Just wanted to be more precise about what this "identity" thing really means. I think though that you can have a "wider identity" and have "fruitful" i.e. truth-seeking merit-based discussions at the same time; you just have to be conscious - and honest - about it. So I'd dispute his implied drive that you mustn't "be" something (Communist, Christian, etc.). What is really called for is being cognizant and honest.
Taking being Communist as an example, this would mean that you're playing for the ultimate goal, not for the advancement of your party over others no matter what. Putting ideals over politicking.
Of course the core ideals is a much harder core. These core ideals are the true core of your being, there's no easy arguing about changing them.
I apologize if this all is trite and cliche.
I write about this somewhat here: https://alexpetralia.github.io/epistemology/2018/02/22/your-...
When someone self-identifies as a believer in religion X or political label Y, it is less easy to characterize their experience in the practice (usually harder than knowledge) of the community's exoteric and esoteric principles.
As I see it, the latter is a cowardly choice. To affirm you're a catholic, or a communist, despite the often barbaric history of really-existing-X, is to accept that politics is hard, and that even beliefs that are gentle to the point of being asinine have their dark shadows, and that the only way to counter this is to be aware of them. To say you're a believer in the values, but not to identify yourself with those values as a tradition or history, is to ignore the danger of those values - and to risk re-enacting their failures.
Once being a JS programmer becomes a thing you are or aren't, people are arguing about themselves.
A virtue of open-mindness is that you can respectfully listen to opinions of others and empathize with them. Having the urge to advise or "mentor" somebody who hasn't really asked you or is not your child is futile.
It's a reasonable argument against JS in the browser, but it's not what actually bothers the vast majority of the detractors of JS. They hate the language itself and the rapidly changing Node.js ecosystem. RMS wouldn't have any issue with Node.js apps, since it's dead simple to modify and replace a free app there.
Not just SPAs, but the pace of web development. A web app like Facebook or Github can see changes to its coding multiple times a day, sometimes with dozens of versions being A/B-tested at once. Have fun maintaining a Greasemonkey script for that.
Electron is good for developers because it saves them time and they can use their HTML and JS skills instead of having to learn another language.
Electron is bad for users because the resulting applications are way too memory and CPU hungry.
Both of those are merits. The question then becomes, is Electron worth it? Some say yes. Personally I don’t use any Electron software, but if I found an app made in Electron to which there was no non-electron alternative, or none that was as good in terms of utility or function or user-friendliness, I might have used it. First someone will have to make Electron apps run on FreeBSD though, which last time I checked they didn’t unfortunately but whatever.
Edit: Seems that some people are quite close to getting Electron to build and run on FreeBSD. https://github.com/electron/electron/issues/3797 Question is, will it be maintained in the future?
Most identities have positive things to commend them, as well as negatives. Frequently a set of identities mesh together into a consistent narrative of the world, such that you can't change people's mind on a single issue unless you can flip them on a whole bunch of related issues, or create a better narrative. These narratives are often backed by both ignorance and logical fallacies that cause evidence to be misinterpreted.
I think if you don't try out other identities, other world views, you're liable to get stuck in an identity by default, and just not be aware of how biased your perspective is.
I’ve been pretty obsessed about the difference between smart people and wise people for years. I tried to write a book called “The Attitude of Wisdom” a couple times. And the virtues of wise people – those who have the courage to act on their knowledge, but the humility to doubt what they know – is one of the main themes in Hard Facts. We show how leaders including Xerox’s Ann Mulcahy, Intel’s Any Grove, Harrah’s Gary Loveman, and IDEO’s David Kelley turn this attitude into organizational action. Perhaps the best description I’ve ever seen of how wise people act comes from the amazing folks at Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future. A couple years ago, I was talking the Institute’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They've been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions. This is what psychologists sometimes call the problem of “confirmation bias.”
- "strong opinion" - the opinion is asserted aggressively and without tact
- "weakly held" - there is little justification for the opinion and it will be abandoned under pressure and on a whim
Sutton seems to want Strong to mean something about "attracting energy" as if Strong means "intentionally provocative" but it really isn't clear to me. I prefer "reasoned opinions presented thoughtfully" but then I'm British so... eh.
- "strong opinion" - I've thought about this a lot and it seems reasonable and justifiable enough to base my actions on it.
- "weakly held" - I recognize that I'm not a perfect being and can discard my opinions if I come across new, convincing evidence that contradicts them.
The main difference I think is avoiding equating "strong" with "brutish" and "weak" with "pushover". I think when those terms are applied to people that's how we think of them, but they just mean very different things in an academic/intellectual context.
If a belief or idea isn't well-reasoned or doesn't have strong backing then it should be held weakly and also _not_ acted on (neither in the affirmative nor vice versa).
I think what you see in reality (at least these days) is that if ANY of the downsides to any of the identities are pointed out, you'll see people rush to have to defend it.
Also, I believe attaching your identity to being a waiter would be doing the opposite of what PG is suggesting here in the first place.
And I can only really speak from my personal experience. Having a diverse range of interests has given me a protective barrier that I didn't have when I was younger. When I was a teenager, for example, I didn't really have any skills except for "being good with computers". If someone (usually an older person) ever disparaged that, it destroyed me. I'd stew in anger and want to retaliate -- I can still remember. As I grew up, I diversified my interests. I got good at other things, too. Computers are now only a piece of my identity instead of the whole, and it's made me a lot less insecure.
In the latter case, if someone says that waiting is a dead end job, he can much easier say sure, yeah, not many places to go, but the hours are really convenient for my life situation. This is obviously a much more productive (or at least not destructive) outcome.
It's almost impossible to have a productive discussion with someone who is a [ideology]ist, but quite possible to have one with a reasonable person who is of the belief that [ideology] offers some good answers to problems in society.
The writer claims that you can't think clearly about any topic that's part of your identity, but I disagree with that. I think the thing that prevents you from thinking clearly is that the topic is tied to such a large part of your being. If you instead grow your identity beyond a single thing, your capacity for outrage becomes diluted.
I think this is indirectly a large part of the problem. The trend in society is that everybody must have totally unique and interesting identities, and since few people are in fact "special" enough to live up to that ridiculously high standard, they need to pile on everything and the kitchensink to get to some reasonable approximation. And you'll still wake up one day and dread that your identity is not, in fact, unique and interesting enough, which looks a lot like your "a lie" scenario. But in the meantime, you've set yourself up to spend a non-trivial amount of time fending off attacks, real and imagined, on any of the myriad of items that make up your identity.
In a past not too distant, our waiter-friend would be content to see himself as a good person, a good friend and a provider for his family.
To you, it might seem like 'fending off attacks, real or imagined', is a waste of time, when the waiter could just snap his fingers and suddenly be content with being a good person. But I don't think it's that easy. I think that mentally fending off attacks is a necessary component of becoming content. For the waiter to arrive there, he needs experience. He needs to have reasoned through his problems and put his answers to the test: what makes a good person? Is it living virtuously? Is it living according to one's values? What are my values? I value craftsmanship, yet I'm a waiter -- is that a conflict? In my opinion, the waiter needs to figure all of that out before he can become content. You might call it a waste of time, worrying about things that may or may not be consequential. I call it building up mental fortitude.
Becoming content, in my opinion, requires mental fortitude, and having a varied identity is one of the tools to help build that. I'm still struggling to see how limiting my identity to a single thing helps me be content in any way. Even if I limit it to something as simple as 'a provider for my family', what happens if I fall on hard times and can't do that anymore? It's going to hit me like a ton of bricks. I'd rather be able to weather that storm when it comes.
The point of limiting your identity to the core stuff, like providing for your family, is that those are the things are truly matter. If you can't provide for your family, that will hit you like a ton of bricks, regardless of whether it's part of your identity or not. But if you let a nasty comment about your hairstyle, the viability of socialism or whether Jesus really existed bring you down, you can choose not to care because it doesn't really matter (in that isolated interaction, the questions may well matter in the grand scheme of things).
Also, nobody said this was supposed to be easy, something you just flip on and off. But it's something individuals can think about for themselves and decide whether their haircut or profession is really important enough to feel attacked if someone makes a nasty comment.
When I talk about broadening my identity, I guess what I'm really talking about is exploring new interests and testing out new ideas. The thought of 'keeping your identity small', to me, seemed as if it was suggesting I should never invest myself into anything lest I open myself up to criticism (which struck me as a fearful way to live).
If I instead think of it as deciding between what matters and what doesn't, and only truly caring about things that matter, that makes a lot more sense, and is actually something I agree with.
Yes, that's exactly what he's saying.
His conclusion is that an individual should cultivate multiple identities, so that each one is enriched by the others and becomes more nuanced in the process.
E.g. if someone is, say, "I am Polish" (or: "capitalist", "feminist", "Catholic", "socialist", "atheist", "gay" etc) and treats it an adjective describing their beliefs, tastes, etc it is up to an exploration and discussions (when evolution is accepted and does no harm to one's self-esteem). If someone else uses it to declare their identity, it makes it easy to make an entrenched view, with "us vs them", and in which change endangers one position (or, well, identity).
And I'm forced to acknowledge that for most people, their identities do work and make them happy in ways I can only sort-of understand. And maybe they lower our society's level of epistemic virtue, but people may never let them go, and it's not obvious that we ought to try to convince them to beyond a certain point.
I like balioc's perspective here https://balioc.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/responsa/. The whole thing is good, but he responds to PG's essay specifically with:
"I could answer by saying that, in many circumstances, identity really is necessary for hedonic well-being. [...] the world isn’t set up to provide us with constant sources of utility, so it’s much better to have a constantly-accessible utility generator inside yourself, even if that generator requires some finicky maintenance."
Changing identity has a high cost for the organism (social connections, access to institutions, cognitive dissonance, existential crisis), which is why I think some people have those knee-jerk reactions. It's evolution at work.
That approach rather precludes religion. Because most religions are explicitly untestable.
In other words, I think there is an intermediate category that deserves attention:
1) Beliefs that you refuse to revise
2) Beliefs that you could revise in theory but probably never will in practice (for lack of expertise, resources, etc)
3) Beliefs that you actively try to develop
We are limited in our beliefs by our material capacities for inquiry, sadly.
Those particular nouns seem to be inherently less likely to cause partisan behaviour that nouns that can't be as easily 'verbified': I am British because I Brit; I am not Christian because I don't Christ.
I suppose a simpler way of saying this would be to restrict your sense of identity to things you do over things you believe. Although I'm not at all certain that this would actually serve to avoid the kind of 'dumbness' the author describes.
I'm a giggler is identity. I juggle, or even I am the juggler is not the same sort of a mark of Identity. So I'd say the advice is is avoid (or at.least recognize and minimize)) thinking in the "I am a" frame.
However, perceived identity coupled with a sense of oppression, exceptionalism and/or fear of extinction is what always gets us in trouble (i.e. war), so there are a number of good reasons to keep tight reins on identity.
Obviously there is a survival adavantage to help ensure the genes of your tribe (genetically close relatives) survive.
I can’t help but think that human political ‘tribalism’ is just atavism.
Seems like the only reactions these fears cause are misguided and radical ones.
"The trick is to keep your identity separate from your opinions. They're objects in a box you carry with you, and should be easily replaceable if it turns out they're no good.
If you think that the opinions in the box are 'who you are', then you'll cling to them despite evidence to the contrary.
Bottom line: If you want to always be right, you need to always be prepared to change your mind."
So "not responding from identity" requires more than just being even-keeled and emotionally detached from the argument. It requires acknowledging the weaknesses in your position with the same receptiveness as you see flaws in others.
I argue the more labels you have for not only yourself but for the world you experience, the dumber they make you.
I'm afraid I find your argument to be a defense of ignorance.
Ultimately, I'm sorry, I should have gone into detail why I think my argument is the case. I'm also afraid I don't have a scientific study, it's really just what I have come to know at the moment, though I'm certain what I know at the moment will change, plus I do love counter-arguments since that's where we get somewhere really worth noting. I also should have not used the word 'dumber', but another, more compassionate word, I think.
Ignorance of things that aren't actually true is a virtue!
The ultimate trick would be to identify with everything. Hopefully a brain-computer interface might make that sort of experience possible in the future.
Which then raises another interesting point: would democracy be less efficient and necessary if we could determine optimal policy for society before implementing it? Would we just vote on the desires of society rather than policies to get us there?
Of course, plenty of partisans have an interest in producing models that spit out results that just so happen to show what they already believed (e.g., Tobacco Institute), and politicians will cite those results with the same regularity as more rigorous work. Without expertise in the matter, it can be hard to find any given model's weak points; and they all have weak points.
As for voting for desired outcomes rather than desired policies: I'm pretty sure this is what most people are doing already. Lots of political pressure all around have your cake and eat it too. Sadly, I've never seen any policy that could solve a problem like that--too many trade-offs in real life.
Perhaps our future AI overlords will have a different approach.
Maybe other cultures don't surround the consciusness with so much fluff, like "I'm a valedictorian from the Yale class of 2010 and I work at Goldman and play polo". Or "I'm a Lenin follower and everyone should bow to international marxism".
I think eg. the Chinese take on this is more about the family or something. Any pointers?
Source: lived overseas and been to 25+ countries.
How would you even decide what policies you want?
PG makes it seem like we could simply do politics by creating some ultimate utilitarian function. But then how do you decide what it counts as good?
In fact, there is no separating identity from politics, no matter how you try to obfuscate it.
For those not of the dominant identity, to "not even to consider yourself an x" is a problem if you are an x and the problem you want to address is systemic unfairness toward x.
Imagine yourself a slave in 1850 being advised to not consider yourself a slave, or black, because you'd avoid useless discussions.
Imagine yourself a woman today being advised by HR to not consider yourself a woman or your experiences as one when discussing workplace discrimination or harassment.
Imagine yourself a gay man being advised to forget you are one when discussing laws restricting gay marriage.
You get the picture.
I think one of the things Graham is pointing towards is finding what is common among people, rather than focussing on the differences. A couple of sentences that stood out to me when I read it were "More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn't engage the identities of any of the participants. What makes politics and religion such minefields is that they engage so many people's identities." I read that as focussing on those topics in common.
None of this is guaranteed, of course. But I think it's a more constructive way forward than focussing on what divides people.
Would you expand on what aspects of the piece you took to supporting the conclusions and examples you provided above?
Anybody can like something, and build an identity based on taste and opinions. It requires no skill. But doing something is a much deeper way of defining yourself.
It is an extremely interesting book on moral psychology. (YC 2017 Summer Reading List)
I like how in this context it sounds obviously flawed, and yet, funny enough, we still have no better political system than for everyone to express their opinion and then count them — no expertise required
I'm fairly intolerant Paul, with the things I deem wrong.
And first thing is, why the fuck are listening to you about Politics and Religion. What is your experience on those area so you can enlighten us. In which forums (nowadays they are called chat groups) have you debated hard, holding your ground. And how many people have you convinced on 1 vs 1 ideological battles.
I'm tired of false prophets. And I get this Paul guy is someone related to the world of software. But someone should steal him the mic when he starts talking about topics he is not experienced enough.
People need to keep their Identity BIG. But they need to realize about the bad things in their cultural heritage, keeping only the good things and erasing or transforming the bad ones. It's simple.
But Paul, if you don't know about how to convince people that is opposing your views then please don't try to make magic 1 liner recipes for everyone. Cause people is dumb, and many of them will blindly follow your command without fully understanding it. The same thing as with Agile methodology and other abstractions (10 commandments for example) that come from many years expertise of one guy with much wisdom, but that at the end, people blindly follow without making them think or test it to see if it's right.
And here we have 2009 Paul Graham, with an ego as big as it gets, telling other people not to have an strong ego. So he is denying others the tool that makes individuals be certain about their ideas and possibilities. He is denying others their right to grow.
So I did some mental experiments. Temporarily reducing my identity to not include my physical body, bit by bit.
Then, what am I?
What if I reduce it further?
I lose consciousness.
(But I get it back after I wake up.)
What if I try to lose the sense of identity while still remaining aware?
It wraps around and I become the universe. Am one with the universe.
It was an interesting journey.
The idea being that belief in God pays of well if true. And is alright if false. Disbelief in God pays off poorly if true, and alright if false. Therefore, any logical person ought to be a Christian, since the consequences of belief are net positive either way. Or so the thought goes.
As a person of faith, I will say that this thought experiment is fairly flawed. For one, you must apply Pascals wager to all faith systems simultaneously if you want to be sure you get the best outcome. But of course, it's not equally likely that Pastafarianism is the one true way as is Buddhism as is Atheism. How do you weight the possibilities in such a way to do an honest analysis? These things are based on what you believe already - so then the question of what to believe becomes recursive, really.
That makes lots of assumptions about what God is and how he behaves.
I mean, obviously atheism is a pretty broad thing (just like "religion", or even "Christianity" encompasses many views).
But for a lot of people, the essence of atheism isn't about anything to do with final judgement. It's just... not believe that God exists. For lots of atheists, it's not a rebellion of anything like that. We don't believe in God in pretty much the same way you probably don't believe in Shiva.
However, I dislike this “act of faith” line of reasoning and find it disingenuous. In the Roman Catholic tradition, believing is an act of faith. There isn’t a “proof” so to speak for why one should believe in God, etc. That’s not to say there aren’t various reasons proposed by religious thinkers.
But to say that an atheist’s not believing in God is an act of faith in itself is strange to me. I think it’s sort of a mischaracterization of atheism. Not believing in God isn’t an act of faith. It’s declining to take that act of faith in the first place. Arguments about the influence science aren’t even necessary here.
As to my own beliefs, my position is to decline the leap of faith. I don’t believe in God, but neither do I rule out the possibility that there is a God, especially in a more pantheistic or possibilian sense (see David Eagleman).
I think it’s fair to say that science hasn’t explained everything about the universe yet. I think it’s presumptuous to argue otherwise.
Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s fair to say my lack of a leap is itself an act of faith.
...unless we want to go down the rabbit hole in which every thought or action is an act of faith...
What makes you think any particular God is the right one?
Edit: cleared up the language to make the point clearer.