Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Alas, Poor Shrinkwrapped

Going through old posts I recalled my old psychblogger days and realised how much I missed Shrinkwrapped, which went offline years ago.  I had saved a particular quote that continues to be edifying.
“Postmodern prose is perhaps best approached as an exercise in posturing and phonetics, of couching slim and trite observations in needlessly Byzantine language… Efforts to fathom deep meaning, or, very often, meaning of any kind, are generally exhausting and rarely rewarded. More often, what you’ll find is essentially a pile of language, carefully disorganised so as to obscure a lack of content.”
A pile of language.  Yes, that's it, put quite artfully.  I will have to remember it.

First, Do No Harm

James Hannam in his Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution makes a solid point about medicine in the 14th C. Of the three methods of healing available, only one did not harm. Learned doctors would bleed you, make you vomit, or otherwise drain an excess of a humor from your body (this was because of their new advanced knowledge they had gotten from Galen and the Greeks via the Arabs); the local healer would give you ointments and medicines - emetics were prominent here as well - based on the appearance of the plants they came from, which were a clue to what part of the body they were supposed to heal* via sympathetic influences; or you could go to church or a saint's shrine and pray. People would often use more than one method. As bed rest was often a prescription of the first two, they may have provided some benefit. Not more than would have happened if you had put yourself on bed rest, though. Psychological effects were likely equal among the three. Visisting a saint's shrine was your best bet.  At least it wouldn't hurt you. And if you believe in prayer, you know there might be more beyond that.

Patients often complained that they weren't being bled or drained enough and remonstrated with their doctors about it.  They really believed that part about the humors.

*Walnuts were for the head, because if you crack open the "skull" you see two hemispheres that look like a brain.  It's obvious, really.  It should have worked.

Quite A List

Gun Control isn't a big issue of mine, but it makes itself an issue because basic reasoning is always an issue of mine.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has a stunning list of gun-control proposals he will introduce as legislation. To dismiss this as something that won't pass is short-sighted. It is an opening gambit, and even if 90% of it is removed on its way to passing, that is still too much. The problem is they will not reduce violence.  Not one of them has been shown to reduce violence, which would be the only reason we would ever consider any of them.  The controllers ride on the sales pitch that of course they would work.  Just look at them, they all sound so smart. You can make a picture in your head, tell yourself a story, write a script that illustrates how well these would work. You can find anecdotes told by sad people (ignoring anecdotes by other sad people) that make unthinking people say "Well we have to do something."

I am suspicious of all advocates who rely on anecdotes instead of numbers. If they had the numbers, they would be shouting them from the rooftops - in addition to telling stories.

Update: Babylon Bee makes an argument superior to mine, as usual.

Occupations and Ideology

I agree with the author of the study on political sorting by occupation that the surprise is not the tendency, but the strength of it.
It fits nicely with the many Arts & Humanities articles I wrote years ago.  The comments are worth reading for a change.  I had the same thought about the “spoils system” that one of the commenters did.  There is more on the same topic here, with updated information. Hmm, in my slowly assembled most-popular posts list I don’t recall A& H posts figuring prominently. I wonder if I should look those over and pick a few, or perhaps attempt a summary post.  It seems old hat to me now, but it was one of my soapboxes for quite a while.

Civil Discourse

I missed this Quillette article  – or forgot it – when it came out less than a year ago.  I followed up on some of the links, and found the Ben Franklin Circles and Better-Angels discussions the more interesting.  Those who read Scott Alexander’s Slate Star Codex likely know about his Rationalist meet-ups Less Wrong  (a great name) already.  The rest of the links lead to organisations that seem less-active. A lot of people must have the sense this would be a good idea, but somehow they don’t find it easy to stay afloat. That is rather sad in itself.  There didn’t seem much local to New England, but I would be interested in participating.  I think such things need to be structured and moderated at present.


The Twitchy article demonstrates the old-fashioned bias conservatives are long used to.  There is no declaration that one side is forbidden a platform, but only one side is being told, and reporters are not very curious what the other side even might be. It self-reinforces.  One just convinces oneself that these supposed examples of bias are nearly always unfounded, so it’s not worth one’s time to even go over and check them out.  Everyone knows that.  The conservative press is always railing about small things and making mountains out of molehills.Of course the same or worse didn't occur under Obama. Don't be silly.

The other piece is something more modern, a more explicit censorship. The conservative press reports many examples of this sort of thing, relating it to a relatively small group of angry people, mostly younger, who viciously mob those they disagree with, and see nothing wrong with this.  They are aided by a larger number of people who never or only occasionally participate in this mobbing and direct censorship but agree with the activists enough to quietly approve. It is the same private-actor argument by the big companies that is used by small cake-bakers. This seems to include people working in positions of power in social media.  I have no sense of the numbers of either group, only that they are greater than in any of the three generations before them, and perhaps more.  Even in the HUAC and blacklist eras people could publish books and magazines, give speeches and concerts, and cut records, even if they were denied the “public airwaves.”

Conservatives have claimed for years that the first kind of censorship is just as effective as the second, and just as evil.  I wonder if we are going to find out if that is really true.