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Self in Society Roundup 44

Substack, authoritarians, depopulation, stoic collectivism, Milei, AI George Carlin, effective altruist parenting, flower sex, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
January 13, 2024

Substack (Sigh): NBC reports that Substack removed five Nazi-themed newsletters after all on grounds that they violated its "existing content rules." The founders said, "We are actively working on more reporting tools that can be used to flag content that potentially violates our guidelines, and we will continue working on tools for user moderation so Substack users can set and refine the terms of their own experience on the platform." Aaron Ross Powell has noticed on Substack's Notes some "conspiracy theories about what it actually means that Substack capitulated to demands to remove a handful of Nazis from its platform." So now Substack has managed to annoy two large groups of users and former users: it has left up other Nazi-themed Substacks, and it also has pissed off its users who pretended that publishing pro-Nazi content is required by "free speech." See also my first and second articles about Substack's Nazi problem. I remain sympathetic to "slippery slope" arguments such as Bryan Caplan makes, but the actual arguments that Substack's leaders have made are lame. See also Jacob Stern's latest, "Substack Was a Ticking Time Bomb."

Pining for Authoritarianism: Reuters: "Forty-six percent of Republican respondents agreed with a statement that 'the country is in a crisis and needs a strong president who should be allowed to rule without too much interference from courts and Congress,' while the same share disagreed." Trumpists make such delusional claims as "God gave us Trump." Ilya Somin reminds us, "The January 6 Attack was an Insurrection." Related news: "Trump received millions from foreign governments as president."

Depopulation Handwringing: Add Brink Lindsey to the list of people seriously worried about depopulation: "The fertility collapse has already led to shrinking populations in Japan, Italy, and China and contributed (along with emigration) to even more precipitous declines in eastern Europe; within a few decades, it now seems highly likely that the total human population will begin to decline." I think we should worry about that about as much as people should have worried about overpopulation in 1968, the year Paul Ehrlich came out with The Population Bomb. In both cases, the solution is basically better technology. We are on the cusp (I believe) of abundant, cheap, (relatively) clean energy, along with astounding advances in AI and robotics, all of which will make having children cheaper and easier. Also, we're talking about a span of decades, plenty of time for cultural norms to shift. Today, many environmentalists still refuse to have children because they believe bullshit anti-human propaganda. Once population peaks, such ideas will grow dormant. All that said, I'm a big believer in implementing family-friendly policies, as by eliminating anti-development laws and ordinances that drive the cost of housing sky-high in various regions.

Stoic Collectivism: Drawing on Nancy Sherman's work, Aaron Smith points out that there's something strange about casting Stoicism as a particularly self-help movement, as Stoicism is quite collectivistic. Epictetus, for example, advices people to "behave as a hand or foot would if it had reason and was able to understand the natural order of things: it would never have inclinations or desires except by reference to the whole." Smith takes the side of individual moral worth. Obviously in important ways we need to fit into society, as by respecting people's rights and following basic norms of politeness. At the same time, each individual properly values his own life, interests, and success. The proper aim is to fit into society in reasonable ways, not to subordinate one's self to it.

Biden vs. White Supremacy: He rightly called it a "poison."

Cid on Milei: Agustina Vergara Cid, an Objectivist from Argentina, writes for the Orange County Register: "Milei has taken big steps toward reining in the power of Argentina's hugely intrusive government by proposing to repeal numerous regulations. . . . . Peronism left a once prosperous country in absolute misery . . . . Milei seems to understand that eliminating government's control over the economy is a must for human flourishing and prosperity. . . . But as a self-described 'anarcho-capitalist,' he holds a mistaken view of government." See also Tyler Cowen's take.

Pol Pot's Atrocities: Steven Greenhut remembers.

George Carlin is Glad He's Dead: You can watch an hour-long AI-generated "George Carlin" special if you want (via Friendly Atheist.) I watched the first couple of minutes and it's okay. It starts off talking about the "problem of evil." It's the voice only.

Paging Dr. AI: In other AI news (via Eric Topol): "AMIE [Articulate Medical Intelligence Explorer] demonstrated greater diagnostic accuracy and superior performance [relative to primary care physicians] on 28 of 32 axes according to specialist physicians and 24 of 26 axes according to patient actors."

Coffee Bots: We have reached the pinnacle of civilization: Robots can learn to make coffee by watching humans do it.

Tesla: Norihiko Shirouzu: "The company pioneered the use of huge presses with 6,000 to 9,000 tons of clamping pressure to mold the front and rear structures of its Model Y in a 'gigacasting' process that slashed production costs and left rivals scrambling to catch up. . . . . Tesla is closing in on an innovation that would allow it to die cast nearly all the complex underbody of an EV in one piece, rather than about 400 parts in a conventional car, the [unnamed sources] said."

Ritchie: I watched Hannah Ritchie's Ted video on our sustainable future. She emphasizes the importance of human quality of life as we transition to cleaner energy.

Election Conspiracies: James O'Rourke watched the new conspiracy mongering film about the election, Let My People Go. Sigh.

Effective Altruist Parenting: I've been observing the Effective Altruism movement for a while now. One thing I've noticed is that the movement has largely rejected Peter Singer's strict impersonal utilitarianism. Example: "It feels important that working to improve the world doesn’t prevent me from achieving any of the other things that are really significant to me in life—for example, having a good relationship with my husband and having close, long-term friendships. Becoming a parent was another personal priority in my life." That all sounds fairly . . . selfish!

Drug War: Jacob Sullum: California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed "bills that would have decriminalized four naturally occurring psychedelics and authorized Amsterdam-style cannabis cafés."

Flower Sex: Carl Zimmer (via Cowen): "Flowers Are Evolving to Have Less Sex; As the number of bees and other pollinators falls, field pansies are adapting by fertilizing their own seeds, a new study found." The study's authors worry, "The rapid evolution towards a selfing syndrome may in turn further accelerate pollinator declines, in an eco-evolutionary feedback loop with broader implications to natural ecosystems."

Feminism under the Taliban: FT: "Afghan women and girls flock online to evade Taliban curbs on female education." In an alternate universe President Biden would face a serious Republican challenge over his retreat from that country.

Web Log: After I decided to leave Substack, I reset as "Ari Armstrong's Web Log," an intentionally retro theme. But, in a 2003 article, Jason Kottke insists that it's "weblog," not "web log." Well, this is still my "Web Log."

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