1 like = 1 extremely sensible cold take.
1/ Economic prosperity depends mostly on a society’s ability to produce physical goods. Factories and railroads are more fundamental than loans or interest rates.
2/ The consensus view is usually simplified but correct. It should be your starting point in most investigations.
3/ Science-the-collection-of-intellectual-practices is more important than science-the-collection-of-social-institutions is more important than science-the-collection-of-approved-scientific-facts.
4/ Lots of people today are very confused about what a protest is, and in particular about why the Civil Rights-era protests worked.
5/ Twitter can be good for you in small or moderate doses, but if you rely on it for social fulfillment, it’ll rot your soul.
6/ You should judge people by the content of their character.
7/ Nuclear war remains a tremendous threat to human wellbeing, even if it’s not quite as dangerous as it was in the 70s. (See
8/ Cashiers and similar fields of work deserve more professional respect than they usually get. They’re productive members of society, and without them our way of life would immediately collapse.
9/ Important problems usually have lots of competent people working on them already. If you want to get results different from theirs (you might not, incremental progress is often great), then you have to do something they’re not already doing, and this is harder than you think.
10/ Global warming is a pretty big problem and worth mitigating at the margin, but fears that it will cause human extinction or civilizational collapse are just silly.
11/ Sharing ragebait headlines in order to dunk on them is foolish and counterproductive. You’re not advancing your side of the culture war, you’re just feeding attention and revenue to profiteers.
12/ All things considered, 2019 is a pretty nice time to be alive.
13/ Projects like the Internet Archive are incredibly important. Preservation of our written material is one of the biggest gifts we can give the future.
14/ One true friendship, with people who support each other reflexively, is worth a hundred acquaintances and contacts being generically helpful and conducting positive-sum trade.
15/ Especially in the social sciences, important knowledge is often lost or just becomes unfashionable. Many of the old classics have crucial insights you won’t find elsewhere.
16/ Often, the hardest part of figuring out something new is admitting that your current understanding isn’t good enough.
17/ People differ greatly in their skill, their effectiveness, and their instrumental value. People do not differ in their intrinsic value or moral worth.
18/ The Westphalian model of sovereignty is not a good model of how international politics actually works.
19/ Among the many reasons that American discourse is so garbled these days, one of the weirdest is the widespread reluctance to acknowledge social class as something separate from mere income.
20/ The debate about the dole/welfare/UBI is not new, and is almost entirely unrelated to specific changes in technology or “automation”. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
21/ The easiest way to tell real thinkers apart from hacks is whether they can fluidly apply their ideas to concrete cases, in ways that actually differ according to the specifics of the case.
22/ Automobile deaths are the biggest public health problem that nobody cares about, and also the public health problem that’s most responsive to lifestyle change. Very few people take car safety seriously enough.
23/ “Insurance” that’s meant to cover routine expenses rather than emergencies is an incredible corruption of both language and economics.
24/ Communities always depend on a relatively small number of organizers who build and maintain key social infrastructure (regular gatherings, recruiting pipelines, online forums, etc). Most of these people aren’t flashy showmen and their work is usually underappreciated.
25/ Long-term planning is just insanely useful. A few hours of upfront work can often prevent months or years of wasted effort.
26/ If you care deeply about personal growth, you should ask for and reward well-intentioned brutal honesty in your friends. They have an outside perspective on your bullshit which you desperately need.
27/ People who rely on hyperbolic or emotionally-charged rhetoric are rarely a good source of information or ideology.
28/ The reason old people think “a liberal arts education teaches you how to think” is wise while young people think it’s a punchline is that the schools have changed. It used to be true but isn’t anymore.
29/ It’s important to cultivate friends who are much older or younger than you are. The degree of age segregation in our culture is bad for everybody.
30/ A good book is worth far more than an equivalent length of blogs and articles, but a mediocre book is worth less. You can’t always tell them apart ahead of time. Start lots of books, only finish the good ones.
31/ Measuring wealth only via financial numbers like GDP or income, while ignoring actual goods like housing or food, is incomplete at best and dishonest at worst.
32/ Wikipedia is remarkable because it’s the only institution from the internet’s golden age that became powerful while also maintaining its principles.
33/ Economic growth depends strongly on specific industrialists with rare abilities. If Jeff Bezos had been hit by a bus in 1998, Americans today would be notably poorer.
34/ Doing favors for your friends is good, and lays the groundwork for healthy communities. Doing favors for your friends while pretending to be impartial is bad, and undermines a community’s foundations.
35/ “Human rights” is of course a hopelessly confused idea from a philosophical standpoint, but it’s nevertheless useful as a term of international law and diplomacy.
36/ The United Nations’ inability to impose its will on powerful nations is a feature, not a bug. Without things like the Security Council veto, the UN would be a cause of globe-spanning wars, rather than a (very imperfect) force for dampening backwater conflicts.
37/ Shallow knowledge of a hundred subjects is nice. Deep knowledge of ten subjects is better. Best of all is deep knowledge of five subjects and shallow knowledge of fifty subjects.
38/ “Change the system from within” is a nice idea in theory, and it can sometimes be powerful when executed with courage and intelligence, but in practice most people who say this is their plan just use it as an excuse for selling out.
39/ Young people should think hard about the costs and benefits of going to college, rather than just going because That’s How It’s Done. If you care more about education than credentials, and you can learn without external structure, then you may do better on your own.
40/ Maybe honesty isn’t *literally always* the best policy, philosophically speaking. But everyone I know (including myself) would be better off if they were more honest, and worse off if they were less honest.
41/ “Following the news” is just a form of entertainment that makes you feel worse instead of better. If you actually want to Be Informed, read two books on the subject, not a news cycle’s worth of headlines and social media arguments.
42/ The Holocaust is seriously overemphasized in our culture’s understanding of WWII. It accounts for about 10% of the war’s civilian death toll, but 90% of the moralizing.
43/ The most important moment in an organization’s lifecycle is when the original founder leaves. Very frequently, this marks a sharp transition from dynamism and risk-taking towards bureaucracy or sclerosis.
44/ Culture is a major component of technological progress. Today, the culture most favorable to technological progress is that of the United States.
45/ Fears of AI-generated fake video are overblown. It’ll be like photoshop: some convincing fakes will catch people off guard when it’s new, but most people will get wise before too long.
46/ Historians fight a rearguard battle against the inevitable decay of knowledge. The loss of artifacts and texts outpaces gains from archaeology and scholarship. In 1000 A.D. we had better data on e.g. the Roman Republic than we have today, and in 3000 we’ll have worse data.
47/ The problem with American healthcare isn’t the details of this or that payment scheme. It’s the unchecked size and staggering incompetence of administrative bureaucracies with legal privileges. Any solution that doesn’t reform these is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
48/ It doesn’t actually matter whether, on paper, an institution is “part of the government” or “an independent nonprofit” or “a corporation”. What matters is the de facto function it performs, and its degree of coordination with other parts of society.
49/ Sometimes, an energetic successful person will “retire” and stop doing interesting things, but keep a prestigious job title and do a little work to stay socially connected to their peers. Spotting this is crucial for good institutional analysis.
50/ The ability to build top-notch new infrastructure, like highways or public transit or skyscrapers, is one of the best and most reliable tests of a society’s competence.
51/ Societies go through periods of ascent and periods of decline. America is declining now, but that doesn’t mean everything will collapse. We’ve reversed declines before, and we can do it again.
Finally caught up! That’s a wrap, folks. Thanks, everyone, this was a lot of fun.