This is what I’m missing by not having a Twitter account

I wound up reading a post on Twitter.com by looking at my brother’s Twitter page and clicking on a twittering he replied to, and then clicking on the twittering that twitterer was replying to.

At first I didn’t get it. So what? The House prioritizes all kinds of things over other things. That’s kind of a key part of their job. Then I realized there was an invisible “Isn’t that crazy?!?! What monsters!!!” at the end of the headline, that would have been clear to me had I been part of the intended audience.

And then I read the replies, and met some representatives from that audience. Below is just a sampling:

Not much else to say about this.

I do wonder if these people genuinely feel this way, or if Twittering is just catharsis for them. On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine that none of these people have a single friend or loved one who is anti-abortion or Republican. On the other hand, bubbles can be pretty thick.

Something that doesn’t make sense to me, though, is how people can go online and, using their real names, write this kind of stuff where anyone can see it? (Employers, family members, kids, etc.) This wasn’t in some dark hidden corner of Twitter, it was a single click from the page of some D-list actor’s Twitter feed that my brother subscribes to.

Do they not care? Do they have some good reason not to fear consequences? Or are they oblivious to the tone and messages in their own writing? Has Twitter.com made it easier to be oblivious?

(P.S. Yes, all the Twitterings and the hashtags that used “white” as a put-down were written by…white people.)

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Thoughts on giving advice

Recently I watched a person ask for advice and then, one by one, shoot down the various reasonable, actionable, easy-to-follow suggestions that well over a dozen people gave him. Most of the advice-seeker’s arguments for why he couldn’t follow some piece of advice or another sounded like lame excuses. In the middle of all this, one of the people who had given a suggestion got exasperated and said he couldn’t understand why anyone kept giving this guy advice.

Giving advice seems to be an activity many people are attracted to, regardless whether they receive feedback indicating their advice was followed or even seriously considered. It’s a phenomenon that powers much of the internet! I don’t know why that phenomenon of advice-giving exists, but here are some of my guesses:

  • It makes us feel like we are experts at something.
  • It shows others that we are helpful and therefore worthy of the space we take up.
  • Requests for advice present a kind of puzzle, and the problem-solving muscles in our minds enjoy hammering away at puzzles. (Each excuse for why a piece of advice can’t be followed presents a follow-up puzzle!)
  • We imagine we are turning a sort of dharmic wheel; good advice can be extremely valuable, so by our giving it to someone for free the universe (or maybe even the advice-seeker himself in some cosmic way) now owes us a reward.
  • It scratches an obsessive compulsive itch to put things to order.

It also seems strange that someone would ask for advice and then give every indication that he isn’t open to anyone’s suggestions. Here too I have my guesses for why this happens:

  • The request for advice is really a request for validation; the person actually wants to hear “Don’t worry, the way you’re doing it right now is just fine. You shouldn’t actually change after all.”
  • Each suggestion presents a kind of puzzle; solving it means finding a way it can’t be followed. The problem-solving muscles in the advice-seeker’s mind enjoy hammering away at all the little puzzles people are giving him.
  • The advice-seeker intuitively knows what the right course of action is to resolve the situation he’s in, but for whatever reason (fear, laziness, etc.) does not want to take it. So he asks for advice as a way to prove to himself he is taking steps toward resolving his situation. Then when the advice starts to pour in, he shoots it down so that he won’t actually have to take any steps whatsoever–but it will feel like he at least tried.

These two sets of biases–those of the advice-seeker and those of the advice-givers–complement each other, creating a feedback loop. That is where the phenomenon gets its power.

(This of course doesn’t mean all requests for advice are fraudulent or that giving advice is necessarily a waste of time.)

Adding to a body of knowledge

Hypothesis: A big march for cause X will contribute to the eventual success of X.

Scientific practice:

  1. Define X carefully
  2. Find independent and identical (or nearly-identical) places where X is being supported and stage a march in some of those places and not others.
  3. Wait to see outcomes and determine statistical significance of any differences between places with marches and places without.
  4. Examine possible confounds and alternative explanations for statistically different outcomes.
  5. Submit to peer review.

What the Marchers for Science did:

  1. Define “for science” as anything positively related to nerds, anti-Trumpism, feminism and other fashionable identitarian conceits, Christianity-bashing, engineering, technology, cute puns based on words you learn in science class, immigration enthusiasm, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (obviously), and a bunch of other incongruent stuff.
  2. Stage marches friggin’ everywhere.
  3. Take no measurements, just post a lot of pictures to social media and repost news stories and argue about them in Facebook comments.
  4. Don’t think about whether the march was a success because success was never defined.
  5. Pat themselves on the back and go home.

I learned something from this, but it isn’t something any journal would publish.

Hooray science!

Virtual commons: designed for tragedy

One problem with the web is that it is largely built by people who are generally optimistic and naive; they think the whole world is like their college dorm was, or like neighborhood or workplace is, where everyone they meet is courteous, conscientious, or at least tidy and bright. (Silicon Valley bigwigs have a left-libertarian streak, of course.) In reality though, humans by and large are glorified apes, so you wind up with everything devolving toward 4chan and Facebook killers.

ACTUAL related posts:

For those who learned nothing from nature documentaries

Empathy is tragically uncommon

A spreading mold

Website or platform?

What if free speech online was a mistake?

In which I concern troll BLM

The recent incident in which four black thugs kidnapped and tortured a retarded white kid for apparently racist reasons got me thinking about the problem of how a group or a movement can remain legitimate in the face of embarrassment by bad people who purport to be members of it.

(Obviously, this incident is not the only example of this problem, which does not only exist on the identitarian Left. But since thinking about this incident kept me up late, this is the example I choose to focus on. Besides, the problem is not distributed evenly across the political spectrum.)

If I was in some way a representative of BlackLivesMatter and I had an opportunity to speak to journalists, what would be the best way for me to respond to an incident like this?

So far it seems that BLM representatives have tried to distance BLM from the thugs, saying things like “These criminals do not represent BLM, and BLM does not condone violence.” That’s basic CYA, but there are a few issues with it:

  1. There are lots of other videos and media showing BLM activists condoning violence in words or actions.
  2. Because BLM isn’t an organized movement but more of a cause du jour that anyone can participate in, “true” membership is unfalsifiable.
  3. It doesn’t address the relationship between BLM statements and acts of violence that seem to have been inspired by them.
  4. It’s a cliche CYA statement that has never persuaded anyone except lawyers who are on the clock.

Issue #1 is actually the least serious. By now most people realize and are jaded by the volume of information available online; it’s well-understood that one can compile quantitative data to support just about any viewpoint. A BLM activist could say “For every video showing BLM activists committing or condoning violence I can show you two videos of a white person committing or condoning violence in the name of some cause you consider legitimate,” and even if objectively there are more actual incidents of one than the other, the “bottomless bowl” nature of the internet creates the (plausible) impression that both are uncountable, resulting in a stalemate.

Issue #2 is the most intractable. I don’t know whether it’s true but I’ve heard that BLM protests have been funded by George Soros–yet BLM does not have any certifiable badge of membership or agreed-upon “includes/excludes” list of actions, goals, and values.

Either would be a quick way to verify (via membership or actions/statements, respectively) who/what is representative of the movement and who/what is not. The latter (an “includes/excludes” list of actions, goals, and values) would be the more realistic thing for them to have, and is even possible if a few dozen high-profile people would sign their name to a document containing such a list, Declaration of Independence-style. But it’s so unlikely to happen I would put its probability at less than 0.1% over the next four years.

That list would consist of a series of statements like this:

We will [action] in order to [goal] because we believe [value]. We will not [action] because we do not believe in [value].

So for example, an item on BLM’s list could look like this:

We will hold peaceful protests in order to bring attention to unfair police brutality against black people because we believe justice should be administered equally. We will not commit acts of violence against innocent people because we do not believe two wrongs make a right.

And so on. There are still concepts and terms in there that could be debated and shown to be unclear, but it’s a fairly simple way to at least remove 80-90% of the current ambiguity.

Issue #3 is the one I feel most pessimistic about because it’s the haziest yet also probably the most important. The relationship between one person’s speech and another person’s action is not well understood, and in any case is extremely complicated. Statements intended to be peaceful have often been used to justify violence, so clearly there are a lot of unpredictable intermediaries between a statement and an action.

This is true no matter how carefully the statement is uttered, because humans are not perfectly rational; just to name two innate human characteristics, our tribalism and violent urges–though evolutionarily necessary and often still useful–twist and blur the perceptible arrow of causation.

BLM can never disprove that a violent act was inspired by their statements, and the more they try the more disingenuous they look. Yet at the same time they cannot take responsibility without nullifying themselves. (That might be why Obama, when commenting on the incident, was so quick to blame the internet and social media. On the face of things he’s correct in part, but this is still passing the buck, or at least passing the 50 cents.)

Issue #4 boils down to a failure of imagination and persuasive ability. What kind of statement or action would persuade a white guy who’s skeptical of BLM’s good faith that BLM earnestly just wants equal justice and disavows violence? BLM representatives should think about that.

One solution could be to conduct their own highly visible symbolic internal witch-hunt–punishing a few thugs like that as a message to the others. Or maybe it’s create a casual holiday called Make a White Friend Day. Or better yet, Make Friends With a White Cop Day, where the message is “We know not all white cops are racist, and we want to work with the non-racist ones to help put an end to this problem.”

Those are just the first three ideas off the top of my head and have their own problems, but all three would be way more effective than the existing perfunctory disavowal.

There’s never been a better time to get off social media

You probably already knew, but over the past few months you’ve been bashed over the head by how many of your friends, family, and online contacts are either whiny deranged liberals who think Trump is Hitler, or how many are racist right-wing fossils who think Trump is Jesus.

You’ve done a lot of work pruning your various feeds to block that infuriating stuff and show more of just the few things you’re interested in. You’ve even resolved to check your social media less often.

But you’re already starting to backslide. By February you’ll be logging in as often as ever before, and somehow those same irritating voices will be back, screaming about the Fascist Nazi Apocalypse of Xenophobic Misogynists or how Whites Aren’t Safe In Their Own Country Anymore–and the first weeks of Trump’s presidency will be used for ammo in either case.

Why not just cut the cord? Delete your social media accounts. Delete the social media apps off your phone. It’s very easy, and takes less than a minute. Just do it now.

Self-fulfilling narratives

It seems like the direction of change in our society is at least partially, in some cases, determined by the way we believe it is going to change.

For instance, there seems to be this consensus that future humans are going to use a lot of sophisticated AI and live in space or on other celestial bodies. It started as a vision by a few influential sci-fi writers (as in Asimov’s “The Last Question”, or Star Trek), became a vision shared by lots of sci-fi writers, and may be becoming a kind of assumption among people in general.

If there was a popular genre of sci-fi in which future societies always lived under the ocean, and government agencies and cutting-edge private companies who developed the means to live under the ocean received a lot of media attention, then advances toward living under the ocean would be highlighted. Kids would get excited to some day contribute to that effort. And at some point in the future, that is indeed what we would end up doing.

TL;DR: narratives are self-fulfilling.