I’ve finally made it to the twentieth Weekly Link Roundup, after a little more than twenty weeks! Time sure flies when you’re …reading lots of things on the internet.
So this weekly link roundup is going to be most of the usual: a summary of the essays I wrote for this week, then a summary of the commenting that has taken place this week, then a bunch of links for people to enjoy!
However, there is going to be one plot twist — instead of having a normal, content-filled essay for this Friday to accompany the Weekly Link Roundup, I’m going to do a bit of Weekly Link Roundup celebration, with a “Best of” Weekly Link Roundups, creating a “just the links” kind of additional round-up that includes the top link from each roundup, plus five of my top favourites from “Essays That Inspire Me”, creating a super roundup of my most favourite links elsewhere.
Check on over the other essay to see it. But don’t forget this one!
So as for summarizing the other content-oriented essays:
On Monday, I wrote “How to Ignore Everything I Say (About Religion)” where I addressed all complaints about how telling people their religion is false on my blog is offensive. First, I don’t see why it should be considered offensive or any way to tell people they’re wrong without getting this complaint raised, nor do I think this complaint should be used as a license to dismiss all criticism of religion without having to grapple with it.
On Wednesday, I wrote “The Sad Truth of Inferential Distance”, which explains why it takes many essays to get someone to understand a specific concept, simply because there are so many subconcepts and prerequisite concepts that also have to be explained, and there is no way to quickly summarize all of that into a paragraph or two. It’s rather ironic to summarize this essay further: if you really want to understand inferential distance, you have to read all about it, and that in itself is a summary of inferential distance.
Over at “The Twelve Reasons I Don’t Believe in Supernatural Claims, Part I”, I continue the discussion about the implications of free will, randomness, and cosmology on whether we should adopt a naturalist or supernaturalist approach to things.
Also, in various parts of my large number series, I update my essays to reflect corrections made by some commenters.
Off this site, I had a nice discussion with Garren Hochstetler on his essay “Question For All ‘Truth is Absolute’ Folks” about what it means for truth to be absolute when statements are often relative to specific definitions, places, people, ends, situations, and/or times. We specifically reference the idea of Pluto being a planet, which people familiar with my essay “Birds Are Dinosaurs, But Pluto Isn’t a Planet” would appreciate.
(1) The links are also ordered so that the ones I like most are at the top, for those who don’t have time for all the links… but for those who do have time, I think all of them are worthwhile.
(2) The Link Roundup category has, I’d estimate, over 300 more links if you need the extra distraction. That’s enough links to keep you reading for a full month, if not more.
(3) I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
- Factual Politics: “After posting on my blog a long while ago on the question Does Free Will Matter? a bizarre anarchist going by the local moniker Benjamin replied in elaborate length denouncing the very concept of all government whatever, insisting that if we got rid of it (all of it), everyone would live happily ever after in perfect harmony. [...] That went so far off the original topic my final reply to him follows here (in several ensuing parts). I’m not even responding to half the insane things he said or claimed, and yet it’s still intolerably long for most readers. But anyone interested in political philosophy as a whole, or my political philosophy in particular, will find in the following a useful toolkit for constructing a sound political philosophy from the ground up (whether they follow mine or not), by seeing where crazies like Benjamin go wrong, and avoiding what they do by doing (methodologically) exactly the opposite.”
- The Goal of Philosophy Should Be to Kill Itself: “The goal of philosophy should not be to continue to give vague and mysterious answers to difficult questions. The goal of philosophy should be to figure out how to hand over its factual questions to scientists, and its conceptual questions to computer programmers, so that these questions can be answered. The goal of philosophy should be to kill itself.”
- Ends Don’t Justify Means (Among Humans): “‘The end does not justify the means’ is just consequentialist reasoning at one meta-level up. If a human starts thinking on the object level that the end justifies the means, this has awful consequences given our untrustworthy brains; therefore a human shouldn’t think this way. But it is all still ultimately consequentialism. It’s just reflective consequentialism, for beings who know that their moment-by-moment decisions are made by untrusted hardware.”
- Utilitarian Policy: “I think the world would be a much better place if public policy debates were more focused on cost-benefit analysis. Too often, people refuse to acknowledge trade-offs or opportunity costs (health and military spending are obvious candidates here). [...] It seems like there’s a lot of scope for ‘no brainer’ policy improvements that every reasonable person should be able to agree on. But maybe I’m missing something. So let me take a stab at outlining some of the issues where the answer seems to me completely obvious — and I hope that others will add more suggestions in the comments, and/or explain where you think I’m going wrong.”
- How to Dispel Your Illusions: “Kahneman is a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize for economics. His great achievement was to turn psychology into a quantitative science. He made our mental processes subject to precise measurement and exact calculation, by studying in detail how we deal with dollars and cents. By making psychology quantitative, he incidentally achieved a powerful new understanding of economics.”
- Fake Explanations and Semantic Stopsigns: “Jonathan Wallace suggested that ‘God!’ functions as a semantic stopsign – that it isn’t a propositional assertion, so much as a cognitive traffic signal: do not think past this point. Saying ‘God!’ doesn’t so much resolve the paradox, as put up a cognitive traffic signal to halt the obvious continuation of the question-and-answer chain.”
- The Absurdity of the Atonement: “I remember sometime in 1994 the thought popping into my head: ‘How could the death of someone 2000 years ago have any impact on me and my sins today’? The thought troubled me and I pushed it out of my mind, believing at the time that it must be from the Devil. Since 1994 I have studied and researched just about everything I could find on the atonement. I am convinced now more than ever that it is absurd to think that the death of Jesus of Nazareth could pay for any one’s sin. “
- Sinning for a Better Tomorrow: “Think about it. God is supposedly the only self-existent being. That means the only constraints and necessities are those which are either inherent in His own nature, or else created by God Himself. If sin and evil are going to be necessary in order to do good, that’s a constraint that is either present in God’s nature—i.e. God’s nature is such that it makes sin and evil necessary!—or else God deliberately commanded that good cannot be achieved in the absence of evil. Either way, if evil is necessary, it’s because God makes it necessary.”
- Atheism and the “Shut Up, That’s Why” Arguments: “There’s something I’ve been noticing lately in theists’ arguments against atheists. When you start paying attention, you notice how many of them aren’t really arguments. And no, I’m not even talking about the ‘I feel it in my heart’ or ‘Cause the Bible tells me so’ non-arguments. I’m talking about the ‘Shut up, that’s why’ arguments. I’m talking about the arguments that are meant to stop the discussion entirely. I’m talking about the arguments whose main purpose is to try to get atheists to stop making their arguments.”
- A New Year’s Resolution for the Rich: “But what’s to stop the wealthiest Americans from sponsoring a 21st Century Renaissance? What politician would object to our immediately spending a trillion dollars on improvements in education and energy security? Perhaps there are even better targets for this money. Let Gates and Buffett convene a team of brilliant people to lay out the priorities. But again, we should remember that they could scarcely fail to improve our situation. Simply repaving our roads, the dilapidation of which causes $54 billion in damage to our cars every year, would be better than doing nothing.”
- The Higgs FAQ 1.0: A rather lucid explanation of what the Higgs Particle is, and why it is such a big deal in science.
- Nobody Understands Debt [NYTimes]: “So yes, debt matters. But right now, other things matter more. We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrongheaded, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in the way.”
- Who Created God?: “There’s a faction in the atheist blogosphere trying to get atheists to stop using the ‘yeah, well, if God created the Universe, then who created God?’ argument. They say that it’s easily defeated, philosophically naive, and brings disrepute upon atheists to be caught spouting such an obvious fallacy. [...] With all due respect to people who are probably smarter than I am, I have yet to be convinced that ‘Who created God?’ is not a valid argument against theism, or at least an alley that can lead to valid arguments. I’m going to sketch out how I would make such an argument here and see if the atheist blogosphere points out something flawed about it.”
- The Dwindling Power of a College Degree [NYTimes]: “One of the greatest changes is that a college degree is no longer the guarantor of a middle-class existence. Until the early 1970s, less than 11 percent of the adult population graduated from college, and most of them could get a decent job. Today nearly a third have college degrees, and a higher percentage of them graduated from nonelite schools. A bachelor’s degree on its own no longer conveys intelligence and capability.”
- Mo Money, Mo Problems: How eliminating paper money could end recessions: “So is all hope of stopping recessions lost as long as we’re saddled with cash? Not necessarily. Fiscal policy and efforts to boost future expectations of inflation can have a similar impact: Higher inflation in the future is more or less equivalent to a negative interest rate. [...] But boosting inflation or randomly invalidating currency are bizarre and unpalatable proposals for the economic and political elite. Scrapping cash, on the other hand, is simple and elegant, which is why it will happen some day soon.”
- I Think You’re Fat: “The movement was founded by a sixty-six-year-old Virginia-based psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. He says everybody would be happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time. This would be radical enough — a world without fibs — but Blanton goes further. He says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you’re having fantasies about your wife’s sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It’s the only path to authentic relationships. It’s the only way to smash through modernity’s soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.