Effective altruism

I’ve largely reached the conclusion that the agenda of the effective altruism movement has a phase one which consists of gradually adding effectiveness to altruism, at some point to be followed by a phase two which will consist of gradually subtracting altruism from effective altruism. Basically, effectiveness is to effective altruism as efficiency is to neoliberalism as paper clip is to paper clip maximizer.

If effective altruism is actually a program of gradually replacing altruism with effectiveness, it would seem to be a similar strategy to the one that the think tank machinery of free market ideology has used, first to phase out political economy as a subject of study, then to phase in so-called public choice theory. Basically their agenda is to frame political science as a branch of economics. I don’t doubt they plan to enclose sociology and anthropology much as they have political science. Basically, in their view there is economics, and then there are bullshit “disciplines” pretending to be social sciences. But the economists at the think tanks are hired guns. There will always be paying gigs for those willing to speak power to truth.

As everyone who knows anything knows, the efficiency of free markets is unassailable, but can the incomprehensibly superior ability of the market mechanism to calculate maximum resource allocation, be harnessed in service to criteria of efficiency that are person-weighted, rather than dollar-weighted? I’ve seen no evidence that it can, but happily, as of yet, no conclusive reason it can’t. Whether I’m a soft anagorist (advocate of building the new allocation mechanism within the shell of the old) or a hard anagorist (basically, market abolitionist) hinges on the question of whether it turns out market calculation can also optimize person-weighted criteria of efficiency.

When it comes to EA’s, it seems their highest priority goal is reduction of extreme poverty. I can think of no more appropriate goal, as that is also the primary goal of the school I’m rooting for, which is negative utilitarianism. Where things maybe go off the rails, is that at least some EA’s conclude that the thing they can do personally that best serves EA goals is to earn as much money as possible. Maybe my life would be more comfortable if I were capable of believing that. Then again, maybe at some point I will decide to become a true believer in wealth being the only answer to poverty, and fail to thrive in the market economy anyway. I would sure as hell feel used if I were to dedicate myself to the money grubbing process out of a conviction that filling my own cup is a prerequisite for helping fill others’, only to find that my new-found conviction and dedication does not in itself add enough competitiveness to my job search that I actually start landing impressive job offers.

Likewise, there’s a certain horror at the prospect of maybe the economists being right about economics being on a sound empirical basis (in ways the other social sciences are not). After all, if economics is really a science, my rejection of the body of economic theory constitutes a form of science denialism. Maybe I’m no better than the global warming denialists. But observe how many economics non-denialists are global warming denialists. The money backing much economic research appears to be partison (in Newspeak, nonpartisan) money. For now, I stand by anagorism. Whether hard or soft remains to be seen, for a little while.

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That’s the real reason there’s no viable business model for journalism. All this talk of ad blocker blockers and micropayments and DRM misses the point. To work for money is to work for money.

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Autonomy, Diversity, Society

Heather Marsh


One of our most overwhelming impulses as humans is to belong to a society. The pain of shunning is the most powerful coercive tool we employ against each other. Shunning can motivate people to take their own lives or the lives of others. Solitary confinement can rapidly destroy mental health. An infant left without human contact can have all of their physical needs met and still grow up with physical and mental damage. The need to belong can be used to overpower principles, deep rooted morals and self-interest. History has repeatedly proven that the majority of people can be coerced to do almost anything to themselves or others by the need for social inclusion. The desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves is frequently expressed as a motivation for action and duty to society a frequent excuse for compliance.

Most people are born with ambition to…

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“America is a Christian nation”

It is a nation without an official religion. That’s precisely why it’s home to the (unfortunately, in my opinion) least secular society in the free world. The absence of an official religion is why America became a magnet for those members of European sects that actually believed in their theology, as well as becoming a laboratory for new extra-strength forms of (and perhaps variants on) Christian theology, such as Assemblies of God, Church of LDS, Missouri Synod Lutheranism, KJV-only Christians, etc.

It’s about in-group vs. out-group, and it’s also a numbers game. Today, to come up with a Christian majority, you have to include a lot of people who would have been classified as non-Christian in previous generations, including a whole lotta Cafeteria Catholics, Mainline Protestants, etc. But the people most loudly proclaiming the Christian majority are the ones who in the pulpits of their own places of worship most narrowly define what it means to be a true believer (and therefore saved, according to their beliefs).

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Democracy is not Enough – Rip it up and Start Again

Self Certified

ballotThere’ll soon be a white supremacist in the white house. He’ll be advised by an actual Neo-Nazi, while his Chief of Staff provides a connection with the old conservative establishment. Trump’s vice president elect, Mike Pence is a renowned christian extremist, homophobe and biblical literalist. This group of far right demagogues will have control over the most powerful armed forces on the planet and the codes to an arsenal of nuclear weaponry. He’ll roll back on targets set at the wholly inadequate Paris climate talks at a time when climate action is required immediately. He’ll appoint right wing judges to the supreme court who will be able to reverse Roe Vs Wade and lead to restrictions on and in some states outright bans on abortion, threaten same sex marriages and deny rights to trans people. If his plans work out, millions of people will be deported and people of colour will…

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Free culture movement under attack

The free culture movement and the pirate movement are two quite different things. The latter is fair game for ostracism by those who value Rule of Law. Free Culture, however, is not about expropriating things into the public domain but creating things that are born public domain, basically a (largely failed) effort to bring the (IMHO admirable) open source ethic to things other than software.

David Newhoff, in This is no time to be devaluing creators, seems to be trying to conflate the free culture movement with the tragically unfortunate trend of employers who want to pay people in “exposure” or “experience.” That phenomenon harms most if not all workers, creative class or not. The former would benefit more from better labor law protections than from better IP protections.

Another reason a middle level (or middle class) niche in cultural product is difficult to carve out is the “long tail” nature of audience share distribution. So it will probably always be the case that the nightclub acts vastly outnumber the rock stars, but also that the amateurs will always vastly outnumber the nightclub acts. Making assertion of IP rights the main strategy against the unpaid internship phenomenon looks from my outsider perspective like an attempt to guildify the creative professions by erecting entry barriers. I actually have nothing against this approach, as I’m pro-union. But should the high wall be between established professionals and semiprofessionals? Or between semiprofessionals and amateurs? Perhaps the creatives should go full trade unionist and adopt a formal apprentice/journeyperson/master hierarchy. I think paid apprenticeships are the only truly appropriate answer to unpaid internships.

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Intentional economic calculation

The market is remarkably good at allocating resources efficiently. The only problem is that the market magic doesn’t work on criteria of efficiency that aren’t dollar-weighted. I suppose it’s one of those normative vs. positive things. Since (1) it doesn’t seem possible to harness the market mechanism for solving person-weighted optimization problems and (2) I’m not ready to surrender some of my normative commitments (specifically, negative utilitarianism), it appears to me that an effort at intentional economic calculation is necessary, even though it will probably be inherently inferior to the market as an optimization algorithm.

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