Friday, 27 December 2013
The reality is that there is no one true cause.
For one thing, different people are good at different things. I could start training right now to become the world's best brain surgeon or rocket scientist so that I could solve some highly important issue in those fields, but it would probably make more sense to let the current brain surgeons and rocket scientists handle those issues, while I work on the important issues closer to my current background. You know, the type of stuff that brain surgeons and rocket scientists wouldn't be able or willing to pay much attention to because they're too busy working on their own problems. If I felt like I had the capacity and motivation to train myself as an expert rocket scientist so that I could find the rocket science Holy Grail and benefit humanity, that could be a good idea. But there are huge issues in a diversity of fields and there's likely to be a Holy Grail hiding closer to my present destination.
Secondly, because there are so many different issues out there, we should want people to be working on all of them. If we collectively identified aging as the world's most cost-effective cause and everybody dedicated themselves to that, maybe we'd manage to cure death... only to get wiped out by some existential risk that nobody was paying attention to. So the goodness of a cause depends on how much attention is paid to it relative to the attention paid to other important causes. As more and more people start focusing on the "top causes," that might make formerly lesser causes surpass them in importance due to their relative neglect. The importance of a cause is constantly fluctuating, a little like the stock market. Whenever someone decides to focus on something, that changes the worth of focusing on that issue.
Effective altruists should keep their eyes and ears open for new high impact causes. They should also pay attention to what other people are paying attention to. In some cases, it might be wise to join a highly rated pre-existing EA movement. In other cases, it might be better to join a pre-existing movement that is usually deemed by EAs to be of less importance. In other cases, it might be best to start an entirely new project that has yet to be seriously explored or dealt with.
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
- Agenda-Setting By the Media: The media create awareness more than they change attitudes or knowledge. They tell people what to think about, not how to think.
- Media-Induced Anxiety and Apathy: Regardless of its content, the centrality of the media in our lives and the sheer quantity of media messages can have mass effects on society.
- Socialization: The media play a strong role in informing people of what’s cool, what’s ethical, what’s normal, and what’s weird in a culture. Media content affects our self-images and social relationships.
- Diversion Function: The mass media can serve as a much-needed escape from everyday life. There are three different types of diversions.
- Surveillance Function: The media, especially the news, survey the world for useful information to provide audiences. Masses of people pick up their information from media sources.
Being uncool is acceptable
Being wrong is acceptable as long as you're willing to change your mind
Defining one's terms before an argument is good
Other people think and feel a lot like you
Consequentialism is good
Democracy is good
Belief without evidence is bad
Xenophobia is bad
Sunday, 22 December 2013
“Roszak views the current widespread sense of malaise as a kind of “separation anxiety” from nature. It should be an easy metaphor to connect with. We’re bombarded these days with analyses of failed relationships, of the psychological havoc breakup wreak. The psychological fallout from our breakup with nature is like that. When you cut off arterial blood to an organ, the organ dies. When you cut off the flow of nature into people’s lives, their spirit dies. It’s as simple as that.” – Kalle Lasn, Culture Jam
Friday, 20 December 2013
- In meeting their shared objective of maximizing profit, they all try to appeal to the widest possible audience. If lots of media producers are trying to reach the widest possible audience, then we should expect there to be a lot of overlap in the methods they employ to do this.
- The established powers of the present thrive in a certain kind of political, economic, and cultural environment. It is in the best interests of the multimedia corporations and the other organizations (such as the advertising agencies that influence their content) to promote conservative and capitalist values. We should expect all of these corporations to produce ideologically similar content in their rational attempts to cement the environment that is best for their corporations.
Brian Tomasik commented on the post, disagreeing with the second point:
"...Unless there's robust collusion among many parties, the selfish value of preserving capitalism is tiny compared with the prospect of more profits for you specifically. It's like the tragedy of the commons. If anti-capitalist media would sell well, some big media company would start doing that."
Companies are not inherently in favour of capitalist messages, they are in favour of maximizing their profits. It so happens that strategies for maximizing profit overlap heavily with pro-capitalist and pro-status quo messages but that is only the natural by-product of companies trying to make money. If there was a way to make more money by spreading anti-capitalist and anti-status quo media, then companies would sell that.
This view is more or less correct but it leaves out the intricate relations among the world's power networks. Most notably, the need to appease advertisers in central in determining what content gets airplay.
In Culture Jam, Kalle Lasn writes about the power of advertisers to control content:
"In 1997, Chrysler, one of the five largest advertisers in the US, sent letters to one hundred newspaper and magazine editors demanding to review their publications for stories that could prove damaging or controversial. 'In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, it is required that Chrysler corporation be alerted in advance of any and all editorial content that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or any editorial content that could be construed as provocative or offensive.' According to a spokesperson at Chrysler, every single letter was signed in agreement and returned. This kind of editorial control is widely, quietly practiced throughout the industry."
It's difficult for a company to act in their own best interests when a more powerful company is able to make them instead act in their best interests. So even if a network could make money publishing anti-capitalist and anti-status quo content, that doesn't mean it's advertisers would support that content. Without advertisers, it's difficult for a media outlet to survive.
Advertisers are specifically in the business of getting people to buy stuff. Usually, it's pretty typical stuff that serves pretty typical needs in a particular culture (e.g. cures bad breath, makes silky hair, conveys status to peers). Advertisers are thus more likely than the average organizational body to oppose anti-capitalist and anti-status quo content.
In the same chapter, Lasn relays his experience trying to sell his "Buy Nothing Day" commercial to major TV stations. These are some of the responses he received:
"There's no law that says we have to air anything - we'll decide what we want to air or not." - ABC New York station manager Art Moore
"We don't want to take any advertising that's inimical to our legitimate business interests." - NBC network commercial clearance manager Richard Gitter
"I dare you to get any station manager in this town to air your message." - CBS network's Libby Hawkins in New York
"We don't sell airtime for issue ads because that would allow the people with the financial resources to control public policy." - CBS Boston public affairs manager Donald Lowery
"This commercial ["Buy Nothing Day"] ... is in opposition to the current economic policy in the United States." - CBS network's Robert L. Lowary
Buy Nothing Day is oppositional to the values and environment that makes these stations - or at least, their advertisers - so successful. It's this dominance of the advertisers over media content that makes it so difficult for oppositional messages to overtake conventional messages.
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Chomsky has levelled some of the most vicious critiques of postmodernist, relativist, and religious thinking I've yet to come across. Rationalists would enjoy this letter tearing apart 20th Century French theorists for incomprehensible and meaningless writing.
"The whole debate, then, is an odd one. On one side, angry charges and denunciations, on the other, the request for some evidence and argument to support them, to which the response is more angry charges --- but, strikingly, no evidence or argument. Again, one is led to ask why.
It's entirely possible that I'm simply missing something, or that I just lack the intellectual capacity to understand the profundities that have been unearthed in the past 20 years or so by Paris intellectuals and their followers. I'm perfectly open-minded about it, and have been for years, when similar charges have been made -- but without any answer to my questions. Again, they are simple and should be easy to answer, if there is an answer: if I'm missing something, then show me what it is, in terms I can understand. Of course, if it's all beyond my comprehension, which is possible, then I'm just a lost cause, and will be compelled to keep to things I do seem to be able to understand, and keep to association with the kinds of people who also seem to be interested in them and seem to understand them (which I'm perfectly happy to do, having no interest, now or ever, in the sectors of the intellectual culture that engage in these things, but apparently little else).
Since no one has succeeded in showing me what I'm missing, we're left with the second option: I'm just incapable of understanding. I'm certainly willing to grant that it may be true, though I'm afraid I'll have to remain suspicious, for what seem good reasons. There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of "theory" that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out.
Again, I've lived for 50 years in these worlds, have done a fair amount of work of my own in fields called "philosophy" and "science," as well as intellectual history, and have a fair amount of personal acquaintance with the intellectual culture in the sciences, humanities, social sciences, and the arts. That has left me with my own conclusions about intellectual life, which I won't spell out. But for others, I would simply suggest that you ask those who tell you about the wonders of "theory" and "philosophy" to justify their claims --- to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make. If they can't be met, then I'd suggest recourse to Hume's advice in similar circumstances: to the flames."
In recorded interviews and lectures, he has also commented on the charlatanry of postmodernist intellectuals, the incoherence of extreme moral relativism, the stupidities of religion, and why the 9/11 terrorist attacks were likely not inside jobs. He has a rationalist's knack for seeing through bullshit.
Chomsky has published over 100 books during his career, let alone academic essays, articles, and open letters. He also has hours upon hours of footage online from lectures and interviews on various subjects. He has possibly been in more high profile debates than anyone else in history: with WVO Quine, Michel Foucault, Hilary Putnam, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, George Lakoff, John Maynard Smith, Jean Piaget, Alan Dershowitz, and others. Currently in his 80s, he has continued to give lectures around the world.
Effective altruists are highly concerned with productivity because it allows one to maximize his or her life's contribution. Rationalists likewise are interested in efficiency. This is partially responsible for the abnormal levels of knowledgeability among AREAs.