks help slow spread in brief interactions, so they work well enough for anyone practicing social distancing indefinitely, but beyond a certain amount of exposure, the reduction in spread is probably hours or days. Raincoats work, but if you go swimming in one...
  • It seems like this may be way, way less dangerous for almost everyone than people think. Not saying it's not a big deal or just the flu. But even with protests and other things, it doesn't seem like we're overwhelmed. Cases are going up, but they *will* go up, until we reach some level of immunity. The question is how much death and suffering results. Many of the cases seem minor. I think there is a decent possibility that historians will remember 2020 as a major overreaction, but this is by no means clear yet. It could go the other way, but I really don't think it will seem scarier than cancer in a few years in terms of death risk. Not anywhere close. Longer term effects in some cases, I'm not sure. Some reports are worrying. But the long-term effects of the shutdown, social and economic, may end up overwhelming such concerns. I'm very concerned about how things are going to go in the next few years---what the heck are we going to do about all the people who lost health insurance and jobs? And many more probably will soon. I don't see anyway historians consider lockdown anything but a major mistake, certainly past the two-week point. Even if the idea behind it seemed sensible, that idea seems to have rested on assumptions that were obviously mistaken and can't be easily excused among our leaders (worrying about hospital crowding but not thinking about how that connected to sending infected patients to nursing homes or the hospital as a major source of spread during lockdown, and also making so many people lose their health insurance and hospitals lose so much revenue that the healthcare system itself may end up in even bigger trouble in the long-term.)
  • Still don't think vaccines will make much of a difference, if we get them. Not happy with the IMO misleading messaging on this. UV lights in public buildings seem more promising than anything I've heard so far.
  • Most of the world seems to be returning to normal, dropping containment as a strategy, though relatively quietly---the U.S. seems to be an outlier here. I have a feeling Europe will have largely moved on from the virus itself in a year, with the most vulnerable taking precautions. The economy will be the focus, out of necessity. Idk what the heck will happen with the U.S.
  • It seems like some people may have more immunity than we thought, but it doesn't seem immunity lasts long at all. Still, some degree of herd immunity will probably help a lot and and subsequent cases may well be milder.
Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-19T08:12:24.107Z · LW · GW

That's possible. It hardly seems necessary though---he could write the book without that pretext, though I get it helps. There have been sort of partial cancellation attempts already and that will probably continue--like the Epstein stuff, which to me it seems he should defend more vigorously. I get he may just want that to go away, but it seems absurd and dangerous to imply that he couldn't comment to a friend and co-worker about his judgment of the statute in question, just because it could be used to defend a bad person in court. That seems like a really important thing to preserve---are we supposed to allow the prosecutors to interpret the statute incorrectly to arrest people for things that are not supposed to be crimes, just to avoid the possibility that the correct interpretation would result in an acquittal? We're talking about analyzing the plain meaning of a common statute, which is pretty fundamental to get right. It wasn't like Pinker testified as an expert witness, not that I would have seen anything wrong with that in the slightest. He's already controversial enough to write a book on the suppression of free academic speech for sure. I also assume he'd have done a better job with the letter if he wanted to make it a dramatic story to sell books. He seems to have just wanted an excuse to do interviews on the topic, maybe in collaboration with concerned employees at the NYT and elsewhere, given how positive the response has been.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-16T02:44:23.326Z · LW · GW

Update: Pinker has an interview out with the NYT itself. Given that this is the NYT, it is about as favorable a piece as he could obtain. Even with all the insinuation, it's pretty glowing. And they note the letter is weird (and also that the society's leadership declined to take action against him).

But the letter was striking for another reason: It took aim not at Professor Pinker’s scholarly work but at six of his tweets dating back to 2014, and at a two-word phrase he used in a 2011 book about a centuries-long decline in violence.
...The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.
Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.
The linguists’ letter touched only lightly on questions that have proved storm-tossed for Professor Pinker in the past. In the debate over whether nature or nurture shapes human behavior, he has leaned toward nature, arguing that characteristics like psychological traits and intelligence are to some degree heritable.
...
Because this is a fight involving linguists, it features some expected elements: intense arguments about imprecise wording and sly intellectual put-downs.

That last point could explain the odd selection of charges and wasn't something I thought too much about, but I would still expect a group of linguists to find juicier material to pore over than that.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Book Review: Fooled by Randomness · 2020-07-15T04:35:14.867Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the explanation---that all makes sense. I guess what I was getting at is that as you said, it can be done in a completely sensible way by people who know what they're doing, but it tends to become split up in awkward ways.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Book Review: Fooled by Randomness · 2020-07-14T00:49:23.589Z · LW · GW

This is my take: I entered college in 2007, and took a few public policy courses with a professor who was excellent. She spotlighted this book, which I'll admit didn't make a huge impression on me at the time. But it was the first introduction I had to these ideas, and I think they stayed with me. When I reread it a few years ago, I really enjoyed it and thought it stated perfectly a lot of things I'd already picked up on or heard in more obscure ways in the intervening years. I assume that for many, particularly people who don't have any background in this sort of thing, this stuff is new to them or has never been stated in a way that resonates.

I've always disliked discussing statistics and finance, even though I enjoy learning about almost everything. The sense I got was that to understand and use it at all, you'd have to constantly master it and all its tricks--that there was no real in-between. The rules were always changing, and the underlying conditions.

The way Taleb discusses these topics addresses this exact issue, and is very easy for me to follow. The personal tone of the book establishes a feeling of trust...that, I think, is what he signals with those asides. He acknowledges the game being played, even as he plays it. This appeal to a certain type of reader and explains his fans' enthusiasm. It definitely isn't for everyone. But it is definitely my experience that someone like me would not have been familiar with these ideas at the time the book was published. They are much more common now. But Taleb's combative, eccentric style and unique perspective still stand out in general, and remain a big part of his appeal.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-13T00:35:05.811Z · LW · GW

What stands out to me is that this looks low-effort, but stuff like the footnote thing, and some of the rather subtle though simple argumentation, seem fundamentally incompatible with being low-effort. This is what I see as most significant that something is off. And if you try and take the letter at face value or as an effort to be taken at face value, you would expect to see evidence of motivation/effort, since someone has to care enough to bother. That's also why I doubt the humiliation aspect---if you want to show someone you can enforce absurdity, it's usually a lot showier with more effort involved, and it would be more clearly absurd. This is more dumb than audacious. It could be incompetence, but the footnote also seems fundamentally incompatible with that. It's just not a natural kind of shoddy work---more of a generic placeholder.

It's not particularly brilliant, so I don't think the letter itself is more than a pretext or experiment, if it's a false flag thing. It's not done in the way someone like Pinker would do it if he was trying to sell books or make himself a martyr or be well-guarded against future accusations. I wasn't sure how sharp Pinker was at first (in a strategically alert sense, not an academic one), or how conflict-averse. After researching this, I've concluded he is quite sharp and not afraid of conflict---so it's too slapped together for it to have been a big move on his part. It would have to be a small component of a larger move.

I think it is a mistake to assume there is much risk if the plan fails, or that it would have to be particularly complicated. A lot of this stuff is normal PR behavior, as ChristianKI says below. There's a lot of mischief and "inexplicable" stuff that goes on daily on the Internet, and people barely notice many of the crazier things, let alone something like this, which is pretty boring.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-12T22:42:41.042Z · LW · GW

Here---there's an excerpt here. You can include them if you'd like.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-12T00:31:18.956Z · LW · GW

Matt Taibbi has written an article that makes me more confident it was a false flag...at least 55%. He doesn't argue this, but he also noted that the accusations were weirdly chosen and presented. It's paywalled, but a few quotes:

"When I reached out to the group’s listed email, they declined comment" (citing fear of threats, in a short and vague response.)

"The campaign seems to have failed, as it doesn’t appear the LSA is planning on taking action." (Why did it die out without any further info?)

"Pinker didn’t see this exact campaign coming, as 'I don't consider myself a political provocateur, and I'm a mainstream liberal Democrat.' However, he says, 'over the years I’ve realized I have some vulnerabilities.' ... By way of explaining, he referenced [the SSC controversy]..."

He speaks more calmly and intelligently about this issue than almost any public figure I've seen. I'm going to read more of his work.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-11T05:55:16.770Z · LW · GW

By "operationalize our disagreement," do you mean agreeing on what wou. I'm now more confident in my position. He's evidently volunteered to be a champion of the cause and take the heat, and the interview suggests he's thought a lot about the issue and how it works. So he would know how to "game" it. But it's evident he's not taking responsibility for the letter and probalby never will--it's not like

Literally as I'm writing this, I just saw that Pinker did an interview. I'm now more confident in my position. He's evidently volunteered to be a champion of the cause and take the heat, and the interview suggests he's thought a lot about the issue and how it works. So he would know how to observe it and "game" it, and he's not afraid. But it's evident he's not taking responsibility for the letter and probably never will if he was behind it--it's not clever enough to brag about. But it would have given him reason to step in to the fray and highlight certain things, which he obviously wants to do. He says that “It’s important that there be a public voice, a focal point to break what is sometimes called a spiral of silence."


ETA: I should clarify that this is technically a different position---I was lumping them together under "he is in on it," but I no longer think it is mostly about inoculation. More about the other possibility I suggested: "Or perhaps it was a plan by him and others to send the debate in a specific direction that they could more easily address."

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-10T22:19:22.994Z · LW · GW

I assume you are asking me to give a probability....maybe 40%. The last few months have been so weird that it's harder for me to assess this than it normally would be---I have a feeling I'm not tracking the full range of plausible motives now in operation. I also don't follow Pinker very closely so I don't have a great sense of his behavior, tactics, and values. But the information given in this post seems to me strong evidence that this isn't what it appears to be, and Pinker seems by far the person with the most to gain from it (and the most to lose from not trying to preempt it.) It would almost certainly involve cooperation by others who want to see if the technique works and think Pinker is a good trial balloon (his steady, optimistic personality is ideal for this, and he has prominent detractors rising to his defense, which gives momentum), but it wouldn't work without his active participation.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-09T19:19:13.864Z · LW · GW

This definitely explains a lot of it, but I feel like there's something missing from the analysis.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Something about the Pinker Cancellation seems Suspicious · 2020-07-09T02:55:05.063Z · LW · GW

These are very sharp observations, and I think you're on to something. Don't know what the real story is, but your suggestions are plausible. The one that seems most likely to me is Pinker preemptively canceling himself to inoculate against future attempts. I don't think it's outlandish. And I think it is quite possible that Pinker has some Machiavelli in him.

Or perhaps it was a plan by him and others to send the debate in a specific direction that they could more easily address. It's possible that he just caught the eye of some LSA member who wanted to take a stand and didn't do much research, but your point about the footnote is telling. I didn't follow the Pinker controversy closely, but I did notice it seemed oddly tame. People are way too wedded to taking things at face value---yes, most of the time, there's no grand conspiracy, but strategy is a thing and you have to watch for moves or glaring omissions.

In addition to the general craziness, there's definitely something going on right now that just seems off---incidents that are too neatly executed yet simultaneously too incompetent or bizarre to be natural. I think people are hijacking the current controversies---the issues are mostly real, but there are contrived ones mixed in, I suspect, that go beyond simply riding the wave and seem designed for maximum division and ridiculousness. And it's happening in mainstream media outlets in a coordinated manner. At first I thought some people or groups were sowing confusion and the media was falling for it, whether by domestic trolls or foreign information warriors, but now it seems more like malicious testing, to see what works and how far they they can go without getting pushback. It could be a show of power demonstrating that absurdity can be enforced, but that kind of behavior is a weird thing to do at such a large scale for such a diverse audience. Powerful status quo figures use spin and selective smear campaigns, but rarely benefit from constant and off-putting provocation. It seems more designed to disorient everyone and make exploiting it in any real direction impossible. I don't think this would be related to conservatives, but to a person or group who doesn't have any interest in the country's welfare or traditional political power. I know this sounds conspiratorial, but something odd is going on, and I can't quite figure out who benefits, unless it's pure distraction by panicked and deranged elites who can't deal with their disrupted future, as Matt Taibbi has argued. I've never seen anything like it.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on The Puzzling Linearity of COVID-19 · 2020-06-30T16:45:42.776Z · LW · GW

My guess is that most people aren't infecting many others because of a number of factors, mainly awareness of the issue and social distancing measures. Most people are being extra careful compared to usual, especially about things that would have a high probability of transmission. I'm not sure how good the testing is...even if it is much better than it was, are they really anywhere close to catching all new cases, especially very mild ones? They are probably undercounting. But it doesn't surprise me that right now it's not taking off like crazy, especially if so many people are working from home and kids aren't at school/don't even really spread it. Initial spread would have been more extensive because of lack of awareness. People weren't taking precautions because they didn't know to do so, or didn't understand the most effective ways to reduce risk, which was really unfortunate for groups of vulnerable people, such as nursing homes and multi-generational homes. If everything was open and no one was aware again, you'd probably start seeing huge super spreader events that could go exponential.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-06-28T17:57:43.463Z · LW · GW

Add: vaccine won't do much, for reasons I've posted elsewhere.

The people it would make the biggest difference for would probably be too high risk to take a vaccine that wasn't heavily tested overtime, and may not be able to risk such a vaccine at all. They would have to rely on herd immunity. The feeling of psychological security it would offer lower-risk people may have some impact.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-06-28T01:07:55.489Z · LW · GW

Update:


1) Going much slower than expected, but still expect a sudden shift at some point. It's starting to look like the health risks are less severe than many feared in April and May, but of course it's not no big deal either.

2) This is going as I expected, more or less, but I'm surprised by how much working from home continues. I also think concerts could come back early than expected, but they've all been postponed by a year now anyway, and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to go forward then, by any means. They are tied with stadium sports for the worst possible superspreadever events, I think. Sports are generally so much more important to most people that they will almost certainly get started first, but it is a bit tough because many venues host both so how do you do one without the other? Mandating masks and banning cheering may be attempted, but the problem with both events is that people can't wear masks and drink, and it's real hard to keep quiet even if you're trying. Sports crowds are generally much older, so the reverse could happen---young people adjusting to remote sports, and the older ceasing to attend. I don't know.

3) This is going on as I expected---not a whole lot of discussion of it, though. Starting to change a bit.

4) Going as expected, to the extent much can be expected here.


Getting a lot of resistance on these, so adding more:

1) Higher ed is done. Less from logistics than puncturing the illusion surrounding the ponzi scheme nature of it, as well as the current American dream narrative. Makes people reconsider assumptions, but mostly the money won't be there or won't be easily spent. Elite colleges for certain things will return---tech and humanities---most people will stop getting a traditional college degree and turn to other types of programs or focus on ones that don't require it. Credentialism will lessen in many areas.

2) Not as sure here, but pretty significant economic disruption as people can't pay bills and default on mortgages and try to save money. It seems like the real estate bubble should crash, but everyone pushes back on this. Obviously, will depend on the location, but office real estate most definitely. I don't see how this can't cause a problem with residential either. It makes people think of the future differently. This may be mitigated by government intervention, probably a much bigger and more controlling government, or it could lead to decentralization.

3) As a result of 2), I tend to think permanent (for my lifetime, at least) reduction in American standard of living and also probably life expectancy. We were at the peak of living standards and it was unsustainable, borrowed from the future and past in a way that cannot be repaid or regained, because much of it is actually related to ones perceptions psychologically/narrative, as well as other interlocking manipulations, and the whole thing will unravel now---the whole infinite growth and progress thing is not persuasive enough anymore. Nor is the post-truth/post-politics world. Return to object level. This will mean that people are much less obsessed with lengthening their life without any cost-benefit calculation---Boomers will probably be peak healthcare consumption for some time. Everyone else will see a future where people languish in nursing homes, and have a less rosy expectation, and be more aware of the fact of death. This awareness of the tradeoffs, combined with the impact of COVID-19 (assuming it doesn't peter out, but I imagine it will have some effect), will shave a few years off the average life span.

4) Massive inter- and intra- generational conflict. Appears to already be starting. Major problems between many Boomers and their kids. Their kids mainly dysfunctional and unable to break free of the assumptions they were raised with fully. Overly obedient for good reason. But ultimately will probably still wrench the wheel away from the leadership class eventually, as they aren't tolerable at this point. There will definitely be some capable factions out there regardless of the overall issues.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-27T18:54:28.039Z · LW · GW

Here's an example of one thing that made me wary of the paper: https://medium.com/@lessig/lessig-v-nyt-very-good-news-d8b3c57150c4

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Atemporal Ethical Obligations · 2020-06-27T04:54:29.884Z · LW · GW

I disagree with the idea that we're obviously more moral in a superior sense to people who lived earlier in American history. Perhaps in a "quantitative" sense. We started out in an environment more favorable to certain moral ideas, but we may have gone no further or not even as far as our predecessors in personal moral achievement/advancement. The improved environment was a result of the most recent predecessors' moral advancement. What we do with it represents how much moral gain we can take credit for.

While there are obvious exceptions, in general, it seems to me like the equivalent of saying "I had an iPhone and they had no electricity--I'm so much more advanced!" The retort is that the end result is definitive -- "we don't own slaves, whether or not we did anything to help get to this point, we're still more moral because of this." That's what I mean by quantitative: we do have better technology. And this does matter---while one of my objections is that we actually wildly misrepresent the degree of acceptance of many of these things historically, often claiming that no one even thought to question the wrongness of things that were always at some level publicly contentious (such as slavery), it certainly does affect your moral sensibility. The average person now is less likely to have developed a tolerance for brutality and oppression than the average person in a slave-holding society. That said, Thomas Jefferson himself wrote about this exact issue---how it morally perverted southern children. So some had sensitivity and awareness, but that didn't get them very far at all in the morality of their actions. And that brings me to my main point: many of the people who can claim to be more moral, with some justification, would not be if the circumstances had been less favorable. This is true of most people, who tend to go along with things.

But we're not just "men of our time," either. Some people truly are more moral than their contemporaries and transcend circumstances---these are usually the same type of person in any era. The abolitionist in the 1800s would be consumed with fighting injustice today, although what types are debatable. Abolitionists overlapped a lot with women's rights advocates, etc. They don't need to be taught what's wrong--they see it. When the average person claims this moral vision, I'm wary. I just don't believe most men today are superior in judgement, moral or otherwise, to Benjamin Franklin. I most definitely don't believe so with regard to Lincoln. They had more favorable circumstances that kept them from certain things, but I don't believe their impulses are fundamentally different.

I just find the whole idea of clear and definite moral progress problematic and ahistorical. I don't think we want to play this game, and I don't think morality reverses as wildly as we think. Practices change more than fundamental beliefs. And the average public opinion does not differ as much on many things over time as is often represented. For example, what Mary Wollstonecraft said. I haven't gotten a chance to look at the context of her statement, but it was a common argument at the time, including by her, that women were deprived of the ability to develop themselves, morally, intellectually, and otherwise, because they weren't allowed to take on certain responsibilities, make decisions, or have the same learning experiences. And in a society with norms like that one, and particularly in a world in which most women dealt with constant pregnancy or nursing, this would indeed appear fated. An argument like that is not at all objectionable to me, nor would a weaker version that was also common, such that women were generally more emotional and personal by nature, and this tended to interfere with acquiring certain broad virtues to the highest extent. It may be incorrect and reflect a lack of awareness of social norms that shape the situation, but I don't see it as a sign of particular immorality. I think many people would make an equivalent comment today. It's not considered very respectable, but it's not terribly rare to think women might be more emotional or more frequently fail to develop sufficient confidence and independence due to fate seeming against their success. And I don't think either of these comments are immoral, even if incorrect. Many people would say that is what they had personally observed. People are regularly mistaken in what they think they have observed. The consequences of this are unfortunate, but it doesn't strike me as inherently indicative of bad character.

Also, I disagree with that characterization of Lincoln's views. I've studied him pretty carefully. In many things, he was a live and let live guy, though alert to concerns of justice. He didn't have a busybody streak when it came to those things. I don't think he had strong feelings that other races should be prevented from doing anything. I think it is entirely possible he was in favor of or at least wasn't bothered by black suffrage personally at any time, and probably not very bothered by interracial marriage (he probably wasn't in favor of it, because he saw that the family would be ostracized, but I don't think he was upset by it). But he also knew most white people in the area did care, and so it wasn't something he spent much time on, because it wasn't going to happen, and he was generally focused on advocating for things that could be practically achieved. He evaluated most things politically, which at times I think was far from immoral--the situation had to reach a certain point to make certain developments wise to pursue. The key thing was that he moved in the direction of justice whenever it became clear it could be done without drastic backlash or noncompliance.

The quotes that are paraphrased in your post are often taken out of context---he was basically telling voters he wasn't advocating for black suffrage or interracial marriage, which were unpopular, not that he had some strong personal feeling against it and would never in a million years let it happen. His words are very carefully qualified. I believe he even joked about how he wasn't advocating for it, but he didn't see why it was such a big deal if a black woman wanted to marry a white man, saying something like "if she can stand it!" He also joked that he'd personally follow Stephen Douglas around to make sure he didn't marry a black a woman, since Douglas seemed so worried about what would happen if the laws changed. He seemed to find the whole debate rather annoyingly obsessive--if you are against interracial marriage, it's not like anyone is going to make you do it! I think he also joked about this when speaking to Kentuckians, saying he had several sister-in-laws in that state, and he had no fear that they were going to run away with black men, that it was an issue just used to inflame people. (And, of course, many people today still might have a hard time adjusting to a child's decision to marry someone of a different race, and don't go out of their way to fight for unpopular causes.)

He by no means went out of his way to help black people (few did), but I truly don't think he had any strong impulse to block their progress. As president, he came around to it as quickly as it was feasible---once black soldiers enlisted in the military, that was proof to him that they were capable of voting. I think he was fundamentally much more decent than most people then or now. He wasn't a reformer on the leading edge of justice, but few are, and usually reformers only achieve their aims with the help of practical but principled politicians. Both are needed, and one is not necessarily more moral than the other.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-27T02:08:54.394Z · LW · GW

I suspect the strategy more to make it obvious the paper is aware of what it is doing, not allowing them to spin it as a misunderstanding after the fact. I think this changes their calculation more than people realize, but it's impossible to say what the final decision will be.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-27T01:51:14.618Z · LW · GW

My prior for malice was also pretty high, and had updated in that direction significantly in the last year or so from monitoring the coverage, and also with recent details. It may not be an "evil villain" highly coordinated malice, but the incentives and dynamics led in the direction of enough general "bad faith" insinuation to be net negative. It didn't have to be intended as an attack on Scott or the blog, but rather as a morally obligatory denunciation of perceived ideas or associations---the increase of obligatory denunciation in its pieces makes it structurally very difficult for them to cover many topics in a net positive way. Ten, even five, years ago, I would have had totally different priors and been much less suspicious. I feel like people are treating the legacy media like a programmed computer and not like a group of humans in a specific set of circumstances. Of course, we can't know anything for sure, and people too easily assume malice. And I'm not claiming most people at the NYT are malicious. But I'm surprised at how much people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the NYT at this point, especially in terms of principled consistency. If this were a policy matter, it should have been settled long ago--what could be so complicated?

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on A Personal (Interim) COVID-19 Postmortem · 2020-06-27T01:12:19.506Z · LW · GW

It's true that we learned more about the type of lung damage as things went on, but I still feel like that ventilator conversation was really implausible in hindsight. I'm not an expert, but experts seemed suspiciously quiet, and it should have been obvious to many of them that there were major practical concerns. Accounts from other countries seemed to suggest that ventilators were a poor choice for a significant number of COVID-19 patients, but all our resources seemed to go in that direction, rather than the seemingly obvious fact that you have to keep it out of the nursing homes rather than send people to nursing homes to clear beds for ventilator patients.

The average nursing home resident will not survive ventilation. I remember reading an interview with an Italian doctor saying he'd never put his elderly father on one. We knew COVID-19 damaged lungs, and that lung damage complicates ventilation. I caught on relatively early that they were being overhyped only because I stumbled across two online accounts by technicians trained to operate ventilators, which is apparently a pretty delicate task that most healthcare workers aren't great at, especially in these severe and unpredictable cases. There clearly weren't enough of them to put vast numbers of people on ventilators, and ventilators are serious equipment, with serious effects and high fatality rates, to be used as a last resort, not the panacea they were portrayed as. It seemed like a distraction from more practical attempts we could have taken to improve the overall situation. The average person can be forgiven for not seeing this, but even just reading about SARs should have been enough to raise more questions in my mind.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Covid 6/25: The Dam Breaks · 2020-06-26T06:25:07.584Z · LW · GW

Agree that we aren't wired for scale. Disagree that we haven't lost the ability to do things. However, eradicate COVID-19 was not something we ever had the ability to do--certainly not in the U.S.--I suspect that places like New Zealand will eventually be forced to open up out of desperation, as no miracle cure with be forthcoming, though I hope I'm wrong on that. But it was certainly a huge gamble for the countries that have sealed their borders and gone for eradication, and I totally disagree with the judgment that it was obviously the right move, though it might turn out to be.

I'm looking forward to the simulacra post, because I do agree that we've gotten to the point of denying the existence of the object level and that it is incredibly disturbing and unsustainable. Were this not the case, we would have handled COVID-19 much more sensibly, but we would not have contained it. I'm very confident of this. Humans have never tolerated or been able to plan for the kind of restrictions it would require, and it is likely literally impossible anyway---the economic and social dysfunction will probably render it unsupportable before we got a miracle cure, if that ever happens. (I use the term miracle cure instead of vaccine because I'm thinking of a vaccine that we get within a few years, that we are confident doesn't have major side effects and is widely effective, that we are able to mass produce and distribute at sufficient numbers to basically eradicate the illness worldwide, that would provide fairly long-lasting immunity, etc.---a truly effective vaccine that we actually are able to somehow give to huge numbers of people, including those hard to find and resistant to being vaccinated. This is a much taller order than "a vaccine.")

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Does SARS-CoV-2 utilize antibody-dependent enhancement? · 2020-06-16T01:44:09.189Z · LW · GW

Very delayed response, sorry. I suspect that by the time we have a vaccine ready to go on a mass scale, it won't make a huge difference. People will return to life before then, for the most part. Not sure if the most vulnerable are able to get vaccines or if that is dangerous--if they can, it will make a difference for them. I don't think it will eradicate the disease because not everyone will choose to get it (especially as it seems dangerous side effects could be a thing with this vaccine, due to the autoimmune response, and being comfortable about this will take years, and it isn't clear how dangerous it is for most people), it would be a huge and imperfect effort even if we mandated it, and presumably the disease will change over time, requiring new vaccinations. So I don't think a vaccine is going to be what changes things here. Obviously, it is still playing out, and the data about risks that comes out regarding both the disease and the vaccine, along with other practical issues, will affect the final outcome.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Legibility: Notes on "Man as a Rationalist Animal" · 2020-06-16T01:35:07.351Z · LW · GW

That sounds like a great post!

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Simulacra Levels and their Interactions · 2020-06-16T01:32:57.715Z · LW · GW

Excellent work! Look forward to your next post. COVID-19 was such a good illustration of much of this.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Can Covid-19 spread by surface transmission? · 2020-06-13T05:47:51.343Z · LW · GW

It seems unlikely that it is literally impossible (are any respiratory viruses not able to be transmitted via surfaces?), but everything I've seen suggests that we should be *way* more concerned about aerosol/air transmission. Maybe this is the wrong way to look at it, but I guess I figure if someone has left small amounts of the virus on a surface, they've also been breathing in that area, and probably left a lot more of it in the air. So if I'm near that surface, I should be more worried about the air by far. Especially since most masks aren't going to block it completely, and getting it on my hands doesn't necessarily mean I get it into my body, whereas breathing it in does. I suppose it lingers longer on surfaces, but it seems to be pretty weak pretty fast. And a person spreading the virus doesn't necessarily get it all over his or her hands or surfaces, since people don't seem to have a ton of sneezing/runny nose/heavy coughing going on compared to other diseases. So the only time I'd be thinking about surfaces is dealing with a package delivery or touching something outside.

And I've long stopped thinking about that. I find it impossible to completely disinfect everything that touches the outside--I lose track of everything that might have touched everything else--so I've stopped caring about surface transmission, beyond some basic handwashing. Plus it's hard to even replace my cleaning supplies in the stores. So far, I'm pretty sure I haven't had it, but I could have been asymptomatic. And I've been regularly going to a popular Dunkin Donuts with a mask but not being very fastidious about washing my cup and donut bag and straw and phone and keys and headphones and jacket every trip. Very early on, it was said surfaces probably weren't the main vector, so I was always annoyed with the push for gloves over masks.

I realize that this decision has no bearing on whether I could contract it from surface transmission, but it seems impossibly difficult to worry much about it, especially given how many resources seem devoted to cleaning things, especially outside, when we know so much of the problem is airborne. I wonder a lot about A/C use in the coming months and why we don't have that discussion. And if viral load matters, that would be good to know. I fully expect to get the virus, as I have from the beginning, at some point in my life.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Legibility: Notes on "Man as a Rationalist Animal" · 2020-06-09T01:52:00.152Z · LW · GW

Great points. Your last three paragraphs get at something especially important, and I agree with your characterization.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-04-26T19:46:26.366Z · LW · GW

Pandemic Predictions

Just recording my predictions to see if they come true:

1) Pretty much everyone reopens by the end of the year and lets the virus run its course, with various precautions taken (mandating mask-wearing, etc.) There will be a paradigm shift eventually in which we accept going back to normal won't happen.

2) Most activities will resume, but live sports and especially concerts will remain contentious, as they seem like superspreader events, and demand will be down considerably. I hope concerts aren't going forever, but I expect in the next few years for the venues and LiveNation and such to go under.

3) Global travel will be another major issue--most countries will require a quarantine for new arrivals in the near future, which will make traveling more undesirable than simple fear of catching it on a plane will.

4) Major economic disruption. Unsure what the heck will happen politically. The 2020s was going to be a time of major shifts anyway. Don't know what to predict. Globalization will take some sort of hit. A generational shift in generational leadership may make the transition somewhat smoother than it will seem.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on How likely is the COVID-19 apocalyptic scenario? · 2020-04-24T22:25:57.162Z · LW · GW
The 1918 Flu pandemic's Second Wave killed massive amounts of young, healthy adults. 99% of deaths occurred in people under 65, and half of all deaths were in young adults 20 to 40 years old. Source: Wikipedia.

Oops! Thank you. I was aware of that, but got mixed up while writing and didn't separate my ideas. I meant "like 1918" as in a flu mutation that made it behave much more dangerously. I was thinking the next mutation might be more likely to target the old and sick instead of repeating the cytokine storm thing with the young, but either could easily happen (this one might cause a cytokine storm that attacks the old, in many cases, or at least I've read that is a possibility?). I also figured that in modern times it would be easy to intervene with the young because they weren't in trenches in a world war with a less developed medical system. But COVID-19 is so contagious that it doesn't seem way easier to control.

Those are good and worrying points about natural selection. I'm not at all confident we're handling this intelligently. Maybe there's not much that can be done to help, but making it worse is not good.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Ways that China is surpassing the US · 2020-04-23T06:20:43.582Z · LW · GW

Personally, I believe this to be a fallacy, but it's hard to explain the real dynamic. It's something along the lines of "top government officials get the important/accurate information they need when they have a clear view of what they want done, and a determination to do it, regardless of the type of government." Different types of governments might have different goals, so the type of information that gets to the top might be different in each system. The problem arises when it isn't clear whether the government really wants to do something (prevent pandemics at all costs), or if they just want to look like they take it seriously for PR reasons. In the latter case, in both systems, people will try and hide things, but the government may in fact be okay with that because they'd rather the matter stay quiet and never intended to act on it.

In this case, I believe CCP leadership was terrified of another SARs-like situation--who wouldn't be? They were determined to get the next one under control. That doesn't mean everything was done perfectly everywhere, but I have a feeling it was known they were serious about it. So if there was a problem, employees might be terrified to admit it, but they also knew that if they put in a call to a party insider, someone important would get back to them and get right on it. The system allowed decisive action where that was the case. They'd be too busy dealing with the emergency and would need the information from the informant too badly to punish him or her (presumably someone from the lab). If the lab worker was able to help them solve the issue or at least play along with a cover story, it could even end well for his or her career. If not, maybe there would be severe punishment later, but I don't think the CCP's main concern was saving face to the point where they would rather have not heard about the problem and simply crushed the informant. They *wanted* to know about this, and were willing to take it very seriously. While they did go after whistleblower doctors, this seems to have been mainly about avoiding panic and perhaps international embarrassment, because they hoped they could get it under control--they weren't insulted that someone suggesting that there was a problem, but were responding with extreme and practical measures. Secrecy was not a sign of denial of the problem, but of minimizing outside awareness.

With the U.S., things were more complicated. It's not that the U.S. government leaders didn't want to prevent a pandemic, obviously. But they didn't seem to see it as a serious threat, in part probably because SARs wasn't in their consciousness in the same way. There just seemed, for several administrations, to be a faith in things continuing as they had, and we didn't get pandemics anymore. Of course, people who worked for the CDC and such didn't all think that way, but it sounds like they were never taken very seriously. It wasn't a risk that got a lot of attention at the top. The last 10 years have seen an increasing obsession with the stock market/economy as the main barometer, with things so efficient and interconnected economically that there was no resilience in the system. Everything about the U.S. leadership class, to me, seemed to be aimed at avoiding disruptions to consumer confidence. And so I get the impression that in planning for an outbreak elsewhere in the world, the goal was less concretely "subdue the pandemic," and more to manage it by calmly following the procedures of the CDC and WHO regarding pandemics, which had worked with SARs and others. They weren't thinking of a major pandemic as a real possibility. So the health authorities were generally just complacent---following guidance but not really thinking about whether it was trustworthy. They'd essentially outsourced concern, not thinking strategically. And in that case, you don't get the information you should have---this sort of disconnect does just as much damage to information quality as the fear in totalitarian regimes. Leadership didn't want to hear bad news unless it was clear it wasn't alarmism. Because they weren't optimizing for "subdue the next pandemic," not taking it seriously, they didn't view information as helpful, but as "bad optics" if it got out. In this case, the silence pretty much *was* denial, mixed with some suppression of things that could upset the public.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Does SARS-CoV-2 utilize antibody-dependent enhancement? · 2020-04-23T04:53:17.433Z · LW · GW

All very interesting, thank you for writing this up. Don't know enough to evaluate this, but it sounds plausible, and not very encouraging. Vaccines do not look promising, but perhaps further understanding of the disease will lead to other treatments that head off some of these complications.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on How likely is the COVID-19 apocalyptic scenario? · 2020-04-23T04:18:49.702Z · LW · GW

Some others are talking about it, but most people don't want to hear it, so it's not getting signal boosted and the public is generally still hoping for a vaccine to fix it all. Certainly the authorities aren't ready to acknowledge otherwise. I don't think anyone has a clear picture, and you have to hunt around and sift information. I had the best luck on Twitter--lots of nonsense, but eventually I sorted out the people who seemed on top of things and saw what they called attention to and agreed upon. I think the probability of this scenario is high enough to be quite worrying...I could be wildly off, but as you asked for a probability estimate, at least 10%. My reasoning:

1) We develop no long-term immunity, no vaccines, perhaps because the mutation rate is too high.

Given the behavior of coronaviruses generally, and what we seem to know of this one, my sense is that long-term immunity is not going to happen, which really complicates things, including vaccines, which depend on activating that immune response. However, a yearly vaccine like that for the flu seems like it could at least help a lot by decreasing cases in those who do produce antibodies, and doesn't seem wildly unrealistic to achieve. Like flu vaccines, it would work better in some years than others, and could realistically only be given to so many people. And we'd need to produce it in huge doses. A quick and easy vaccine is not even something I'm hoping for at this point, I consider it so unlikely, but the news keeps promising a quick fix. A lot of the smart famous people who were scrambling to get a vaccine team together and saying it was our only way out of lockdown back in March have slowly stopped talking about the vaccines or quickly going back to normal.

2) The disease causes permanent lung damage, making each successive infection worse for the patient.

While this doesn't seem to happen to everyone, it seems like a real problem, one also being swept under the rug for the most part. Since I concluded vaccination was a no-go, I had reluctantly resigned myself to the fact that volunteering for variolation or a low-dose infection in a controlled setting was probably in my near future. I'm 30 and healthy, and I know that is no guarantee, but it seemed by far the most realistic scenario. But I had hoped these side effects were very rare, and now I'm not nearly so sure. We don't have enough experience to know what the long-term effects are or their prevalence, but it's much harder to consider voluntary infection knowing about how little we understand the side effects. (This could also be true of a rushed vaccine). I still see little way around it, though--I'm 90% sure I will catch the coronavirus in my lifetime because it won't go away and lockdown will become infeasible, and I'd rather get it young. Even if re-infection is likely, there's a decent chance that severity lessens over time because of immune memory. Out of everything you proposed, I think each successive infection being worse is one of the least likely, but not impossible. It seems like responses vary quite a bit and they think all sorts of genetic things could be involved, so this type of risk might be very uneven, and we might get better at learning who is most at risk and possibly how to mitigate such damage. There's still a lot we don't know, and I think a focus on practical mitigation could do more wonders than people realize, even if we don't eradicate this.

3) No antivirals get developed, or at least not ones which can be produced in extremely large quantities.

I suspect that within a few years, we'll have figured out various treatment protocols that make a significant difference. Not sure if antivirals will be among them. But we're likely to find medications that help with some things in some people, maybe minimizing harmful immune responses that cause lung damage. But getting them to everyone is logistically probably not going to happen, certainly not worldwide, especially if there is a lot of economic and social collapse.

I think groups of people are researching this, but probably not from such an objective perspective. If you knew this would happen, what action would you take? There's almost no one who could use this information, and few want to entertain the idea. Businesses will focus on vaccines and other such things, which get a lot of coverage, but they have to assume a better outcome for this to be worth it, or people won't be able to pay. Major financial players will be trying to strategize, but if this disrupts the whole business environment, they won't be able to exploit it that much. Researchers will look at pieces. All will be incentivized to see significance in narrow solutions that allow them to retain their current position, not apocalypse. High level governments will have to get a general assessment of where things are going, but, especially with the leadership we have, which seems unable to imagine divergence from the status quo, they will be focused in the short-term on suppressing unrest and trying to get the economy restarted. Things may have to collapse pretty badly for them to give up hope of going back to normal, and the American public/economy is not in a good place to process an interruption of its expectations. I agree totalitarian or just third world leaders will be in better shape, largely because in many of those countries people have much lower expectations and are used to widespread death and suffering and disruption. They're better able to adjust socially and psychologically, even if large numbers of them get sick and die, because their cultural frameworks are closer to a time when epidemics were part of daily life. They're used to focusing on survival, and replacing warlords is a straightforward process. Of course, handling it better doesn't mean they'll be in great shape, by any means. Just more functional, at least in the short-term.

The part of the government that needs to deal with reality to at least some extent, the military, seems to be quietly going for some level of herd immunity among its personnel and planning for this to be a seasonal illness. (I think Boris Johnson and his team also immediately recognized this, and caved due to public backlash, not because they realized the models were wrong---the public simply wasn't willing to accept what Johnson felt was inevitable. Sweden's government evidently concluded the same, though it tries to say it's going for containment). I consider that a pretty good indication of where things are going to go in the short-term--if your presence is necessary in public, for whatever reason, you're going to have to take your chances. Politicians, officials, and first responders seem to be quietly resigned to contracting the illness. They know any significant containment will not be accomplished by the lockdowns, so they just have to get to work.

Also, the impact will probably lessen quickly over time. The first few years will take out the most vulnerable in large numbers, if we can't stop it. This will be extremely traumatic. But then the death rates will be far less overwhelming, and there will be at least some level of immunity in a lot of people, so we would expect the rate and severity of spread to decrease. The economic dislocations will also probably be swift and simultaneous, and then we'll have to rebuild. I think there will be a psychological shift eventually where people just accept the situation and live life as functionally as they did for most of human history when this was normal. If you read anything about the Civil War, for example, you'll notice everyone in DC had malaria for half the year, and worked despite migraines and chills and a constant fever. You continually get reinfected with malaria, but it does lessen with each infection over the course of the season. Then you tend to lose immunity over the winter. Some people developed more immunity than others; some were more affected than others. Mild to fatal illness, just like with COVID-19. And these people were always riddled with other infections, because of the lack of antibiotics, so dying in your 60s was common and dying of wrecked lungs much younger than that was also common (tuberculosis was an ugly disease, and was eradicated relatively recently). Plus they had horrific scarlet fever/smallpox/cholera outbreaks with regularity, and child mortality was atrocious. (Lincoln was in the early stages of smallpox when he delivered the Gettysburg address, and one of his kids died in the White House of typhoid fever). Plus, there were the wars killing hundreds of thousands of people. This is not the world I want to live in, to be sure. I'm not tough. But it is evident people are capable of living in it quite functionally, if they have immune systems strong enough to survive in the first place. And I don't think COVID-19 will come anywhere close to wrecking the health of every person on earth. The effects will be very uneven.

Sorry for the long post--wanted to lay out the thoughts that I'd been ruminating on. Hopefully this isn't how things work out. It could go in a lot of different ways that are hard to predict. But I've always felt that a big pandemic was very likely in my lifetime, thinking along the lines of 1918. I hadn't considered a disease that stuck around reinfecting people, not being familiar with other coronaviruses until now. Much scarier, but quite plausible. It's possible that we'll get this under control enough that it will be remembered as something like 1918---a really, really bad flu that killed a ton of older or sick people and then mostly faded into the background among survivors. That one had some scary side effects as well, though.

One source who I think had a realistic view from the beginning is Robin Hanson at overcomingbias.com. He only looks at certain aspects of the situation, but that might be a good place to start.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Robin Hanson on whether governments can squash COVID-19 · 2020-03-20T02:14:11.179Z · LW · GW

This is pretty much how I see it, too. But I don't think we're going to meet, swap stats, and decide whether or not to go to war. I think the lock-downs will slowly dissolve as people come to terms with reality and and lose patience/get stir crazy/run out of resources. We'll switch to mobilizing the best we can with regard to medical supplies and facilities, encouraging vulnerable people to stay at home, and building better support networks to get them what they need, and also for people who have sick relatives or who lose loved ones. We'll continue to take some precautions, try to find better treatments/a vaccine, and provide flexibility for people who are dealing with illness in the family. We won't just shrug, go back to work, and mumble about the need to keep the stock market up (well, a few will), and the response will vary regionally, but we'll become more active than passive, is my best guess, if nothing changes drastically in the progression of the disease.

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-03-20T01:29:42.940Z · LW · GW

Are you commenting on one of the quotes or my own comment? If the latter, I did not eschew political rhetoric. I said the issues were not confined to merely partisan or economic concerns. This was very much intended as a political post, but not a partisan one.

Who/what was called out in the quoted comments:

-"Liberal America"

-Our economic framework

-The President ("doofus Jell-O-Shot")

-American life

-Whole Foods

-Capitalism

-Neoliberalism

-Financial elites

-American institutions, including mainstream media outlets

-UK Institutions

-The public in general (American)

-US/UK Leadership

-Technocrats

-Bureaucracy

-Malicious politicians and people spreading bad information

-Social signalers

-Western society

-Complacency

-Vetoers

-Unserious elites

Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-03-19T23:38:23.036Z · LW · GW

Watching People Waking Up

Across the spectrum, people realize this isn't confined to merely partisan or economic concerns, but goes much deeper.

Sam Corey:

"Liberal America has been whipped up into this orgiastic frenzy to browbeat ideological deviance rather than lift themselves from the old familiar double-downer sideshow of half-measures and diminished expectations . . . This economy has the backbone of a mollusk . . . This flies far beyond the scope of a doofus Jell-O-Shot and his bungling of disease contamination. The coronavirus is more proof of just how much of contemporary American life is a sham, with power structures built on corporate profiteering as opposed to our best interests. Whole Foods, instead of giving their employees sick days, expect them to donate their paid time off to each other . . . This idea of capitalism effectively marshaling resources to meet human needs is a fantasy borne of free-market fetishization. What about this inspires any confidence in how we would react to a looming climate catastrophe? COVID-19 may be a passing pandemic, but neoliberalism is a terminal illness. America is hung in a frustrated limbo created mainly by the gross cynicism of basilisk leaders barely squinting beyond the horizons of quarterly profit margins.

Adam Aelkus:

The last few weeks have been a profoundly radicalizing experience. . . . But as we have seen, these institutions are perfectly capable of unraveling themselves without much help from Russian bots and trolls and Macedonian teenagers. And if the fish rots from the head, then the counter-disinformation effort becomes actively harmful. It seeks to gentrify information networks that could offer layers of redundancy in the face of failures from legacy institutions. It is reliant on blunt and context-indifferent collections of bureaucratic and mechanical tools to do so. It leaves us with a situation in which complicated computer programs on enormous systems and overworked and overburdened human moderators censor information if it runs afoul of generalized filters but malicious politicians and malfunctioning institutions can circulate misleading or outright false information unimpeded. And as large content platforms are being instrumentalized by these same political and institutional entities to combat “fraud and misinformation,” this basic contradiction will continue to be heightened.
The cardinal sin motivating all of this is worrying about whether we trust institutions without asking if these institutions normatively deserve trust, whether it is possible for trust to emerge in the absence of agreement about underlying causes of social problems, and most importantly how subjective trust in authorities can be achieved without objective action . . . in the UK the institutions in question were mostly passive rather than active even as they invoked the rhetoric of collective sacrifice. They asked the public to endure and keep on keeping on, even if it was unclear how or why they ought to do so . . . Western society fetishizes the appearance of leadership even as actual leaders recede into a malfunctioning technocratic machine that prunes individual agency and leaves behind only a phantom limb sensation of what once was . . . this conjuncture’s structure is organised around apperceiving itself as led, to the extent that leaders themselves might then drop out of the equation, and a form of human fronting take their place. This is to say that leadership in this conjuncture has become virtual or hauntological; mechanised and bureaucratised to the extent that human agency can become circumvented. We have gotten very far from the original goal of trying to ensure good information is not drowned out by the bad, because the social status of those circulating the information is a cheap heuristic for validating it.

Mark Lutter:

I have long thought that American institutions were in various states of decline and needed to be revitalized. I was wrong. American institutions are rotten to their core . . . There are three reasons for our decaying institutions. First, we have become complacent. Second, vetoes have become too widely distributed, the tragedy of the anti-commons. Third, we have an elite that is fundamentally unserious.
Comment by ellardk-gmail-com on Kerry's Shortform · 2020-03-19T04:05:28.696Z · LW · GW


*Note:* I wrote this draft a few months ago. I intend to write a series synthesizing all the information I’d collected for a book about how the 2020s would be an “interregnum” in which many of our fundamental assumptions would be undermined. The shock that exposes many underlying tensions has come unexpectedly early and suddenly, so I’ll just do this more informally.

In the concluding paragraph of the famous book The Complacent Class, Tyler Cowen wrote: “There is the distinct possibility that, in the next twenty years, we are going to find out far more about how the world really works than we ever wanted to know.”


This casual admission that—in an age that prides itself on its knowledge and technology—our entire society is out of touch with reality, /and that we don’t want to address this/, seems more than complacent. He’s not talking about the conspiracy theorists, but the people at the very top. And looking around, he’s undeniably right.
But hey. We’re always screaming about facts and truth. If we don’t need to invent a new way of life — if all we have to do is learn about how the world really works, that’s quite a relief! Our tools have never been better. We just need to take an inventory first. A trip through our history, with a focus on various cycles, seems the most promising way. We have to get our bearings. What do I mean by that?


Mike Meyer has a good analogy for dealing with our disorientation: “We are in a situation much like a parent, late Christmas Eve, finally opening the box with the new bicycle and discovering the absence of any instructions.” Naturally, the parent thinks “well, I know what a bicycle looks like, what the hell.” Meyer reveals he was that parent, and that it wasn’t so easy, especially pre-Internet. He now knows he must “science the shit out of this thing,” or do “a rethink of what the parts are that we have, particularly those didn’t go anywhere, and determining their purpose based on form.” He had to “deconstruct the bicycle and then carefully study the parts” to see how they would fit together, which was successful.


His wisdom: “We have been and are making assumptions based on irrelevant, old information, have begun screwing things together haphazardly, and have hit problems that mean what we are doing won’t work. And there are all of these parts still laying on the floor. The answer is not a hammer,” but questioning our assumptions. “We obviously put things together in a way that wasn’t correct and we kept doing it when we should have stopped. Now we are going to spend a long, uncomfortable time undoing things we that had done.” Time to deconstruct everything and figure out what we’re working with. We need to know what the hell is going on.


Contrary to common belief, government by expert turned out not to be very great at this. Mainly because the elite class did just about everything but using the actual pieces as intended. More on that, later.


Here’s the deal: the founding fathers of this country “entertained no hopes of suppressing factions and educating a united or homogenous citizenry. Instead, they constructed an elaborate machinery to contain factions in a way that they would cancel one another and allow for the pursuit of the common good.” Putting it even more starkly, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln declared, it was his ability “to use the frailties of others against each other for the common good, that make him stand out alone not only in this age, but in any other in history.”⁠ By the late 1980s, Allan Bloom could comment, “All of our reforms have helped strip the teeth of our gears, which can therefore no longer mesh. They spin idly, side by side, unable to set the social machine in motion.”


There was a great decoupling between the parts of our world and their functions. We crippled our collective understanding on every level by rewiring things without ever updating the user’s manual. One could go into the root causes of this for volumes, but a lot of it has to do with our belief that the solution is always “sciencing the shit” out of things.


While this book is trying to diagnose the problem more than fix it, my conclusion suggests surveying the pieces, deciding what everything does and whether or not to throw it out or install it in its proper place.

*Note*: This is all very creepy, because I was going to point out next how modern medicine is miraculous in the areas more amenable to human control, but that it probably wouldn’t be able to make a massive difference with something like the 1918 flu, and that modern achievements can actually drive superbugs. I had noticed people seemed to be using tech/medical advances to offset any pandemic concerns when it came to visions of frictionless, hyper-efficient globalization. This seemed weird to me - I expected to see something like this in my lifetime, and the ineradicable risk of pandemics seemed like one reason for valuing a certain level of self-sufficiency and sovereignty over maximal efficiency and lack of friction.