Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Brother, Can You Spare A Thought?

There is a genre of story in The Atlantic (and in other publications, I would guess) that strikes me as: "Won't somebody think of the impoverished?" The general pattern of the stories is as follows: Some beneficial activity, X, is easier to successfully pursue under set of circumstances Y. Because set of circumstances Y is more accessible to people with money, poor people are locked out of activity X, and isn't that terrible?

Caroline Kitchener's piece on women having children (especially their first) after the age of 40 is an example of the type. The advantages of having children after the age of 40 are established: "For both affluent and low-income women, it seems to help to circumvent the gender-wage gap." The idea that it's easier for people of means is put out there: "'It is a privilege to be able to wait—to have more economic advantages when you have kids,' Feinberg said. But for the vast majority of mothers, that’s not an option." And finally, we're told why this is terrible: "If only the most affluent mothers are able to reap the rewards that come with older motherhood, Shreffler told me, 'that might perpetuate the inequality that we already see in children born to women with and without a college degree:' lifting up the fruits of the fortysomethings, leaving behind the kids of the moms who couldn’t afford to wait."

By the end of the article, I could almost feel Ms. Kitchener leaning over me, looking to see if I was wringing my hands properly. But it seems to me that these articles, focused as they are on reminding us yet again of the unfairness of the fact that people without money aren't as well-off as people with money, don't then take the discussion to the next level - fixing things.

This article is an advocacy piece, and it strikes me that the goal is for readers to go out and press policymakers for fertility and maternity care that's more readily available and of lower cost. Which is fair enough. There is nothing wrong with either of those goals. But it strikes me that it may be easier, not to mention far less expensive, to see what can be done to make the advantages of becoming a parent at 40+ to people who become parents in their twenties, when they don't have as much need for expensive medical interventions to become pregnant, deliver a healthy child and come out of the experience in good health themselves. Likewise, encouraging more people to take time away from work, for whatever reason, when they are young would go away towards remedying the wage gap that maternity leave tends to open without asking the currently childless to subsidize their coworkers' childbearing choices and timing.

And, to be sure, the options put forth are not necessarily bad choices. They may, in fact, be the best available options, in which case, go for it. But the formulaic nature of stories lamenting the inability of the less well off to behave in the same way as their wealthier peers seems to blind people to the idea that there is more than road that leads to Rome.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Join Today

Join the Illuminate cult online today and get instant sum of 5 million
dollars with a free home any where you choose to live in the world and also
get 200,000 dollars monthly as a salary… If you are interested please
kindly fill the following information to this email below {
Sounds legit.

This started popping up in comments that were made to social media posts by news organizations, under a few different names, and so I dropped in on their profiles to see what their deal was. And it was the same thing, over and over. Post after post, going back months, all with the same text. Many of them contained random links to other content on the Web; anything from food blogs to racist screeds by open White supremacists. And a number of articles about the Illuminati; either purporting to explain some aspect of their ritualism, lists of their members in specific nations, supposed exposés of their worldwide leadership and, strangely, articles debunking the whole thing.

Every time I see a scam like this, I wonder who the intended mark is. Who sees an offer of membership from what is supposed to be the most secretive group in the world (how it maintains this status given that everyone seems to know about it is beyond me), promising instant wealth, and says to themselves: "Yeah, my ship has finally come in. I'll just send an e-mail to this random gmail account and the all-powerful rulers of the world will set me up for life. As soon as I give them my financial information.

I understand the whole point behind making these 419 scams so outlandish that anyone who genuinely pursues one will stick with it to the bitter end (and the complete draining of their finances), but it's difficult for me to fathom that anyone could be both that gullible and able to retain enough money to be worth fleecing. There can't be that many completely unintelligent lottery winners in the world.

But if this is coming from some benighted 3rd world backwater somewhere, perhaps $20 here or $50 is enough to keep them afloat (and pay for internet time) long enough that they can desperately fish for their next mark. Maybe they should just advertise the low, low cost of living, instead.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Innovation and its Dicontentents

One thing that I tell people is if you're going be, if you're going to do anything new or innovative, you have to be willing to be misunderstood. If you cannot afford to be misunderstood, then for goodness' sake, don't do anything new or innovative.
Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos reveals what it's like to build an empire and become the richest man in the world — and why he's willing to spend $1 billion a year to fund the most important mission of his life
There are, of course, people who genuinely cannot afford to be misunderstood. But the number is likely smaller than we suspect. More often, it's a matter of the price of misunderstanding being higher than seems reasonable under the circumstances. If we define "innovation" as "doing things differently than has commonly come to be expected," then there are a lot of people who spend their time innovating, in an attempt to improve their condition in life. But many Black people in the United States have become wary of innovating themselves because they perceive both the likelihood and the costs of misunderstanding to be high. (Of course, many people perceive the likelihood and costs of being misunderstood to be high even when they are acting well within the status quo.)

In a culture that values doing new things and innovation as much as modern America does, it can be easy to forget that innovating has costs beyond that of the labor and materials that go into it. And so Mr. Bezos' quote can be a helpful reminder of the fact that social innovation also has costs. And those costs can be high. The lack of generalized, directed innovation results in the status quo remaining in effect, and so the period of invention and experimentation is prolonged. And while piecemeal innovation has lower collective social costs than a coordinated group shift, those costs must still be paid, and so the fall on the innovative individuals.

Innovations create opportunities, and opportunities tend to come at a cost. And, as Mr. Bezos points out, incumbents who are currently benefiting from the status quo are quick to understand their potential to need to bear those costs, and will mobilize criticism in attempt to head them off by derailing the new innovation. But criticism of innovation can also be a means of justifying a reaction to an innovation that would otherwise be seen as unwarranted. As these factors that raise the cost of innovation, the impulse to outsource the task to people better able to bear the costs (or for whom there are lower costs) is understandable. But people who innovate on behalf of others do so commonly out of a profit motive, rather than solely the betterment of their clients. And so it's worth asking if the final cost is even higher.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Usefully Toxic

Some random guy on the internet, that you've likely never heard of, has been accused of sexual harassment. Said guy was a moderator in an online community, and so there were calls to have him removed from that position. Within short order, he'd stepped down. But the criticism of the community didn't stop with that, and it seemed that a few people had joined the community specifically to complain about the moderator who was no longer a moderator and/or complain about the treatment of people who had complained before themselves.

I doubt that I saw all of the complaints - I only check social media in the evenings between dinner and before bed on weeknights, and at random intervals on weekends, so there was a lot of time for things to get past me. But there was one thing that the complaints I did see had in common. They were really obnoxious. It didn't take long for them to seem more or less like mid-level trolling; the kind of stuff that people do to a) let their targets know that they don't really care about any damage they might do and b) show off to others in their tribe that they're doing it. In other words, it struck me as a variation on the sort of behavior in which a man might go up to a woman in public and deliberately position himself as a potential threat in order to both intimidate and belittle her, and to perform this in front of his buddies. That is to say, toxic.

My first thought was that this is to be expected. The social justice movement is large enough that it's entered the social consciousness, and like any group that's large enough to have done that, it's too large to not have any assholes in it. That's just the nature of groups: put enough people together in one place, and some non-zero number of them will be assholes. But thinking about it a bit more, it occurred to me that one of the primary drivers of rudeness can be the understanding that manners are a form of weakness, and that politeness is simply a, well, polite form of grovelling. After all, I suspect that I have met my share, if not more, of people who seem to think that the ability to be openly disrespectful of others is a prerequisite for respecting themselves.

About three years ago, I found myself in a me-against-the-world online argument with a number of self-professed Social Justice Warriors, and one of them made the following point. "Telling other people what to do and 'talking down to them' creates environments in which people are threatened with shame for not [complying]. It's dirty, but it gets the job done." Behavior that we understand to be "toxic" therefore, may be dirty, but it's too effective a tool to forgo. And there's a fairly direct danger in that:

He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
What makes it so easy, I think, to become a monster is that monsters don't see themselves as such, when they look in the mirror, whether we recognize that or not. And I realized that most of the monsters that people march out to war against saw themselves, once upon a time, as monster fighters. Everyone is, after all, the hero of their own story. Sometimes, they had society's blessing in this; other times, they didn't. But this doesn't change the fact that if we understand that the only way to fight monsters is to create and nurture monsters, we will always have monsters, even if we think that we can control them.