Conflation Confirmation Conflagration

Nobody asked but …

Conflation is running amock these days.  People are actually making important decisions because certain things are viewed as Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, patriotic, religious, lawful, or criminal.

It is critical in this complex world that each person take in as much information as needed, in the most effective way, to make thoughtful decisions.  We should practice Ockham’s Razor whenever we sift facts, fictions, and factoids.  Ockham’s Razor, you may recall, is an admonition not to overstir the pot.  Reject overwrought accounts.  Just think.  Almost all of the information crucial to our physical or social health comes through news media, social media, politicians, bureaucrats, hidebound professional associations — none of whom know of what they speak, passing along only hearsay.  It is cacophony.  Can you keep your head when all around you are losing theirs?

There are traits that do not serve humans well as a rational species:

  • Conflation,
  • Confirmation, and
  • Conflagration.

Conflation is putting ideas together that should be sorted apart, first, before looking for specious connections.  An example would be to make some ideas congruent merely because they arose together.

Of course conflation goes hand-in-hand with confirmation.  We tend to conflate ideas that confirm our pre-conceived notions.

When we have thoroughly burdened any chance at truth, we start dropping bombs.  Presto!  Conflagration.

— Kilgore Forelle

 

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All News is Fake News

There is infinite information in the universe. Any time you select a tiny slice of info and focus on it, you are creating a story that is different from reality itself.

Imagine a movie sliced into a million still screenshots. Say it was impossible to watch the movie and your only way of interacting with it was with these screenshots. If someone picked three of them and presented it to you as the “truth” of the movie, they’d be wrong, even if the screenshots weren’t tampered with or substituted for fakes. If the person presenting the “facts” of the movie to you had an ax to grind or wasn’t so scrupulous about accuracy in screenshots, it would be even worse. But the main point is that even if trying to be accurate, any version of the movie selected from a few micro-second still frames will present a story that’s incorrect.

Once you realize this, you can select your own slices based on what helps you achieve your goals. It may be no more accurate in terms of explaining the real movie, but none can be, so you might as well choose slices that help you. Better yet, you can stop worrying about figuring out the right version of this movie from the past and start creating your own story going into the future.

News is a specific view of reality. It’s always wrong. Worse, it’s usually bad for your health and sanity. Choose better slices of reality and your reality will improve.

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Blunt Instrument, Importance of Fun, & Terrible People (13m) – Episode 010

Episode 010 looks at protecting yourself from someone swinging a blunt instrument at you; the importance of having fun to mental health; and why it’s a bad idea to spend so much time watching the worst that humanity has to offer.

Listen to Episode 010 (13m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “thinking and doing”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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Never Hurts to Make Preparations

As the panic over coronavirus loses steam, and everyone who isn’t a political power junkie gets back to normal, remember the lessons you learned over the past few months.

The virus wasn’t as dangerous as the fear-mongers wanted to scare you into believing, but it did kill some people. While it hasn’t gone away, it has lost much of its power to frighten people. This is bad news for most politicians.

The virus is likely to surge again this fall, if not sooner. This may trigger a new cascade of overreactions by politicians and more panic by their followers. Maybe people got smarter from experience and won’t fall for the hype this time, but don’t bet your life on it. Be ready, just in case.

Remember those supplies you couldn’t find in stores? Stock up now. Just a little here and there — even one extra item each time you shop will help. You may end up wishing you’d stocked up more, but anything will be better than missing the opportunity to get ready when you had the chance.

The preppers weren’t the ones to blame for the empty shelves. Those who weren’t prepared and went into “panic and hoard” mode caused the trouble.

You might not like the expense of buying extra things you don’t need today, yet as long as you only buy things you will eventually use anyway, you won’t waste money. In fact, buying in bulk could save you money in the long run. It’s worth checking out.

It won’t hurt you to be ready, even if the virus doesn’t come back.

That’s the philosophy behind “prepping.” Being prepared isn’t going to hurt you, and it could help you. If not during a pandemic, then during a blizzard, water shortage, or power outage. Wouldn’t you rather be ready than feel as helpless as you did last time?

Prepare your mind, too. Be ready to reject the fear mongers next time around. Don’t trust them to tell you the truth or to even know the truth. Don’t tolerate another round of shut-downs. Don’t allow them to make you feel helpless.

As I reminded you when this first began, you know best how to protect your own health. Do what you know you need to do. You have the power and the ability. Use it to your advantage.

Maybe we’ll be lucky and none of this will be needed, but wouldn’t you feel bad if you ignored the warning and got caught unprepared?

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No Idea What Government Good For

Many problems in modern societies happen because people confuse political government for something it isn’t. They expect it to do things it can’t do and isn’t suited for. To do things right you need to use the correct tools.

A hammer is the proper tool for driving nails. A feather isn’t a hammer; neither is a shotgun. Even though you might be able to use a coffee cup to drive a small nail — don’t try this with your favorite cup — it’s not a hammer either. Using things for purposes they aren’t well-suited for will cause problems.

Even if something looks like a hammer, feels like a hammer, and can be wielded like a hammer, if it is made out of the wrong material it’s not going to work well as a hammer.

After decades of observation I have yet to find any situation that requires government, or where government would be the best tool for the job. It doesn’t seem to be the correct tool for doing anything helpful.

You probably disagree, so I’ll stay out of your search for the proper use of political government and instead focus on what I know government isn’t the right tool for.

Government is not your doctor. It is not a scientist. It’s not an expert on anything other than how to push people around and steal their life, liberty, and property.

Government is not your parent. It is not your educator. It is not your moral guide. It is not your savior. It is not your friend.

Government is not your spouse, nor is it your provider. It is not your leader or your protector.

Government is not a genie from a magic lamp, granting your wishes. It is not your ATM. Anything it gives you has been stolen from someone — often from your future self. Can future-you afford to support present-you?

Thinking of government as something it isn’t won’t turn out well for society. It’s not healthy to treat it as though it is any of those things.

Even if you get away with using government as a tool, when you mix anything with politics you end up with only politics. It’s like mixing poison with food.

As I say, I can’t tell you what government is good for; I’ll let you ponder the answer to that puzzle for yourself. For me, political government — which is everything people usually call “the government” — is an unnecessary evil. It’s not a tool I would use even if I had no other.

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What I’m Doing

1. The U.S. political system is deeply dysfunctional, especially during this crisis.  Power-hunger reigns in the name of Social Desirability Bias.  Fear of punishment aside, I don’t care what authorities say.  They should heed my words, not the other way around.

2. Few private individuals are using quantitative risk analysis to guide their personal behavior.  Fear of personally antagonizing such people aside, I don’t care what they say either.

3. I am extremely interested in listening to the rare individuals who do use quantitative risk analysis to guide personal behavior.  Keep up the good work, life-coach quants – with a special shout-out to Rob Wiblin.

4. After listening, though, I shall keep my own counsel.  As long as I maintain my normal intellectual hygiene, my betting record shows that my own counsel is highly reliable.

5. What does my own counsel say?  While I wish better information were available, I now know enough to justify my return to 90%-normal life.  The rest of my immediate family agrees.  What does this entail?  Above all, I am now happy to socialize in-person with friends.  I am happy to let my children play with other kids.  I am also willing to not only eat take-out food, but dine in restaurants.  I am pleased to accommodate nervous friends by socializing outdoors and otherwise putting them at ease.  Yet personally, I am at ease either way.

6. I will still take precautions comparable to wearing a seat belt.  I will wear a mask and gloves to shop in high-traffic places, such as grocery stores.  I will continue to keep my distance from nervous and/or high-risk strangers.  Capla-Con 2020 will be delayed until winter at the earliest.  Alas.

7. Tyler suggests that people like me “are worse at intertemporal substitution than I had thought.”  In particular:

It either will continue at that pace or it won’t.  Let’s say that pace continues (unlikely in my view, but this is simply a scenario, at least until the second wave).  That is an ongoing risk higher than other causes of death, unless you are young.  You don’t have to be 77 for it to be your major risk worry.

Death from coronavirus is plausibly my single-highest risk worry.  But it is still only a tiny share of my total risk, and the cost of strict risk reduction is high for me.  Avoiding everyone except my immediate family makes my every day much worse.  And intertemporal substitution is barely helpful.  Doubling my level of socializing in 2022 to compensate for severe isolation in 2020 won’t make me feel better.

Alternatively, let’s say the pace of those deaths will fall soon, and furthermore let’s say it will fall by a lot.  The near future will be a lot safer!  Which is all the more reason to play it very safe right now, because your per week risk currently is fairly high (in many not all parts of America).  Stay at home and wear a mask when you do go out.  If need be, make up for that behavior in the near future by indulging in excess.

Suppose Tyler found out that an accident-free car were coming in 2022.  Would he “intertemporally substitute” by ceasing driving until then?  I doubt it.  In any case, what I really expect is at least six more months of moderately elevated disease risk.  My risk is far from awful now – my best guess is that I’m choosing a 1-in-12,000 marginal increase in the risk of death from coronavirus.  But this risk won’t fall below 1-in-50,000 during the next six months, and moderate second waves are likely.  Bottom line: The risk is mild enough for me to comfortably face, and too durable for me to comfortably avoid.

8. The risk analysis is radically different for people with underlying health conditions.  Many of them are my friends.  To such friends: I fully support your decision to avoid me, but I am happy to flexibly accommodate you if you too detest the isolation.  I also urge you to take advantage of any opportunities you have to reduce your personal risk.   But it’s not my place to nag you to your face.

9. What about high-risk strangers?  I’m happy to take reasonable measures to reduce their risk.  If you’re wearing a mask, I treat that as a request for extra distance, and I honor it.  But I’m not going to isolate myself out of fear of infecting high-risk people who won’t isolate themselves.

10. Most smart people aren’t doing what I’m doing.  Shouldn’t I be worried?  Only slightly.  Even smart people are prone to herding and hysteria.  I’ve now spent three months listening to smart defenders of the conventional view.  Their herding and hysteria are hard to miss.  Granted, non-smart contrarians sound even worse.  But smart contrarians make the most sense of all.

11. Even if I’m right, wouldn’t it be more prudent me to act on my beliefs without publicizing them?  That’s probably what Dale Carnegie would advise, but if Dale were here, I’d tell him, “Candor on touchy topics is my calling and my business.  It’s worked well for me so far, and I shall stay the course.”

12. I’ve long believed a strong version of (a) buy-and-hold is the best investment strategy, and (b) financial market performance is only vaguely related to objective economic conditions.  Conditions in March were so bleak that I set aside both of these beliefs and moved from 100% stocks to 90% bonds.  As a result of my excessive open-mindedness, my family has lost an enormous amount of money.  The situation is so weird that I’m going to wait until January to return to my normal investment strategy.  After that, I will never again deviate from buy-and-hold.  Never!

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