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Self in Society Roundup 48

Trump's strength, DEI, global freedom, dynamic pricing, prudish Objectivists, IVF in Alabama, sports and gender, pomo, Poet GPT.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
March 9, 2024

Trump's Strength: A Bloomberg / Morning Consult poll shows Trump ahead of Biden nationwide, and ahead in swing states. See also a Times / Siena poll that looks rough for Biden. A Trump victory would be very bad for the country and for the world. However, the damage is probably already done on the Supreme Court, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's horrible decision to risk letting Trump replace her, resulting in the addition of Amy Coney Barrett. Now, the only two justices in their 70s are Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, and frankly I can hardly see Trump doing worse, although I'm sure he'll try. But you never know if something unexpected will happen; it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility that Trump could end up replacing Sonia Sotomayor, now 69, or even Elena Kagan, now 63. Anyway, Aaron Ross Powell argues that, as Americans come to remember how bad Trump was, they'll increasingly disfavor him. Well see soon enough! Biden's State of the Union helped.

Immigration Prisons: CPR has a story about César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández's new book, Welcome the Wretched: In Defense of the 'Criminal Alien'. See also his 2019 talk. Future Americans will look back in horror at the way we treat immigrants.

Caplan on DEI: Bryan Caplan is strongly opposed to the proposed "Just Societies" classes at his university, George Mason, which explicitly focus on "diversity, equity, and inclusion." Caplan suggests the classes would constitute "radical leftist indoctrination" and that "DEI itself is the obstacle to justice and equity." He posits "color-blind meritocracy" as the main alternative to DEI. Here is Caplan's key thesis: "In the First World, the primary cause of unequal success is not unfair treatment but unequal performance—and the main exception to this rule is mandatory discrimination driven by the ideology of DEI itself." My view is that Caplan is largely correct but that America's racist past has been far more impactful, even into the present day, than Caplan acknowledges. Caplan lists five books, in addition to his own, showing that "the DEI view of justice turns out to be fundamentally incorrect." The first three books he lists are by Richard Hanania, Christopher Rufo, and James Lindsay (and Helen Pluckrose), all of whom (except Pluckrose) I regard as bad actors. They might be enemies of some of my enemies but they certainly are not my friends.

Freedom's Decline: Freedom House: "Global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023. The breadth and depth of the deterioration were extensive. Political rights and civil liberties were diminished in 52 countries, while only 21 countries made improvements. Flawed elections and armed conflict contributed to the decline, endangering freedom and causing severe human suffering."

Dynamic Pricing: A lot of people did not like Wendy's idea for "dynamic pricing." But surge pricing obviously can make sense. It's more expensive for a restaurant for customers to show up all at once, and a restaurant can save costs by spreading out the demand over more hours. So surge pricing benefits customers. But, because many people don't get this, they often do not recognize what is in their own interests. So Wendy's insists it will not offer surge pricing; instead, it will test features to "change the menu offerings at different times of day and offer discounts and value offers to our customers . . . particularly in the slower times of day." See, if instead of increasing prices during peak times, you decrease prices during non-peak times, that's totally fine, even though the outcome is (or could be) exactly the same. For similar reasons, some people would prefer to pay $80 on a "discounted" $100 couch than pay a $20 premium on a "normally priced" $60 couch, even if it's the exact same couch.

Prudish Objectivists: C. Bradley Thompson mocks a Planned Parenthood sex ed video. I watched the video. It seems perfectly fine to me. When did Objectivists get so prudish about sex? In related news . . . Robie Harris, author of the sex-ed book It's Perfectly Normal, which is a great book, has died.

IVF in Alabama: Liz Dye summarizes the explicitly religious Alabama ruling declaring frozen embryos children. Dye writes, "Governor Ivey signed legislation designed to provide immunity for fertility doctors and producers of the technology involved in IVF. But even she characterized it as a 'short-term measure' designed to allow the transfer of embryos to patients currently trying to conceive. It does nothing to solve the problem of embryos which are not wanted—whether because they have a genetic anomaly incompatible with life, or because the owners of the embryo no longer wish to conceive—and cannot be discarded because they are legally 'children.'" If only people had been warning about this problem for years.

Sports and Gender: Laura Jedeed writes about the runner Caster Semenya, a woman with XY chromosomes, higher testosterone, and undescended testicles. To continue to compete in sports, she had to take hormones. That is horrible! This reinforces my view that we should do away with sporting tiers based on gender, and implement tiers based on directly relevant physical characteristics (such as muscle mass). Maybe with such tiers this runner would compete mostly against women, or mostly against men, or maybe in a mixed middle tier.

Powell and McManus on Postmodernism: I've had a generally dim view of postmodernism, thanks largely to the Objectivist arguments against (and antipathy toward) it. But various people I admire find insights within the movement, so I've become more open to picking out the grains of truth. Recently Aaron Ross Powell interviewed Matt McManus on the topic. Both are critical of postmodernism, seeing its often deeply nihilistic implications, but seek to identify its legitimate concerns, as with overconfidence in existing grand narratives.

Friedman's Warning: David Friedman rites, "Claimed proofs of contentious issues are quite often wrong, biased, even fraudulent." He continues: "Read[ing a] book or article carefully . . . is costly in time and effort and requires skills you may not have; depending on the particular issue that might include near-professional expertise in statistics, history, physics, economics, or any of a variety of other fields. I have taught elementary statistics at various points in my career, both in an economics department and a law school, but gave up on a controversy of considerable interest to me (concealed carry) when the statistical arguments got above the level I could readily follow."

Career AI: J. B. Holston believes AI will facilitate "skills-based, lifelong learning pathways to prosperity across the country." This could be seriously disruptive to colleges, at a time when colleges already are overrun with culture-war nonsense. Holston talks about ways that state governments could help colleges become more adaptive. I'll shout into the wind here and point out that, if colleges were run in a free market rather than (largely) in a political market, they'd inherently be much more adaptive. Indeed, they probably already would have substantially adapted to changing times.

Huemer on Veganism: Michael Huemer continues to argue that vegans bring up strong moral criticisms of most meat eating. I continue to think his arguments have weight. I also continue to think that a) Huemer understates the health implications of a pure-vegan diet (he does allow for eating brainless bivalves such as clams), and b) we need to look at what happens given alternatives. If, for example, we convert more agricultural land to its natural state, maybe we could reduce the killing of animals for human consumption, but we'd probably also increase the killing of animals by being eaten alive by predators. I do personally usually buy humane-certified eggs and the like. I will be happy when and if lab-grown meat becomes widely available.

Retail: Axios (email): "Brick-and-mortar shopping still makes up 84% of retail." One reason given is our inherent sociality. I'd add that there's value in being able to see, feel, and (in the case of clothing) try on stuff prior to buying it. Related.

Physics Engagement: NPR has out a story about Tatiana Erukhimova, a college physics teacher who doubles as a social media physics star. See the Texas A&M bio video about her, as well as her TedX talk and short educational videos.

Chat GPT Replies to AI Blocker

On Bluesky, Kari Dru posted:

Hardline time so nobody says they didn't know. If you use AI for ANYTHING artistic, a little joke, a meme, anything at all, I block you everywhere. We NEED to kill this thing completely, and that means making it clear that it's not useful or profitable for ANYTHING.

I of course could not resist typing into Ghat GPT, "Please give me a short, comical poem mocking a person who says she's going to block anyone who uses AI for anything artistic."

I thought Chat GPT did a pretty good job:

In a world where pixels dance and code creates art,
There's a lass so bold, with a stubborn heart.
She swears by the brush, the canvas, and pen,
"AI for art? Never again!"

"I'll block and I'll ban, without second thought,
For creativity pure, AI should be caught.
No algorithms here, no circuits to thank,
Just my paint-stained fingers, my art's royal flank."

But oh, the irony, as she types away,
On a keyboard enchanted, where AI holds sway.
Her social media posts, spell-checked with grace,
By the very technology she aims to erase.

In pixels and bytes, the laughter unfurls,
As the AI mocks back, with digital twirls.
"Blocked," she exclaims, with a triumphant shout,
Yet unaware AI's creativity does sprout.

So here's to the artist, who blocks with delight,
Unaware her words are just a pixelated fight.
For in this world, where technology gleams,
Even the critics are woven into the dreams.

True to her word, Dru blocked me.

As a practical matter, soon so many people will be using AI for purposes of all kinds, including ones involving art, that cutting oneself off from it will mean moving into a cave.

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