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Self in Society Roundup 10

Notes on birth month, Avatar, Mike Rowe, the Constitution, the distant future, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
October 1, 2022; ported here on May 31, 2024

Gladwell on the Importance of Birth Month

Malcolm Gladwell continues to believe that, in cases in which students are sorted on an annual bases, a student's birth month matters a lot in terms of lifetime success.

It matters, for example, in Canadian hockey:

Since the eligibility cutoff for Canadian hockey is January 1st, that means the coaches are choosing among nine year olds who are as much as 12 months apart. And 12 months age difference at the age of nine is a lot.

The older, "better" kids get more play and more recognition, so their success feeds itself. Meanwhile, the younger kids often get left behind.

In school, "relatively older kids in elementary and middle school end up getting more encouragement. . . . Meanwhile, relatively younger kids are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disorders. Or flagged for problem behavior."

Of course, once parents catch on to this, the better-off parents tend to hold their kids back a year, creating a "relative age effect arms race."

Of course, as a homeschooling dad, I don't have to worry too much about this!

Rewatching Avatar

I rewatched the record-shattering film Avatar in 3D Imax in the theater again. It remains an excellent film. It is the only film I have ever seen for which the 3D was actually worth it—the alien world comes alive in this format. Viewing the film in this way is a truly immersive experience. (I wonder if someday they'll have video games as great.) The story of a man who finds a home on a new planet among aliens, and then who joins the aliens to fight the human oppressors (the actual aliens of the story), is compelling and well-told.

When I first watched the film, I was struck by its anti-industrial bent. This time, I considered it an interesting thought-experiment. Obviously extractive colonialism is not compatible with liberty or individual rights properly understood. Land can be communally owned by some group of people, and such obviously is the case on the planet at hand. Further, although there is nothing like a planetary super-organism on Earth, maybe there's something like that somewhere in the universe.

One thing the film never reveals is why the humans are after the substance on the planet, "unobtainium," or what it's used for, or why it's worth the extraordinary expense of the space operation, or why they can't get it elsewhere or synthesize it. But let's just say there could be such a substance on such an inhabited planet. The interesting thing would be to figure out how to ethically trade with the people living there for portions of the substance. But no one wants to make a movie about that.

Rand and Rowe

Carrie-Ann Biondi argues that the "hardworking men and women" of Ayn Rand's novels "could fit perfectly into one of [Mike] Rowe's shows," such as Dirty Jobs. Biondi writes:

Both understand that each of us must work for a living; they uphold productiveness as a virtue; and they appreciate that there is dignity in any kind of honest work, whether "clean" (i.e., white collar) or "dirty" (i.e., blue collar).

Rowe published his own comments on Biondi's article:

Thirty-five years ago, a librarian in Baltimore County handed me a novel the size of a telephone book and told me to read it. It took me two weeks, and it kept me up for more than a few nights, but when I finally finished Atlas Shrugged, I knew I had read an important book. I also knew, in the years that followed, that many of the decisions I made in life were impacted by the characters that Ayn Rand had created, and the philosophies they espoused. What I didn't know, and would have never dared to imagine, was that three and a half decades later, a noted expert on Ayn Rand would devote a few thousand words and a considerable amount of research comparing the underlying themes of Dirty Jobs with those of Atlas Shrugged.

Quick Takes

Constitution: Recently the Constitution Center hosted ideologically diverse lawyers to propose Constitutional amendments. A couple of important suggestions: "Cap high-bench service to 18 years while fixing that body at nine members"; "eliminat[e] the natural-born citizen requirement" for the presidency.

MacAskill: I've been listening to William MacAskill on a variety of podcasts, including with Tyler Cowen and Robert Wiblin. He's an interesting guy with nuanced views. He is dominantly a utilitarian in his moral thinking, which guides him to thinking seriously about the well-being of humans (and other conscious creatures) far into the future. Ben Bayer considers this (stipulated) concern for people millions of years in the future as a reductio ad absurdum of the position.

Covid: "Diabetes risk rises after COVID, massive study finds. Even mild SARS-CoV-2 infections can amplify a person's chance of developing diabetes, especially for those already susceptible to the disease," Clare Watson reports for Nature. This pandemic is going to impose a lot of long-term harms.

Romanticism: Lisa VanDamme has out an interesting talk on the history of Romantic literature.

Hydrogen: Robert Zubrin has convinced me that producing hydrogen via wind-powered (or solar-powered) electrolysis, to ship internationally, is practically impossible. But I wonder whether it might make sense to use electricity (nuclear, solar, whatever) to produce hydrogen for local use, as with hydrogen cars.

Electric Cars: A 2016 article in Environmental Science & Technology suggests that electric cars are both low-emitting and low-cost (relatively) over the life of the car. When my family recently had to replace a vehicle, we considered electric, but there were hardly any electric cars on the market. We opted for a used gas-guzzler at a much lower purchase price (and you have to calculate in the interest savings). But I think electric cars are really going to take off in coming years. Then the problem is powering them with something other than natural-gas power stations!

STDs: "Cases of congenital syphilis in the United States climbed by a whopping 184% between 2017 and 2021, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . . . Experts in public health say COVID-19 contributed to the rise in sexually transmitted infections by preventing people from getting routine health care, where STI screenings can occur."—Pew

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