Three Razors for Efficient Filler and Bullshit Removal

“We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions.” —Enron Annual Report a year before Enron filed for bankruptcy

A lot of people say a lot of words. Unfortunately, many people are often not conveying any substance through those words, often due to failure in communication, but sometimes on purpose, where the only reason for those words are to convince the audience of an elevated status of professionalism, morality, or other desirable trait, or to cherry-pick parts of an event to interpret in a desired light. Following is a means to filter speech to cut to actual substance in statements. In the extreme case, applying them will reveal that someone is saying nothing at all, merely flapping their lips.

When someone makes a statement for which a peer would just not voluntarily claim the opposite, no statement was actually made.

All such a person has said is what people knew someone in that position would’ve said in regards to the issue anyway.

When people make political or motivational speeches, they say many things for which they would take a certain side regardless what they actually thought; if they said that it would ruin their career or their standing, or work against their purpose. When this happens, you can’t tell whether they’re saying the such because they genuinely believe it or because they’re saying it to protect their position. The more unokay or outlandish the opposite statement is considered, the more indistinguishable the motivation for the statement is, and correspondingly the less predictable what action a person would really take or encourage is when it comes their turn to interact with the subject at hand with actions instead of words.

Here are some examples of this sort of empty statement:

We seek to carry out this operation with minimal collateral damage.

Follow your dreams; follow your passion.

We are aiming for the state of the art in technological infrastructure.

The government has no right to disallow a woman from having an abortion. (when said by a Democratic US politician)

The government has no right to require background checks on gun sales. (when said by a Republican US politician)

Note that the last two statements would not at all be empty statements if said by Republican and Democratic politicians, respectively; it would probably significantly hurt their political careers as a member of their party to claim the opposite. Thus if they did in fact make the opposite statement, then they are making a significant statement, as they apparently think the risk to their career is worth making the statement (ditto if rather than them making the opposite statement, it’s someone from across the aisle making the original statement).

The second statement among the five examples is empty contingent on the fact that the currently predominant advice to preach is to follow one’s dreams and passions. (And thus, “don’t follow your passion” is a substantial statement, and has been the core idea of several opinion articles one could find in the press.) If over time the voices of society shift such that the standard is to tell people to not follow their dreams and passions, then which statement is the empty statement could change.

In the previous US democratic presidential primary debates, when Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley endorsed a $15/hour minimum wage, but Hillary Clinton explicitly endorsed a $12/hour minimum wage in contrast to Sanders and O’Malley, Clinton was arguably making a larger statement than Sanders and O’Malley. She gave the number that is not the number most commonly heard chanted by the democratic crowd, and in doing so, she is hinting towards having reason to believe a $15/hour minimum wage is not a sound choice for the country.

Elsewhere in those debates, when Sanders claimed a differing opinion from Clinton regarding the acceptability of Henry Kissinger’s choices, Sanders was making a substantial statement, and if Clinton proceeded to defend her endorsement of Kissinger’s ideas, she would’ve also been making a substantial statement, since the goodness of Kissinger’s legacy is still a matter with substantial backing of both sides.

One doesn’t need to be able to back up one’s statement upon claiming what the crowd utters. One likely will need to when they claim against the crowd. (Or at least, they’ll need to be bluffing on an ability to back up their statement. See: conspiracy theories.)

Some people and organizations only ever say non-statements, or get quite close to that. When they do, it is important to remember that even though they may sound nice and sophisticated, you really have learned nothing about them, and you actually have no idea what they really do, so you should stay away from them.

It’s important to remember that even though pathological spewers of non-statements are usually at least in part at fault for wasting others’ time and attention, there is a substantial contribution of societal norm. An uptick in empty statements reflects a significant monolithification of society, and that people are making fewer bold claims because too much of society supports a certain idea, which usually means a substantial amount of society is providing support without awareness of the true background on context of an idea.

Here’s two similar razors with which to consider proclamations:

Someone who consistently reports on an entity taking an action and consistently does not report on that entity taking the opposite action prioritizes depicting the entity in a certain light over conveying the facts.

If the same claim would have been made regardless of the outcome of an event, there was no point in associating the claim with the event, and the real reason the claim was made was the likely effect of the association in the mind of the reader.

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Declaration of Universal Acceptance of Listening or Conversation with Minority and Unpopular Opinions

I am willing to hear, with a guarantee of non-counteraction, the opinions and thoughts of anyone with perceived uncommon or unpopular opinions, or opinions that one fears garners significant societal judgment or ostracization upon expression, either in the global scene or in the particular specific communities one is a member of. I consider this important both for the spirit of understanding and open-mindedness, and believe that it is both healthy and intellectually useful to be exposed to a wide swath of thoughts and perspectives.

I will respond with such a request with either an acceptance of discussion or a response that I do not actually believe your opinion is a minority or unpopular opinion within your stated context. If the community of context that you mention is one I’m unfamiliar with, I may default to the latter. I also may listen to opinions that aren’t minority and unpopular opinions; I’m only saying I *might* decline.

I can only guarantee non-counteraction as far as you present your opinion as simply just an opinion. If you suggest that you wish to take action based on this opinion, than I can no longer guarantee non-counteraction.

This is an opportunity for the honest and well-intended exchange of thoughts, and people, like me, do not have enough time to take conversation to full rigorosity of analysis. If you manage to give me the impression that you are a troll and are using this as an opportunity to troll, thus wasting my time, I may become wholly uninterested in discussion with you. Although I cannot well-define what makes me categorize you as a troll, actions that suggest the stuff may include repeatedly bringing up already-discussed material, resorting to arguments on aspects clearly irrelevant to the conversation at hand, or being oppositional when from other contexts you are clearly not actually of such an opinion. It is okay to play Devil’s Advocate, and I’d in fact encourage doing so, but make it clear that you are.

Openmindedness

Being openminded means accepting all sorts of different people, of all sorts of different backgrounds, having all sorts of different tastes, with all sorts of different opinions.

Being openminded means being okay with people around oneself that disagree on a few major ideas, as long as the two agree on the most central and important points, and still working on them in the directions of what one does agree on.

Being openminded means having an enormous personal Overton window. No, not large. Enormous.

Being openminded means understanding rejecting a view after discussion is not narrowmindedness; prejudice on a view is.

Being openminded means not assuming, when one hears someone say something, that the reason they say that is because they have certain underlying beliefs, just because another person who says the same things happens to have those underlying beliefs.

Being openminded means “I wonder why they think that way.” comes before “That’s a ridiculous belief.”. It doesn’t mean “That’s a ridiculous belief.” never comes. It means it’s not the first thing.

Being openminded means acknowledging that a slight difference in two people’s fundamental principles could lead to drastically different conclusions, and entertaining the possibility that the cause of a vast difference in view could be a tiny nuance in ideas.

Being openminded means recognizing that over the course of history, a massive number of ideas considered unthinkable or insane at some point by some society eventually becomes a mainstream view.

Being openminded means recognizing that it can be socially detrimental or emotionally devastating to someone when they express unpopular views.

Being openminded means understanding that when a view is deemed unacceptable, it is extremely difficult to try to share and discuss such a view. Being openminded means understanding these forces could prevent discussion that could convince someone with a deemed-unacceptable view to consider otherwise.

Being openminded means acknowledging that the public centroid of opinion could be a very bad idea. Being openminded also means considering that someone at the centroid of opinion might not have arrived there via conventional means.

Being openminded means understanding that just because a view is popular globally does not mean it is hard to express within a certain community. Being openminded means recognizing that using the excuse that such a view is not in an oppressed state because of how many people globally have that view does not help, and may convince them that it’s just that much easier on themselves to go associate with the more welcoming global community instead, making them stronger and increasing polarization, itself increasing the difficulty of openminded discussion.

Being openminded means accepting that within the vast volumes of knowledge and facts about the world, it could certainly be the case that what one does not know could change one’s evaluation of an issue, and that someone that disagrees may be about to fill a vacancy in one’s knowledge.

Continue reading “Openmindedness”

Fairness

The word “fair” is problematic.

In discussions on fairness, particularly in discussions about social justice, the assertion that an evaluation of fairness is absolute is increasingly prevalent. In the modern landscape, it seems there is an ever-enlarging population of people unwilling to admit that what constitutes fairness could be rather unclear, many making stronger assertions that one has certainly considered all factors there really are to consider in evaluating the fairness of a decision.

I will attempt to make some points in the general, rather than across specific situations and threads of discussion, that are intended as thought experiments for the purpose of analogy. There are multiple questions to evaluate in these situations: What is actually fair? Can multiple solutions be considered fair? Is the fairest solution actually the best solution? What principles are our decisions based on such that this question is answered in this fashion but another otherwise?

Here’s the problem to consider.

There are n people, and nk units of food. What is a fair distribution of the food among these n people?

If your answer is “each person gets k units of food”, my next question is “in all situations?”

What if some of the n people are genetically predisposed to continue feeling hungry until they’ve eaten a noticeably greater amount of food than others?

In this event, distributing the food evenly does give everyone a fair exact quantity of food, but is not a fair distribution from the perspective of the degree to which each individual’s dietary needs are fulfilled.

What if some of the n people are genetically predisposed such that k units of food aren’t even enough to keep them alive, but a substantially larger quantity will?

What if one of the n people is genetically predisposed such that the amount of food necessary to keep them alive is so high that if their need was fulfilled someone else will not be able to stay alive?

What if, instead of genetic predisposition, a certain lifestyle choice, totally in an individual’s control, causes someone to need a greater amount of food? Do they deserve to not get their needs fulfilled because it is their fault?

What if both genetic predisposition and controllable lifestyle choice could cause someone to need a greater amount of food, and the current tools of science cannot reliably pinpoint the cause?

What if the probability ratios of the two were 99.9% and 0.1%, or 0.1% and 99.9%?

How likely is it that this is the case and science has not discovered the 0.1% yet?

What if both genetic predisposition and controllable lifestyle choice could cause someone to need a greater amount of food, and the current tools of science can actually reliably pinpoint the cause; should we now deploy these tools?

What if a lifestyle choice causes the need for a greater amount of food, but an individual who made such a lifestyle choice in the past did not have the education to understand the ramifications of the lifestyle choice?

And if this matters, how does one determine whether someone had the education to understand these ramifications?

What if a scientific study publishes that there exist no genetic predispositions that cause individuals to need greater amounts of food, but an individual claims that they have such a predisposition anyway?

What if the total amount of food that there is to distribute among n people is such that evenly distributed, everyone will not have enough to stay alive, but feeding only a smaller set of the n people, they could live?

How would you choose which people are in this smaller set, if you choose the latter option?

Suppose there were two types of food, but one type is substantially more expensive than the other type. One group of people prefers the cheaper type of food, whereas one group of people prefers the more expensive type of food. What is the right thing to when:

1) The society has just enough resources to satisfactorily feed the first group the cheap type of food, and to feed the second group the expensive type of food?

2) The society has enough resources to satisfactorily feed everyone the cheap type of food, but not enough to feed the second group the expensive type of food?

3) The society doesn’t even have enough resources to satisfactorily feed everyone the cheap type of food?

How does the right decision change if the second group of people were genetically intolerant to the first type of food (say, an allergy)?

How does the right decision change when the first group of people slightly prefers the second type of food?

In the case of an allergy, does this change depending on what sort of an allergy this is, that is, life-threatening, illness-inducing, just a few rashes?

I often hear conversations about fairness that seem oblivious even to the second question on this list. I do hope this does not become the norm of discourse.

Expanded Overthinking on Elevator Usage

I’ve previously talked about choices regarding elevators in this post.

Many of you have probably experienced or can understand the feeling of being minutely judged upon accidentally hitting the button for the wrong floor on the elevator and/or the feeling of minutely judging someone who you saw pushing the button for the wrong floor.

Today, as I entered an elevator in the MIT student center, alone, I accidentally pressed the wrong destination floor. As no one else was in the elevator, I corrected myself. (See the above link for why I might not have corrected myself otherwise; this situation reduces to the “a nearby floor was already called” case.) As the elevator headed up, I thought about what I would’ve done if at the moment, someone else was rushing to enter the elevator.

I might have actually let the elevator doors close instead of holding them, from embarrassment that I’ve pushed the wrong elevator button. This is arguably not the most commendable action, but I may have justified it to myself with an argument that entering the elevator may very well have not been the best choice for them as my incorrect elevator button push would have contributed to unnecessary time-inefficiency in their travel, and thus the other elevator might have been faster. This justification, sadly, reeks of an issue that seems analogous to the Gettier response to the “justified true belief” definition of knowledge: it seems that we’re really asserting a justification that happens to coincide with truth about the relative acceptability of letting the elevator doors close to an elevator whose ride is likely to visit an extraneous floor (it’s not even destined to visit an extraneous floor: that floor may well have been the floor of interest to the hypothetical person-rushing-in).

It is curious to consider these options, as much as this is an issue of very tiny importance in the grand scheme of life; it could encapsulate the ideas behind choices in decisions that matter much more.

On a higher level, elevator button-pushes really should just be revocable before fulfillment.

(On an even higher level of consideration, floor buttons shouldn’t be inside the elevator cars in the first place; a set should exist outside the elevator on each floor it services. This has actually been implemented, but the force of tradition led to people finding this awkward enough that they managed to successfully resist a better system.)

Shcool

As I was in the shower today, I suddenly thought of a certain set of pictures that spread through the internet a few times: roads with “SHCOOL” painted on them, pointed out as a demonstration of the failure of our school systems (or of the individual that painted it).

But here’s a thought: what if the person painting “SHCOOL” just wanted to spread the idea that school can be cool (as opposed to a chore, which certainly most kids view it as, unless kids these days are that different)?

They’d of course be mistaken. School isn’t cool. Learning is cool. School deprives you of learning.

But we could start using the term “shcool” to refer to a learning institution or organization that helps its members and others to understand the actually important things in life, the term symbolically reflecting the fact that slightly misspelling a word like “school” to “shcool” is really not a major detriment to communication (maybe you’d have issues running a computer search (say, a `find` or a `grep`) on a file for instances of the term “school”, but if you were on a computer, why didn’t you run a spell checker?), nor does it actually mean the misspeller is incapable of understanding Things That Actually Matter. Maybe of shcool and school, we can make school be the mistake.

Buttons

You have a button. If you press the button, you have a 50% chance to win $500 and a 50% chance to lose $200. You don’t get to press the button more than once. Do you want to press the button?

You have a button. If you press the button, your friend has a 50% chance to win $500 and a 50% chance to lose $200. You don’t get to press the button more than once, and you don’t get to consult with your friend ahead of time about your friend’s opinion on what you should do. Do you want to press the button?

B is considering murdering C, and currently has a 50% chance of deciding to so. You have a button. If you press the button, with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 80%, and with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 5%. (Suppose, say, the button causes a video to be shown to B that alters B’s impression of C.) Do you want to press the button? If you press the button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead? If you do not press the button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?

B is considering murdering C, and currently has a 50% chance of deciding to so. You have a button. If you press the button, with a 20% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 100%, and with an 80% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 0%. Do you want to press the button? If you press the button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?

B is considering murdering C, and currently has a 2% chance of deciding to so. You have a button. If you press the button, with a 1% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 100%, and with an 99% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 0%. Do you want to press the button? If you press the button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?

B is known to have a mental illness and is considering murdering C, and currently has a 50% chance of deciding to so. You have a button. If you press the button, with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 80%, and with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 5%. Do you want to press the button? If you press the button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?

B is considering murdering C, and currently has a 50% chance of deciding to so. You have two buttons. If you press the first button, with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 80%, and with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 5%. If you press the second button, you defer this exact same choice to someone else, and you do not know who it is who is next presented this choice. Will you press either button, and if so, which one? If you press the first button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead? If you press the second button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?

B is considering murdering C, and currently has a 50% chance of deciding to so. You have two buttons. If you press the first button, with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 80%, and with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 5%. If you press the second button, with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes up to 70%, and with a 50% chance, B’s chance of deciding to murder C goes down to 1%. If you press the first button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead? If you press the second button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead? If you do not press either button, and C ends up murdered, how much are you to blame for the fact that C is dead?