Keeping up with the FITs, 3/21
Rienard Knight-Laurie on getting beyond Woke; Richard Hanania and Steven Hsu; Tyler Cowen on Effective Altruism; Cactus on do-something-ism
For the Journal of Free Black Thought, Rienard Knight-Laurie writes,
Ultimately, for the political standoffs and logjams to end, we need to speak in terms of policy, not propaganda. Esoteric slogans like “black lives matter” and “defund the police” simply won’t do. Knowing who wants what, in explicit terms, not flowery language, and how large their constituencies are—that’s how we address problems like lack of opportunity. It doesn’t matter what we call each other. If we know what people actually agree on—a lot, to be frank—we can chart a path forward. The labels don’t serve our purposes, they obfuscate. So, I will do my best to retire “woke” from my vocabulary from now on, and instead ask people what exactly they believe.
Richard Hanania interviews Steven Hsu. Many topics, all interesting. Hanania says,
I have come to just be very against academic social science. I don’t think it’s very useful and I think you could do better work outside of it, or at least as good as work outside of it.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be academic historians or academic economists, but I just think the gap between their capabilities and what’s done in the real world outside the academy is not so large, as you were indicating. Whereas in some areas of academic science it is, right?
I believe that right now you can find people in business who bring more curiosity and better scholarly habits in approaching subjects than you can find among professors in the social sciences.
Perhaps my favorite excerpt is when Hsu says,
while the financial crisis is happening, you go down the hall and start talking to your economist colleague, and then you realize the economist colleague doesn’t actually know what a credit default swap is, but at the same time is giving you some long spiel about what’s happening in the economy. So I’m in a weird position because more than half of the theoretical physicists that I trained with, was educated with, ended up on Wall Street in hedge funds and creating these instruments. And I considered that as a career option for some time. So I had carefully studied lots of things like options pricing theory, and derivatives and all the math that’s required to be a quant on Wall Street I understood pretty well.
Also, note Hsu’s elitist thoughts near the end of the interview.
One of the privileges of reading Emergent Ventures applications is that I get a cross-sample — admittedly a skewed one — of who and what is actually influencing people.
When it comes to smart and many of the very smartest young people, the influence of Effective Altruism on their thought is radically underreported and underrepresented.
When trapped in a group of lefties, it used to work to say, “I’m not a conservative. I’m a libertarian.” But now they hate libertarians as much as conservatives.
Similarly, I fear that the point of a young capitalist talking up Effective Altruism is to try to signal to socialists that you’re not as bad as a real capitalist. To which I say, “Phooey.”
What do-something-ism does fulfill is the psychological desire for order. For a do-something-ist, if something is being done about it, neuroses are subdued and permission is given to proceed with normal life. The chronic version has a psychological name: generalized anxiety disorder, which according to Jean Twenge’s book iGen, affects three in five Zoomers. You might even remember that a recent CIA recruiting video that was roundly mocked for using ‘woke’ buzzwords also treated this affliction as a positive identity. As destructive as creating a tribe around an arbitrary demographic is, creating a tribe around a psychological condition that impairs your judgment of risk is severely worse, particularly for an intelligence agency.
Re: "while the financial crisis is happening, you go down the hall and start talking to your economist colleague, and then you realize the economist colleague doesn’t actually know what a credit default swap is, but at the same time is giving you some long spiel about what’s happening in the economy."—Steven Hsu
Academics spend much of their time with students, who know little, and who tend to assent, at least outwardly, to a professor's pronouncements. It's unlikely that students provide a check on a professor's competence.
Academics also spend much of their time with peers, comparing research. Peer review is their 'market test;' but external, real-world tests rarely happen outside STEM. There is substantial risk that sound epistemic norms yield to peer conformity -- a mutual validation society.
Re: Hsu's elitist thoughts.
Compare Richard Hanania's alternative to elitism in his latest SubStack essay, "How to Think about the 'Current Thing'":
"One thing I find odd about the anti-SJW crowd, say your median contributor to Quillette, is that they seem to believe that IQ is real and important and also that normal people with average IQs can be expected to think for themselves and reach reasoned conclusions about economics, geopolitics, and epidemiology. But the truth is you’re not going to be able to teach 'critical thinking' in schools, so you might as well decide in which direction you want people to be sheep.
[... ] you often have to choose between movements that are pro-current thing ('trust the experts') and the aforementioned knee-jerk contrarianism that is unhealthy in an intellectual but in practice can make for relatively sound policy.
[...] Of course, I advise you to think for yourself, seek out objective evidence, and proceed with intellectual humility. But if you’re going to be involved in politics at any level – from voting to campaigning or running for office – we all have to choose what movements, political parties, and programs to support. We also have to decide which priors we should start with when consuming new information and incorporating it into our worldview. As far as heuristics go, 'oppose the current thing' is probably pretty good as long as it’s not the only one you’re using."