Keeping up with the FITs, 3/23
Scott Alexander on pursuing justice; Noah Smith on China; The Talmud on Steel-manning; Bari Weiss on America and Ukraine; Mike Makowski on agent-based modeling;
A narrative of helpers and saviors allows saints. It allows people who are genuinely good, above and beyond expectations, who rightly serve as ideals and role models for others. A narrative of justice allows, at best, non-criminals - people who haven’t broken any of the rules yet, who don’t suck quite as much as everyone else. You either stand condemned, or you’re okay so far.
His insight is that framing policy issues in terms of “justice” makes for a joyless culture. It makes for a glass-half-empty outlook on society.
An angry, chauvinistic nationalism has become a deeply rooted force in China’s society. Even as China’s government has wavered on whether to support Putin, there has been a massive outpouring of support for the invasion on Chinese social media. Of course that nationalistic sentiment isn’t unanimous, and it’s hard to tell what percent holds it, but for now they seem to have the upper hand. In fact, at this point it’s not clear that China’s top leadership could stop the nationalist tide even if they wanted to; like the generals of Imperial Japan, they could end up getting pushed into aggressive action by a populace that had no idea of the risks.
Those who have spent any real time studying Talmud know that when two rabbis disagree, they are often asked how they would respond to the strongest elements of the arguments that oppose them. To paraphrase slightly how the Talmud would do it, the question is, “we know what you think, but what do you think is the strongest part of the argument disagreeing with you, and how would you respond to that?”
The other day on The View, I watched as a man with a Harvard law degree and a denizen of the most exclusive institutions in America, stumbled on the real problem facing the world: “The Constitution is trash,” he said.
If you are looking for the definition of the privilege of living in America, of living in a country with the First Amendment, it is the ability to say something so foolish on daytime television.
If you are looking for an American Zelenskyy, I nominate Bari Weiss.
Later, she writes,
If the past three weeks have reminded us of anything, at root, it is that the line between civilization and what we might call uncivilization is paper thin.
According to my model in The Three Languages of Politics, she has just planted her flag as a conservative.
The same rise in cheap computational power that gave rise to other forms of computational modeling, including ABMs, came along with the plummeting cost of data creation, storage, analysis, and access. . .The questions were no longer “How do we mentally organize and make sense of the world”, but instead “What is the actual measured effect of X on Y?” Theory gave way to statistical identification. Modeling technique gave way to causal inference.
Pointer from Tyler Cowen. Agent-based models use computer simulations to try to get at issues that are too complex for models that are solved using math. I often complain of the “representative agent model,” which is mathematically tractable but assumes away all sorts of interesting possibilities. ABMs do not commit that sin.
Unfortunately, ABMs suffer from a sort of Catch-22. If you can explain what is driving the results that an ABM delivers, then you probably can derive those results using an old-fashioned mathematical model. And if you can’t explain what is driving the results, then you have not really added to the stock of knowledge. No one can check your work. For all the rest of us know, your interesting result just came from a coding error.