Musings on universality and intellectual integrity

UniversalityNoam Chomsky once defined Universality in terms of morality as “If it’s right for me, it’s right for you, if it’s wrong for you, it is wrong for me” in a 2007 interview. This is a fairly short and to the point definition for moral universality. The opposite of this is moral relativism in its many forms, which always makes morals a conditional case. Our laws are in theory based on universality, an act is illegal regardless of who performed it. One could argue that in practice it may work out differently, but the theory and system is designed to be as close to universal as possible. Moral relativism on the other hand, is the position that moral statements are right or wrong only based on a specific standpoint, for instance culture or historical period.

For instance, most of the western world today would consider slavery morally abhorrent, while most of the western world would have considered it perfectly permissible, and even benevolent in some cases if we travel back 300 years. If you view this as “slavery is always wrong” you are a universalist, if you view it as “slavery was ok back then, because of the times” you are a relativist.

Now, both cases tend to end up in the wrong to varying degrees. For instance, universalism may argue that killing someone is always wrong, whereas relativists would argue that each individual case of killing would have to be evaluated. For the most part, our justice system works around the inherent universalism by adding things likeĀ  “tiers of killing badness” such as first degree, second degree, third degree, manslaughter, self-defense and so on. However, this does not mean that the justice system is relativistic, it just means that it takes into account the circumstances of an action. You will be charged, and in a court of law a jury of your peers will determine your guilt. Continue reading

The baseline-parallel model for effective learning and work

outliersI’ve mentioned this model a few times on Twitter and after getting a few questions on how it works I figured I’d write a short post explaining this philosophy. In the book outliers Malcolm Gladwell outlines the principle of the 10.000 hours of practice that someone has to put in to become an expert on something. When learning a language we often focus on cramming in as much as we can about how the grammar works and as many words as humanly possible. You may need 10000 words to be fluent, but only about 2000 to be conversational.

The second principle is based on that once you have built a solid foundation, you can cut back the work and maintain that foundation indefinitely with a lot less effort than you had to put in while building it.

When we see examples of renaissanse men in modern culture, we usually get to see the finished product, a man in his late 30s to early 50s, who is a polyglot, a subject matter expert in his field, has multiple other areas of expertise, and a range of other skills that it surprises you to find out when he shows them off. However, we do not see how he builds his impressive arsenal of skills for the 20 – 40 years prior to demonstrating them to you.

Now, I’m going to tell you how to be a Renaissance man. Continue reading

Building blocks of betas and female narcissists

Cowed-04-23-14-392x400Incentive theory is a subset of research on “human motivation” or as I like to call how “How to dangle the carrot and wave the stick around“. For instance, if you’re running a sales office, and you need more sales, what is more effective? Bonuses or threats of people being fired? It comes from a field of psychology made famous and pioneered by B.F. Skinner who did a lot of work on operant conditioning. Those of you who read my post on expectancy theory and equity theory are already partially familiar with this concept and some of its effects.

Sometimes such incentives can have positive effects, such as when you offer a major bonus to the best salesperson. Sometimes they can have very unfortunate effects when the encourage hiring patterns that focus highly on “social fit” and less on ability, education or experience. Sometimes it can have positive effects, such as seeing a quarterback getting laid like a rockstar and that encouraging young boys to try to be good at football. Other times it can have negative effects, such as when a “nice guy” notices that all the guys he knows with girlfriends like to tool them up once in a while and decides that in order to get a girlfriend he has to become the type of guy who tools up women.

A core principle of incentive theory is that people do what you are encouraging them to do in order to reach their goals. If a man wants to get laid like a rockstar, he will adopt the behaviors that make that happen. The 2008 financial crisis is interesting in this respect, in that the system encouraged the very behavior and recruited personalities prone to such behavior, that almost lead to a systemic collapse.

Continue reading