On dashcams and privacy

[originally from November 20th, 2014]

Sousveillance surely can violate privacy, but not even remotely as severe as surveillance does. It could only make sense to outlaw sousveillance and enforce the law only if all the privacy issues of surveillance were solved. At the same time, sousveillance can be and is effectively used to expose and to some degree fight the governmental power abuse, whereas surveillance only gives the government more power. Whoever pushed the legislation against sousveillance in California, Maryland, and Illinois was either heavily deluded or intentionally acting for the benefit of the government rather than the people.

In fact, a case could be made that the right for sousveillance should be protected under the Second Amendment (while it’s still here), since that was the spirit of the law: give the citizens enough force so that the government would never forget who’s the source of power here. Apparently, guns don’t scare the government anymore, but cameras do.

Just do it

[originally from November 22nd, 2014]

*imagine hissing voice and sinister smile yourself*
You know that spreading rationality is a strong net positive, right? How many lives could we save if people just stopped for a while and though about stuff in a relatively unbiased way? Even then the population of purely selfish but rational agents could do better than we do – and people usually aren’t purely selfish. If we could only spread rationality better. But you know as good as I do: it’s exactly the biases that make demagogy almost always sounds more convincing than the truth. It is so hard, so frustrating to explain the bitter truth, while competing against comforting lies, pushing all the buttons that – you’ve learned it – almost guaranteed to make one agree.
But what if you could do a little bit of… you know… marketing? Oh, spreading rationality through irrationality sounds so hypocritical!.. deontologically. But you’re utilitarian, you know how to make trade-offs. And you know better than to make trade-offs against some general principles that may be reasonable rules of thumb, but don’t even start to encompass the actual people and their happiness. How did you put that – shut up and multiply? Well, go on, multiply: billions of lives saved against millions slightly offended. And here is the thing – before learning about biases they won’t be able to recognize your little tricks, and the job would be already done. Many will probably agree that it would have been net positive. Oh, your reputation could be damaged? Well, I though you were an altruist.
Can it even get any worse than it is now? I’m not even talking about the marketing of commodities – adding a little bit of your marketing isn’t gonna change anything at all, even if you still believe in those deontological ideas. I’m talking about the market of ideas. You compete against people who learned some of the tricks, but use them with malicious intents, not for the benefit of the consumer. But you know better. They vaguely learned some buttons from classical novels and books by liberal arts majors. You learned how the whole machine works, with mathematical modelling. You know what buttons to push to make your point sweeter ans stickier. You can crush all that irrationality all at once.
After all, there are no arguments without any flavor with them. It’s just that you either select to give the randomness and subconsciousness to choose the flavor, and call it “fair”, or purposefully select the flavor, and call it “trickery” and “marketing”. But since when do rationalists consider obliviousness better than knowledge?
Why do you choose to not use your force for good? What stops you? What’s your choice?

Involving strangers in D/s activities – like kissing

[originally from November 24th, 2014]

OK, so there is this ethical problem with publicly engaging in D/s activities. The official position held by most is that it is unacceptable since it violates the requirement of explicit consent from everyone involved by exposing bystanders to the activity. And it actually makes sense to consider the bystanders to be a part of the scene: I imagine that for many activities like, I don’t know, walking your partner on a leash the experience may drastically differ between doing that privately and in public. Thus, the very fact that the activity was observed by the bystanders, and the knowledge of that by the parties directly involved changes their perception of the activity. That does sound like involvement, so it has to be consensual.

Buuuut… The same can be said about publicly kissing and otherwise expressing love, can’t it? It is also indirectly linked to sexual activities, and in many cases people have specifically reported the satisfaction from knowing how everyone around can see that the love each other. It’s not even that walking on a leash is done for sexual satisfaction, while kissing isn’t – many will get aroused from the latter, whereas the former is not necessarily done as a sexual thing per se, especially among the people in lifestyle D/s relationships. We simply rather arbitrarily defined acceptable and unacceptable forms of exposing the public to the fact that two people are attracted to each other. I imagine that if somehow third wave feminism happened before the sexual revolution, then one of the criticisms of public kissing, among its being disgusting decadent abomination, would be the idea that it engages random bystanders without without their consent. We just defined kissing an a non-sexual act before that happened.

How do we define then what activities are sexual and engaging enough to require consent from everyone who even just observes it, and what are not? Also, for specific activities, what is the acceptable degree of involving public in it? Requiring consent only from parties physically involved won’t really work unless we want to legalize public sex, masturbation, and flashing (the latter gets particularly odd in the jurisdictions that allow public nudity). The status quo doesn’t appear to be exceptionally consistent either.

What do youi think you know, and how do you think you’ve learned it?

[originally from November 27th, 2014]

There seems to be a special case of mind projection fallacy where people assume there’s an hierarchy of knowledge, and infer this hierarchy from their own experience of coming to the point where they are now (which is a sensible thing to do assuming the hierarchy exists – then there’s only one path to a certain piece of knowledge). That appears to be heavily influenced by formal education, that indeed organizes knowledge in this way.

For example: “This person talks about spectra. Clearly they learned trigonometry, then limits, then infinite series, then integration, then linear algebra, then Hilbert spaces, then Fourier series, and now know what spectrum is”. And they’re baffled that such person knows nothing about dot products, but is still comfortable with equalizers and spectrograms, because apparently they learned it practically rather than theoretically.

Another example is how I thought that understanding Schrödinger equation is a prerequisite for using bra-ket notation (which I don’t quite understand yet) until I met people who consider the former a much more complicated and high-level topic.

Or the fact that programmers with hacker-ish background, who grew up playing with computers, and learned programming as a next logical step after acquiring tons of practical (but not all that relevant) computer skills, are baffled to see programmers without suck background, who just learned programming as their major.

You don’t assume that every architect has built dozens of dog huts and tree houses as a kid, do you? But I would hypothesize that is this was someone’s path to the architecture major, they would probably be baffled at their classmates’ limited ability of the actual construction.

I would probably agree that some very highly specific pieces of knowledge may have universal prerequisites (although in most cases you should be able to get rid of them by reorganizing concepts), but in general they’re just floating around waiting to be learned. It’s very far from the pyramid people believe it to be.

Old enough to…

[originally from November 28th, 2014]

That thing about “old enough to die for your country, but not old enough to drink” actually makes sense from the Realpolitik perspective. http://www.ijoa.org/imta96/paper29.html

indicates that: “Over 94% of recent recruits were under 25 years of age, and 82% were 21 or younger”. I see two hypotheses that explain it:

1. People who want to join the military do so as soon as possible. Raising the minimal recruitment age won’t change the overall number of recruits, they’ll just wait another couple of years.

2. Joining the military either requires unhealthily strong patriotic feelings, which are more easy to induce in a teenage brain, or can be a result of severe utility miscalculation and unawareness of opportunities (it’s not like soldiers risking their lives are paid much more than engineers and lawyers), which are also more typical for a teenagers. If they raise the minimal recruitment age, people won’t buy this stuff anymore, and the recruitment rate will drop in a big way.
2.b. Maybe joining the military is not stupid per se, but they still compete with other life choices like college. Thus, it’s important to recruit people before they commit to something else.

If 2 or 2.b are true, the government is basically exploiting the life situation and mental state of teenagers to trick them into dying for their country. Not nice, but efficient as hell.

Drinking, on the other hand, doesn’t provide noticeable benefits for the government, so there’s no incentive to lower the minimal age.

Not everyone is a jerk – probably

[originally from December 11th, 2014]

In applied ethics it should (yes, I see the irony) be considered a bad practice to come up with systems whereby 99% of the population are assholes. Of course, on object level it’s entirely possible that the 1% are right, and everyone else is wrong. As someone who highly values scientific knowledge, I’m kinda used to such situation. However, science outperforms everyone else because it’s usually verifiably right or wrong right now. Ethics aren’t that easy to test. Thus, on meta-level, there’s an immensely high probability that the 1% are wrong. There’s only one way for them to be right, and infinitely many ways to be wrong.

Yes, when you have many such little groups, there are some decent chances that at least one of them has that wonderful insight. The thing is that with such odds they can be right mostly due to sheer luck. Furthermore, even if there is actually some skill involved, if only 1% has this skill, it’s probably due to exposure to some advanced philosophy over the course of good education rather than some intrinsic moral properties. In some circles this is called “privilege”, and it is believed that it doesn’t entitle one to any superiority. If that’s true, doesn’t that apply to ethics too? Even if it so happens that due to better education, and sheer luck one’s ethics are superior on the object-level, on meta-level there’s no reason to assume any decent chance of having superior ethics.

Thus, whatever ethical system one comes up with, it’s better to ensure that the median citizen is doing just about OK in this system.

Why Ron Paul believes in free will

[originally from December 12th, 2014]


“Imagine that somebody wrote:
Some of my friends support Ron Paul. I think that’s wrong. After all, he’s a libertarian, and Wikipedia says – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_(metaphysics) – a libertarian is a person who believes in free will. But free will is impossible in a deterministic universe. Ron Paul’s belief in free will is clearly why there are so few Swiss people among Ron Paul supporters, since Swiss people are Calvinists and so understand determinism better.”

Of course political libertarianism (belief in deregulation and the right to make voluntary contracts) is linked to philosophical libertarianism (belief in the existence of the free will). The former is impossible without the latter, although pol-libertarians may not even realize that since phil-libertarianism is the implicit default for nearly everyone on this planet: it fells like you’re making decisions, so everyone assumes they do.

If you believe in the duality of spirit and matter, believe that there’s a spirit that makes decisions – although based on the information available to the physical brain, but ultimately orthogonal, not determined by it – it’ very easy to see why the right of people to make whatever decisions they make should be protected at any expense. You make a trade-off between the comfort of the spirit itself, and merely a body that hosts it – the choice is obvious. On contrary, if the decisions are determined by the input information, it’s very hard to argue that the freedom should be protected, even if you value the agents. Suppose you have an expensive self-driving car, which you definitely value. And it’s definitely capable of making decisions – determined by its inputs. But if this car is making bad decisions, you just go ahead and fix it, instead of saying “well, that was bad, but the car decided so by themselves, and I respect their will”. Saying that the universe is random on the quantum level, which is why human brain has the free will due to randomness, and the algorithmically driven car hasn’t won’t help either: if you add a random number generator to it, it won’t magically give it free will, although it may either improve of worsen the decisions it makes. It is believing that there is some kind of spirit that may interact with the physical brain through randomness can make randomness matter.

What’s even more interesting is that the force that opposes political libertarians is actually quite similar to the force that opposes philosophical libertarians. That is, large parts of modern left-wing discourse revolve exactly around the determinism of the mind. I find it particularly fascinating how political ideology on practical level is so unlinked from ontology, and yet they do conflict even on the levels of abstraction that high. Earlier – http://squid314.livejournal.com/354385.html – Scott theorized that the concept of privilege boils down to the dependence of the life outcomes on implicit external factors, determined on one’s social group. But that’s only half of the story. The other half is that even when the bad outcomes are due to bad decisions, it’s important to remember that decision-making is determined by one’s life. If the brain is not the bridge between matter and spirit but rather an information processor, there’s no way it’s gonna make good decisions without being preconditioned to do so. Short exposure to the information that theoretically could be useful to make better decisions is not an excuse if the brain is not trained to make use of the information. The idea that mind is shaped by environment, and therefore applying the same standards to the minds from different environments is unfair is very very pro-determinism and anti-libertarianism.

The problem is that left-wingers only went halfway down the road to determinism. They still believe in and highly value the concepts of responsibility, fairness, justice, autonomy, consent, identity, and many others, that are ultimately dualistic. Even though in other contexts they already agreed that the mind is deterministic. But they shouldn’t be blamed for that. For practical purposes, you need some kind of ethics. Nearly every ethical system that I’m aware of sits on top of Hume’s law, which is ultimately dualistic. Even the damn preference utilitarianism, which came from the most deterministic circles, starts glitching when you allow the engineering of preferences. Or, to put it another way, the whole idea of having nominative ethics as a separate branch of knowledge rather than a part of descriptive psychology and sociology works if and only if “ought” doesn’t boil down to “is”. Otherwise it just doesn’t work. Whoever tries to create ethics, is a deterministic mind too, being subject to the laws of physiology. Figuring out how to live in a deterministic universe is hard. I haven’t. Neither did the majority of philosophers, and blaming a political movement that they didn’t would be rather… ignorant of the determinism of mind.

Let’s debate definitions!

[originally from December 15th, 2014]

Every time someone says something along the lines of “I’m not feminist, I just support gender equality” they are pointed out to a reliable source like Merriam-Webster – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism – that states that “feminism” is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”, thus by definition making the previous poster feminist. Merriam-Webster is kinda hard to argue against, and debating definitions is in the list of Officially Bad Kinds Of Arguments in philosophy books, but I’ll try anyway.

First of all, there are at least two kinds of things people can mean when saying “X is Y”. On one hand, it can be what the experts in logic actually mean by defining stuff – that is a shortcut for “there is this concept Y, but to avoid repeating Y all the time, let’s call it X”. This definition is undebatable. If someone says “some objects can be European, savory, or wooden, and for the purpose of this text let’s call them flambixious” it’s their right. If you feel bad about this definition, just use Find And Replace function to substitute the word with its definition, and the article should make perfect sense. That’s one kind of definition. But there’s the other kind of definition, which is a factual statement: “when people say X, they are most likely to implicitly or explicitly assume Y”. This is what dictionaries are supposed to give, and this is something that it’s possible to meaningfully disagree upon.

I would argue that in this factual sense, is much broader than what people – both those who self-identify as feminist, and those who don’t – actually use. Consider the following: this definition tells you nothing about the understanding of equal rights, the understanding of inequality, and the understanding of the strategies to be taken. It just says what is says: any idea that involves (according to its own claim, due to to absence of any objective indicators) the equality of men and women is feminist. That would label a lot of movements as “feminist”, even though they, the self-identified feminists, and everyone else would disagree with this definition.

Maybe someone argues that men and women are already equal – like the Soviet communists did, thanking the October Revolution for it, and claiming that the only source of gender inequality is Western capitalism. They probably wouldn’t argue against being labeled “feminist”, but any modern self-identified feminist knowing the Soviet culture, history, and politics good enough would label them as “blatantly patriarchal”, and not “feminist” at all.

Maybe someone argues that the only source of any sort of inequality is the government, like radical libertarians and anarchists do. You may disagree with this statement, but the definition we have doesn’t. Do they argue for the equality of everyone? Yes. Does “everyone” include men and women? Yes. Therefore, they should be all feminist, yet seldom anyone would call them so.

Maybe someone argues that it’s not women but men who are in a disadvantaged position like you know who. And no one will ever label the supporters is this thesis “feminist”, except for the very definition we’re using.

Thus, whatever want to express when saying “feminism”, this idea is much more narrow than “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. To prevent the most obvious failure modes listed above, we would have to say “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, and that they don’t have the equal rights and opportunities already, and that most if not all of this inequality boils down to women having less rights and opportunities than men, and that this inequality may come from both the government and the society, and that we’re not done after only eliminating the discrimination by the government”. Suddenly “I’m not feminist, I just support gender equality” makes way more sense – they only have to disagree with one of the four extra rules to not fit the definition.

More speculatively, I would also suggest that if someone just started expressing first or second wave views today, not as something historical, but as the actual political position, they wouldn’t be very likely to be labeled “feminist” either (although far more likely than the anarchists are). To be really precise, we’d have to add the requirement to agree with at least the most crucial points of modern feminist theory.

I would not argue about whether it’s an honest mistake or intentional motte-and-bailey equivocation. In this case Hanlon’s razor comes to a vicious conflict with cui bono, and I don’t have good means to resolve it. However, the point stands: the definition provided is way too broad, and may lead to mutual misunderstanding.

On generalizations

[originally from December 21st, 2014]

There are couple of things humans are generally good at. For example, reciprocating, and in particular – reciprocating hostility. Maybe not everyone is gonna be grateful for good things (although Cialdini says that most are), but nearly everyone will be at least sightly mad at those who are mean to them. This makes sense from the perspective of strategy – however strongly you want to make friends, you don’t wanna be attacked to hostile entities. In addition, humans are good at finding patterns, and generalizing from examples. This may not be the epistemologically optimal way to learn from sensory information, but it’s definitely better than not attempting to generalize, and memorize every know instance of a phenomenon separately. And finally, humans are very good at identifying with groups, and taking individual offence over the attack on the group, which is obviously useful for cooperation. These skills are so crucial that they occur completely subconsciously, sometime even against the conscious will.

This is how ethnic tensions escalate. There are two groups – X and Y. They don’t even have to differ all that much, although it “helps”. A subgroup x is hostile to Y. Naturally and justifiably, Y gets mad at x – in fact, the rest of X may get mad at a too if they are peaceful enough. But the crucial part is that a subgroup y appears, who’s not just mad at x, but at the whole X – and they’re hostile to them. Most of non-x members of X will only get mad at y, but some of them will get mad at the whole Y, thus joining x. Thus, the feedback loop appears, and tensions escalate. Sometimes all the way up to a war, and this is a rather textbook example of how that happens.

Thus, if someone claims that despite decades or even centuries of the existence of X, x, and Y, y doesn’t exist, I’m extremely dubious about this claim. If that’s the case, it goes against the common trend, which requires some explanation. Especially in the case when there appears to be some evidence that y exists.

Check your privilege – everyone

[originally from December 23rd, 2014]

People take good things as granted. People take bad things as granted too (for example, those Russian professors thinking that getting $400/mo is just natural and a cross to bear, and those American students thinking that owning $30000 is a cross to bear), but first and foremost we’re completely blind to what’s already good. For all we know, it’s normal. Even the real feeling of happiness returns to the baseline in most situations, and the perception is even more flexible. People in 19th century were probably about as happy as people in 21st century, despite objectively lower life quality.

That’s the first part of how privilege ignorance works. People see what happens to them, and just assume that it’s expected to happen, that’s what happens to everyone. If they succeeded in life, it must be due to the effort they have put into it (which they did) rather than the good starting position. Furthermore, since the fact that happiness doesn’t depend that much on the life quality isn’t a common knowledge, and it’s commonly assumed that they do correlate strongly, people see other people of less privileged group being happy, and assume their life is just as good.

But it gets worse. The understanding of biases and developmental psychology, and the rather humble notion that our thoughts, preferences, and desires are shaped by the environment is even less common knowledge. Sometimes the life outcomes genuinely depend on one’s choices, and these choices can be made even from rather disadvantaged positions too. Sometimes all the knowledge necessary is available to people. But even in this case privilege may hit, since people are conditioned to think in a certain way, to make certain choices. Sometimes we see how the very things people complain about are caused by their own action, and dismiss the complaints as their own fault – ignoring that it may be upbringing and social pressure that make them behave this way. Yes, not everyone behaves in the same way, and often people will bring up examples six sigmas away from the mean to demonstrate that everything could be done – while ignoring that they themselves are barely one sigma away. You may interpret is as people being stupid, but then everyone is, so we either have to reengineer humans, or assume the worst case.

…So far that has been one of my leftmost posts, so let’s now make a sharp right turn – for the glory of Baal, of course – and say the following:

Everything said above applies to the groups classically perceived as unprivileged as well. Well, unless you’re such a fan of human biodiversity that you believe most fundamental things about psychology don’t apply to them. Otherwise, it is just as expected from them. Thus, every time someone spends a great deal of effort to argue that white cishet men always are in the advantaged position, and they don’t face any problems not faced by unprivileged people, and even if they do it’s entirely their fault, there are two possibilities. Possibility number one: they fairly considered all the information available, and decided that it’s true. Possibility number two: they don’t realize what kind of privilege they have.
When someone argues against this point, they may get angry, and that’s also consistent with two scenarios: either they’re tired of the stupidity and entitlement of people around them, or they defend their biases just like those cishets do.
One may only hope that people who are aware of the concept of privilege won’t fall prey to this bias, but comparing the number of American liberals who are grateful that their education system is better than in Zimbabwe to the number of those who loathe it for not being as good as in Finland, I conclude that it’s dubious.