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Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 7/23

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.23.22

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while. There is no way it could function as that sentence implies, but it's still nice to have a thread.

Episode Kobe twenty nine


 

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Guest Post: An update to the marshmallow test!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.22.22

Parodie writes: Researchers updated the marshmallow test to see whether cultural habits changed how long kids could wait - doing both the classic test with marshmallows and one with wrapped gifts. It turns out kids from cultures where they need to wait to eat found it easier to wait to eat the marshmallow, and kids from cultures where you need to wait to open a gift could wait longer to open the gift.

Heebie's take: The WSJ is paywalled, but here's a different link to the same study.

The children in Japan were overwhelmingly better at waiting for the marshmallow, with a median wait time of 15 minutes.
"If we had just looked at their behavior with the sweets, it would have looked like Japanese kids have better self-control," said Munakata. "But that was not the end of the story."
In Japan, kids waited less than five minutes to open the present.
The reverse was true in the U.S., with kids waiting almost 15 minutes to open the present vs. less than four to gobble the marshmallow.

I will always find the marshmallow test hilarious, but I can't remember whether the various forms of marshmallow-torture had fallen to the replication crisis. But this one seems very plausible and less judgey of the parents, and of the kids.

I am 100% sure I've described my favorite experiment before, but let's do it again! Table full of toys with a sheet draped over it, kids told not to peek while the researcher leaves them alone.

When the researcher comes back, they say, "We're going to play a game! You're going to face the wall. Each of these toys makes a sound. You're going to hear the sound and guess what toy it is! The kid agrees, knowing exactly that the answers are a doll, a fire truck, and a soccer ball.

First the kid hears "waah, waah!" and says, "It's a baby doll!" enthusiastically. (I think I saw footage of this in a documentary or something.)
Next the kid hears the sound of a siren, and says, "It's a fire truck!"
"Great, great!" exclaims the researcher.
Lastly, the kid hears the sound of tinkling music playing. If the kid has gotten to a certain stage in development, they freeze, and you can see their gears turning... this is a soccer ball?! if I say 'soccer ball' then they'll know that I know...augh?! and either short-circuit, or ask "Music box?" timidly. Whereas the younger kids just gleefully crowed, "IT'S A SOCCER BALL!!"


 

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Guest Post: The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.21.22

Teofilo writes: In an excellent thread about toxic infighting among movements, exacerbated by social media, Zeynep Tufekci recommends this essay from 1970(!) on the general organizational dynamics driving it. It focuses specifically on the Women's Liberation movement but the general principles are very recognizable all over the place. It's pretty short and worth reading in full, but this part is particularly relevant to the issue of online toxicity:

For those groups which cannot find a local project to which to devote themselves, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group. This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of a lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day. When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume personal dislikes for the sake of the larger goal. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person in our image of what they should be.

Heebie's take: This kind of dovetails with this link from Megan the other day, on movement vs abundance progressives. Specifically, "outcomes" feels like such corporate-speak, but without it you can flounder aimlessly, or fight meaningless battles where the win doesn't actually contribute towards anything positive.

Skimming the link, I think you could call it "management strategies for organizations that don't have a pre-determined boss who calls all the shots".


 

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Parenting

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.20.22

I've had a very strange 3.5 weeks. The kids all went to sleepaway camp, and then just Rascal was home for a week, and then two days after we picked them all up, I headed to a hotel. Ten days later, I'm heading back to the house from being home. So I've basically had only two days of full-fledged normal house chaos in almost a month.

The thing that is most obvious to me right now is that the presence of my kids fragments my train of thought into tiny little bumbling quarks with nano-second half-lifes. (Half-lives?) Mostly because they all have so much to say, and constantly at least one is talking to me at almost any given time (or so it feels). So my attention is always split, or entirely on them, or I'm working to block out what they're saying and get them to pause, while I finish my prior task at hand.

I feel like such a regular person these past weeks, who can mostly take a thought from start to finish, or recover it when I'm interrupted. Like, "I took out my insurance card to sign up on this website. As soon as I'm done, I should put it back in my wallet." Here, maybe there is an interruption while I'm doing that. So I'm holding it in my hand, or maybe I set it down, and then when the interruption is concluded, I think, "What was I doing?" and I can figure it out and follow the steps and put my insurance card back in my wallet. Whereas at home, the interruptions never stop. There are always so many people talking. The effort to get the insurance card back in the wallet is Herculean, or it doesn't happen. (Jammies fished my license out of the big outdoor trash can last week, when I realized five days later that I'd thrown it out by mistake.)

Obviously I'm not a stay-at-home-parent, so I'm not totally unfamiliar with this dynamic switching off when I'm not around my kids. But it's just especially notable to me right now.


 

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Pronouns

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.19.22

Oh man. This poor kid. Ostensibly it's about the aggravation of being nonbinary in a world where progressive people have recently grasped the importance of pronouns, and are awkwardly clomping all over the topic.

But it's equally about the point that when you're a bright 24 year old, the olds are so slow and exasperating. This article is the pronoun equivalent of sitting with your parent at their computer, where they control the mouse and you're trying to explicitly describe all the little visual website cues that the web designer intended to invisibly guide the user to success.

When you're smart and 24, you've imprinted on a very recent world and have it all stored in your brain on very quick access and retrieval. Everyone else is trying to integrate a number of worlds from many different years into a coherent worldview, and maybe they weren't even that smart to begin with. Watching the masses wrestle with your pet issue at a snail's pace is a special kind of interminable grind.

(The author is smart enough to recognize all this, mostly gracefully.)

Protip: I was able to get around the paywall by toggling to reader-view.


 

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Abortion Tourism

Posted by Ogged
on 07.18.22

This post surveying abortion access across rich countries is so good. In addition to all the research, emphasizing the distinction between de facto and de jure access in each place is so helpful.


 

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Guest Post: Slouching Towards Utopia (reprise)

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.18.22

Nick S writes: I continue to be intrigued by the questions that Brad DeLong is wrestling with as he prepares for the release of his book. This post is a good reflection on unanswered questions about the direction that politicas have taken since the 70s.

It opens with significant misgivings:

In the Global North neoliberalism has failed to accomplish any of its goals: it has not reinvigorated and restored the pace of economic growth, it has not reinforced a moral order of "good behavior", and it has not created a peaceful world led by the U.S. as hegemon. Advocates of neoliberalism are reduced to claiming that it has not failed, but rather that it was failed by unworthy standard-bearers. That trick never works.
No. That is not quite right. Neoliberalism has accomplished one thing: It has made the rich much richer, and the non-rich somewhat poorer. This was supposed to incentivize the job-creating rich to work harder and create more jobs, and incentivize the non-rich to work harder to avoid penury and buckle down to live more moral lives. In fact it has only made the rich richer, and somewhat more corrupt: plutocracy creates more opportunities for kleptocracy, after all.

I remain curious to know how he continues to mull over that legacy.

But, part of what I find compelling is that, the more I think about this:

Suppose we could go back in time to 1870, and tell people then how rich, relative to them, humanity would become by 2010. How would they have reacted? They would almost surely have thought that the world of 2010 would be a paradise, a utopia. People would have 8.8 times the wealth? Surely that would mean enough power to manipulate nature and organize humans that all but the most trivial of problems and obstacles hobbling humanity could be resolved.
But not so. By 2010 it had been 150 years. We did not run to the trail's end and reach utopia. We are still on the trail--maybe, for we can no longer see clearly to the end of the trail, or even to wherever the trail we are on is going to lead.


I think it's almost obviously false that there's a version of the economic growth of the 20th century that ends in Utopia. It's tempting to look at various contingent failures and think, "we almost made it . . . I don't find that believable. If a material utopia is possible, it's a much harder project than can be accomplished in a century.

I don't have a good explanation for why I think that, but the best version I have is this. Brad talks about the disruption of the 20th Century:

And so over 1870-2010, repeated technological and economic revolutions shook, and shook, and shook the human world to pieces over and over again, and then people had to try to pick the pieces up and assemble them into something over and over again.
That was very different than all previous history.

I would add that, in addition to the disruption, every revolution created new sources of wealth, new inequalities, and new stories about what produced wealth. One consequence is that each time the fight to determine, "how much should the people who are furthest from this generation of wealth" must be re-fought. I find myself skeptical that we have made progress building a durable political society or political philosophy that is ready in advance to incorporate and absorb the next strategy that appears to generate billions of dollars out of nothing.

For example, the cryptocurrency boom was proudly presented as a challenge to the existing politics, not a chance to do better this time around . . . .

I wonder what it will take to build that society.

Heebie's take: To me, the answer is clear:
1. Utopia (or best-functioning self-governance?) requires a lot more than just wealth. It requires all sorts of protections and fair enforcement, and liberties, etc.
2. Insofar as there's a poverty line beneath which no one ought to fall, we still have plenty of people below it in 2022. Eg, while our housing standards are miraculous by 1870 standards, having the insecurity of eviction or terrible commutes or unsafe housing still doesn't clear the threshold.

You know who is closest to existing in a utopia? Large corporations. It seems like we've designed a really great ecosystem for them.


 

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