technology frees minds

funding science

because most published findings are false, reducing public funding for scientific research should increase society’s expected amount of useful knowledge.

fur babies

it is a moral good to replace childbearing with pet ownership, because dogs are happier than people.

benedict and the archipelago

A variety of non-mainstream commenters have proposed similar systems for governing a post-centralized world. Though the details of archipelago, patchwork, anarchocapitalism with private law, and other similar ideas vary, they have in common the idea that people should choose their government from among a variety of competing options. Competition would force governments to do well by their citizens, and the availability of options would let people choose a government that fits their values and priorities.

What would working towards archipelago look like? In the US, a top-down approach might focus on weakening the federal government and restoring power to the States. Efforts in this direction have been ineffective and unpopular.

A bottom-up approach would look like withdrawal from mainstream society, building up alternate, more ‘natural’ sources of authority for smaller communities. Religious communities are putting this into practice. The Benedict option is being pursued by Christians who fear persecution and secularization. By relocating to communities of people who share their values, they hope to preserve and pass them on. Similarly, in some Muslim communities voluntary conflict resolution processes based on sharia operate in parallel to official courts. Unfortunately, search results are heavily polluted by arguments around the idea of imposing sharia through official structures, so I don’t have a good link to share.

It’s important to note that these islands don’t see themselves as part of an archipelago. Outgroup homogeneity bias will make each new island in the archipelago appear to its inhabitants as a rebellion against a hostile mainstream culture (that is disappearing, or no longer really exists).

These religious islands are distinct from technolibertarian examples of corporations routing around formal state power, such as the widespread use of contracts that waive rights to trial in favor of private mediation or the endrun that sharing economy companies like Uber and AirBnB have made around entrenched regulatory structures. One difference is that they are authentic communities with specific ideas about the nature and sources of authority; another is that they will not be subsumed by the current formal structures of the authority monopoly. Early islands in the formation of an archipelago must be truly distinct from the mainland.

edit 10/12/2016: While writing a followup relating the current failure of the bipartisan political system (the degree to which the US more closely resembles two one-party states than one two-party states) and the piecewise transition towards archipelago to David Chapman’s countercultural and subcultural modes of meaningness, I found that he had already sketched out this idea and is currently elaborating it further. Highly recommended.

emotional voyeurism

I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work. I’ve never liked confessional storytelling shows like The Moth because of some sense of unearned intimacy that makes me very uncomfortable. Lately this oversharing has infected even NPR’s flagship series, This American Life.

One episode features recordings of 20-year-old speaking to his dad for the first time. A more recent show includes recordings of survivors of the 2012 tsunami in Japan grieving through ‘conversations’ with lost loved ones, as well as a recording of a radio producer’s attempts to reconcile their father and uncle. All of these stories are incredibly personal and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be aired publicly. The last story has the added ick of someone exploiting their relatives’ traumas and putting their family’s very personal business onto a popular radio program in order to advance their career.

I’m skeptical of claims that millenials lack interpersonal and emotional skills, and instead think that we have adapted to a different social environment. The proliferation of these stories leads me to wonder if the constant self-surveillance of social media has caused people’s expression - and perhaps even their experience - of these deep emotions to be more performative.

Or perhaps this is better understood not as performance but as outsourcing of emotional processing?


Birth rates are going down all over the world. Clearly many people are delaying or forgoing raising children in order to pursue other life goals. However, changes in moral thinking possibly play a part in this story. As the world has become more secular, consequentialism has displaced deontology as the dominant ethical system. Additionally, the sexual revolution led to increased emphasis on consent and decreased emphasis on duty in interpersonal relations. Both of these trends have come to bear on bearing children.


In positive utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to maximize the value that people derive from life. Therefore, if life is net-negative (on average or for a specific potential person), it would be immoral to create a new person.

In negative utilitarianism, we have a moral obligation to minimize suffering. Therefore, if we expect a child’s life to contain suffering, it’s probably immoral to create it.

The ways that modern conditions have shifted incentives from the parents’ perspective probably has had more impact on actual behavior. However, there is enough writing on the alleged selfishness of the childfree lifestyle that I won’t rehash it here until I have a suitably cogent contribution.

Nobody can consent in advance to their creation. If we take seriously teenage anomie that says “I wish I had never been born!”, many parents have wronged their children by creating them. Beyond conception, if one believes consent must underlie all interactions raising children will be a struggle. As more people experience depression themselves, doubts about whether potential children assent to their own creation may become more widespread.

Children are unlikely to return to being assets to their parents. A society that values growth must find ways to provide meaning to the individuals that make it up, lest having children be ethically questionable.

why vote in national elections?

The function of voting in governing America is not to select policy but to legitimate it. This explains why journalists and voters engage with politics primarily as a sport, and why campaign promises are seldom fulfilled. Voting is like recycling: it may serve important ritual needs, but everyone knows it’s not actually effective at its purported function.

Aside from the fact that most voters have little impact on the outcome of a national election, selection of elected officials is understood to have only a tenuous connection to state action. Pandering is a common explanation for broken pledges on the campaign trail. Certainly some candidates espouse policies that they don’t support in a cynical attempt to gain votes through deception; see Clinton campaign surrogates telling any given audience what they want to hear regarding the TPP. But a more interesting case is when politicians are unable to effectively direct the actions of the government that they formally lead. Barack Obama seems to have sincerely wanted to close Guantanamo for the past eight years. His major obstacle was not other elected officials - a department of career officials successfully opposed their head of state. Although the kayfabe of democracy is usually maintained, there are other recent breaks; the surprise of many senate intelligence oversight committee members at the content of the NSA leaks and CIA’s interference in the senate’s torture report come to mind.

In the loyalty / voice / exit scheme, voting is meant to be a form of voice. However, the expanding role of unelected and effectively unaccountable bureaucracy has made it, in practice, solely a display of loyalty. Exit is costly in physical spaces because political structures are bundled with specific options for housing, work, socialization, etc. In virtual spaces, these aspects are more easily unbundled. People jump situationally between online spaces with radically different speech norms. Facebook, twitter, tumblr, reddit, and 4chan have dramatically different social rules, created as much by technical design as by their users. As the fraction of human activity carried out in virtual spaces continues to increase, the costs of exit become dramatically lower, leading to a new, more fluid mode of engagement with institutions.

Think about how much time and cognitive space has been devoted to hyperventilation over Trump’s alleged fascism and Clinton’s corruption. Precommitting to not voting would free these resources up for better uses, like building options for exit in your own life or for others, or reading books.