#33 On scepticism


Dear Mat,

Even if we cast aside our ideological, manufactured maps it doesn’t quite mean that we’re mapless. Surely the process of evolution endowed us with a series of inherited maps.  Our heuristics are maps that have been charted by our forebears’ efforts at navigating the world. Can these innate maps be wrong? The extinction of more than 99% of all species that have ever lived is ominous.

I submit that even the doubtful sceptic is really a confident sceptic, whose confidence is based on a good run of relatively stable ancestral environments, but whose inherited map is hard to amend when the environment changes rapidly. I also submit that we have been in an especially rapidly changing environment the last 400 years, meaning our maps are out of date. Continue reading #33 On scepticism

#32 On acting on maps

Dear Jamie

I’m forced to skip over those first few paragraphs based on “economic “modelling because as you said, a little bit of information changes the outcome completely. This is a symptom of a bad model, and bad models do more harm than good. My favourite demonstration of this is the following (originally Taleb’s).

Imagine you find yourself, for no real reason, waking up in the middle of unknown wilderness. Then imagine you stumble upon a map. Should you follow it?

Once I proposed this online in response to an Effective Altruism question about how to act on economic models). Someone took the bait by responding “It depends if the map is reliable or not”. Well that’s a wise application of scepticism, but its missing something as we’ll see. Continue reading #32 On acting on maps

#31 On tyranny

Dear Mat,

There’s a bet involved here. For me the odds are very bad that any serious change will improve the system. For me. I flourish in a liberal democracy where I can lampoon the government, assert my rights, fight businesses on social media, act like an ass in my private life and never get ostracised or imprisoned.

But if you’re marginalised within a democratic system obviously the gamble might look more attractive. Continue reading #31 On tyranny

#30 On honesty

Dear Jamie,

I agree about the evil in everyone. As Soljenistsyn wrote, the line cuts the heart of each individual:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

It takes real courage to say that you Continue reading #30 On honesty

#29 On post-truth politics

Dear Mat,

This is the letter where I’ve had the least to disagree with so I’ll expand on something you wrote: “Many would disagree but I think truth is alive and well in our civilisation”. Amen. Talk of fake news and post-truth politics seems crazy to me. When the fuck was the golden age when there was no propaganda, misinformation, spin, or lies?

I find that on this point reading about WWII and totalitarianism is always a good refresher. Indeed, sometimes I think that the stuff I was reading when I was 17 pretty much locked-in a lot of how I see the world, which is unusual and disappointing. Back then I studied Stalin in history class and read the kinds of things one is told to read by English teachers when one is 17. Actually, because I’ve been keeping a reading log since I can remember, I can consult the record and tell you exactly what I read ages 15–17. Continue reading #29 On post-truth politics

#28 On wilful blindness

Dear Jamie,

At the moment I’m into Jordan Peterson’s ideas and his theories about morality and how to live so let’s pull that in. He says that we must act in a way so as to win multiple games. One must simultaneously question oneself as to how to play the “will I survive the day?” game, the “can I feed my family?” game, the “is my community stable?” game, the “is my nation going in the right direction?” game and the “is humanity going to survive the next decade?” game. I’ll call it the contribution hierarchy.

Notice that this is a perfect inversion (and I would say perfect alternative) to the despicable Bedouin saying: “I am against Continue reading #28 On wilful blindness

A Satire Manifesto

 

#27 On satire

Dear Mat,

I’ve tried lamely over the years to make fun of leaders for doing stupid things. Pretty standard really. I’ve always felt that something like, say, mutually assured destruction 1)Re: your last letter. Your second claim about doomsday was that “we’re most likely to die to a Black Swan, so we’d probably not realise it was coming”. But I gotta say, although we obviously can’t predict Black Swans because they will include unknown unknowns, that doesn’t imply we’re more likely to be wiped out by one of them than some more mundane reason like nuclear annihilation. Sure, there are things we can’t anticipate or prepare for (save for diversifying our portfolio by colonising other planets as you point out), but that doesn’t negate the point that there are known knowns that could kill the fuck out of us. is so insane that maybe very harsh mockery is the way to tackle the apathy and the status quo bias on this issue. Ditto for climate change, wars, treatment of refugees or any other thing where people in power need to have their actions subjected to a much harsher burden of proof.

Satire for me is an extension of scepticism or falsification. Ridicule everything and the really stupid ideas will sink and those left floating will be, not perfect, but passable. Obviously you share this view as well, hence the momentous and world-historical publication of our satire manifesto this week. But does satire work? Continue reading #27 On satire

Footnotes

1. Re: your last letter. Your second claim about doomsday was that “we’re most likely to die to a Black Swan, so we’d probably not realise it was coming”. But I gotta say, although we obviously can’t predict Black Swans because they will include unknown unknowns, that doesn’t imply we’re more likely to be wiped out by one of them than some more mundane reason like nuclear annihilation. Sure, there are things we can’t anticipate or prepare for (save for diversifying our portfolio by colonising other planets as you point out), but that doesn’t negate the point that there are known knowns that could kill the fuck out of us.

The blog of Jamie Freestone and Mathew McGann