Apr 15Liked by Arnold Kling

Would it be fair to call this "don't be conscientious" a "luxury belief"? (an idea that is popular in these parts)

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Apr 15·edited Apr 15

If not a "luxury belief" it certainly seems situational - and not to the situation of the job itself.

OTOH it might develop fortitude of another sort, and versatility.

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Or possibly future jobs! While reviewing I don't know how many resumes and conducting interviews, never has the thought "wow, heres a candidate that sticks around for an year mostly, I bet this is who we need" crossed by mind.

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Fast quitting and stick-to-itiveness are both beneficial. It makes all the difference in the world in discerning which one to apply when. But like Arnold, I cannot even say with 20-20 hindsight which choices were the best ones and which ones I wish I did differently.

I chose to study Mechanical Engineering. In hindsight I should have studied Civil Engineering. For no other reason than the quality of the Civil Engineering program was superior at my school. I ended up taking many courses from the Civil Engineering department and the job I took in the Civil Engineering school paved the way to what became my career in computer programming. But for odd reasons I was stubborn I to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering and I never switched. I have never used my college degree and probably would not have used a Civil Engineering degree either. But if I had been less stubborn I could have made better use of my college efforts.

Now an example of fast quitting. At one point in learning computers I was fascinated by computer graphics. And this fascination was the reason I decided to get into programming. In short time I realized I did not have a mind to do anything other than the most basic computer graphics. My talents were better suited for other programming challenges. I probably spent less than 100 hours not learning computer graphics algorithms. I am proud of myself for realizing so quickly that niche wasn't going to work for me.

My life experience is if you are persistent in working towards what you like to do, you will find it. This means you need to put yourself in the arena of work and then be flexible to adjust the work you do to fit the tasks that yield the most fulfillment. This is where fast-quitting can become an obstacle. If you quit too early you may miss out on the opportunity that was developing right in front of you.

A final thought. The most important consideration for enjoying work is to work with enjoyable people. I don't recommend quitting on the first on-the-job conflict. But a reason to quit sooner than later is if the people involved in the work make you miserable.

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I think that last paragraph about the people you work with is terribly important. Just like in college where the best advice is to “take professors, not topics” I think the same holds true with jobs. Good coworkers make a huge difference, and as the apparently new saying goes “people quit managers, not jobs.”

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Arnold quotes Lukianoff on Gurri: "Understanding the crisis of authority as only being wrongfully destructive of expertise is to miss the fact that, frankly, we are often asking far too much of expertise and experts — and oversight itself has not been all that rigorous." This greatly understates the problem. What the last few years have revealed is that purported expertise is often not only hollow, but incompetent, corrupt, and dishonest, and that there are no corrective mechanisms of oversight. The supposed expertise that has been offered include the punditry opinion on the Russia collusion hoax, the public health officials' attempts to conceal the origins of the Corona virus (aided by the dishonesty of eminent virologists looking for grant money), and infamous letter on the Hunter Biden laptop signed by 51 "intelligence community" authorities. And there are many more instances. Is it asking "far too much of expertise" that it simply be honest?

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"If I could be an older teenager or young adult in any era, I think I would pick the early 1960s ... The games of flirtation and romance at that time strike me as fun and challenging."

Oh my God, NO! Admittedly, I was an older teenager in the late 1960s, but the games were not at all fun, full of ignorance and lack of communication.

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Apr 15·edited Apr 15

It's really hard to compare very different contexts over time, but talking to a lot of young people about relationship troubles today, I'd say there's something to be said for ignorance in the "you don't know what you've got til it's gone" sense, especially with the negative impact of unlimited, free, 24/7 access via smartphone to hyperstimulative hard core pornography of any level of depravity, and unfortunately it looks like we are not going to be able or willing to put the genie back in the bottle with that one.

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And yet we are not able to put the other genie back into the bottle either: the culture doesn't seem to be able to let go of the older narratives of the epic (but also of the comic or the tragicomic), of romance, of the meeting of different ways of being - which it absolutely *must* if we are to go on in this clinical and homogenized way, if young people are not to be driven mad. All the old stories are still too much with us - ironically, if anything more so than ever now that there is so much leisure time dedicated to entertainment, and the culture - most of which is necessarily going to be prior culture, in the way that most of Wikipedia is or at least once was, the Britannica - lies open to us as never before. Though people love to reference "the narrative" and the left tediously repeats the formulation of "telling people's stories/ giving them voices" - ideology has meant a virtual end to "story". Everything is polemic, even sex.

Turns out there was a banality far beyond what we previously thought, or were taught, was banal.

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About life choice.

Seems to me that the modern focus on money, status or position has hindered finding satisfaction.

Think historically . . .

Augustine went from lawyer to philosopher/priest. Changed west permanently.

Boethious from Roman consul to translator of Aristotle and philosophy. Huge impact for thousand years.

Rashi, a vintner, overwhelmingly influenced Judaism and Christianity.

Maimonides, a doctor, still important for entire western civilization.

Saul of tarsus, trained under gamaliel, turned tent maker and overturned Roman culture.

Alfred the great, king of England , translated parts of bible into English. Set direction of English society.

Copernicus, catholic canon, wrote mathematical explanation of solar system , at direction of church. (And wrote about evils of inflation).

And probably most interesting, Micheal Faraday, only finished grade school. Apprenticed to book binder a youth. Also read the books.

Then started working for Davies cleaning laboratory.

Eventually overturned Newton’s theory of matter.

Fields vs points.

Foundation of modern science, quantum theory.

Invented electric motors, capacitors, electrolysis, generators, etc., etc..

Now, of course many academics important - anselm, Aquinas, Occum, Galileo, Abelard, Scotus, Bacon, Maxwell, etc., etc..

But, even Einstein couldn’t work in at beginning. Patent office.

So, believing academia essential seems contrary to evidence.

Or as Solomon appealed to his son . . .

“Happy is the man who finds wisdom

And the man who acquires discernment;

To gain it is better than gaining silver,

And having it as profit is better than having gold.

It is more precious than corals;

Nothing you desire can compare to it.

Long life is in its right hand;

Riches and glory are in its left hand.

Its ways are pleasant,

And all its paths are peaceful.

It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it,

And those who keep firm hold of it will be called happy.’’

It’s life long learning that’s valuable, not academic achievement.



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"I do appreciate that they want to play with male-female differences rather than endorse a mission to erase them."

Refreshing and wise!

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Commenting late again. Hanson’s culture analysis is very similar to the main thesis of Carroll Quigley’s The Evolution of Civilizations from the 1960s. Quigley’s was in my opinion by far the best Civilizations analysis ever. However, as or just after Quigley was writing, the social sciences collectively decided that comparative cultures / civilizations analysis was taboo (because it violated the “all cultures are equal” dogma) and no one with any academic credibility carried on this field from the late 1960s. A few writers have started to pick up civilizations analysis now, but mostly from a materialistic perspective, without grasping the importance of the more subjective elements under the umbrella of culture. Quigley’s work basically has become lost knowledge. I’m glad to see an analytical mind like Hanson’s once again returning to this topic, though Hanson won’t be able to bring the historical depth that Quigley did.

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How would you feel about a physicist who walks into the economics faculty lounge, sits down, puts up his feet, and says “What are you working on? This should be easy! “

I hear that economics is a discipline often colonized by physicists. Biology is worse. It is often colonized by both physicists and economists.

I am a biologist. Hanson is not. He is being ridiculous. Cultures do not undergo evolution in the way he thinks. They do not experience selection in the way he thinks. There is not space hereto enumerate all the ways in which is wrong. He is being ridiculous. You should stop listening to him on this topic.

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Usually I would roll my eyes with you at the way evolutionary psychology is used to give a pseudoscientific veneer to to someone’s self-serving social science narrative. But in this case the evolutionary stuff is kept to a minimum and can be considered an analogy - some cultures have a combination of beliefs and institutions that enable them to thrive and grow and some don’t. The former thrive while the latter stagnate and usually get swallowed up into a more “fit” culture and disappear. Whether you consider this “selection” in a biological sense doesn’t really matter, but it’s a great way to think of culture and a refreshing return to reality from the “all cultures are equal” nonsense that pervades the politically correct thought systems. Hanson’s approach also provides a useful framework for thinking about what happened to our culture that was once thriving and growing, and that now, at least in some ways, has stopped growing.

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It's a bad metaphor, and if you insist on using it anyway it will lead you to bad conclusions.

I'm not going to enumerate the problems here because the illusion that biology is easy, which attracts the colonizing physicists and economists I mentioned earlier, is doubly attractive to blog commenters who know even less than they do. If I start arguing specifics, someone will respond with some high school-level nonsense that I'll either have to refute (such people always seem to have much more free time than I do) or let stand.

But here is a teaser anyway. You say:

*[Fit cultures] thrive while [unfit cultures] stagnate and usually get swallowed up into a more “fit” culture and disappear*.

Leave aside the fact that you haven't specified what fitness actually means. In biology the definition is mathematical and depends on parameters that don't obtain for cultures. Instead, ask yourself this. When one organism swallows up another organism, the absorbed organism is digested -- broken down for energy and spare parts. Genetic material does not transfer, and the absorbing organism is genetically unchanged. When one *culture* absorbs another, the result is a different culture. Think of all those Chinese dynasties that were conquered by barbarians, absorbed their ruling classes and ultimately made them Chinese. Who was more fit, in those instances? The cultures-as-organisms metaphor has more problems like that the closer you look.

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Agreed, the evolution / biology analogy breaks down if taken too seriously.

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"That was a well-expressed and convincing reply to Hanson", he said sarcastically.

You have enough space to pull rank ("I am a biologist. Hanson is not") and to deny, deny, deny, "Cultures do not undergo evolution in the way he thinks" etc. But not to do anything else.

You may well be right, but I doubt your reply did much to change anyone's prior.

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I bought both the 2014 and 2018 editions of Gurri’s book in the years published, so I confess that they triggered something of an interest into the many questions and tensions inherent in attempting to understand popular questions about the changing and varying degrees of legitimacy of various forms of authority and their associated institutions. I can thus credit Gurri with leading me to Frank Furedi’s 2013 book Authority: A Sociological History which I would highly recommend to anyone who might appreciate a much broader context and more scholarly treatment of the fundamental issues. Furedi inspired me to delve into Habermas’s books Theory of Communicative Action, The Legitimation Crisis, and Between Facts and Norms, in part in which “he fashioned a comprehensive vision of modern society and the possibility of freedom within it.” Thus, I would suggest that Gurri may be like the visible portion of an iceberg: what you really want to know goes far deeper.

What I would take to be the most important things to understand is that there is nothing new and the same theme of Eve taking a bite of the fruit of the tree of knowledge has played itself out over and over again through the centuries. And in so doing there have been countless revolutions in which new accommodations between opposing intellectual intuitions and societal forces have produced both progress and long periods of historical quietude and stability.

The gambit of “Blame the People” as a threat to that stability is historically uninformed and dangerous as well as fuels the paranoia that continues to grow ever more feverish into the cultish “preserve our establishment at any cost” mantra that so many erstwhile public intellectuals chant incessantly today.

“Following the War, ‘there was a critical revision of moden mass democracy’ by political theorists and policy makers . At this point Europeans ‘critically re-examined the idea of democratic citizenship, which traditionally was based on the rational capacity of participation and decion on the part of the citizen’. Public opinion was represented by as a synthesis of irrational myths and prejudice. This argument was forcefully presented by the American commentator Walter Lippmann in his influential 1922 study, Public Opinion, which declared that the proportion of the electorate that is ‘absolutely illiterate’ is much larger than one would suspect, and that these people who are ‘mentally children or barbarians’ are the natural target of manipulators. The belief that the public was dominated by infantile emotions was widely echoed in the the social science literature of the inter-war period, often conveying the assumption that public opinion odes not know what is in its best interests. As one American sociologist noted in 1919, ‘public opinion is often very cruel to those who struggle most unselfishly for the public welfare.’

“Harold Lasswell, one of the pioneers of the psychological turn of American political science, expressed a skepticism that charactarised his discipline’s attitude towards democratic political. ‘Familiarity with the ruling public has bred contempt’, he stated, and reminded his readers that the ‘public has not reigned with benignity and restraint’. Lasswell denounced people with democratic inclinations for ‘deceiving themselves’, and claimed that the power of propaganda to manipulate the masses called into question ‘the traditional species of democratic romanticism.” Through Europe and America, pessimism directed towards democratic institutions pervaded public life. Graham Wallas, a leading member of the British Fabian Society and author of Human Nature in Politics, provided a powerful critique of the capacity of democratic electorate to behave rationally.

“With the rise of fascism and the ascendancy of Stalin’s regim, the loss of faith in the public intensified. It was from this perspective that Walter Shepard, President of the American Political Science Association asked in 1935, ‘who are the People?’ In reply, he argued that ‘we have been impressed, more than we care to admit, with the practical failure of democratic in Europe’; and pointing to the ‘spread of fascism and the success of the communist experiment in Russia’ and the ‘breakdown of the capitalistic system and the prolonged economic depression’, he suggested that Americans had become a ‘nation of political skeptics’.

Shepard wrote as a matter of fact that ‘the idea that government springs from and is dependent upon the will of the people cannot withstand the analysis of modern criticism’. Although he recognized that the ‘electorate has its role to play in modern government’, that role was a matter of ‘practical expediency’ to be decided on pragmatic grounds, for ‘Is it not evident that the theory of popular sovereignty, the central idea of democratic ideology, cannot stand up under an objective critical analysis and must be frankly abandoned?” What Shepard proposed was a technocratic political system, based on planning and education and run by men with ‘brains’.”

(Furedi, Authority, pp 352-353)

Despite Shepard’s apparent win and the ascendancy of the administrative state and an unconstrained judicial system in control of whatever tickles their fancy, the debate remains the same, and the same anti-democratic ideology continues to be spewed in ever increasing volume. Given the failure of the technocratic class to govern with any semblance of competence, is it any wonder we are being imprecated to kowtow anyway and just lower expectations?

Furedi sums up with “as our historical review of the uneasy relationship between public opinion and authority indicates, what some see as the source of authority others imagine as a fundamental threat to it. Experience indicates that it is far easier to claim the authority of public opinion that it is to institutionalise consent. Yet democratic public life cannot live without some form of authority; which is why the quest for an authority that is perceived as legitimate will continue into the indefifskItnite future [… …]

It is worth noting that the current demise of authority has not been paralleled by a greater cultural affirmation for freedom. The historic tension between authority and freedom lost much of its relevance. Indeed both ideas seem to have lost much of their meaning. Why this is so is the fascinating problem that emerges from our study of the history of the problem of authority.”

One possible answer to Furedi’s question is that the quest will continue and grow ever more divisive and intellectually stagnant until the possibility of a reformed political and electoral system admits the potential realization of the populist intuition’s priorities of peace, prosperity, and personal autonomy.

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Apr 15·edited Apr 15

I've now read the Simon link and scanned a couple other of her posts and they are pretty thoughtful and certainly allusive. The Shakespeare reading was interesting, though it would make me sad to take that speech of Katherina's as artless and not humorous trolling. At the very least these pieces are Something Different. (To a secular audience; I would guess this sort of thing has formed the basis for a good deal of modern Christian self-help around marriage, but I wouldn't know about that.)

Ever since it came out decades ago now in convo with a dear friend, evangelical, that she used a type of contraception novel to me, which required a few hours advance planning, which was no problem because they operated on a schedule - I realized that intercourse - the intercourse of friendship among women that is - was not improved for me by touching on the subject of other people's arrangements in that department. Not that I think a schedule is inefficient or joyless - probably the opposite - I just didn't need to know it, nor that another friend's husband had a little habit (a game: I think.) of putting cash on the bureau afterwards.

As someone with an unfortunately darker temperament, invocations to spiritual joy leave me out. This would be true even were I religious. The novelty of the subject being dilated on in a C.S. Lewis vein, being blowjobs, doesn't really alter that (see preceding para).

Though he was no prude I expect Lewis would have a little Johnsonian feeling about being "cautious how we strip" life in re what we make subject of conversation, versus what we get on with doing.

But if we are going to look at things we needn't have bothered with, we ought to look at them whole. And the idea that there is joy in fellatio for a woman is a striking variety of the pretense that Simon rightly punctures elsewhere. She has there sunk into the kind of silly bs that even, so the internet reliably informs, Teen Vogue or Seventeen now promulgate thanks to the myriad contradictions and willed obtuseness of the sexual revolution.

If you've found a woman who cheerfully provides that service on the regular, then she has named her price and you have met it. Or perhaps she hates cooking even more: "good in bed". Whatever works, especially if the currency of the relationship is not primarily affection - but it is just part of the overall truth that few of us get through our allotted span without doing lots of things we'd rather not. Life, while not being stripped, shouldn't be adorned beyond all recognition. There is no joy in the practice for a woman; whether for some men that is not part of the appeal, I am unable to say, but why pretend, if like Simon you are positioning yourself as an antidote to feminism's own incoherence about sex (everything equal and equally enjoyed - only, no - oppression prevents that, forever; moreover what is edgier is ideologically acceptable while what is easy is problematic, thus leading to endless pretense and a curious lack of openness on the subject despite our conviction we are the most open ever)? It is wholly uncomfortable in a "please be over" sort of way; and you can bet that after you die, while she may miss many things about you, an end to that will be pure upside.

Some years ago the dissectors-of-culture derived amusement, understandably, from a purportedly-sincere Stratemeyer Syndicate document listing "things that can't happen to Nancy Drew". One was that she couldn't be bound and gagged, presumably for its unsavory connotation (however lost on ten year-old girls, Nancy not being the reading of teenagers beyond thirteen, and generally younger).

A simpler explanation is that Nancy had a great life! A devoted, better-than-a-mother housekeeper and cook; a father who adored her and let her in on the secrets of his trade. A closetful of beautiful outfits, an unusually interesting hometown with an example of every kind of cool setting for "mystery". Every girl's hope, a boyfriend, in Ned; with Frank Hardy as a possible backup. Poise and beauty and a purpose. No one likes gagging unless as a peculiar fetish! Some people hate it most of all unlikable physical experiences - can hardly tolerate even going to the dentist. Gagging would seriously threaten the perfection of her life!

I guess the modern analog would be that Nancy can't suggest that any particular sexual practice is not her favorite.

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"And the idea that there is joy in fellatio for a woman is a striking variety of the pretense that Simon rightly punctures elsewhere."

Huh? I do not think that is true, any more than it would be true that "the idea that there is joy in cunnilingus for a man is a striking variety of pretense." Making someone you care about feel good can be a kind of joy.

And this can be true even if there is initial trepidation and uncomfortableness. Like a hard hike to a beautiful view.

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Apr 16·edited Apr 16

I don't know if our experience in this regard is comparable, but no - she's written an essay steeped in the environment she grew up in, and called it "joy". It's the intrusion of pornography, that has convinced people that sex in marriage needs to be so damned hard all the time, just another form of work and striving.

And yet, when was the last time you heard a joke along the lines "my wife had a headache again last night"? That would be shocking to the sexual revolutionaries and the joy-makers alike. It cannot be worked into their metaphysics. And yet it is more true to life than "giving head and seeing the face of God". The woman in that joke probably slept with her husband, regardless of immediate interest or headache or the physical changes brought by menopause; that was caring enough, and didn't depend on whether it gave her "joy". Sometimes it's enough to lift someone's cranky mood, no need to overstate it.

There is, too, in these things, a refusal to face something that is only more apposite as people delay marriage - the difference in male and female libido both in their particulars and across time. People in their thirties will probably be more evenly matched in that way; if children come along there is going to be a gulf, for awhile; an average woman will have a quite hormonal period later on, in that reverse adolescence; men don't have a reverse adolescence but almost seem to have a looong second adolescence, with the coming of age. Hopefully affection and caring will see it through.

I read a book called "Pavilions of Women" when I was very young and thought it interesting but was certain that I would regard such (however initiated by the wife herself) as a betrayal by my husband.

I have latterly come to see that monogamy is strange, and strained, when people live so long. What now seems normal to me is serial monogamy in men. It is a strange phenomenon, this - being past reproductive age, but without grandchildren. Surplus to requirements, but not entirely ...

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For the record, I thought your critique of Simon was amusing. You single out the 'intrusion of pornography' for blame, but I think the TV show Sex and the City deserves honorable mention. As for the reciprocal practice mentioned by Roger Sweeny, I think it is overrated. In either case, the main benefit is not having to worry about birth control.

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Just to be clear, all I was trying to say is that for many people, good sex means, "I want to make you feel good; you want to make me feel good." And that means different things for different people--and for different times.

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I am not familiar with that show, which probably disqualifies me in lots of ways. But I was pretty sure my POV was not going to see the light of day, *here*, if not from me lol.

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Pavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Woman's Quarters, by Pearl S. Buck (1946)

From the publisher: "On her fortieth birthday, Madame Wu carries out a decision she has been planning for a long time: she tells her husband that after twenty-four years their physical life together is now over and she wishes him to take a second wife. The House of Wu, one of the oldest and most revered in China, is thrown into an uproar by her decision, but Madame Wu will not be dissuaded and arranges for a young country girl to come take her place in bed. Elegant and detached, Madame Wu orchestrates this change as she manages everything in the extended household of more than sixty relatives and servants. Alone in her own quarters, she relishes her freedom and reads books she has never been allowed to touch. When her son begins English lessons, she listens, and is soon learning from the foreigner, a free-thinking priest named Brother Andre, who will change her life. Few books raise so many questions about the nature and roles of men and women, about self-discipline and happiness."

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"Following Sunil’s advice would have changed my life. For the better or for the worse is hard to say."

While you didn't quit grad school or the Fed after a year, you did quit a few jobs.

We tend to hear the stories of people who quit once or more before finding their success but we hear much less about people who quit and never find something better. When we do hear about them, we tend to dismiss them as losers, unmotivated, incapable, etc. instead of recognizing quitting is sometimes the only difference between them and many others who stuck with the same jobs.

There are positives of sticking with something too. I'm not saying which is better, just that it's almost always not at all clear which is better.

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"The clearest proof of biologically maladaptive culture drift is fertility."

First you have to prove that culture drift is the reason for reduced fertility. I'm not sure you can. Fertility is also very much a financial issue. Also a technology issue. How much of the change is simply availability of more effective, more convenient, and cheaper contraception? Back to financial, there was a time that having kids was in part to gain workers for the household. True or not, it seems every day we get further from that end of the spectrum. Another way to look at it is to ask who has the highest fertility, the rich or the poor? If it is cultural, why does reduced fertility align so well with increased income within a culture/country?

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"Following Sunil’s advice would have changed my life."

Sunil's advice would mean you probably never get vested for matching 401k contributions...

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A thing one hears frequently near DC, "I could kick myself; If I would have stayed in just a few more years, at my age I'd be enjoying a good pension for life, and could be retired or start my own business with less risk of going broke or work another job and be less stressed about bills, but instead ... "

You also hear the perspective from the other decision "it was really hard and often miserable but having that pension today makes me feel like it was all worth it."

Maybe it's not a good idea on net to make huge benefits all or nothing affairs triggered only at the end of a long period and sequence of potentially bad fits, but that incentive structure must certainly change the analysis for any kind of career decision advice-making.

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I agree with you but your example made me think of another. What if Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg hadn't dropped out of Harvard? And to your point, how many others did the same (Harvard or elsewhere) and never recovered?

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Advice is usually worth what you pay for it. In general the quality of advice diminishes quickly when it is not answering a very precise question about a very specific context by an expert with a lot of direct experience in that particular context. The farther one gets from that, and the more general the advice and broad the intended audience, the more it can only be a kind of rough statistical pattern that necessarily only applies if at all to individuals near the center of that distribution, and in such a case one can't sensibly use extreme outliers as examples or counterexamples of anything.

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If you think my comment was about extreme outliers, you've completely missed the point. Think about it again.

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Not just near DC...

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Apr 15·edited Apr 15

I kinda wish I would have gotten Sunil's advice when I was that age. I went to work for a well-established company that was trying to break into a new market when I was right out of college because the manager there sold me on their ambitious growth plans and how much opportunity there would be for a young chap like me to move up quickly if the new venture took off. I should have realized way sooner that it just wasn't going to work and thrown in the towel. Instead, I stuck around too long and had to scramble to find a new job quickly when the company signaled (they never came right out and said it) that they were pulling the plug. Edit: the manager who gave me that sales pitch left maybe 18 months after I started, but like an idiot, I stayed, thinking new management might have more success.

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Marilyn Simon is rediscovering Laura Doyle. And I clicked through to find out what Ashurbanipal has to do with anything, because I was hoping it would be related to my obsession with Nebuchadnezzar, but no link was revealed. ( referencing my post https://ishayirashashem.substack.com/p/thought-he-would-live-forever)

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