Monday, 25 November 2019

On The Big Five Personality Test

There have been many schemes of classification for the human personality over the years (Myers-Briggs, Facet5, the Colour Code Personality Profile, to name three), but probably the best of all, and certainly one of the most popular in recent times, is the taxonomy of personality traits based on the standard psychological model of the Big Five personality tests. In the last 30 years, it has become the most widely regarded of all the present analyses of personality. The Big Five personality categories are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism - and the kind of person you are is determined by how you score in each of those categories - and more broadly, how the many variable permutations of those five produce the combination of traits that make up your character.

To elaborate further, I will go through each of these categories, I will tell you how I score on each of them by way of illustration (I did the test a few years ago when it was still free - you might have to pay now), what that means intrinsically in each category, and what sort of character that makes me and others in terms of combination of categories. I will finish by trying to extrapolate from the data some general observations that I think will hold humans in good stead in their career-based deliberations.

Openness tends to mean openness to experience, and it describes a dimension of personality that enjoys intellectual curiosity, appreciation of art, sensitivity to beauty, and often broad, expressive interests. People with a low score on openness tend to have narrow interests, and be quite conservative and resistant to change. I score very highly on openness (generally around the 85th percentile), which is unsurprising because I enjoy being very curious, flexible, tolerant and receptive to ideas.

But equally, people who are high in openness and highly intelligent will also often be quite rigid in their views, and I will explain why. The reason I don't score even higher in openness is because I score low on some aspects of standard openness like gullibility, indifference, conformity and being too easily adaptable.

This is a good balance to strike: be high in openness, and yet be unwilling to adapt to anything that is empirically dubious, psychologically stultifying or intellectually lazy. Open people ought to have strong convictions in a whole range of subjects about which they've drawn conclusions. Many people who score high in openness tend to be quite assured about their views and beliefs because they were open enough to explore them rigorously in the first place.

Conscientious people tend to be smart, goal-oriented and purposeful, but they can also be overly-assiduous, unreliable and unadventurous. I score quite highly on conscientiousness (generally around the 70th percentile) which is quite a good combinatorial quality to have with high openness. Conscientious people who are goal-oriented and ambitious in their intellectual pursuits, and at the same time high in openness, are likely to explore ideas very freely and gracefully and arrive at firm conclusions based on well thought out methodologies. High conscientiousness is one of the strongest predictors of career success, so if you score highly on that, you might like to consider whether you could be aiming for even greater career heights.

Extraversion and introversion are quite well known traits, and it's fairly easy to observe in people where they sit on this spectrum. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are energetic, and often experience positive emotions. Introverts are the opposite; they tend to be quieter, more insular and less socially active. I score very highly on extraversion (generally around the 80th percentile), which is interesting because I am rather like an introvert trapped in an extravert's body. Like other extraverts, I thrive by associating with others and being exploratory in nature when it comes to other people's personalities, but I am also frequently exhilarated by solitary pursuits and can go without socialising for sustained periods of time. Keep an eye out for the introverts in your team who are also high in openness and conscientiousness – they may have great ideas that are not being expressed within the team, and therefore not heard.

Agreeableness is a lot to do with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals tend to value getting along with others, and are friendly, gregarious and generous. I score quite highly on agreeableness (generally around the 65th percentile) and that may be surprising to some, given my no-nonsense approach to establishing truth and facts. But it isn't very surprising to me, because even though I value competition of ideas and hardline rigour, I do value relationships with people very highly, care about their well-being, and have a high regard for mutual cooperation, despite being quite feline in nature (which probably explains why I only score moderately high on agreeableness).

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions. People who score highly on this tend to have a greater susceptibility to anxiety, anger, or depression. I score relatively low on neuroticism (generally around 30th percentile) because I am quite low in intensity, fairly easy-going, and unlikely to respond emotionally erratically to situations that require a calm, balanced response. Being high in openness, it's good that I'm relatively low in neuroticism, as they can be a problematical pair, because open people tend to be exploratory and enjoy complexity and philosophical intractability - and if you're high in neuroticism you may find this difficult and emotionally challenging. Neuroticism does have advantages, particularly if you're high in conscientiousness, like caring for your own well-being, and knowing yourself well, meaning you're quite open about your emotions.

Bringing this together
There are numerous combinatorial links to these different personality scores, and there isn't a typical optimum profile to which one ought to gravitate, because there are contrasts in each trait that bring to bear different strengths and weaknesses on the personality. For example, people who score high on extraversion may have the positive quality of being intellectually adventurous, but people who score low may be quite cautious in a way that makes them unsusceptible to flights of fancy. A team that has one of each will often perform better than a team that has two of one or two of the other. People who score high on agreeableness may be gentle, but people who score low might have a reliable strength of their convictions. People who score high on openness may reap the many benefits of not having too much of a closed mind, but people who score low on openness may not drift waywardly so often, and remain quite grounded in some views.

Agreeable people can be kind, thoughtful and compassionate, but are often vulnerable to manipulation. Disagreeable people may be a strong, influential force in the workplace, but they may not have much of ear for compromise when it comes to listening to people’s needs. IQ is an excellent predictor of academic achievement and career accomplishment, as is conscientiousness – and you’re more likely to thrive if you score highly in extraversion and low in neuroticism.

It can be hugely beneficial to complete your own Big Five personality test, because the five basic dimensions of the personality have reliable predictability of performance in the workplace, as well as in relationships and other forms of interpersonal interaction. With a more thorough understanding of the core essence of your personality, you get to understand how you’re likely to react in adapting to a rapidly changing situation, whether your ideas are likely to be heard in a meeting, how well equipped you are to take the lead in complex situations, how you’re likely to handle those difficult conversations, whether you’re a good motivator, whether you are more likely to thrive working on your own initiative or as part of a team, whether you’re more suited to working with people or with things – the list goes on. The Big Five test can also provide clarity in identifying your talents, skills and character, whereby it can help you ensure you’re performing the right role in the right job, and it can help you in navigating a career path that will give you better job satisfaction and a higher level of contentment.

The Big Five could be a fun thing to try if you're part of a couple too, or even if you're looking to find a beloved - it can help identify your key relationship strengths and weaknesses, it can assist you in ways to complement and learn from each other, or simply help you understand your personality profile better to help find you a good match in the dating pool.

Whichever way it engenders the most benefit for you - whether it be in your career, in love, in your social milieu, or simply as a way to understand yourself better (as per Socrates' great instruction to 'know thyself'), understanding your personality at a deeper level is going to be hugely beneficial for you in a number of ways.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Spurious Arithmetic Of So-Called 'Unfair Privilege'

In a recent Facebook post in response to John McDonnell's desire for forcing harmful redistributive policies on the UK, I explained that, in terms of what we can control, wealth distribution generally follows the following kind of rule of thumb:

1) The harder you work, the better you do in life

2) The more effort you put in to improving your life, the better you do in life

3) The more intelligent, knowledgeable, conscientious and committed you are, the better you do in life

4) The more time you spend wisely and not wastefully, the better you do in life

5) The better your attitude, and the better and more kindly you treat others, the better you do in life

6) The more value you can provide to enhance others' lives, the better you do in life

7) The more you invest wisely in your future, and the less you disadvantage yourself now with unwholesome, selfish, careless and costly pursuits, the better you do in life

8) The better your life choices, the better you do in life

9) The more thoughtful, empathetic, aspirational, creative, imaginative, dedicated and inspiring you try to become, the better you do in life

There is no better, more reliable, more ethical, more empirically robust system for how wealth is distributed than the system above. And that's a fact!

A friend challenged this by talking about how society is geared towards inequality, and how you’re more likely to succeed if you come from a privileged background. He was referring to statistics like this:

"Although just 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, the survey reveals that almost three quarters (71%) of top military officers were educated privately, with 12% having been taught in comprehensive schools. In the field of law, 74% of top judges working in the high court and appeals court were privately educated, while in journalism, more than half (51%) of leading print journalists went to independent schools, with one in five having attended comprehensive schools, which currently educate 88% of the population. In medicine, meanwhile, Sutton Trust research says 61% of the country’s top doctors were educated at independent schools; nearly a quarter (22%) went to grammar school and the remainder to comprehensives."

The underlying hypothesis my friend is positing is that it’s hard to succeed on your own merit because attending private school greatly advantages people in high positions (would-be judges, executives, top military officers, and top doctors). To see why this is the wrong way to analyse the situation, imagine I run creative writing workshops at the University of East Anglia, and I advertise that while only 0.01% the UK population get their work published, 5% of my students do. It would be absurd to claim statistical unfairness here, because only people who feel they have something to offer in the literary world would attend my workshops. To demonstrate an unfair advantage, you’d need to show that budding writers who attend my workshops do better than fellow budding writers who don’t. It’s a bad methodological error to compare budding writers who attend my workshops to the rest of the population, because most of them aren’t budding writers.

So when you have a statistic like “Although just 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, the survey reveals that almost three quarters (71%) of top military officers were educated privately” – to show that is an unfair bias, you have to show that people who are otherwise just like the top military officers, but who were instead not educated in independent fee-paying schools, do worse. In other words, you mustn't discount the notion that it is the shared qualities and talents that make good military officers and explain the success, and not the fact that they went to private school.

In all likelihood, the people who have the kind of qualities required to be judges, executives, top military officers, and top doctors would probably dominate those industries even if all schools were fee-paying or all schools were state-funded. Similarly, it’s also most likely that the people who get published are likely to be talented writers, irrespective of whether they attended my workshop or not – just as it’s most likely that a horse jockey will weigh under 118lb irrespective of whether they had contacts in the horse racing world nor not.

Even if John McDonnell thinks he can drastically reduce the advantages of a privileged background by a socialist intervention, he can’t eliminate the advantages of intelligence, conscientiousness, hard work, commitment, dedication and wise life choices when they are so vital to success. While it’s true that not all of my list produces a fair outcome every time, and while it is true that there are definite advantages in coming from a privileged background, the notion that politicians can equalise those differences is highly dubious, especially as they make no attempt to show that the statistical differentials are driven by unfair discrimination, and not by shared characteristics (like literary prowess in publishing, or height and weight in horse racing) that procure them a natural advantage in society.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Why You Should Scrap The Office Secret Santa

There's a famous paradox called the Abilene paradox, based on an account of a family of four adults who had taken a day out to Abilene even though none of the individuals really wanted to go. Each family member expressed an interest in going on the trip due to thinking the other three family members wanted to go, only to find out on their return that none of the four had wanted to go in the first place. They did it to keep the others happy – which is a noble gesture, even if initial honesty might have produced a better outcome.
The dreaded office-based Secret Santa is a good example of an Abiline paradox – the vast majority of people wish it didn’t exist, but act as though they are happy it does because they think they’d be the lone party pooper. They wouldn’t be: secretly most of their colleagues feel the same, but are staying equally silent on the matter.
Secret Santa is advertised as each team member buying a gift for the one person they draw out of the hat. In reality, though, it is each team member entering into an obligation to not have to buy a gift for the rest of the team that they didn’t draw out of the hat. In a team of 8 members, Secret Santa isn’t introduced for the purposes of Jack buying a gift for one person, it’s so Jack doesn’t have to buy gifts for the other six. This is understandable too – a work team of 8 members would exchange a total of 54 gifts if they all bought one for each other - and almost nobody would relish that prospect.
The total number of Secret Santa gifts purchased in a team of 8 members is 8, which makes Secret Santa fun and worthwhile on the surface. But whoever originally thought up the Secret Santa idea did so because he or she knew that things are better when all the pressure is off staff members - when they don’t have to worry about who is buying what for whom, whether there will be an imbalance in the giving-receiving ratio, and whether exchanges have price equivalence.
Secret Santa is preferable to each member buying everyone else a gift, but even more preferable to Secret Santa is having no Secret Santa at all – thereby creating a team that is saved the obligation of buying any gifts whatsoever. Ask anyone on the quiet if they’d rather we didn’t do Secret Santa in the office this year and most will happily say no. Ask a team together and most will say yes. That’s the Abilene paradox in action; everyone saying yes when they really mean no, because they think everyone else wants yes. Consequently, if you want to do your team a favour, go in the office and declare that you no longer want the team to do Secret Santa. They’ll love you for it.

Monday, 11 November 2019

I Hate Titiana McGrath!!!

I hate Titiana McGrath! I hate her because she’s so good, so on the money, and is doing exactly what I wished I’d have done years ago by getting in first (she’s a he, of course, a fictional creation of comedian Andrew Doyle). From Wiki:

“She is a social justice warrior who promotes identity politics and political correctness on her Twitter account. McGrath characterizes herself as a "radical intersectionalist poet committed to feminism, social justice and armed peaceful protest," while her creator describes her as "a militant vegan who thinks she is a better poet than William Shakespeare."

Troll Titiana McGrath brilliantly sends up the left, the feminists, the snowflakes, the social justice warriors, and everyone too easily offended by matters relating to gender, identity politics and political correctness. She takes absurd claims by many of society’s silliest, hysterical and most reactionary people, extends the logic to a biting, declamatory claim, and then lobs in a sardonic hand grenade and watches it go off:

“If there’s really a problem with gender inequality in predominantly Muslim countries, how do you explain that there has never been a single successful conviction in a Sharia court for misogynistic hate crime?”

"If it's true that men are superior at sports, why is it that transgender athletes tend to win more medals after they transition to female?"

“Women have never been more oppressed than they are today. It’s the *illusion* of freedom that makes our oppression all the more devastating. The fact that so many women think they are enjoying their lives only proves my point.”

What’s so great about Titiana McGrath is that she entertains those who, like her, can see the nonsense of the woke culture, offends all the people that deserve to be offended for their utter inability to achieve a balanced, reasoned worldview, and yet does so in a way that confuses the offended individuals by leaving them slightly unsure about whether she is one of them or one of the opposition.

By eliciting the bewildered reaction she does, she compounds the absurdity of the very reason she exists. Perhaps the best case in point was when she got banned from Twitter – a ridiculous act that proved exactly the cultural point she was making. It’s a shame we live in a world that needs a Titiana McGrath – but thank God we have one – she came along at just the right time.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite Tweets (the comment by G Miller in response to the final one is pure gold.)




Monday, 28 October 2019

The Answer To My Cave Riddle....

Recently on Facebook I presented the following poser:

10 people are trapped in a remote cave in a storm, with rising water that looks certain to drown them all. You have some budget in your department for a rescue mission, and there are two types of operation available within your budget.

Operation 1) You are guaranteed to save 5 of them, but the other 5 will drown.

Operation 2) You have a 60% chance of saving all of them, but a 40% chance that the mission fails and all of them drown.

You can only afford one Operation. If you only care about the 10 people trapped in the cave, do you go for Operation 1 or 2?

If you found the question difficult, or found it easy and answered Operation 1, you're missing a no-brainer - you should definitely choose Operation 2. Here's why. Imagine you're one of the individuals trapped in the cave. With Operation 1 you have a 50% chance of surviving; with Operation 2 you have a 60% chance of surviving. If you are an individual person trapped in that cave, then survival is the most important thing to you, and it's better to pick the option that gives you an extra 10% chance of survival.

Now consider the cave problem as an illustration for how politics often works. Imagine if you're someone like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, who cares primarily about slogans and left wing adulation - you might be tempted to choose operation 1, so you can have a guaranteed photo shot of you standing with the five survivors, even if you've chosen the option that's the least good for the collective.

We've seen this time and time again with calls to use taxpayers' money to subsidise the failing steel industry, or failing holiday firms, or increase the minimum wage law above the marginal product. The people who benefit from those policies are a small subsection of society (like the steelworkers who make the news: "Corbyn saves 5000 steelworkers' jobs" as the headline might be), whereas the people who bear the much larger costs are the wider population who have to pay more for their steel because foreign competition is being starved.

In a Rawlsian ' veil of ignorance' system of ethics, political policies would be implemented through conditions under which "No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like." So if we pretend that prior to being born we could all partake in a committee meeting to decide upon the fairest and most just society, not knowing where we'd be in that society in terms of environment, background, and natural talents, we'd (try to) pick the most objectively good one (Operation 2 in the cave problem), not the most subjectively good one for our own reputation (Operation 1 in the cave problem). What a shame that so many political gimmicks and superficially alluring policies are built on the squalid tactis of the latter, and not the more prudent measures of the former.

Monday, 21 October 2019

On Obeying & Not Obeying Laws

Which laws should we abide by and which should we not? There are three main categories of belief one could have on this matter.

1) We should abide by every law, even if we don’t agree with it, because we should respect the law, and no one should be above it

2) We should only abide by the laws we agree with, and we should ignore the ones we disagree with (see my blog on rational crimes)

3) We should not abide by any laws at all

I’m going to assume that pretty much everyone claims to fall in either category 1 or 2, and that no one reading this thinks we should not abide by any laws at all. Incidentally, I did once meet a guy at a festival who claimed to be an authority-hating anarchist who thinks everyone should be entirely free to do exactly what they want at all times; but then literally one minute after declaring this he became vociferously annoyed at the sight of some newly-arrived campers pitching their tents in the wrong zone of the campsite. A few moments after I experienced that, I knew I would have a funny story for life.

Anyway, this faux-anarchist festival goer aside, I think if you asked the UK population whether they subscribe to category 1 or 2, most would say they belong in category 1, with a minority claiming to be in category 2. I want to contend that despite what many people claim, I think pretty much everyone actually belongs in category 2, and believes that we should only abide by the laws we agree with, and ignore the ones we disagree with. To argue to the contrary would be to claim that there are no laws that could be invented that we wouldn’t choose to ignore - and I don’t think that is true. Suppose a new law came in banning Bibles on the ground of imposing an Islamic theocracy, I don’t think many people would support it. Or suppose chocolate was outlawed by a nanny state that wanted to smother our every temptation, most would claim that’s a step too far.

The point is not that I think these laws are very likely. It’s that everyone has their limit: so anyone who claims to support number 1 - that we should abide by every law, even if we don’t agree with it - actually has their limit in where they betray that principle. In other words, no one really believes that we should abide by every law, even if we don’t agree with it – they simply follow laws they disagree with out of convenience and social pressure, or there aren’t yet any laws they find particularly objectionable enough to disobey. There is also, as Aristotle said in his Nicomachean Ethics, little virtue in obeying laws merely because we are legally compelled to. Real virtue comes from a desire to be virtuous, irrespective of the law.

Given the foregoing, then, which laws could we reasonably disobey? As you may know, the things that the state deems illegal boil down to two distinct categories: malum in se laws (wrong in itself), which are prohibitions (like rape and murder) that are wrong by their very nature; and malum prohibitum laws (wrong because prohibited), which are prohibitions (like regulations and price controls) that are not wrong by their very nature, but are wrong because the state says so.

Politicians, therefore, impose lots of restrictions on us merely on the basis that politicians say they should be prohibited. Malum in se prohibitions like rape and murder are things we all should obey, because we want them to be prohibited, and would choose them as laws ourselves anyway if we were in charge. The malum prohibitum restrictions, on the other hand, are not necessarily prohibitions we would choose for ourselves - they are chosen for us by people that don't know our preferences better than we do (taken to extreme, things like illegality of homosexual practice, fewer black rights, lack of free press against the dictator, illegality of abortion, and many more have been strictures of the state against its citizens).

If there are any laws we should be free to disobey, they are likely to be malum prohibitum laws - things that many of us may not think are wrong, but that are deemed wrong merely on the basis that the state says so for no apparent good reason. As any good dictator or authoritarian planner knows, the best way to wield ultimate control over people is to gradually erode away their freedoms until they reach a state of voluntary servility, where they will do pretty much anything you tell them. That is why it's essential to ask yourself which laws you should obey - otherwise you become an intellectual serf, like dead salmon floating down the stream.

But we needn't stop at the observation that pretty much everyone thinks we should only abide by the laws we agree with, and ignore the ones we disagree with - we can observe too that that principle is nested in a higher market-based wisdom that plays out more subtly. If we felt the full costs of many of the malum prohibitum laws, we probably would not support them. It is unlikely that the average Jill would be willing to pay as much to prevent the average Jack from using cannabis as he himself would pay to use it, therefore it is unlikely that a market based system would create an anti-cannabis law. It is unlikely that the total enforcement cost of the speeding laws would be willingly picked up by the citizens of the UK if it was spread evenly throughout the population, therefore it is unlikely that a market based system would create any speeding laws.

Consider an illustration. 500 million people are about to experience a quite discomforting but not too serious earache for the next hour. However if one innocent person is killed the 500 million won't have to go through with the earache for an hour. Should we kill the innocent person or let the 500 million people go through with the earache? I tried out this question on Facebook about seven years ago, and unsurprisingly everybody on my friends list said we should spare the one innocent life for the sake of 500 million earaches. That’s because, presumably, people want to minimise suffering, but yet at the same time they thought that the death of one innocent person was worse than 500 million earaches.

Fair enough, but this only goes to show that humans are weirdly inconsistent. Here’s why. I'll bet most of my Facebook friends insure their domestic goods. Then I asked them the following question:

Would you choose a certain earache for an hour or a 1 in 500 million chance of being the innocent person of dying?

Roughly 50% of people said they would choose the certain earache for an hour – which I found to be absolutely barmy. I take it that they are having trouble envisaging just how much 500 million is. How do I know that most rational people would rather have a 1 in 500 million chance of being the innocent person of dying than a certain earache? It’s not just because the probability is so heavily in their favour of surviving; it’s because in everyday life humans have multiple opportunities to buy all kinds of safety devices for their modes of travel, for their DIY, for their mowing the lawn, for climbing ladders, or whatever, each with a much less than 1 in 500 million chance of death or serious injury, and they prefer to take the chance. That’s how I know: people show me with their revealed preferences. 

When considered with proper rationality, the observation of people’s general day to day behaviour shows that most people would not pay one pound coin to avoid a 1 in 500 million chance of death, but most people would pay a pound coin to get rid of an earache that was going to go on for another hour. This is why the insurance issue is relevant – we choose an optimal deal because probability is hugely in our favour. We should do the same with the earache conundrum, because given that most people would not pay one pound coin to avoid a 1 in 500 million chance of death, but most people would pay a pound coin to get rid of an earache that was going to go on for another hour, this means that most people think an earache for an hour is worse that a 1 in 500 million chance of death, even though they claim to believe the opposite when the question was asked more abstractly. We know that rational people will pay £1 to cure an earache, but not to avoid a 1 in 500 million chance of death - therefore if you approach 500 million earache sufferers and offer to rid them all of their earache at the cost of killing 1 of them through a random draw, their revealed preferences in everyday life indicate that they should thank you.

This is very relevant to many of the malum prohibitum laws we see instituted in our statute. Recently I asked my Facebook friends, apart from speeding, which other current UK law(s) do you feel it's morally ok to break? Some of the answers they gave were streaming, having a wee behind a hedge, parking on yellow lines, drug use, skipping fares and not paying taxes. There is wisdom behind these answers, because what they are expressing is the revealed preference that they don't feel that the cost of those law enforcements are worth the price of having those laws, especially as there are so many deadweight costs associated with taxes, regulations and government spending.  

It's like the old joke about Tom and Pete stumbling upon a bear in the woods. Tom reasons that he doesn't have to run faster than the bear to survive, he only has to run faster than Pete. But the bear has a stake in this too, and wants the most efficient outcome - he doesn't want to waste resources chasing Tom when it would be easier chasing Pete. Most humans act as though they feel that way about most malum prohibitum laws, while at the same time speaking as though they don't.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Four Major Scams Of Humanity: What Our Descendants Will Remember Most About This Generation

There are four major scams that have duped humanity more than any others three long standing ones, and now a new fourth one:

1) Atheism (the Promethean fantasy that God doesn’t exist, and the narrow Dawkins-esque scientism that often accompanies it)

2) False Religions (all the little ones, and the massive ones like Hinduism, and especially Islam, which is the worst of all by a long way)

3) Socialism (the mass economic delusion - until it extends to Communism, when it becomes the mass catastrophic economic delusion)

4) Climate Change Alarmism (the Gaia-worshipping cult of mother earth, and the absurd beliefs that accompany it)

Numbers 1-3 have been standard on my list for most of my post-teenage life; and I’ve always been suspicious of, and sceptical about, environmentalism. But for most of my life the environmentalist movement has been a fringe cult, consisting of a few odd ducks who dress scruffily, ride bicycles and eat root vegetables. But these days things are very different: such is the proliferation in numbers, enhanced capability for widespread communication, and the mass-politicisation of climate change alarmism that I feel even more able to declare it is now deserving of its place in the ignominious list of major scams that have duped humanity.

The delusion, of course, is not most of the science behind the climate change, and the data showing temperature increases over the years; nor is it delusion to accept that climate change has a negative effect on a proportion of the population. The delusion is that the environmentalists currently causing havoc in London, wasting police time and damaging people’s livelihoods actually have the first clue about the right questions, the right answers and their meagre understanding of highly complex phenomena. On that, I’ll not say much more here (you can read more on the scale of delusion in my 30+ articles on this subject, see subject tab on my sidebar)

The main purpose of this article - something on which I do think most readers will agree with me, is this. You know how we look back on the slave trade and on the 19th century periods of industrial slog, smog and poverty with despair, and how we are thankful that we’ve made so many advances. Well, it got me thinking again about what comparable analysis our descendants will have about us; about this generation and the two generations that bookend this one.

A lot of our life will strike them as unfortunate even many of our modern technological advancements will be seen as limited by our descendants. But the big impression I think they will have about this generation is that never before have such a large number of people been so quick to believe so many foolish things and act on those beliefs in such a socially detrimental way, with such a toxic combination of self-confidence and meagre intellectual accountability.

This generation has been unprecedented in its quick rise of technology, material progression, connectivity, capacity for information and rapid exposure to everyone else’s ideas and opinions and they just haven’t been able to handle the requirements associated with such an explosion of thoughts, ideas, gimmicks, spin, memes and tribal identikit ideologies all gushing through in a stormy reservoir of analytical complacency and the insecurity-driven search for meaning and belonging.

It’s been rather like a mass flurry of ten thousand butterflies released into the wild alongside ten million bees it’s all happened so quickly and so chaotically that folk can hardly get to grips with whether the things flying past their eyes are butterflies or bees; and perhaps even worse, they are surrounded by people who confuse them about when to prefer butterflies and when to prefer bees.

There is just too much information, too many competing ideas, too much manipulation, too many charlatans, too much agenda-driven dogma, too much distortion of language and too much virtue signalling and more young people than ever before are struggling to resist the allure or comfort of dodgy, over-simplistic belief systems. And that, I think, will be one of the most historically noteworthy facts about these few generations that our descendants will look back on with incredulity. They won't be able to believe that so many people could be taken in by so much nonsense in such a short space of time.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Why Safe Spaces Don't Really Exist

This week the University of Edinburgh has been criticised for hosting an “anti-racism” event in which white people were due to be banned from asking questions. The conference was organised by the Resisting Whiteness group, which opposes racism and describes itself as a QTPOC (queer and trans people of colour) organisation. There are apparently two “safe spaces” at the event - and for one of which, white people will be barred from entering. The report said "the safe places are meant for those who feel “overwhelmed, overstimulated or uncomfortable”. Their aim is to “amplify the voices of people of colour" by not be giving the microphone to white people during the Q&As.

While the intentions are deeply disturbing, and indicative of a failing culture, I actually think the concept of safe spaces is a dubious one - there are not really any safe spaces, at least not at the intellectual level in universities. A place of sanctuary is a viable safe haven, such as for groups of addicts or women recovering from domestic abuse, but there are no real safe spaces in terms of intellectual ideas.
It's not just that attempted safe spaces stifle thought and erode free expression - the people within the walls of their self-constricted safe spaces are never really protected from what lurks beneath the sub-ducts of their psyche and their despair at being incarcerated in such a constricting mental prison. The walls they have erected to protect them from the outside are full of cracks into which those outside things leak anyway - you are never safe from the dangers of retarding truth, nor from the loss of the liberation gained from discovery and from the exploration of ideas. People who like the sound of intellectual safe spaces should be very careful what they wish for - it's going to feel like hell in the end.

Saturday, 28 September 2019

This Is One Of The Cleverest Memes Of The Year (If Not Ever) - The Reaction It Has Engendered Is Absolutely Priceless

“Islam is Right About Women.” This meme stuck on a signpost in America shows better in five words what it takes some commentators thousands of words to capture - it is a brilliant piece of provocation that so acutely digs in to the current zeitgeist that it's possible to offend groups on opposing sides, bewilder groups on opposing sides, and leave people quite unsure how to respond to it. When words have this much power, social media is rather exhilarating.

“Islam is Right About Women.” - It bewilders people from all ideological groups because it is cleverly vague enough to be devoid of any precise meaning, but clear enough to elicit some kind of negative emotion.

Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the snowflakes, because they are always offended at anything like this, without ever knowing why, or whether they should be.

"Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the feminists, because 'Hello, Islam and women' - this sign can't be right!

“Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend misogynists (either Muslim or otherwise) because they would see the sign as an ironic attack on the oppression of women.

"Islam is Right About Women.”  - It has the power to offend the radical left, because they'll see it as both Islamophobic and misogynist, while at the same time being puzzled because they think it ticks a diversity box.

It is a truly brilliant meme: it offends all the right people, yet leaves them unsure about quite why they are offended - which almost perfectly encapsulates the modern bipolarities of extreme snowflakery on the one hand, yet radical, uncompromising, intolerant entitlement on the other.


Monday, 16 September 2019

Children's Futures Are Being Damaged, And There Is Going To Be A Real Price To Pay In Their Adulthood

Parents, be warned! Young children are currently being damaged in two big but insidious ways. The first real damage is the creation of offence culture, where young people are growing up in a world in which many of them will be overly-entitled and ill-equipped to think and speak freely, explore subjects with open rigour, be too lily-livered to cope with proper scrutiny of beliefs and ideas, and demand special intellectual privileges that their opinions and beliefs simply do not deserve (I've written about this before)

In order to say things of importance you have to take risks, you have to be courageous, you have to risk offending, and you have to make challenges to ensure that there is no false security or complacency in consensual opinion. In other words, to be profoundly right, you have to be prepared to be profoundly wrong, a fool, an outcast, even a disgrace sometimes. You have to be free enough to be able to say what others might also be thinking but haven't yet said.

A society that puts people in gilded cages and encourages them to lock the door from the inside is not only fostering an environment that suppresses speech, it is also fostering an environment that suppresses thought, because we do lots of our best thinking from talking and sharing ideas and hearing feedback. A society that makes people craven about speech makes people craven about ideas, because it keeps a lot of our best stuff locked away in the safe space of our cranium - unexpressed, and therefore unfulfilled.

Seek the truth and you will never be afraid to hear anything, because you can't lose: if something offensive or heterodoxical comes along, it is going to be evaluated through your robust truthseeking lens - and if it adds any value by way of a corrective you will modify your view to an improved state, and if it merely reinforces your view stronger, you will have an even more robust opinion, and a better defense of it. You have to be free to explore ideas and express them, because it’s only by expressing ideas and talking about them that we have a full capacity for learning. You have to be free to offend, and free to speculate in bold ways, and your children will pay a big price for attempts to stultify that.

The second real damage is the damage that is being done to children with their understanding of identity and biology. In the news this week we see that the BBC has told teachers who work with children aged 9-12 that there are “100, if not more” gender identities. We even see cases where people are threatened with prosecution if they declare a view that there are only two sexes or two genders. Already, we read that children are seeking in record numbers to change their gender, because they feel they were born in the wrong body - and this is only going to get worse.

Society, like riding a bike, is about balance - and on this issue there needs to be a better balance struck between being empathetic and supportive when people don't fit in to a simple binary categorisation, and not becoming hysterically reactionary with every fad and obscure belief system, some of which seem powerful enough to confuse children about their core identity, and even in some cases their core biology.

Many of society’s socio-political hot potatoes are more to do with rooted human behaviour than they are the issues themselves. You’ll find most people like to operate from within a safe, simplistic framework that rewards them with an easy model for analysing the world, and causes discomfiture when things happen that do not fit into that worldview. 

This, I think, is what is happening with the gender fluidity debate - something upon which I have rarely commented, until now. Over-simplicity from within a safe, uncritical framework does not leave you well equipped to deal with the world competently, but neither does uncritically accepting the most foolish things in common parlance just because they happen to be in vogue. I'll bet the average person on the street does not know very much about the differences between sex and gender, yet they comment in highly politically charged circles as if they do. It is important not to use sex and gender interchangeably. Sex is determined on the basis of biological apparatus (principally genitalia) and gender is to do with the associative socio-personal phenomena in partnership with sexuality. To that end, men and women are different in both categories.

To recap on the genetic differences that constitute sex; men and women both have 46 chromosomes, and 2 sex chromosomes. Women have 2 X chromosomes, and men have 1 X chromosome and 1 Y chromosome. The Y chromosome in dominant, and causes the formation of male biological apparatus. XX and XY differences also engender the variances in hormones (principally oestrogen and testosterone), and these bring out the physiological and biological differences between males and females.

The gender differences, on the other hand, are to do with perceived masculinity and femininity. If you look at male and female personalities in totality, their similarities far outweigh their differences, but there are plenty of differences too, and these play out in their respective relationships, attitudes, careers and priorities (to name but four). Personality differences are significant, but they are not the same as sex differences - hence sex and gender should not be used interchangeably - and the fact that they so often are is not helping the debate, especially for our children.

There are, of course, people who identify as transsexual who feel they have been born in the wrong body. We had a guy like that in our snooker team in the 1990s - born a male, but felt he was a female, and had sex reassignment surgery. These intersex conditions are complex, especially when you consider emotions and psychology. But because of the desire to be either one sex or the other, most intersex people choose to be identified as either a male or a female.

That should not, however, be used to pander to the whim of every attention-seeker who wants to be referred to with fictitious, biologically fantastical gender pronouns - and you are certainly not helping children by being complacent about an insidious environment that makes these crazes commonplace, and gets kids questioning their own biological identity to follow a trend.

When you have situations like the '100 genders' debacle in schools, where facts, feelings, offence, entitlements and perceived rights are sowing so much confusion into the minds of children, and provoking hostility into the minds of teenagers and young adults, you are going to end up with a toxic combination where people don't know truth from falsehood, and are furtive about how free they are to express their views about either. Because these problems are setting in to lives at such a young age, there is a real danger that the generation that follows this one will be more bewildered and maladapted than they can realistically cope with - and that is going to be a big problem.



Monday, 2 September 2019

On Meat Consumption & Climate Alarmism

I’ve been reading a few of the silly scare stories, like this one, that insist we should stop eating meat or else the planet is going to hell in a handcart. Articles like that get just about everything wrong, mostly by failing to measure benefits as well as costs (the perennial sin), but also by paying zero regard to future technological developments that will revolutionise solutions to the problems we currently think we are trying to solve.

But quite apart from that, I had another tangential thought. As a meat eater, I wonder if future generations will look back on our meat-eating habits in the same way that we look back on the human history of slavery and racism, and be utterly disgusted by it. I wonder if, before our very eyes, we are slowly seeing the death of a meat-eating industry that kills billions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle each year, towards a point in the next few generations where nobody eats meat.

Think about how things have changed even in the past four or five decades: there are increasing numbers of vegetarians and vegans, and more campaigners against animal cruelty and for animal rights – perhaps that trend will continue with every new generation until no one eats meat anymore. With more vegetarians, there will be a greater demand for vegetarian dishes, and more competition to provide them, which should improve the quality and diversity of vegetarian cuisines (as has happened already in the past couple of decades – I mean, think how many frustrated carnivores have been rescued from the circumscribed veggie-wife/husband’s preferred dining outlet with the wonderful but solely viable option that is halloumi).

What I suspect will also happen is that meat will start to come from the lab rather than the animal, where synthetic meat is grown from stem cells, and will reach a point where the process is cheap enough for us to buy it in supermarkets as part of our weekly shop. In other words, technological innovation will sort out the meat problem, bring cessation to the killing of animals, and have future generations looking back on our meat-eating practices as barbaric.

It's strange how morality evolves in different directions, where some things in the UK that were once seen as acceptable become abhorrent (like slavery), and some things that were once seen as abhorrent become acceptable (like homosexuality). Meat-eating will probably be an example of the former - but when we can grow synthetic meat in the lab and mass-produce it for widespread consumption without killing any animals, our descendants will probably look back on us rather like how we look back on the child labour practiced by our progenitors – that it’s unfortunate, but that back then we didn’t know how much better we could do.  

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

On The Nature Of Free Will & Determinism

In 2011, I wrote a paper on the nature of free will and determinism - dispelling some common myths about the two terms, and hopefully providing a fresh and enlightening perspective on some complex but intriguing matters. Eight years later I decided to touch it up a little. For anyone interested, here is the new version, made up of the following sections.

Part I - Define your terms properly
Part II - Lenses of Determination
Part III - The First and Third Person Self
Part IV - Determinism unpacked
Part V -- What would it be like to know the whole universe?

Read the full paper here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

This Is My New Favourite Teenager

I've just found a contender for my new favourite teenager. And no, I don’t mean this little madam in the picture above (about whom I’ve been about as critical as I could get away with towards a teenage girl who doesn’t really know much yet) – I mean the teenager called Felix Kirby who wrote this article - Teenage Climate Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting - and who gets pretty much everything right about how young climate change activists haven't really got a clue about what the heck they are doing.

Here are three of the article's quotes from the bright young Felix:

1) "Global-warming research is a hugely complex field, and it’s unlikely that any ordinary person—let alone a minor—would have any real grasp of it. Nor would they be able to appreciate the uncertainty that characterizes our understanding of how today’s human activity will affect the future state of the earth’s climate."

2) "As a teenager, I fully understand the mindset of young people. We’re predisposed to leap before we look. This is borne out by neuroscience. Our prefrontal cortices, which regulate (among other things) decision-making, planning, self-awareness and inhibition, do not fully develop until we are in our mid-20s. Until then, we have difficulty analyzing the long-term consequences of our actions. The upshot is that many young people tend toward reckless behaviour. "

3) "Given the inconclusive state of contemporary climate science, we can’t be sure; and, until we absolutely do know the truth, we should hold off on drastic action. Encouraging mobs of young people to join the climate-protest movement only adds a spirit of social panic to an issue that already is extremely tangled."

You should read Felix's whole article - he's precocious and showing lots of promise in a world awash with reactionary, overly-simplistic thinking Greta Thunbergs. It's unsurprising that young climate change activists don't know what they're talking about - the older climate change activists don't know what they're talking about either, and the nonsense is just being passed down. Older green activists (like Rupert Read, George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas) are regularly giving talks and writing articles explaining how we are letting down our youth and leaving them a calamitous future worthy of grave foreboding. Here is what I would say to any young person who happened to be listening.

Dear Young Person,

Contrary to the scaremongering you’re likely to see about future climate damage, and the crippled world you’re going to inherit – I want to tell you how I really think it is. You are so privileged to be alive in a UK like the one you’re in today. You are reading this in one of the top dozen countries that has ever existed, and by virtue of living here, you are among the top 0.01% of the richest people who has ever lived on this planet. It is only because of your extraordinary riches and prodigious standard of living that your life is luxurious enough to consider things like climate change and future generations.

Most humans who have ever lived had no such luxury – they spent most of their time with hardly enough to eat, with debilitating, vomit-inducing diseases, infant mortality, with almost no technology, and almost no comfortable leisure time. Even basic things like electricity, gas, running water, regular food and drink, relative safety, rule of law, property rights and central heating would have been unimaginable to them. You are so blessed to have the luxury to ponder climate change – you can do so only because your recent forebears worked so hard, and shared so many ideas, that you’ve been liberated from most of the harshest, devastating scenarios that plagued our pre-industrial progenitors.

The main reason climate change seems so terrible is because, relative to its problems, so much of the world is so well off, and so many people are so prosperous, that we can hardly believe how rich we are. Living in the UK, you have stable floors, walls and a roof, carpets, heating, running water, a shower, a toilet, a garden, a car, legal rights, food in the cupboard, and almost none of the fungi, bacteria, insects, and rodents that would have once infested your home. Just having access to clean water and a toilet protects you from the numerous sanitary problems that would have been lethal just a short time ago.

In your kitchen you have white goods that enable you to store, refrigerate and freeze food, cook with ease, wash your clothes and dishes. In your bathroom you have the means of keeping clean, and sanitary goods, cleaning products, detergents, and medicines that protect you against things that would have once killed you. Every day you go out with clean clothes, clean teeth, and a relatively clean bill of health. And furthermore, most of the things that do contribute to climate change are the things that have conferred such mass benefits on our species – homes, schools, hospitals, shops, factories, churches, care homes, universities, industrial activity, entertainment industries, leisure, travel, social interaction, cars, trains, planes, boats and digital technology - that it would have been impossible to have progressed to the degree we have without them.

You are being told that all those benefits have contributed to global warming – and that is true – but you are not being asked to think enough about the immense benefits that the concomitant economic growth and technological innovation have brought to bear on our increased standards of living, on human relationships, on increased human knowledge and understanding, on higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality, on lifting people out of poverty, on improving the GDP of developing countries, on healing the sick, and on reducing suffering and misery – you are being told none of this because they are trying to avert your attention from a much bigger and more informative picture that doesn't fit in with their biased, ideological agenda.

Think of it this way: no one sane would look at our industrial history in the past 100 years and assume that the mass lifting people out of poverty, the economic growth, the enhanced technological innovation, the higher life expectancy, and the increased standards of living amounts to an argument that the governments need to ‘do’ something to stop these activities. Therefore no one sane should look at the costs of our industrial activity and assume that the governments need to ‘do’ something. The reason should be obvious: if the government ‘does’ something to help with the latter, it needs to do so without bringing about negative unintended consequence against the former – and that is not going to happen. Not only will the government action certainly impede our economic progress, it will also certainly misallocate resources, provoke numerous opportunity costs and ‘unseen’ lost opportunities, and make decisions blindly that future history will show to have been gross misunderstandings of reality.

To add weight to this, the Heritage Foundation have confirmed that there is a positive relationship between a country's economic freedom and its environmental performance. Fifteen years of rigorous data analysis confirms that the more economic freedom, the greener the country. Economic freedom is good not only for increased prosperity and higher standards of living - it is good for environmental improvement too. The trade-off isn't between market growth and environmental protection, it is between government suppression of freedom and environmental protection. The freer the county, the more economically innovative it is, the more ideas there are exchanged, and the more chance there is to make energy cleaner and more efficient.

Ranking the countries from freest to least free (in quartiles):

Then with this scatter plot we find that for every one point increase in the Index of Economic Freedom, there is a 0.96 point increase in the Environmental Performance Index:
One factor that could mislead the above correlation would be if the countries scoring highest on the Index of Economic Freedom are “exporting” their polluting industries to poorer countries, thereby artificially increasing their score on the Environmental Performance Index. But some further research shows me that that isn't the case either:
Looking at human history in the past 100 years, it ought to be obvious that the benefits of our industrial industry so overwhelmingly outweigh the costs that have come alongside them - the only thing not yet established is by how much? 99.9% benefits for every 0.1% costs; 99% benefits for every 1% costs? I'm not sure - the analysis is really complex with lots of unknowns ,but I'll bet it's something like that, because you have to factor into the equation how much our trade and innovation engenders the routes to solutions that solve problems. But once you undertake as comprehensive an analysis as you can muster - you'd have to be pretty blinkered to fail to see the orders of magnitude by which the benefits of our industrial progress and economic growth far outweigh the costs the living things on the planet have incurred alongside it.
Yours Fraternally,
James Knight (The Philosophical Muser).