Tag Archives: learn

Totally Conventional Views Which I Hold

 

 

  1. If our hearts were pure, we wouldn’t need our heads to tell right from wrong.
  2. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. Even if no one would ever prove why.
  3. If people become nice, the world would be nice.
  4. If people calmly listen to others, most human conflicts wouldn’t arise in the first place.
  5. To paraphrase Bryan Caplan,“Raising kids is the most meaningful thing most people will ever do with their lives.”
  6. You perhaps shouldn’t follow your “dream”.
  7. Creative men often do stupid things. 
  8. Politicians are crooks.
  9. Humility is very valuable. (It is a very valuable form of humility to understand that there is much one can learn from far more intelligent, learned fellows.)
  10. Most mothers prefer normal children, not exceptionally intelligent or stupid ones.

Bryan Caplan’s list here, and Tyler Cowen’s list here.

                                                       

Let The Dying Languages Die

“What’s to be alarmed about? The disappearance of a language is not like, say, a local crop failure that augurs starvation. In other words, if some obscure language ceases to be spoken, it is not as if millions or even dozens of people will be unable to talk. All it means is that the people who would have spoken that language will speak a different language. Maybe we should celebrate the disappearance of obscure languages. Wouldn’t there be considerable positive value if everyone in the world spoke the same language? I think it is fairly typical of how the media and the scholarly world have treated the topic. It seems to assume that the disappearance of languages is a bad thing, though it fails to present much in the way of actual harm that has come. First argument: a claim that multilingual children do better than monolingual ones. Is this worth spending billions of dollars in a futile effort to keep various obscure tongues alive? Even if the data on children are correct – and I can imagine they are confounded by having smarter children or more sophisticated parents – the world only needs 2 or 3 languages, not seven thousand. In fact, the future I foresee is that there would be two or three worldlanguages, such as English and Chinese (Mandarin), and every child would learn both. Hence everyone would be multilingual. Getting rid of the other languages would just facilitate this process. There are those who care about language, and I am one of them. Putting this into practice by preserving near-dead languages on some kind of technologically boosted life support is of dubious value. Instead, we should work to conserve the effectiveness of language to communicate. This means respecting grammar, syntax, writing style, and other hallmarks of a strong, useful language, because they contribute to clarity and precision of communication.”

—Roy F. Baumeister, Languages Are Vanishing: So What?

“Losing a language is essentially a loss of data but culture doesn’t bleed, living organisms do. There is a lot of concern among anthropologists about “lost” ways of life. ( I am more concerned with “lost lives” due to poverty, malnourishment and disease.) The educated and prosperous elite sometimes lament the loss of innocence and purity among indigenous cultures. I have seen that here and in India. Mostly the people whom they wish to see hold on to their culture are poor, uneducated and their quaint way of life is a curiosity for us. I wouldn’t go as far as to draw the harsh parallel to a zoo but sometimes I wonder.”

—Ruchira Paul, Cat (or Global Forces) Got Your Tongue?

“If you have a casual knowledge of history or geography you know that languages are fault-lines around which intergroup conflict emerges. But more concretely I’ll dig into the literature or do a statistical analysis. I’ll have to correct for the fact that Africa and South Asia are among the most linguistically diverse regions in the world, and they kind of really suck on Human Development Indices. And I do have to add that the arrow of causality here is complex; not only do I believe linguistic homogeneity fosters integration and economies of scale, but I believe political and economic development foster linguistic homogeneity. So it might be what economists might term a “virtuous circle.”

—Razib Khan, Language Is Not Value-Free

“Bookstore shelves groan under the weight of countless foreign-language self-teaching sets that are about as useful as the tonics and elixirs that passed as medicine a century ago and leave their students with anemic vocabularies and paltry grammar that are of little use in real conversation. Even with good instruction, it is fiendishly difficult to learn any new language well, at least after about the age of 15. While vilified in certain quarters as threatening the future of the English language in America, most immigrants who actually try to improve their English skills here in the United States find that they have trouble communicating effectively even with doctors or their children’s schoolteachers. Yet the going idea among linguists and anthropologists is that we must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward humankind’s cultural oblivion. Assuming that we can keep 6,000 languages alive is the rough equivalent of supposing that we can stop, say, ice from developing soft spots. Here’s why. As people speaking indigenous languages migrate to cities, inevitably they learn globally dominant languages like English and use them in their interactions with one another. The immigrants’ children may use their parents’ indigenous languages at home. But they never know those languages as part of their public life, and will therefore be more comfortable with the official language of the world they grow up in. For the most part, they will speak this language to their own children. These children will not know the indigenous languages of their grandparents, and thus pretty soon they will not be spoken. This is language death. Thus the oft-heard claim that the death of a language means the death of a culture puts the cart before the horse. When the culture dies, naturally the language dies along with it. The reverse, however, is not necessarily true. Groups do not find themselves in the bizarre circumstance of having all of their traditional cultural accoutrements in hand only to find themselves incapable of indigenous expression because they no longer speak the corresponding language. Native American groups would bristle at the idea that they are no longer meaningfully “Indian” simply because they no longer speak their ancestral tongue. Note also the obvious and vibrant black American culture in the United States, among people who speak not Yoruba but English. But let’s remember that this aesthetic delight is mainly savored by the outside observer, often a professional savorer like myself. Professional linguists or anthropologists are part of a distinct human minority. Most people, in the West or anywhere else, find the fact that there are so many languages in the world no more interesting than I would find a list of all the makes of Toyota. So our case for preserving the world’s languages cannot be based on how fascinating their variegation appears to a few people in the world. The question is whether there is some urgent benefit to humanity from the fact that some people speak click languages, while others speak Ket or thousands of others, instead of everyone speaking in a universal tongue.”

— John McWhorter, The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English

Patience And Passion

Ethan Casey, in a speech on why we should bother trying to change the world, quotes Paul Rogat Loeb:

“Sometimes we achieve the impossible sooner than we expect. Knowing that can stiffen our resolve. But relying on quick victories can also tempt us to place too much emphasis on outcomes; it can cause us to become unduly impatient, brittle, with our will easily broken by setbacks. A deeper, more farseeing hope, by contrast, combines realism with resilience, acknowledging suffering and despair without giving in to them. By letting go of impatient hope we can persist no matter how hard it gets.”

On the face of it, it is a bit of a puzzle why the “idealists” who seem to be guided by noble motives are often very impatient. I judge people by their patience. We are more likely to be patient when we genuinely care about something. The most creative thinkers, scientists and artists do not think too much about the “certain something” that they might achieve at some point in their life. They go on for very long because they do not really doubt that they will get what they want.

We are perhaps more patient when we are confident of getting what we want. Anyone who has been around for a while knows that the passive aggressive people are very patient. They seem to be very confident of things working out in their favor, as it often happens. This is true of the creative writers, scientists and artists too, but for entirely different reasons.

We are also more patient when we are trying to create something meaningful. A great writer does not rush to publish his work. A dime-a-dozen reporter does.

This is true, even of relationships. As Robert Greene points out:

“If you’re trying to seduce a woman for instance, taking the man’s point of view that they are obviously different and the main problem that a man would have in a seductive situation is he is too impatient. The only thing he is thinking about is sex. He is not willing to spend two months courting a woman knowing that in the end the sex will be a million times better if he just calms himself down. He can go home and take care of himself on his own if he needs to. Just spend those couple months, whatever is needed to court her, to make her feel like she is an individual, like she is worth it, and you know it’s going to pay off. On the other side a lot of times a woman all she thinks about is the relationship. Is this going to? My boyfriend, you know, is he going to be committed? They’re thinking about that after one week and it frightens the man away. The woman has to calm down. The woman has to be more patient. She has to let the man trust her more and not feel like she is coming at this with this need for a relationship right away. Both sides have to learn patience, but for different reasons.”

If this is true, why are men and women so impatient? Perhaps they are not too interested in a deep relationship. The man wants sex, and the woman wants the man to channel more resources toward her. But, this does not sound “too nice”. So, they claim to be searching for “love” while being hard-nosed traders, in practice.

What if this is true of the idealists too? What if the “idealists” are impatient because they care too little about what activism might accomplish? The people who desperately want to change the world are impatient because it is hard to genuinely care about putting down atrocities. There’s only so much you can do. This seems to be the case.

The young people are the most idealistic, as Robin Hanson points out, despite idealism being not too effective when you are young because you attract allies and partners when you are young. The young men and women in their 20s, or even 30s do not have much influence over policy. If they are truly idealistic and passionate about changing the world, they would’ve been better off investing money, or acquiring skills that’d help them change the world when they’re older.

As Robin Argues:

“Humans have long lives. We are unusually dependent on our parents when young, and we then slowly gain competence over a lifetime, usually reaching peak productivity in our forties and fifties. Most of the time we are aware of this. For example, we count on our peak earning years by taking out loans as young students, and later saving for retirement. And we prefer leaders at those peak ages.

But when people get idealistic, they tend to forget this. Young idealists often ask me and others what they can do to most help the world. Which is a fine question. But such folks tend to be impatient – they want to know how to most help the world in the next few years, not over their lifetime. So when they consider joining an idealistic project, they focus more on whether the project will succeed than on what skills and contacts they would acquire.

Yet young folks shouldn’t expect to have their biggest influence when young. Yes young folks have higher variance, and so sometimes get very lucky, but they should expect to prepare and learn while young, and then have their biggest influence in their peak years. Why such a short term focus? Especially since idealism should if anything induce a far view. Yes young folks are often short-sighted, but why be more so about altruism than about school, relationships, etc.?

This seems related to the puzzle of why people don’t leverage the power of compound interest to donate to help the future needy, instead of today’s needy. Some argue that the future won’t have any needy, or that helping today’s needy automatically helps future needy, at a rate growing faster than investment rates of return. I’m pretty skeptical about both of these claims.

One plausible explanation is that a habit of extra youthful altruism evolved as a way to signal one’s attractiveness to potential associates. People tend more to form associations when young, associations that they tend more to rely on when old. And potential associates like to see altruism, because it correlates with generosity and cooperation (as near-far theory predicts). But if you save money to help the future needy, or if you invest now in skills useful in future idealistic projects, that is less clearly a signal of altruism, because you might later change your mind and use that money or those skills for other purposes.

So to signal your youthful idealism to potential associates, you must spend the money and time now, even if such spending is less effective toward the idealistic cause. But hey, at least the cause gets something.”

The Dead House

Much of the ideological debates in India remind me of this:

“The two children of the family were divided on the question. June Sanborn, aged nineteen, had always thought that all architects were romantic, and she had been delighted to learn that they would have a very young architect; but she did not like Roark’s appearance and his indifference to her hints, so she declared that the house was hideous and she, for one, would refuse to live in it. Richard Sanborn, aged twenty-four, who had been a brilliant student in college and was now slowly drinking himself to death, startled his family by emerging from his usual lethargy and declaring that the house was magnificent. No one could tell whether it was esthetic appreciation or hatred of his mother or both.

When the house was completed, Mrs. Sanborn refused to live in it. Mr. Sanborn looked at it wistfully, too tired to admit that he loved it, that he had always wanted a house just like it. He surrendered. The house was not furnished. Mrs. Sanborn took herself, her husband and her daughter off to Florida for the winter, “where,” she said, “we have a house that’s a decent Spanish, thank God!–because we bought it ready-made. This is what happens when you venture to build for yourself, with some half-baked idiot of an architect!” Her son, to everybody’s amazement, exhibited a sudden burst of savage will power: he refused to go to Florida; he liked the new house, he would live nowhere else. So three of the rooms were furnished for him. The family left and he moved alone into the house on the Hudson. At night, one could see from the river a single rectangle of yellow, small and lost, among the windows of the huge, dead house.”