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Self in Society Roundup 25

Transgender, Ted Lasso, critical debate, ethical friends, sincerity, Islam, Objectivism, approval voting, liberalism, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
July 31, 2023; ported here on January 24, 2024

Transgender: Laura Jedeed effectively argues that Lisa Littman's paper advancing the thesis of "Rapid Onset Gender Disorder," and the related idea that many kids who claim to be transgender really are unduly influenced by social pressures (the "social contagion" theory), is complete bullshit. Erin Reed also discusses positive evidence against ROGD and offers an alternate theory: "Professionals who work closely with transgender populations frequently observe that individuals harbor dysphoria for an extended period before revealing their feelings to loved ones. Upon coming out, these individuals often swiftly embrace their transgender identity, motivated by the liberation that comes with acknowledging one's true self." Very plausible! To me, looking for an all-or-nothing theory seems silly. I'm confident that ROGD does not always apply and pretty confident that it usually doesn't apply. But I'm not confident that it never applies.

Ted Lasso: Having finished this Apple TV show, I adore it. On the surface the show is about an American football coach who takes a job coaching football-football in England. On that level it's a comedy. What the show is really about is people coming to grips with their emotional traumas, striving to make themselves into better people, and building relationships. Described in a word, the show is benevolent.

Debate: Maya Bodnick: "In recent years, many [high school] debaters have decided to flat-out ignore the assigned topic and instead hijack the round by proposing . . . debater-created resolutions that advocate complex social criticisms based on various theories—Marxism, anti-militarism, feminist international relations theory, neocolonialism, securitization, anthropocentrism, orientalism, racial positionality, Afro-Pessimism, disablism, queer ecology, and transfeminism. . . . These critical theory arguments, known as kritiks, are usually wielded by the negation side to criticize the fundamental assumptions of their affirmation side opponents. Kritik advocates argue that the world is so systematically broken that discussing public policy proposals and reforms misses what really matters: the need to fundamentally revolutionize society in some way." Even worse, some judges tell debaters in advance that they will reject any argument out-of-hand that capitalism, neoliberalism, or Israel is good. That said, kids probably need to learn to deal with these sorts of claims. There's a big difference between being a critical thinker and being a Critical thinker. A deeper and older problem is that these debates seem to encourage participants to treat ideas, arguments, and citations as games. The entire realm seems dominated by a sort of modern Sophism, where truth is irrelevant.

Ethical Friends: Aaron Ross Powell has out a good essay on the importance of surrounding ourselves with ethical friends. A couple of questions: Can't we still spend a lot of time around mixed friends who are more "friends of utility," without being corrupted? And: If we deprive mixed or bad people of our company, do we withhold from them of encouragement to improve? Is there room for something like "ethical outreach"?

Geoengineering: Lots of people take it seriously, Tabarrok says. See also Neal Stephenson's novel Termination Shock and his related talk.

Mergers: Via Tabarrok: "Efficiencies won't be counted, even if they benefit consumers and workers, for a merger that furthers a trend toward horizontal concentration or vertical integration." So stupid.

Black-Owned Farms: William Oster: "Over the past century, Black farmers in the U.S. have lost millions of acres of farmland as a result of discriminatory practices at the federal level, specifically with the Department of Agriculture granting Black farmers the lowest amount of loans and denying them at higher rates than white farmers. In addition, a recent study estimates that Black farmers have lost nearly $326 billion as a result of being forced to give up millions of acres of land."

Government-Payer: If only someone had predicted that ObamaCare would create a lot of additional problems and spur the movement toward single-payer (government-payer) health insurance.

Global Warming: David Friedman points out that extrapolating mortality due to global warming has to account for economic growth; "richer people can afford air conditioning and better insulated homes and have less need to go out in unfavorable weather."

Ironic Sincerity: Andrew Hickey: "There's a passage in Umberto Eco's book about writing The Name of the Rose, where he talks about the meaning of postmodernism. He explains that an unsophisticated writer like Barbara Cartland might write "I love you madly". A sophisticated modernist writer would recognise that as a cliche, and so choose not to write about love at all, having no language to do it in, and mock those who did. And a postmodernist would embrace and acknowledge the cliche, writing "'As Barbara Cartland might say, 'I love you madly''. This, crucially, means that the postmodernist is, once again, able to talk about real emotions, which the modernist (in Eco's view) can't." I don't know about the labels, and I have no idea who Cartland is, but this seems like a good description of what I'd call ironic sincerity.

Libertarians: Matt Zwolinski joined Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus to discuss his coauthored book on libertarianism. See also my discussion with Zwolinski and my review of his book.

Nudges: They don't seem to work very well (via Kling).

Alcohol: People drink a lot less than they did long ago. Lefineder (via Cowen): "The economically driven transformation toward the low consumption of alcohol occurred first, only later after that this transformation was already set a movement would develop to support the restriction of alcohol consumption."

Islam: Recently I read much of the book that records a discussion between Sam Harris, the (in)famous atheist, and Maajid Nawaz, an Islamic reformer. Nawaz convinces Harris that there are different sorts of Islam, and most Muslims do not interpret their religion according to the most violence-inspired aspects of their religious texts. The two agree that Islamists (or Islamic totalitarians) are motivated fundamentally by their ideology, not, as many on the left have it, by socioeconomic conditions.

Objectivism: Recently Craig Biddle and Stephen Hicks debated whether Objectivism is an open or closed system. I agree with Biddle that it is closed in the sense that it is the philosophy that Rand presented (which is why I don't call myself an Objectivist). Biddle makes the important point that truth is broader than Objectivism. However, I do think we need some term like "Aristotelian" to indicate a philosophy or philosophic idea inspired by or in the tradition of Aristotle's ideas, without being something that Aristotle himself embraced. Biddle acknowledges this by referring to the "Randian tradition." Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate also discussed the topic recently. Brook starts out by referencing Leonard Peikoff's essay "Fact and Value," which was a response to David Kelley's essay "A Question of Sanction" (see also Kelley's related essay, "Truth and Toleration"). Hicks is aligned with Kelley's group; Biddle is on the outs with the Ayn Rand Institute. Ghate quotes a telling passage from Rand in "To the Readers of the Objectivist Forum" in which she very clearly says that Objectivism is the name of her philosophy as she developed it. Ghate too recognizes the need for terms such as "Aristotelian" and "Randian" to mean something like "influenced by." Ghate says that Hicks's position is not merely wrong but fraudulent, so there was something wrong with Biddle having the debate. That seems uncharitable. I think Ghate and many Objectivists are too quick to attribute error and disagreement to malice.

Rand: The Ayn Rand Institute will release the excellent essay collections on Rand's novels that were previously available only as (rather expensive) books.

Play: Jon Haidt and Peter Gray: "Allowing more unsupervised free play is among the most powerful and least expensive ways to bring down rates of mental illness."

Voting Reform: Arlington County Virginia used ranked-choice voting for a primary election but declined to implement it for the general, "pointing to confusion about the process," reports the Virginia Mercury. The Wall Street Journal blasted ranked-choice voting as confusing. That approval voting (vote for as many candidates as you want) is so much easier to understand and implement is a big point in its favor.

Liberalism: Tracinski, on point: "There is a reason conservative fusionism became unfused in such spectacular fashion in the last few years. Instead of trying to rebuild the old movement with the same basic flaws, we need to make a clean break in terminology, and in our underlying priorities and ideas, and build on the firmer foundation of liberalism."

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