A Weekly Link Roundup contains links to articles on the web that I found worth reading. Remember, 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. And if you need over 500 more quality links I like, don’t be afraid to look to the link roundup category.
- A Person Paper on Purity in Language: “Perhaps this piece shocks you. It is meant to. The entire point of it is to use something that we find shocking as leverage to illustrate the fact that something that we usually close our eyes to is also very shocking. The most effective way I know to do so is to develop an extended analogy with something known as shocking and reprehensible. Racism is that thing, in this case. I am happy with this piece, despite-but also because of-its shock value. I think it makes its point better than any factual article could.”
- When is Your Help Special?: “I’ve heard the argument that we should ‘think globally, act locally’ because we understand the needs of our own communities best. I’m willing to accept this for some situations. [...] But here’s where I think people go askew with this logic: they feel that financial help should also work this way. After all, don’t I understand the needs in my own community better than anyone? [...] But rich people live in communities with other rich people, and poor people live near poor people. Your average American probably has several relatives or neighbors who have a few thousand dollars in their bank accounts. Your average Liberian does not know any such people. When both rich and poor people give in their own communities, the opera gets a lot more funding than the maternal health clinic in Liberia. Of course, lots of first-worlders have given misguided aid because they misunderstood the needs of people in other countries. But you can misunderstand the needs even in your own community.”
- Two More Things to Unlearn from School: “In Three Things to Unlearn from School, Ben Casnocha cites Bill Bullard’s list of three bad habits of thought: Attaching importance to personal opinions, solving given problems, and earning the approval of others. Bullard’s proposed alternatives don’t look very good to me, but Bullard has surely identified some important problems. I can think of other school-inculcated bad habits of thought, too many to list, but I’ll name two of my least favorite. I suspect the most dangerous habit of thought taught in schools is that even if you don’t really understand something, you should parrot it back anyway.”
- Singer’s Pond and Quality of Will: “Singer argues that, just as we’re obliged to save a drowning child at modest cost to ourselves (e.g. ruining an expensive suit), so we’re obliged to help the distant needy when we’re in a position to do so (e.g. by donating to GiveWell-recommended aid organizations). People often balk at this comparison, but I don’t see any plausible grounds for escaping the conclusion that we have similarly strong reasons to act in either case. [...] What is counter-intuitive, I think, is the putative implication that when we fail to donate to effective charities we are thereby just as bad, or as blameworthy, as a person who lets a child drown before their eyes. Such a person, we feel, would have to be monstrously callous. As for ourselves, we may not be saints, but at least we are surely not moral monsters. Thus the comparison strikes us as preposterous.”
- 20 Questions: “Are there ’20 Questions Atheists Struggle to Answer’? I was asked how I respond to Peter Saunders’ claim that there are, and how I would respond to those questions. According to God’s Advocate, Saunders thinks ‘there have not been any decent responses to [these twenty questions] in the past 40yrs,’ but evidently he isn’t bothering to read any of the best answers available or even to find out what they are. The questions themselves are pretty much boiler plate, and consist mostly of fallacious loaded questions that ignore the established science behind nearly every one. [...] So here are my answers to his twenty questions…”
- Arguments for the Preservation of “Traditional” Marriage – Then and Now [PDF]: All the arguments against same-sex marriage in 2000 are identical to the arguments against interracial marriage from 1948 to 1967.
- Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things: “There is, she says, a common misperception that at moments like this, when people face an ethical decision, they clearly understand the choice that they are making. [...T]the business frame cognitively activates one set of goals — to be competent, to be successful; the ethics frame triggers other goals. And once you’re in, say, a business frame, you become really focused on meeting those goals, and other goals can completely fade from view. [...] It’s not that they’re evil — it’s that they don’t see. And if we want to attack fraud, we have to understand that a lot of fraud is unintentional. “
- When the Mind Matters for Morality [YouTube]: “Mental state reasoning is critical for moral cognition, allowing us to distinguish, for example, murder from manslaughter. I will present neural evidence for distinct cognitive components of mental state reasoning for moral judgment, and investigate differences in mental state reasoning for distinct moral domains, i.e. harm versus purity, for self versus other, and for groups versus individuals. I will discuss these findings in the context of the broader question of why the mind matters for morality.
- Steven Pinker on Free Will [YouTube]: “There’s no such thing as free will in the sense of a ghost in the machine; our behavior is the product of physical processes in the brain rather than some mysterious soul, says Pinker.”
- Negative Income Tax: “There’s not really logic behind this mess, but much of it comes from misguided attempts to save money. ‘If we gave people cash, they might spend it on alcohol instead of things they really need.’ Or ‘if we don’t means test then people will get more help than they need.’ Except that by means testing too aggressively and giving people vouchers only for what we decide they need, we are actively keeping people poor by not letting them keep enough of the additional money they earn. That is not just harmful, but stupid. It would be so much better if we could get people to move from needing (net) assistance to paying (net) taxes. Not just because this would mean that they were wealthier, but we would have more money to spend on other things.”
- Five Myths About SuperPACs: “The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed them. Political candidates rely on them. And Stephen Colbert parodies them. But as a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the lawyer behind Colbert’s super PAC — Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — I find that most people don’t understand the role that these largely unaccountable organizations play in American politics. As the GOP primary race draws to a close, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about groups powerful enough to evade traditional limits with a single bound.”
- Getting Stuck in Trivial Choices: “[E]very once in a while, I find someone standing in front of a wall of tomato sauce, conditioner, or baked beans trying to figure out which one to buy. In the grand scheme of things, that particular choice is probably not that important, yet someone can spend a few minutes contemplating the benefits of one brand over another. If you asked shoppers whether it was worth spending so much time choosing that product, they would probably say no, yet they do it anyhow. Why? [...] They suggest that unimportant decisions can suck us in when they are more difficult than we expect them to be. They call these choices decision quicksand, because they pull you in and take more effort than they deserve.”
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