On the Revealing Quality of Perspective

November 25, 2022


New Articles

Trans-opportunism is boring

Focusing on edge-cases of “trans-regret” is missing the point. If you actually care about these cases, then the interesting issue are the underlying vulnerabilities that lead to regrettable decisions. But probably you shouldn’t care.

The colour of the inhuman world

Humans imagine that there is no other way of being than the way that we conceive of, and all experiences are ultimately relative to ours. This is a practical mistake, but one that leads to astonishing errors of judgement.

New Marginalia:

Links and my notes on interesting content from around the web:

Research article: midlife crises are less spectacular and more depressing, now:

This paper documents a longitudinal crisis of midlife among the inhabitants of rich nations. Yet middle-aged citizens in our data sets are close to their peak earnings, have typically experienced little or no illness, reside in some of the safest countries in the world, and live in the most prosperous era in human history.

Evidence take to support Jaques:

in midlife a human being is forced to come to terms, painfully, with the certainty of his or her own eventual mortality.


Words to describe the heart.

The “torment of a tight spot” (amhas) … The “conceit of self-loathing” (omana) … the … delight that flows from being free of regrets (pamojja)

and so on. Fun.

Attribution: Maria Heim Link

On predicting Russian appetite for nuclear escalation.

Whether Russia has a lowered nuclear threshold is a matter of perspective. Moscow sees nuclear weapons as essential for deterrence and useful for nuclear warfighting in regional or large-scale war. That is hardly a recent development, though it may be new to decision-makers in the United States. There is an erroneous perception in American policy circles that at some point Washington and Moscow were on the same page and shared a similar threshold for nuclear use in conflict. It is not clear that this imagined time period ever existed, but perhaps both countries viewed nuclear escalation as uncontrollable, or at least publicly described it as such during the late-Cold War period. In principle, Russian leadership does view nuclear use as defensive, forced by exigent circumstances, and in the context of regional or large-scale conflicts.


A fun enough comparison of the new LoTR series and Western (US) culture. The really interesting part is a series of quotes though:

As Durkheim and other sociologists have argued, we can never really remove the sacred from life. We can only change what we hold sacred. As historian Eugene McCarrher explores in ‘The Enchantments of Mammon’, in much of the world capitalism has come to replace religion.

As summarised by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins in The Nation, McCarrher argues that ’the mysteries and sacraments of religion were transferred to the way we perceive market forces and economic development… a “migration of the holy” to the realm of production and consumption, profit and price, trade and economic tribulation. Capitalism, in other words, is the new religion, a system full of enchanted superstitions and unfounded beliefs and beholden to its own clerisy of economists and managers, its own iconography of advertising and public relations, and its own political theology.“


On the value of reading dead philosophers.

What credence should we assign to philosophical claims that were formed without any knowledge of the current state of the art of the philosophical debate and little or no knowledge of the relevant empirical or scientific data?

For example, Plato’s critique of democracy as we have discussed was not based on modern or developed democracies, nor “formal theorems regarding collective decision making and preference aggregation, such as the Condorcet Jury-Theorem, Arrow’s Impossibility-Results, the Hong-Page-Theorem, the median voter theorem, the miracle of aggregation, etc.; Existing studies on voter behavior, polarization, deliberation, information; Public choice economics, incl. rational irrationality, democratic realism” and so on.

Perhaps we should discount them more than we do?

Attribution: Hanno Sauer Link

On Oligopoly And Social Norms.

At least after they reach a certain point, distributional coalitions have an incentive to be exclusive … whatever quantity an entrant would sell must either drive down the price received by those already in … [or] there will be more to distribute to each member of the coalition if it is a minimum winning coalition

With implications for aristocratic intermarriage:

if the sons and daughters of the ruling group are induced to marry one another, the growth of the ruling group can be constrained in ways that preserve a legacy for all the families in it

Attribution: Mançur Lloyd Olson Jr, The Rise and Decline of Nations Link

A simple question to change how you feel:

there is actually a much simpler way to change how you feel, as my colleagues and I, along with other researchers, have found. It starts with answering the question ‘How do you feel?’ … research shows that the mere act of answering this question actually changes the emotions you are currently feeling.


Fukuyama as an anti-Nostradamus, or the safest kinds of predictions to make:

Nostradamus said some meaningless vapid stuff in a way such that everyone insists on interpreting as him being a genius; every time something new happens, it always proves Nostradamus right. Fukuyama said some (no offense) kind of vapid stuff in a way such that everyone insists on interpreting as him being a fool; every time something new happens, it always proves Fukuyama wrong. It’s hard to imagine what series of events could ever debunk the former or vindicate the latter.


Not new, but detailed, “This document is my attempt to keep a thematic list of all the problems that affect academic research”


Effect sizes for anti-depressants vanish when subjected to rigorous analysis.


The Tale of Richard Hoskins: A Life Most Cursed. Sort of makes a disorganised skeptical foray into an edge case of trauma-related gender dysphoria, but don’t let that distract you. A fascinating story of a man.

It’s hard to imagine what a modern curse would look like today, how that would affect your life, but the story of criminologist and religious scholar Richard Hoskins comes as close as we might possibly get. His tale is one of almost unbelievable sorrow, witchcraft, murder and adventure, the kind of life one associates with an era gone-by.


Not new, but the crisis of masculinity.

Ambition doesn’t just happen; it has to be fired. The culture is still searching for a modern masculine ideal. It is not instilling in many boys the nurturing and emotional skills that are so desperately important today. A system that labels more than a fifth of all boys as developmentally disabled is not instilling in them a sense of confidence and competence.

Probably not a central issue, but an interesting one. More interestingly and concisely explored by Sebastian Junger. Perhaps my time in the military biases me, but Junger’s point that the military is one of the last places one can go to ‘become a man’ experientially checks out (and implies many issues).


Trey Howard, arguing Russian nuclear risk is low.


On applying Quakerism to the Effective Altruism movement (?) for betterment. More broadly a case for religion as a framework for doing good.


The neural correlates of near death experiences. Like I point out in my article on speaking in tongues, it always seems like news that the brain produces states that reflect experiences. But that’s its job. I suspect that whatever happens after life is not going to be so easily describable as those who experience near death articulate, nor indeed do I think that these experiences represent some sort of inter-plane travel. But similarly, I don’t think this is an argument against it. Merely that (surprise) the brain maps experiences.


An argument for Fukiyama’s continued relevance from Hanania. That said, it really does seem like the Chinese model, more or less the same for 1000s of years, is unnervingly resilient.


US-centric, but interesting post asking why so many interventions help women but not men.

The problem is not that men have fewer opportunities; it’s that they are not seizing them. The challenge seems to be a general decline in agency, ambition, and motivation.


“Fears that globalisation would lead to a worldwide monoculture have proven utterly wrong.”


Wikipedia donations go to many more things than Wikipedia. Both this account and the replies feel like distracting cherry-picking, but the size and wealth of Wikimedia was interesting.


What populism should mean.

I feel that a lot of ‘populism’ talk is wayward, both among those who are pro-‘populism’ and those who are anti-‘populism.’


Slouching toward Utopia. An adaption from his book that quickly details the ‘Neoliberal Turn’ and the worrying trends that face us as it slides away from its political hegemony.

this New Deal Order failed its sustainability test in the 1970s. The world made the Neoliberal Turn … a Neoliberal Order that was hegemonic … It may no longer be hegemonic in the sense of forcing oppositional movements into dialogue and contention with it on its own terms … [but] it persists

And his tentative diagnosis—it is not “‘cultural leftists’, especially high-tech ones, who welcomed de-bureaucratization; Ralph Nader, who welcomed deregulation; Bill Clinton, who was opportunistic; Barack Obama, who was inexperienced and cautious. Those do not seem sufficient causes to me”. Perhaps it is instead that:

potential voters are, today: (a) profoundly unhappy with a neoliberal world in which the only rights that people have that are worth anything are their property-ownership rights and they are thus the playthings of economic forces that value and devalue their property; but (b) are anxiously unsatisfied with social democracy that gives equal shares of access to valuable things to those whom they regard as “undeserving”; and (c) while that economic anxiety can be assuaged by rapid and broad-based growth, it is also (d) stoked by those who like the current highly unequal distribution of wealth and thus seek to make politics about the discovery of (external and internal) enemies rather than about equitable prosperity.

Attribution: J. Bradford Delong Link

Mostly good for the overview of fasting (see also this). But also a very btrmt-like look at health ideology, with interesting and less common examples. Always fun to see how close one can skate to the fringes without getting too woo-woo.


On the accuracy of futurist predictions (usually not very accurate).

In particular, people who were into “big ideas” … generally fared poorly, whether or not their favored big ideas were correct .. Another common trait of poor predictors is lack of anything resembling serious evaluation of past predictive errors … By contrast, people who had (relatively) accurate predictions had a deep understanding of the problem and also tended to have a record of learning lessons from past predictive errors.

Perhaps unsurprising. But the detail of the analysis provides very interesting insight into what kinds of things are predictable.


Kind of disorganised, but interesting comparison between chicken and human intelligence.



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Dorian | btrmt.