Weaponising Emotion (LORENZO WARBY, DEC 21, 2023, Not On Your Team, But Always Fair)

The imagined future progressives use as benchmark isn’t real. This gives them a huge rhetorical advantage: a future from which there’s no information is free from complicating sins and trade-offs. It can be imagined to be as perfect as one wishes.

That rhetorical advantage comes at huge cost for human flourishing. The problem is not the wish to do better. It is using one’s vision of the future as the benchmark for judgement rather than testing it against the accumulated experience of human action. This is especially so when mechanisms are adopted to block any testing.

Using the imagined future as one’s benchmark naturally inclines one to adopt a perfectionist outlook as perfectionism shines most brightly. However, perfectionist standards devalue human achievement, because all achievement is imperfect. Any failing can readily be construed as a de-legitimising failure.

The Right, in turn, does the same with the past.


We need to talk about Trump’s antisemitism (Noah Berlatsky, 18 December 2023, Independent)

Trump is most directly attacking immigrants and non-white people. He extrapolates freely from worries about South Americans crossing the Southern border to attacks on Asian people and African people, all of whom are tarred as a threat to pure (white) America.

The echoes of Nazi rhetoric here, though, also inevitably implicate Jewish people, white and otherwise. For Hitler, Jewish people were always immigrant outsiders corrupting Aryan society. The vicious Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew juxtaposed discussions of Jews with images of rats onboard ships, bringing contagion from port to port.

The invidious conflation of Jewish people and immigrants isn’t just in the past, either. The Great Replacement Theory is a conspiracy theory which argues that support for immigration is designed to undermine white power and white culture. Many versions of this argument are explicitly antisemitic, blaming Jewish “elites” for pushing for policies that increase immigration.

In 2018, Trump winked at an antisemitic version of this theory, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Holocaust survivor and billionaire Democratic donor George Soros was responsible for funding immigrant caravans to the US.

The accusations against Soros were baseless but popular; he’s a favourite target of the far right here and abroad, who use him as a (barely concealed) antisemitic dog-whistle. And that dog-whistle can have horrific effects. That shooter who killed eleven people at Tree of Life synagogue was directly inspired by antisemitic Great Replacement conspiracy theories. He targeted the Pittsburgh synagogue because it partnered with HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helped resettle immigrants. “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people,” the shooter wrote on the far right social media site Gab. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” He then went off and committed mass murder.


Uruguay’s green power revolution: rapid shift to wind shows the world how it’s done: Stung by 2008’s oil price spike, Uruguay now produces up to 98% of its electricity from renewables. Can other countries follow suit? (Sam Meadows, 27 Dec 2023, The Guardian)

It was the 2000s, and fossil fuel prices were rising worldwide. After a period of volatility in the 1980s, the crude oil price per barrel had reached one of its lowest points – $20 – at the end of 2001 but then, over the course of six years, it tripled before a new oil shock saw prices surpass those of the 1970s, reaching a record $145 a barrel on 3 July 2008.

Uruguay imports its oil, so it had a problem. Demand for energy in the country had grown by 8.4% the previous year and household energy bills were increasing at a similar rate. The 3.4 million-strong population was becoming restless. Lacking alternatives, President Tabaré Vázquez was forced to buy energy from neighbouring states at higher prices, even though Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay had a mutual aid agreement in case of emergency conditions.

To escape the trap, Vázquez needed rapid solutions. He turned to an unlikely source: Ramón Méndez Galain, a physicist who would transform the country’s energy grid into one of the cleanest in the world.

Today, the country has almost phased out fossil fuels in electricity production. Depending on the weather, anything between 90% and 95% of its power comes from renewables. In some years, that number has crept as high as 98%.

Tax the externalities of oil and we’re transitioned by 2030.


Global Inequality in Well‐​Being Has Decreased across Many Dimensions (Chelsea Follett and Vincent Geloso, 6/08/23, Cato)

The world has seen dramatic, global human progress across a broad range of indicators in recent decades, but have those gains been widely shared? The Inequality of Human Progress Index (IHPI) measures relative gaps in global development. It surveys international inequality across a greater number of dimensions than any prior index. By analyzing inequality in a multidimensional way, the IHPI takes inequality more seriously than those indexes that focus on income inequality alone. The IHPI considers material well‐​being and seven additional metrics: lifespan, infant mortality, adequate nutrition, environmental safety, access to opportunity (as measured by education), access to information (as measured by internet access), and political freedom. Across all but two of those dimensions, the world has become more equal since 1990. Globalization and market liberalization over the past few decades have not only raised absolute living standards but also reduced overall inequality.

The brutal reality of the End of History is that you aren’t special.


What is the oppressor/victim mindset and how did it conquer the academy?: A condensed version of Chapter 3 of The Coddling of the American Mind (JON HAIDT AND GREG LUKIANOFF, DEC 21, 2023, After Babel)

Two Kinds of Identity Politics
“Identity politics” is a contentious term, but its basic meaning is simple. Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He notes that “in America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, un­-American, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly left wing.” Politics is all about groups forming coalitions to achieve their goals. If cattle ranchers, wine enthusiasts, or libertarians banding together to promote their interests is normal politics, then women, African Americans, or gay people banding together is normal politics, too.

But how identity is mobilized makes an enormous difference––for the country, for the group’s odds of success, and for the welfare of the people who join the movement. Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or it can be mobilized in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.

Common-Humanity Identity Politics
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., epitomized what we’ll call common-humanity identity politics. He was trying to fix a gaping wound—centuries of racism that had been codified into law in southern states and into customs, habits, and institutions across the country. It wasn’t enough to be patient and wait for things to change gradually. The civil rights movement was a political movement led by African Americans and joined by others, who engaged in nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, boycotts, and sophisticated public relations strategies to apply political pressure on intransigent lawmakers while working to change minds and hearts in the country at large.

Part of Dr. King’s genius was that he appealed to the shared morals and identities of Americans using the unifying languages of religion and patriotism. He repeatedly used the metaphor of family, referring to people of all races and religions as “brothers” and “sisters.” He spoke often of the need for love and forgiveness, hearkening back to the words of Jesus and echoing ancient wisdom from many cultures: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” …

King’s most famous speech drew on the language and iconography of what sociologists call the American civil religion. Some Americans use quasi-religious language, frameworks, and narratives to speak about the country’s founding documents and founding fathers, and King did, too. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” he proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “they were signing a promissory note.” King turned the full moral force of the American civil religion toward the goals of the civil rights movement. […]

King’s approach made it clear that his victory would not destroy America; it would repair and reunite it.

The former is the essential characteristic of the Left/Right, the latter of liberalism/conservatism.


Anticipating the Uses of the new AI: robots, mentors, animations (ARNOLD KLING, DEC 25, 2023, In My Tribe)


We bounce our problems off of other people. They might be friends, therapists, coaches, mentors, etc. A lot of what goes on in a coaching or therapy session is that we our nudged into figuring things out for ourselves.

My sense is that the new AI’s are already surprisingly good at playing the role of mentor or coach. People are already using them that way. I imagine that they could get even better. For example, an AI mentor or coach could be trained to imitate a successful role model. Instead of going to see an average therapist or coach, you could have a session with one of the absolute best.

Does a young man benefit from sitting in an audience of hundreds watching Jordan Peterson? What if he could have a one-on-one consult with a Peterson=trained AI?

As an investor, do you see yourself following the advice of Warren Buffet? What if you could have Buffet’s opinion about how you should be selecting a under your circumstances?

My simple essay grader was a convincing proof-of-concept for me. If I were a high school teacher or college professor, I would be happy to use an AI to grade student papers. That would address one of the most tedious, time-consuming parts of teaching.

But more generally, I think that one-on-one relationships between AI’s and humans are going to be important going forward. Everyone can benefit from friendly coaching.

“You’ve got a friend in me.”


Six reasons to be optimistic about the energy transition: Yes, the world is hooked on fossil fuels, but Canary Media’s experts are still hopeful about the rise of clean energy. Here’s why. (Staff, 28 December 2023, Canary Media)

The economics are on the side of climate solutions

The core technologies for the first phase of the energy transition — solar, wind, batteries and heat pumps — are getting so affordable that demand for them will soon outweigh the institutional inertia that stands in their way.

Solar and wind power are now by far the cheapest source of new electricity generation, both globally and in the U.S., and those trends are set to continue. Lithium-ion battery prices have fallen to record lows again after a brief Covid-induced uptick, meaning it’s more affordable than ever to store wind and solar power for hours at a time. That same trend is also driving down the cost of electric vehicles, which can already outcompete gas cars on a lifetime basis in most parts of the country. And heat pumps, which are less expensive than ever thanks to federal tax credits, continue to demonstrate that they’re far more efficient at heating (and cooling) than conventional methods — even in the cold.

Together, these technologies alone are enough to get us far along the decarbonization pathways for electricity generation, transportation and buildings. The victories — for the climate, for consumers and for the companies that can capitalize on these technological realities — are there for the taking. — Jeff St. John

The Right hating Greens won’t stop economics.