Books, Uncategorized

Assigning Probabilities

If it is indeed true that people now buy books like they buy soap, or a bag of chips, isn’t that the greatest compliment one can pay to a society?
  • Many believe that Chetan Bhagat’s novels are not “great literature that reveals the human condition, though he tells interesting stories that people love to read.” It is a more profound skill, to tell interesting stories that people love to read.  Isn’t it true that his readers are idiots? But, if his readers are idiots, the rational inference is not that he is dumb. The rational inference is that he is talented. Even movies fail to hold the attention of people. It is not easy for a novelist to make them read. Most people would rather be lashed. His critics could not have done it. Think. If Chetan Bhagat sells because his novels are dumbed-down, his success is not the result of a complex strategy. But, is it even plausible that in a country of 1200 million people no one else knew how to dumb it down? Was there no one to beat him to it, in this catchpenny scheme? If generations of Indian children grew up reading western novelists and short story writers, it probably means that the Indian fiction writers bored them. Remember. His critics’ claim that their novels are profound is merely an assertion, an unproven one. But, if it is indeed true that people now buy books like soap, or a bag of chips, isn’t that the greatest compliment one can pay to a society?

  • It is now almost a “consensus” that rape is not about sex. But, if men will not use force to satisfy an important need of theirs, everything we know about male sexuality and human nature is wrong. Think about this. A century ago, even eminent psychiatrists had claimed that man’s primary sexual activity is a sign of aggression, of madness. If this is true, even the best intellectuals have proven their willingness to argue that near universal human behavior is an aberration. To maintain this, they should lie, at least about themselves. Are they lying? I would assign a probability of 1. 

  • Journalists rate fieldwork very highly. But, do hunter-gatherers understand the world better than processors?  I think there are certain questions that can only be answered by interviewing people, or surveying. The obvious candidates:Works like “Why Wages Don’t Fall in a Recession” by Truman F. Bewley, “Poor Economics” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and “Portfolios of the Poor”. My disagreements with the authors are significant, but I think their work is very valuable. The facts they unearthed contradict everything that journalists say. But, there are many questions which cannot be answered by interviewing people or through surveys. This is true of many important questions that journalists childishly try to answer by interviewing or surveying. This explains why much of the good work in social sciences in the past hundred years was done by academics, and not by journalists. There are two reasons. Academics have high IQs. Only broad empirical evidence and abstract thought can answer certain questions. This is enough proof that erudition and intelligence are more important than direct, personal experience, which is always narrow and limited. Even if we do not know why, we should assign a high probability to this explanation, if the tremendous journalistic output in the past hundred years miserably failed, in explaining the world.

  • Ayn Rand’s “We The Living” is a novel roughly based on the conditions in the Soviet Russia, when she was growing up. But, many readers wonder whether this is real, whether conditions were as bad as she says, in Soviet Russia. Many publishers rejected it. The intellectuals in America felt that she did not understand socialism. Think about this. According to a moderate estimate, governments across the world murdered at least 262 million people in the 20th century. A Cato Institute paper estimates that if the reforms had begun a decade earlier in India, 14.5 million children would not have perished. It means that the governments murdered a significant part of the world population in the 20th century. If this is true, and I have no doubt that it is true, it is at least plausible that the conditions in Soviet Russia were very bad, at least as bad as she says. If so many people can die under totalitarian regimes, why is it improbable that the living conditions were terrible? I do not intend to say that the details are accurate, or that it is even intended to be accurate. It is a novel. I am just assigning a high numerical probability to this event.

  • Ayn Rand is often criticized, even by other capitalists, for claiming that anti-capitalists are motivated by hatred, and not by good motives. But, Think. The poorest people on the earth lived in the third world. If anti-capitalists are motivated by noble motives, they will not oppose free immigration so vehemently. But, they do. This means that it is at least plausible that she was right, and her supposedly “noble” critics are cheap frauds. I have no doubt that she was right, but I am just assigning a high probability.

  • Economists’ consensus estimates that free immigration will double the world GDP and instantly eliminate world poverty. If this is true, world poverty can be eliminated by the mark of a pen. There is no need for vast welfare schemes, the non-profits, politicians, bureaucrats and other do-gooders. There is no need to “invest” so much in education and health care. There is no need to wait for generations, for the growth to “gain momentum”. Yet, very few economists advocate very open borders. The mainstream media does not even discuss this. If this is true, even the best intellectuals are not emotionally stable. Low emotional stability is near universal. There is something really wrong with almost everyone. I am, again, merely assigning a high probability.

  • It is indisputable that men are on the top, in almost every profession. If sexism explains male-female differences in career success, these differences are largely rooted in prejudice. If this is true, women will have far more success in careers in which perceptions do not matter, in solitary careers.  But, facts lie flatly against this. Women are more successful in careers in which perceptions matter. They have had the least success in solitary careers like Mathematics. There are virtually no female mathematicians. This is true of the physical sciences. This is true of economics, despite the fact that women are more agreeable. If the failure of women is more pronounced in abstract tasks where co-operation and perceptions matter less, it is highly improbable that sexism is a major factor in the poor performance of women.

  • The Times of India and the underlying philosophy that guides it have always had a bad press. Many believe that the Times of India “delivers the reader to the advertiser”. This is a popular delusion. This is popular only because people are idiots. A newspaper or any publication cannot survive on advertising revenue, unless the advertisements are interesting in themselves. I do not intend to mean that newspapers do not distort facts, or that there is no profit in it. But, if they do, it just means that the journalists and their readers have very low ethical standards. Otherwise, readers can stop buying them, putting them out of business. It is implausible that advertising is a major factor in all this. The advertisers are not running a soup kitchen.

    Post Script:
    1) A reader said, “Advertising revenues usually exceed sales revenues by a goodly margin.” So what? It does not prove anything. This was not my point at all. This still means that the journalists are willing to distort the truth, and the readers are not willing to stop their patronage. High advertising revenues is merely an effect of high readership. 2) Did I say that I like Chetan Bhagat’s novels? People do not read me carefully. I find his prose awkward. But, it still does not change the fact that it is a “rare” skill, to write what the readers want, which is a fact proven by the sales of his novels.


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