Philosophy

Ever since busloads of Chinese tourists began arriving in this sleepy, nondescript English village this summer, the 13,723 residents of Kidlington, about five miles north of Oxford, have been variously baffled, annoyed and delighted.

The sudden influx of Chinese has also grabbed headlines and spawned a national mystery.

Why, for example, do the Chinese tourists ignore the village’s handsome 13th-century church and its thatched-roof cottages, preferring instead to peer through windows, film parked cars and traipse on the lawns of Benmead Road, a humdrum and modern residential street? One tourist asked a stunned resident if he could help mow her lawn. (She politely declined.) Another jumped joyously on a child’s trampoline in the front yard.

No one seems to know why, read more by Dan Bilefsky at the NYT.

Addendum: See this possible “limits to arbitrage” explanation.

Here I am referring to your personal plans, not to climate change.  The weather can make your current circumstances seem more difficult or less pleasant.  But extreme weather also tends to make your memories of journeys stronger and more lasting (“…remember that time in Goa when the monsoon came earlier than anyone thought…”).  Since we overemphasize the maximization of current utility, and under-invest in the creation of significant memories, we worry too much about the weather.

rain

Sex-cynicism and race-pessimism, of course, often travel in tandem.

That is from Christopher Caldwell’s excellent NYT article on Alt-Right.

Jacob Levy has an excellent post on why respect for truth is a foundation for republican government:

…the great analysts of truth and speech under totalitarianism—GeorgeOrwell, Hannah Arendt, VaclavHavel—can help us recognize this kind of lie for what it is. Sometimes—often—a leader with authoritarian tendencies will lie in order to make others repeat his lie both as a way to demonstrate and strengthen his power over them.

Saying something obviously untrue, and making your subordinates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a particularly startling display of power over them. It’s something that was endemic to totalitarianism. Arendt analyzed the huge lies and blatant reversals of language associated with the Holocaust. Havel documented the pervasive little lies, lies that everyone knew to be lies, of late Communism. And Orwell gave us the vivid “2+2=5.”

Being made to repeat an obvious lie makes it clear that you’re powerless; it also makes you complicit. You’re morally compromised. Your ability to stand on your own moral two feet and resist or denounce is lost. Part of this is a general tool for making people part of immoral groups.

…insisting on the difference between truth and lies is itself a part of the defense of freedom. Orwell, Arendt, and Havel teach us that the power to tell public lies and to have them repeated is evidence of, and a tool for the expansion of, a power that free people should resist and refuse.

I would put it this way: Respect for the truth is tied to individualism because any person may have truth and reason on their side. But the acceptance of the public lie signals that only the will of the collective matters.

Here is a separate bit from that interview:

I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.

And on the main question at hand:

What we are seeing now isn’t an anxiety about artificial intelligence per se, it’s about what it says about us. That if you can make something like us, where does it leave us?

Here is the full interview with Genevieve Bell.

Whether you admit it or not, you have much to be thankful for.  For one thing, agricultural productivity is higher today than ever before…

harvesters

Last week, fashion designer Sophie Theallet announced she would refuse to sell or donate clothes to the next first lady, Melania Trump.

Here is more from Veronique de Rugy.

*Nudge Theory in Action*

by on November 20, 2016 at 12:47 am in Books, Economics, Education, Philosophy | Permalink

That is a new and excellent volume edited by Sherzod Abdukadirov, with contributions by Mario Rizzo, Adam Thierer, Jodi Beggs, and others.  I wrote a short introduction, here is an excerpt from that:

Private sector nudge is highly problematic, and I would say it is often worst in those areas we tend to feel best about: health care, education, and charity.  In those cases, our guard is most likely to be let down, even if we are highly educated.  Or should I say because we are educated?

What about public sector nudge?  Well, the good news is that a lot of what government does is simply send money around through transfer programs.  In this regard, its potential for manipulating us is fairly limited.  Furthermore, government is extremely bureaucratic and usually it does not have top tier marketing talent.  Most of the time I just don’t find my government very persuasive.  Is there really anything the DMV can talk me into that I wouldn’t otherwise want to do?

But can I then relax?  Can I stop worrying about public sector nudge?

I am not so sure.

The biggest costs in human history come from wars, and very often the public sector — especially the executive branches in various countries — nudges us into wars.  I don’t hear enough discussion of this topic in the nudge literature.

Government also has nudged us into believing that more government regulation is the answer to many of our problems…

Finally, I worry about how private sector and public sector nudge interact.  Nudges from the television news, and its coverage of crime stories, convince many Americans that rates of crime are rising when in fact they are falling.  That’s a private sector nudge to be sure, and the private sector is doing the marketing, with great skill I might add.  But how does it interact with the public sector?  Well, prosecutors send more people to jail and for longer periods of time.

You can order the book here.

Here is the link to video, podcast, and transcript.  The Q&A segment was led by guests Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe), and Eva Summer.  Fuchsia speaks in perfect British sentences and she always had an answer ready, with charm and extreme intelligence.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Three dishes one absolutely has to try are what?

DUNLOP: In Shanghai?

COWEN: In Shanghai. The city, not the region.

DUNLOP: I think you should have hong shao rou, red braised pork. Real home cooking. Delicious combination of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and one of the favorite dishes.

I would recommend some Shanghainese wontons in soup stuffed with shepherd’s purse, which is a wild variety of the brassicas, and pork, just to show you the lighter, gentler side of Shanghainese cooking.

Then, perhaps, if we’re talking Shanghai, you might one to have one of these dishes that says something about Shanghai as being a mixing pot of different cultures.

There’s a very nice crab meat and potato and tomato soup served in some of my favorite Shanghainese restaurants. Which seems a little bit of a fusion with some European influences, the way they use potato and tomato in that soup with local seafood.

COWEN: As you know, the Michelin Guide recently has covered Shanghai, given some restaurants three, two, one star. There’s cheap places you can go. Conceptually, do they understand the food of Shanghai? To the extent they don’t, what are they missing?

DUNLOP: If you look at the restaurants they’ve selected, there’s a bit of a Cantonese bias. They do have some Shanghainese restaurants, but one thing that’s very conspicuous, there are some notable, some of the best Shanghainese local restaurants, which are missing from that list, in my opinion.

The reason is, I think, the methodology of Western food inspectors, which is they tend to go as individuals or small groups. Of course in many Chinese restaurants where you eat family style, to make the most of the restaurant, you have to eat as we’re doing now with a large group and a table full of dishes.

We cover much more, including her favorite parts of China, whether offal is an inferior good, whether one can acquire a taste for sea cucumber, what she thinks of Leonard Cohen, Dream of the Red Chamber, how newbies should approach Chinese food, what top Sichuan chefs thought of their trip to French Laundry, whether milk is overrated, whether Americans have done anything worthwhile with Chinese food, and her favorite Chinese movie.

Here is a short video excerpt from the Sichuan peppercorn tasting segment, namely what makes the very best peppercorns so good compared to the lesser peppercorns.

dunlop

Here you can order Fuchsia’s new and excellent book The Land of Fish and Rice.

What should I ask Jhumpa Lahiri?

by on November 15, 2016 at 1:49 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

I will be interviewing her in a Conversations with Tyler, December 5th.  What should I ask her?  This will be a public event at 6 p.m., Arlington campus of GMU.

By the way, she has a new book out tomorrow, The Clothing of Books.

clothingofbooks

Please leave your questions in the comments, I thank you in advance for your suggestions.

*Arrival*

by on November 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm in Film, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve never seen a movie before where I wanted to yell at the screen “It’s called the Coase theorem!”, and furthermore with complete justification.  There is plenty of social science in this film, including insights from Thomas Schelling and the construction and solution of some non-cooperative games, mostly by introducing a more dynamic method of equilibrium selection.  There are homages to Childhood’s End, 2001, Close Encounters, Interstellar, Buddhism, Himalayan Nagas, Eastern Orthodox, the theology of the number 12, and more.  It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot, but definitely recommended and maybe the best Hollywood movie so far this year.  Nice sonics too.

There are many types of diversity.  Diversity of occupation, diversity of musical taste, diversity of outlook, diversity of residence, and of course varying kinds of racial and ethnic diversity.  You could list thousands of kinds of diversity.

The original thinking behind the Electoral College was that geographic diversity was important.  The Founding Fathers were not majoritarian, but rather they believed in placing special weight on diversity of this kind.  The prevailing view was “if too many (geographically) diverse voices veto you, you can’t get elected, not even with a majority of the votes.”  That view was a strange and perhaps unlikely precursor of today’s veto rights/PC approach on campus, but there you go.

Democrats now control at least one legislative house in only 17 states, and the reach of the party is shrinking dramatically.  So by the 18th century standards of diversity, emphasizing geography, the Democratic coalition is remarkably non-diverse.  You can see how much of Hillary Clinton’s majority came from the two states of New York and California.  That also means the Republicans are not just a “Southern rump party,” as some commentators used to suggest.

If you think of education as serving a smoothing function, the less educated are in some ways considerably more diverse than the educated.

The Democratic Party today is more likely to stress the relevance of ethnic and racial diversity, if the talk is about diversity.  (Gender diversity too, but that requires its own post, maybe later to come.)  Non-Democrats are more likely to count other forms of diversity for more than the Democrats do.  I see Democrats as somewhat concentrated in particular cities and also in particular occupations, more than Republicans are.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it is another way in which Democrats are less diverse.

When it comes to views about the relevant forms of diversity, the views of non-Democrats are more diverse than the views of Democrats, I would hazard to guess.  A non-Democrat is more likely to focus on something other than racial and ethnic diversity, compared to a Democrat.

Correctly or not, many Americans do not think racial and ethnic diversity is the diversity that should command so much attention.  That is one place to start for understanding why so many 2012 Obama voters switched to Trump this time around, or maybe just stayed home.

A few days ago I saw figures that 29 percent of Latinos voted for Trump (possibly that number has been revised).  I suspect many of those voters do not see Latino vs. non-Latino as the diversity line that interests them most strongly.

I haven’t offered any criticism of the Democratic point of view on diversity, even though you may feel that my description of it is trying to lower its status.  (You are right, noting I don’t wish to defend the R. point of view, but the R view does not need as much status-lowering either.)  It may well be correct to have a less diverse view of diversity.  If you were to start with an argument for that view, you could cite the long history of American slavery and segregation, plus continuing racial wealth inequality, as reasons for focusing so much on one kind of diversity rather than others.

Still, when I speak with Democrats, and with Progressives in particular, they view themselves, as a kind of assumption, as the people concerned with diversity.  That is a significant cognitive mistake.

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, it was the forces of diversity — some diversities, many diversities — that won.

It was the people less concerned with diversity overall that lost.  Again noting that some important notions of diversity do cut the other way, most of all racial diversity.  And I do wish to stress that the presumptive argument for “diversity” simply isn’t there, although that conclusion is hard to swallow that if you have imbibed too much contemporary political rhetoric.

In fact, I view the amazing diversity of the election and the electorate as having gotten the better of us.  It is an example of how diversity can go wrong.

I believe that until Democrats and Progressives can grasp their lack of diversity intuitively, they will struggle to make their way forward in the new political climate of the United States.  They will not understand how anyone could view them as divisive, since they automatically think of diversity as being on their side, rather than something they oppose.

7.18-16 7.18-16

There is another reason why the Republican Party could not contain Trump, a perhaps deeper reason. Michael Oakeshott, an under-read political thinker in the mid-20th century, remarked in his exquisite essay, “Rationalism in Politics,” that one of the more pathological notions of our age is that political life can be understood in terms of “principles” that must be applied to circumstances. Politics-as-engineering, if you will. Republicans themselves succumbed to this notion, and members of the rank and file have noticed. Republicans stood for “the principles of the constitution,” for “the principles of the free market,” etc. The problem with standing for principles is that it allows you to remain unsullied by the political fray, to stand back and wait until yet another presidential election cycle when “our principles” can perhaps be applied. And if we lose, it’s OK, because we still have “our principles.” What Trump has been able to seize upon is growing dissatisfaction with this endless deferral, the sociological arrangement for which looks like comfortable Inside-the-Beltway Republicans defending “principles” and rank-and-file Republicans far from Washington-Babylon watching in horror and disgust.

That is from a very interesting Politico piece by Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown.  As for me, let’s just say I am a big fan of what Mitchell calls “book club”!

Voting Paradoxes

by on November 4, 2016 at 7:25 am in Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Here’s an excellent video on voting paradoxes from the San Francisco Exploratorium and here is my older post on Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.

VotingParadoxes from Paul stepahin on Vimeo.

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Steven of course was in top form. We started with irregular verbs, and then moved on to Chomsky, theories of language, the mind and Jon Haidt’s modules, reason, what unifies the thought and work of Steven Pinker, rap music, William Shatner (underrated, “although maybe not his singing”), Sontag on photography, the future of world peace, and the Ed Sullivan show.

Here is one bit:

COWEN: Let me now put on my economist’s hat and ask you about this. As you know, in George Orwell’s 1984, the Party bans all irregular verbs. It’s a kind of excess regulation. But from a social point of view, are there too many or too few irregular verbs in English?

PINKER: [laughs] I like the irregular verbs. I’d like to see more of them.

…One distinction that is vanishing that I think is sad is the three-way distinction in verbs like sink, sank, sunk; stink, stank, stunk; shrink, shrank, shrunk; where the shrank and the stank are giving way to their participle forms shrunkand stunk.

COWEN: No shrank and stank.

PINKER: No shrank and stank. Admittedly it would have been hard to have a movie called Honey, I Shrank the Kids instead of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In my style manual, The Sense of Style, I recommend hanging on to them. I think they’re nice.

And on Chomsky:

PINKER: It’s a moving target. Also, as you say, it was neither specified in a precise way nor field‑tested against a dataset of language variation, which I think is unfortunate in terms of ordinary scientific practice.

On peace:

COWEN: Let me ask you a general question. Let’s say it were possible by spending $10,000 and devoting a few months of your life to it that any person on earth could blow up a significant part of a major city.

They could buy something, some kind of explosive. It would cost them $10,000. How long would it take before someone actually did this?

PINKER: I don’t know. My optimism doesn’t consist of prophecy in that sense. That is, my optimism consists of looking at what has happened and noting that, first of all, the pessimistic view is factually incorrect. Namely, people believe that we’re living in unusually violent times and we’re not.

How to project that into the future is a separate set of questions. There are many unknowns that I’m not arrogant enough to know the answer to. It’s something that we could debate. We could explore them. I am not an optimist in the sense of saying, “Well, let’s just extrapolate the curves in the future without asking questions like that.”

Self-recommending, to be sure…