Who Are My Favorite Bloggers?

I think everyone should read Ezra Klein’s interview with Tyler Cowen, because Tyler is one of the greatest minds of our times. 

“I have never come across a mind quite like Tyler Cowen’s. The George Mason University economist, and Marginal Revolution blogger, has an interesting opinion on, well, everything.”

But Tyler said something about the rationality community which I don’t agree with at all—And this is so typical of him.

Ezra Klein

The rationality community.

Tyler Cowen

Well, tell me a little more what you mean. You mean Eliezer Yudkowsky?

Ezra Klein

Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.”

I read about half a dozen blogs every day, and Ezra seems to have covered almost all. Here’s my list. 

Bryan Caplan’s blog on Econlog is my favorite blog.  I’ve been reading Bryan for over 13 years. Bryan is the most objective thinker I’ve read, and I learned much of what I know from there. That’s because a blogger can add many dimensions to a blog post. Bryan also introduced me to many other thinkers like Thomas Szasz, Michael Huemer, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowen, Steven Pinker, Timur Kuran and Daniel Kahneman. Bryan changed my views on parenting, economics, and philosophy—and many other fields.

Robin Hanson’s Overcoming Bias is just too good. I haven’t read anyone who looks at human nature so objectively and perceptively as Robin does. Economists and other social scientists don’t take office politics very seriously. Robin is a rare, honorable exception. Robin’s book “The Elephant In The Brain” will be out in January 2018. I’ve started reading it, and it’s quite good.  Robin is an economist who is far too ahead of his time. 

Scott Alexander is another brilliant blogger. I find his way of looking at the world truly compassionate and perceptive. His understanding of the world is more in sync with human nature than most other great intellectuals. 

I just discovered Julia Galef. She’s young and is pretty good. I’ll soon read more of her. Julia Galef has a great book list here. 

Tyler cowen and Alex Tabarrok run Marginal Revolution, one of the best economics blogs. Their stuff on India is more informed than the work of Indian intellectuals.  Alex is in Mumbai now, and I met him over a month ago. I started taking Tyler seriously after I read his work on Asperger. I didn’t know what I was missing. Read my interview with Tyler. 

Less Wrong is, again, great, great stuff. Generalizing from one example is my favorite article. That kind of thing makes me see everything in a different light.

 

The World Is What It Is: We Are What We Are

My favorite Naipaul story has sexist undertones. My mother doesn’t like me arguing when my father is driving. This is not because that’d distract him. She just doesn’t like it. She usually changes the subject or turn silent when I argue. Or she looks here and there. When I ask why, she wouldn’t answer, or say that she knows I’m wrong. Women hate arguments. Usually, when their husbands debate me on some abstract topic, women ask them to stop. They won’t say this, but they see debates as a sign of conflict. It took me so many years to see this. Continue reading “The World Is What It Is: We Are What We Are”

In Search Of The True Indian

I met him three years ago, somewhere near North Block. As a rule, I refuse to meet people in the three-dimensional world. I made an exception for him because he once tweeted that I am the most beautifully idiosyncratic Indian writer. “Now, this is somebody who has good judgment. He understands my work, unlike the half-brained slobs I see every day.” I told myself.  We shall call him “Indian”. I do not want to name him and shame him. But, when I think about the “nature-nurture debate”, it is hard to get this fellow off my mind.

When I met him, he said that he “loved” a quote on my wall:

“We all talk about clarity and sanity all the time, but the truth is it’s very dangerous. True clarity and sanity won’t allow you to do anything — it will just make you jump off the building.

I have my doubts. I am the happiest person I have ever known. My hypothesis is that most people find it difficult to get out of their beds in the morning because they are sad. It is sadness which doesn’t allow them to do anything. They are sad, but they do not see the world half as clearly as I do. This was red flag enough.

He was unbearably depressed. I found this bizarre. When I said that I found this hard to believe, he said, “I know that it is strange for a very young man to be so depressed, but this is how I feel now.” I asked him whether he was a victim of “office politics”. He said that “office politics” is not the only source of misery. There are many other. This was news to me.

He said, “I don’t think you are trying to make a point on your blog. It is always along these lines, ‘I said this to her, and then she said this to him.’ But, what comes through is the absolute pettiness that emerges from the interactions between half-anglicized Indians.” The depressed are refreshingly frank.

I tried to cheer him up saying that a Masters from UChicago will take him very far in this third-world city where people are quickly impressed. But, he said that he studied something pointless. I reassured him. He will tower over everybody like an Albert Einstein in newsrooms in Delhi where journalists have IQs in the range of hockey scores. But, he did not budge. He is useless. Pedagogues had as much as said so, in that almighty piece of paper.

It was then his grandfather called him on the phone to ask whether he took the bananas in the fridge. He said, thinking long and hard, “Strictly speaking, that is not true.” He lived with his grandparents. His grandparents and mother were doctors. But, when she was young, his topper-type mother married a never-do-well from the hills. Before his mother jilted this Pahadi idiot who never did an honest day’s job, he was crawling.

On the first day of every academic year, his teachers at Modern School asked him what his father did. He couldn’t stand this diabolic torture. When he was a child, he said, “My mother (Softly) is a doctor (Emphasis added).” Soon, it dawned on him that he could not get away with it. He learned to say that his father was in “import-export business”. But, one day a girl walked to him and said cheerfully that her father was in “import-export business” too. He did not know what to tell her. When he was twelve, he decided that enough was enough. He walked toward the teacher, leaped and whispered in her ears, “My parents are divorced, and my father doesn’t do anything.” That did it for her.

My girlfriend once told me that her schoolmates asked three questions whenever she joined a new school, “In which part of Delhi do you live? What does your father do? Which car does he drive?” In all the cosmos, nothing mattered more to them.

He was bright, but he barely passed 10th standard. His mother (presumably an enterprising woman) decided to ship out and live in a ghetto in the UK where his grades did not bother anyone. I asked him how he managed to get into a school in the UK. He laughed and asked me whether I was living under a rock for long. “This is the age of decadence. Educational standards have been declining throughout the world.” When he was ejected from University of Chicago at the age of 25, he resembled his father. He had no desire to work.

He said, “Your prose is very ‘westernized’. But, if you like western thinkers so much, why don’t you live in the west? Without living in the west for a few years, you will never understand the west.”

I said that there was no conscious attempt to “deracinate” myself. I do not see things this way at all. The best books are ‘western’. I haven’t really bothered to read Indian writers for the same reason I have never been on a social networking website created by an Indian. This did not convince him. He sighed saying that he did not know that colonialism spawned people who have such dichotomous lives.

He attributed much of his depression to being compelled to live in the west. He loved Nirad Chaudhuri—who loved the west—and Pankaj Mishra, who, for all ranting, still prefers to live there. When I said that we have such fucked up lives, he sighed, “But, Pankaj Mishra is having a swell time, with his British wife and everything.”

Tired hearing that a passage of Nirad Chaudhuri is enough to take libertarianism out of me, I bought Autobiography of an Unknown Indian. I read the first few dozen pages before throwing it away. It was written in the sort of pedantic prose a school headmaster turned out of a public school hundred years ago would have written.  

The west was a nameless, faceless enemy. But, after a decade in the west, Indian streets had become unbearable. “I hate walking the streets because I do not like seeing these lower class people. I never go out, but when I go to the super market, the guy at the counter talks to me. I find that really oppressive”, he once said. He did not like his grandparents either. “My grandmother is so primitive. She is not westernized. I pray for her to die so that I can live in this house with my grandfather.” he said. The feeling was mutual, because he looked like his father.

His preoccupation with the west colored his perception of everything around him. Whenever he spoke, it was along these lines:

“My grandfather does not know why I lock my door when I am alone in my room. Indians do not understand the concept of privacy.”

“Theory is a western concept.”

“Morality is a western concept. Indians do not even know what “morality” means.”

“Did they understand you? I am sure that they did not. Indians do not know how to reason with each other.”

“Why do these people stare at me? Is it because I am westernized? I smile and make eye contact. I haven’t seen Indians doing that.”

But, despite everything, he loved the idea of India. Everywhere, he searched frantically for true Indianness.

Order By Accident

It is interesting that the Satoshi Kanazawa’s book on conformism in Japan is titled “Order by Accident”. Of course, the social order in Japan emerges from coalition politics. Firms are coalitions that employees serve. Now, observe. As Kanazawa points out, firms are deviant subcultures. Order won’t emerge within firms through sheer co-operation. Much of co-ordination emerges from coalition politics on a much smaller scale. There might be self-interested behavior inside firms, among coalitions, but if people joined more powerful coalitions and if the management encourages this, this wouldn’t be so disastrous as it seems. This isn’t analyzed as much as democratic politics, though even the white collar crimes done to serve the firm are seen as crimes. How often have we seen intellectuals wondering how order emerges within coalition-ridden firms, and how this makes firms less efficient? If intellectuals really do see office politics as nasty, they wouldn’t hesitate to expatiate on it.

Again, democratic politics is a form of coalition politics on a much larger scale. But, unlike in a firm, there won’t be a top-down attempt to channel coalition politics in more productive directions. More importantly, it is improbable that the most powerful coalitions in democracy are the most informed and competent, in formulating policies. If anything resembling order emerges from this, shouldn’t this be far more surprising? But, almost everyone agrees that democratic politics is necessary for order. Democratic politics doesn’t have such a bad press as office politics. But surprisingly, this is scrutinized in detail, and there is a large body of literature that analyzes how this makes the world less efficient. What possibly explains this?

Why Are Hindu Nationalists So Ugly?

An exception that proves the rule
An exception that proves the rule

Once when I hinted that a girl was too pretty to be a BJP supporter, she lashed out at me, asking me whether I expected her to say, batting her eyelashes, “Why, oh, Thank You!”. But, the Hindu nationalists are ugly for the same reason porn stars are not the prettiest people in the movie industry. Pornography is a fundamental need of human beings. But, when a girl takes off her clothes in a porn movie, people look down on her. Of course, in societies where there is far less stigma attached to it, the porn stars are not so ugly. One of my father’s colleagues changed his college-going daughters name because her name was the same as that of a porn actress. But, when a well-known Bollywood actress takes her clothes off in a photo shoot, people do not care much. Perhaps the contempt toward porn stars is a matter more of appearance than of substance.

The contempt toward Hindu nationalists, again, is a matter more of appearance than of substance. Like the average Indian, the average Indian intellectual or politician is much closer to the Hindu nationalist than he thinks. But, he doesn’t have self-knowledge. Virtually everyone is a nationalist. Otherwise, globalization and open borders wouldn’t be so unpopular, even among the most informed economists and social scientists. Despite their stratospheric IQ and erudition, if the intellectuals cannot shake off their prejudice, it is obvious that the prejudice is deep-rooted.

But, when someone openly says that Muslims should be slaughtered, or something along those lines, people balk. That does not sound “nice”. But, what they really believe is not too unlike this. The right wing intellectuals and politicians have made a career out of this. But, to make a career out of this, you have to be willing to say this out explicitly, loudly, for everyone to hear. If this is not acceptable, you should insinuate that this is what you believe. People with high IQs—especially when they have high verbal IQs—tend to have a highly nuanced and complex understanding of what is socially acceptable, and what is not. (People with Asperger Syndrome are a notable counterexample.) They keep this to themselves. They wouldn’t choose a career in which people draw attention to their pettiness.

How Cute!

Attractiveness and intelligence are the most reliable indicators of genetic quality. Looks and intelligence are highly correlated because high status men chase pretty girls. People with high verbal IQs, I suspect, will find more attractive partners than people with comparable general intelligence. Women with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to men because they are more likeable. Men with high verbal IQs are unusually attractive to women for the same reason a successful author is more attractive to women than a wealthier real estate agent. If this is true, it is not surprising that the right wing intellectuals and politicians are ugly.

There are way too many leftists in the intellectual professions. So, it is not surprising that they are far more competent than the non-leftists. The best leftists are smarter than the best non-leftists because they are chosen from a larger pool. I haven’t read a competent Indian libertarian intellectual—other than me–because there are not many libertarians. They are chosen from a much smaller pool and are, not surprisingly, mainly, duds.

I have noticed that people think that liberal intellectuals like Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra, and Paul Krugman write beautifully, but are intellectually blank-cartridges. But, this is nonsense. Language is enormously complex. While it is hard to accept the truth, the truth is often obvious. The best liberal intellectuals cannot see the obvious despite being so intelligent because they are conformists. All the platitudes and pretensions to the contrary notwithstanding, they are wimps.

The prettiest girls are not too willing to act in pornographic movies, because it is not hard for a pretty girl to make money without getting naked. Similarly, the right wing smarties are not too willing to be intellectuals because they have to choose between living a lie and being marginalized. Most intellectuals are liberals. Intellectuals do not condemn someone who believes that rich people should be taxed and regulated, or that multinational companies are evil because such prejudices are too deep-rooted. The leftists see themselves as nice people. Even their opponents believe that their “hearts are in the right place”. But, a right wing intellectual or politician is seen as an idiot or a rascal. Is it surprising that smart right wing fellows do not want to be intellectuals or politicians?

The biases of liberals have a good press. The biases of Hindu nationalists have a bad press. True enough. But, if bigotry bothers intellectuals so much, shouldn’t it bother them more when people are not honest about themselves?

Post Script: It is not surprising that it is Aakar Patel who made this observation. Aakar Patel is the most objective Indian columnist.

Why Do Government Enterprises Work So Well?

wordcloudgovfreshIf there is a huge disparity between what people say and what people do, the people who take words quite literally will be the first to notice it. What would the literalists do? The literalists will exaggerate the disparity between the words and actions of people. The literalists are “sincere” because if people do not really mean what they say, God only knows what they might do—Or so they think.

When the literalists notice that the government is a bunch of robbers and mass murderers, they perhaps assume that the bureaucrats and politicians have verbalized their true motives, and have set out to rob and murder people. This is not surprising. They take words literally, and often refuse to act upon motives that they have not yet verbalized.

But, even if the libertarians do not make such extreme assumptions—they almost never do—they do not have much insight into how a politician’s or a government official’s mind works. So, are these politicians and bureaucrats trying to defraud people? Are they trying to serve the masses? Neither? Then, what? If the truth lies somewhere between these two point of views, where does the truth lie? I cannot tell. From what I know, Mr. Libertarian could not either. So, when they see this disparity, the libertarians are outraged, and cannot help exaggerating the disparity between theory and practice. Continue reading “Why Do Government Enterprises Work So Well?”

Why Do You Hate Women So Much?

Is this why you find it hard to respect women?

My writings against feminism have led to more people breaking with me than anything I have written over years. That is, next to my writings on office politics. To be honest, I had not expected this. I did not know that these people stereotyped themselves more unfavorably than I can ever do. In the past few months, people have been asking me many strange questions:

“The only reason I still talk to you is that you have ALSO written some of the best blog posts I have ever read. I have no idea what happened to you over the past few months. When I started reading your work, I did not see any such misogynist agenda. There was nothing of that sort. But, now, every post of yours is a rape apology of one kind or the other. I do not know whether you really mean what you say, or whether you are trying to provoke, to amuse yourself. Why do you hate women so much?”

“You seem to really despise women. I do not think I am really an outlier, in my gender. Even if I am, I think you friended me before you knew it. Why do you talk to me, knowing that I belong to this gender?”

“We are slaves to the patterns set in our childhood. I have noticed that you often blog knowing that the women on Facebook will abuse you. I see that you want female “punishment”. I had noticed that you once talked to me when I “slammed” you, on your wall. Do you seek to be humiliated by women?  That is Okay, as long as this is not hurting you in the end. Have you done much reading on codependency?”  Continue reading “Why Do You Hate Women So Much?”

Why I Write

“I have not written and published to please other people, but to satisfy myself, just as a cow gives milk, not to profit the dairyman, but to satisfy herself.”-H. L. Mencken

One of my most painful childhood memories is that of rising onto my toes, and asking my aunt whether we can make Onion-Vada’s without using onions.  She said, “I do not know what you are talking about. How do we make Onion-Vada’s without onions?” She was cutting onions and there were tears in my eyes. I did not like the taste of onions. I stood there, confused, watching the swift movement of her fingers. And, I felt that I could see the mist through the window.

I must have been three years old then, and she was still a teenager. I also remember that she used to call me a book-worm. When I used to insist that I wanted to join her when she takes her bath, she would raise her hand as if she was trying to smack me. She never did that, but I would then stare at her palms, hoping against hope that she did. It would have felt good. I remember someone who was unapologetic about it. I would then lie on the bed counting the marks of her fingers wondering whether it was all a dream, or whether it actually happened. Continue reading “Why I Write”