"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Does Age Bring Wisdom?

[Related: Can It Be Wrong To Crystallize Patterns?]

I.

I turn 33 today. I can only hope that age brings wisdom.

We’ve been talking recently about the high-level frames and heuristics that organize other concepts. They’re hard to transmit, and you have to rediscover them on your own, sometimes with the help of lots of different explanations and viewpoints (or one very good one). They’re not obviously apparent when you’re missing them; if you’re not ready for them, they just sounds like platitudes and boring things you’ve already internalized.

Wisdom seems like the accumulation of those, or changes in higher-level heuristics you get once you’ve had enough of those. I look back on myself now vs. ten years ago and notice I’ve become more cynical, more mellow, and more prone to believing things are complicated. For example:

1. Less excitement about radical utopian plans to fix everything in society at once
2. Less belief that I’m special and can change the world
3. Less trust in any specific system, more resignation to the idea that anything useful requires a grab bag of intuitions, heuristics, and almost-unteachable skills.
4. More willingness to assume that other people are competent in aggregate in certain ways, eg that academic fields aren’t making incredibly stupid mistakes or pointlessly circlejerking in ways I can easily detect.
5. More willingness to believe that power (as in “power structures” or “speak truth to power”) matters and infects everything.
6. More belief in Chesterton’s Fence.
7. More concern that I’m wrong about everything, even the things I’m right about, on the grounds that I’m missing important other paradigms that think about things completely differently.
8. Less hope that everyone would just get along if they understood each other a little better.
9. Less hope that anybody cares about truth (even though ten years ago I would have admitted that nobody cares about truth).

All these seem like convincing insights. But most of them are in the direction of elite opinion. There’s an innocent explanation for this: intellectual elites are pretty wise, so as I grow wiser I converge to their position. But the non-innocent explanation is that I’m not getting wiser, I’m just getting better socialized. Maybe in medieval Europe, the older I grew, the more I would realize that the Pope was right about everything.

I’m pretty embarassed by Parable On Obsolete Ideologies, which I wrote eight years ago. It’s not just that it’s badly written, or that it uses an ill-advised Nazi analogy. It’s that it’s an impassioned plea to jettison everything about religion immediately, because institutions don’t matter and only raw truth-seeking is important. If I imagine myself entering that debate today, I’d be more likely to take the opposite side. But when I read Parable, there’s…nothing really wrong with it. It’s a good argument for what it argues for. I don’t have much to say against it. Ask me what changed my mind, and I’ll shrug, tell you that I guess my priorities shifted. But I can’t help noticing that eight years ago, New Atheism was really popular, and now it’s really unpopular. Or that eight years ago I was in a place where having Richard Dawkins style hyperrationalism was a useful brand, and now I’m (for some reason) in a place where having James C. Scott style intellectual conservativism is a useful brand. A lot of the “wisdom” I’ve “gained” with age is the kind of wisdom that helps me channel James C. Scott instead of Richard Dawkins; how sure am I that this is the right path?

Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it – or say it only in a very careful way – in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations. Then I start looking down on them just for being low-status or cringeworthy. Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it. This is endemic, and I try to quash it when I notice it, but I don’t know how many times it’s slipped my notice all the way to the point where I can no longer remember the truth of the original statement.

And what about number 9 on the list? Believing nobody cares about truth is cynicism, which seems sort of like wisdom. But traumatize someone enough and they’ll reliably pick up some new cognitive styles; it’s much easier to give someone hypervigilance than it is to cure them. Imagine someone reading enough newspapers that they hear all of the worst and scariest things, and maybe start thinking that the country is 50% Nazis and 50% violent antifa. Is the resulting pessimism and paranoia really wisdom? Or is it just a more stable, more thermodynamically-preferred state than innocence?

And if I accept my intellectual changes as “gaining wisdom”, shouldn’t I also believe that old people are wiser than I am? And old people mostly seem to go around being really conservative and saying that everything was better in the old days and the youth are corrupt and Facebook is going to be the death of us. I could model this as two different processes – a real wisdom-related process that ends exactly where I am now, plus a false rose-colored-glasses-related process that ends with your crotchety great-uncle talking about how things have been going downhill since the war – but that’s a lot of special pleading. I remember when I was twenty, I thought the only reason adults were less utopian than I was, was because of their hidebound rose-colored self-serving biases. Pretty big coincidence that I was wrong then, but I’m right about everyone older than me now.

There’s one more possibility that bothers me even worse than the socialization or traumatization theory. I’m going to use science-y sounding terms just as an example, but I don’t actually think it’s this in particular – we know that the genes for liberal-conservative differences are mostly NMDA receptors in the brain. And we know that NMDA receptor function changes with aging. It would be pretty awkward if everything we thought was “gaining wisdom with age” was just “brain receptors consistently functioning differently with age”. If we were to find that were true – and furthermore, that the young version was intact and the older version was just the result of some kind of decay or oxidation or something – could I trust those results? Intuitively, going back to earlier habits of mind would feel inherently regressive, like going back to drawing on the wall with crayons. But I don’t have any proof.

Wisdom is like that.

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345 Responses to Does Age Bring Wisdom?

  1. shakeddown says:

    Happy Birthday

    About old people becoming more conservative, isn’t it more that they stay in place as society becomes more liberal? 538 had an article on how judges become more liberal as they age, for example.

    Although interestingly, one of the theories they suggest to explain this is social pressure from their press/society.

    • Ketil says:

      He who isn’t radical as a youth has no heart. And he who isn’t conservative as an adult has no brain.

      Or something to that effect, I couldn’t find an original quote, and there are various attributions. I don’t think it is about becoming conforming, there are plenty of radical echo chambers I could frequent if I wanted to go wholeheartedly in for some cause – be it the fight against climate change, capitalism, TISA, biological production, in addition to religions and atheism – and of course real conspiracy theories. Not to mention that every mainstream media outlet try to sensationalize as much as they can. So I think “wisdom” – as in seeing the bigger picture of things, realizing that there are shades of gray and not just black and white can be seen as the opposite of conformance to society – at least after a certain point.

      I don’t think more liberal judges are liberal in that sense (which I use the word “radical” instead), but rather that their emotional convictions become less important, and that they are more willing to consider alternative perspectives. Which is what happens when you get older – in my opinion. And which may affect republicans more, since they are more in the tough moral standards camp to start with.

      • I believe the original of the quote is French, 19th century, and it is something like (by memory, in English)

        If a man is not a Republican before he is twenty, he has no heart. If he is a Republican after he is thirty, he has no brain.

        A different version, sometimes attributed to Churchill, is something like:

        If my son is not a socialist by the time he is twenty, I will disinherit him. If he is still a socialist by the time he is thirty, I will disinherit him.

    • herbert herberson says:

      While I agree with and appreciate you calling out “you get more conservative with age” as a questionable assumption, I’d also suggest: There’s conservative as a political position on hierarchy vs. egalitarianism, capital vs. labor, etc etc, and then there’s conservative as a character disposition. You can get to the left via the latter if your beliefs about the world match up–you’re cynical about people’s purported agency, rolling your eyes at the whippersnappers who think they’re all that much more than a product of their surroundings. More willing to accept bad acts from subaltern groups for the same reason. More attuned to the often vague and unpredictable ways power works and ergo less inclined to think moderate reforms and tinkerings will fix anything and more apt to want to simply redistribute the power itself. More willing to question the degree to which ideology drives anything, considering it a handmaid to materialistic politics at most.

      Plus, no matter how old and crusty and cynical a liberal or lefty gets, they’re not going to spontaneously start thinking Robert E. Lee was a hero or that driving a Prius makes you a pussy.

      • Baeraad says:

        You can get to the left via the latter if your beliefs about the world match up–you’re cynical about people’s purported agency, rolling your eyes at the whippersnappers who think they’re all that much more than a product of their surroundings.

        I think that’s me, more or less. I’ve got just about every liberal opinion, but I have very conservative reasons for them.

        I’ve gotten less inclined to believe in perfect answers as I’ve gotten older, and that’s moved me closer to the center… but by and large, I still prefer liberal positions over conservative positions. “Sit down, shut up, pay your taxes” tends to be my basic philosophy.

      • Ketil says:

        there’s conservative as a character disposition

        Makes me wonder – I’ve been thinking a bit about how political views could be linked to (big five) personality traits. Intuitively, I would think openness would correlate with acceptance of immigration and homosexuality, for instance. Perhaps personality traits also change over time? Some sources seem to support this (see below), so perhaps this is something worth investigating?

        http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug03/personality.aspx

        • On the other hand, openness might also be linked to accepting home schooling, educational vouchers, a flat tax, a gold standard, deregulation, market anarchy, seasteading, …

          Even to accepting Christian bakers who were unwilling to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

  2. ashlael says:

    “Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it – or say it only in a very careful way – in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations. Then I start looking down on them just for being low-status or cringeworthy. Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it. This is endemic, and I try to quash it when I notice it, but I don’t know how many times it’s slipped my notice all the way to the point where I can no longer remember the truth of the original statement.”

    The way you write the above paragraph makes me feel like it’s meant to be one of those shared experiences other people can relate to, but I have never experienced anything like this. I don’t know if you’re weird or I am.

    I’ve certainly changed opinions on a lot of things as I’ve aged, but I can’t think of one where I can’t point to a specific piece of information I was previously missing that caused the change.

    • John Nerst says:

      If you want another data point: I very much recognize the experience.

    • Deej says:

      I recognise this, or at least something similar too.

      I expect most people don’t though (although maybe most people on here will)

      • Kisil says:

        I certainly think most people do this, just not at a conscious level. Maybe they even skip the first step (recognize truth) entirely. I’d certainly expect people here to be more likely to notice.

        Getting out of the pattern where your brain gradually turns everything into status-seeking is really, really hard. At least for me. Whenever it’s seemed easy, it’s because I was lying to myself about something.

    • Acedia says:

      It sounds a lot like the sort of phenomenon that people have been chiding DrBeat for talking about too emphatically.

    • cactus head says:

      Maybe that’s how neurotypicals feel.

    • googolplexbyte says:

      Can you think of any instances of yourself expressing an opinion that makes you cringe now?

      I recall being in an explorative phase with religion, having an existential crisis over solipsism, and randomly expressing a belief in nonlinear reincarnation to my physics class in an attempt to have it both ways with the existence of other minds, and being the only mind.

      I forget how I abandoned that belief, but I definitely associate worrying about solipsism with childishness now.

      • ashlael says:

        Yeah, for sure. I was all on board with the “Make Poverty History” campaign in my early 20s. Now I support reducing foreign aid. This isn’t because I no longer care about the world’s poor, but because I looked into how effective foreign aid actually was at reducing poverty, and the results weren’t good. I’m embarrassed at how simplistically I thought about the issue back then.

      • glenngulia says:

        I definitely relate to Scott on this one. I grew up in a Republican/center-right family and don’t know how to best describe myself now, maybe left-libertarian? I usually feel this way with some of my legacy conservative-leaning opinions.

        An example that comes to mind would be thoughts revolving around sexual assault prevention in college via being careful about drinking.

        This feels intuitively obvious to me.

        But then people on “my side” hold the stance that alcohol isn’t the problem, rapists are the problem.

        So I avoid stating this publicly. And then others state this publicly, and I think to myself those stating this publicly are bad at PR.

        After a while of internalizing this, and someone brings up in conversation that they’ve instructed their daughter at college to avoid drunkenness around guys she doesn’t know. And it’s stated pretty crudely, maybe approaching the area of “drunk girls dressed scantily have what’s coming to them.”

        And I think less of this person and consider them low status, all the while thinking to myself that my when my now 7-yr-old daughter heads of to college, I’d like her to get the message of dressing more conservatively and not to go to crazy with the drinking.

        • Richard Kennaway says:

          There is a big difference between saying “drunk girls dressed scantily are running certain risks” and “drunk girls dressed scantily deserve those risks to happen”. Heinous acts are not excused by the victims’ imprudence.

          • glenngulia says:

            Agreed. That’s why I said approaching.

          • Null42 says:

            That’s definitely true, but a lot of people state that telling people (mostly women) ways to be more careful works out to placing the onus on the victim.

            I don’t agree (as you say, if you take advantage of someone who did something risky you’re still evil)…but then again, I’m not in the target victim group.

          • Heinous acts are not excused by the victims’ imprudence.

            And imprudent acts are not excused by the fact that they are only imprudent because of someone else’s heinous acts.

            If a bad outcome is jointly caused, both parties are at fault.

          • placing the onus on the victim.

            It is in the victim’s interest to avoid the bad outcome. It is not in the perpetrator’s interest, except insofar as you can actually make it likely that he will be punished. So persuading the victim to avoid her role in causation should be easier than persuading the perpetrator to avoid his role.

          • Ilya Shpitser says:

            “So persuading the victim to avoid her role in causation should be easier than persuading the perpetrator to avoid his role.”

            See also: it’s easier to persuade black people to only sit in the back of the bus than to persuade evil racist white people to not hassle them. It’s probably true, what you said!

          • John Schilling says:

            See also: it’s easier to persuade black people to only sit in the back of the bus than to persuade evil racist white people to not hassle them.

            Which is a thing that I understand basically all black parents do with their children, adjusted for local context in terms of what specifically will get said children beaten up or imprisoned by more powerful white people. Is it wrong of black parents to do this? Would it be wrong of the white parents of adopted black children to do this?

            You don’t do Rosa Parks any favors by not telling her what’s going to happen if she doesn’t sit in the back of the bus. Even if she’s planning to go Full Rosa Parks, she’s going to want to do it on a day that she isn’t e.g. rushing home to care for her own sick children.

          • dionisos says:

            And imprudent acts are not excused by the fact that they are only imprudent because of someone else’s heinous acts.

            What does “not being excused” mean here ?
            Does that mean we should punish these acts of imprudence ?
            Does that mean we should not try to compensate for the victims harm if something bad happen ?

            And why ? is this some form of basic of a deontological morality, or is this a conclusion from a consequentialist morality + some game theory results ?

            If a imprudent act decrease the probability for everybody doing this imprudent act, to actually get harmed, can’t we consider it a sort of self-sacrifice pro-social act ?, Or is it naive ?

            If we “punish” people for imprudent acts, which are imprudent because of other people behaviors, can this be used by other people to make every acts they don’t like risky, and then having everybody punishing the imprudence, and then not having to punish the acts themselves and take risks ?

      • Migratory says:

        I cringe at two categories of beliefs, but I don’t think I have one that matches Scott’s description. I cringe at beliefs that are obviously wrong in light of new information or new considerations that I have now, but I can’t think of one of those where my cringing has anything to do with social censure. I also cringe at beliefs that are socially unacceptable, including many that have recently become unacceptable, but I still believe them and I chafe at the fact that I can’t voice what I believe to be the truth. I don’t think I have any beliefs that I stopped voicing for social reasons AND changed as a result of the social pressure.

    • chernavsky says:

      I’m with ashlael. I’m not even sure what that paragraph means, exactly. I know I’ve never experienced anything like that.

    • Mark says:

      Re: passage,

      I kind of recognise it, but I stop at the first stage – tone is the important element.

      I certainly don’t take against people for holding low status opinions, but I might take against them for being rather too strident.

      I don’t know if the rest of you are just being more honest/modest than me, but, I find the whole idea of a “low status” opinion a bit weird, and the idea of resenting someone for being low status even weirder.

      It’s a bit like someone having a “low status” but powerful kick in a game of football, and me resenting him for it. Sounds like a kind of self-satisfied cliquey bully-ish thing. You lose points in both the game and the meta-game for stuff like that.

      • John Schilling says:

        I kind of recognise it, but I stop at the first stage – tone is the important element.

        I’ll get as far as stage three, looking down on people for being bad at public relations. Sometimes. Sometimes I’m more forgiving, and sometimes I understand that being perfect at public relations wouldn’t change anything so go ahead and tell the truth already.

        I think I’m good enough at holding a private grudge against the people who are making me hide the truth that I don’t let it proceed through the other stages Scott mentions. But now he’s got me wondering if I might have missed something.

      • Pdubbs says:

        Given your football analogy, you might be interested to know that basketball has a well-documented history of a low-status but superior maneuver that pros seem not to use entirely for status reasons. Underhanded free throws (also known as the low-status-sounding ‘Granny Throw’) can be trained to be more effective than regular free throws, but almost no one uses the technique.

        https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/08/sports/ncaabasketball/underhand-free-throw-rick-barry.html
        http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/03-the-big-man-cant-shoot/ (warning: contains high levels of Malcolm Gladwell)

        • meh says:

          I find the underhand over rated. If it was that much better, some people would use it. For every 10 people who think it looks bad, there would be at least 1 who just wants to make his free throws… that or they think low status will have large in-game consequences.

          • Bellum Gallicum says:

            Underhanded free throws would make a huge difference for many NBA players

            This issue is that their is little incentive for them they are already rich. The people with terrible free throws are always extreme size/athletes who are functionally irreplaceable because of their place in the population bell curve

            like genius coders or scientists who dress or act like slobs because who are they going to replace us with? :))

          • Controls Freak says:

            The people with terrible free throws are always extreme size/athletes who are functionally irreplaceable because of their place in the population bell curve

            Given the physical situation posited and the group within which they compute relative status gains/hits (is there a pity term for this? I’m not sure ‘ingroup’ quite covers it, because of the fan/tv/etc dynamic), I wonder if there would be a place for an athlete to head off the “granny” jokes by beginning to do it right near a halftime or post-game interview opportunity, in which he says, “I just have too big of a dick to shoot overhand.”

            Basically everyone would get that he’s talking about his hands, but it immediately flips the cultural response. Of course, he’d have to take the fine from the league (who is already a weird actor in this cultural space), but that’s likely still to be pretty small (and it likely even further cements the focus on his comment rather than the shot style, itself).

            Is this just too crazy to work?

          • Aapje says:

            If only bad players currently use the underhand throw, then we can assume that people rating the players (like coaches) will often assume that it is bad, without actually looking at the statistics (or even believing them if they are good).

            It doesn’t really matter that you would do better in the NBA if you never get drafted.

          • meh says:

            without actually looking at the statistics

            This is just not the way professional sports has been trending. Everyone is getting into moneyball and analytics.

            This issue is that their is little incentive for them they are already rich.

            But *none* of them are at least slightly competitively motivated? There are plenty of over size players at the fringe who don’t have that huge contract. And the ones that do, they still practice and work all the time. Why do they have incentive to do any practice?

            I think you do have to look at incentives. Maybe they feel ‘looks bad’ will have in-game (psychological) consequences somehow. Another idea is that the ‘looks bad’ aspect will mess with endorsement incentives. But really, I suspect it’s just not that much better as a shot.

          • Loris says:

            I found this article which suggests that basketball is rife with suboptimal “conventional” play:
            How David beats Goliath

          • Pdubbs says:

            @meh

            How do you respond to the fact that Wilt Chamberlain got demonstrably better shooting underhand and then went back to overhand? I think in the podcast he’s even quoted as saying he switched back because he thought it looked bad.

            People do suboptimal things all the time for reasons of status/looks, and basketball is no exception. I think the hypothesis that players like Chamberlain are so irreplaceable they have no meaningful incentive to switch is strong, but “if it worked that well people would use it” seems clearly false (and to be begging the question).

          • Matt M says:

            The opportunity for the granny shot to catch on came and went with Shaquille O’Neal, who was incredibly bad at shooting free throws, but incredibly effective at scoring if not fouled, leading teams to devise the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy of fouling him as soon as he got the ball, because he was less likely to score from the free throw line.

            He was also generally “cool” enough in a pop culture sense that trying to seriously make fun of him for something like this would have probably been a non-starter. And then, once Shaq was doing it, it would open the door for everyone else to do it. He could have “made it cool” but never did!

          • meh says:

            I found this article which suggests that basketball is rife with suboptimal “conventional” play:
            How David beats Goliath

            I remember this article. It is about high school girls basketball. I think lots of youth sports balances sub-optimal playing with actually playing something resembling the sport. I know in my early youth leagues, playing defense in the back court was just declared against the rules of the league, because otherwise we would just never learn how to play actual basketball.

            I also like how he wants to be some revolutionary of basketball coaching, but in the end he does the most time-honored traditional thing a basketball coach can do… blame the refs

            The referee did not believe in “One, two, three, attitude hah.” He didn’t think that playing to deny the inbounds pass was basketball. He began calling one foul after another.
            “They were touch fouls,” Craig said. Ticky-tacky stuff. The memory was painful.
            “My girls didn’t understand,” Ranadivé said. “The ref called something like four times as many fouls on us as on the other team.”

          • meh says:

            I don’t know why wilt improved so much. Maybe it is a much bigger difference for 7 footers, I don’t have experience being a 7 footer. Possibly also players don’t want to spend time practicing a different shot. The normal free throw translates more directly into normal shooting, so it’s something you practice anyway.

            I remember growing up hearing about how there was no hot hand in basketball, and thinking how that does not translate to my experience. A few years ago they realized that there was just bad statistics in the original paper. Same with the free throw. Unless for some reason it is only better for 7 footers, it doesn’t translate into my experience.

            Finally, not an argument for or against, but I found this quote from Barry’s son (who shoots underhand) funny

            Canyon refined the technique for changing times. For example, he now holds the ball further away from his body.

            “The ball would get caught on the inseam of the shorts,” says Canyon about the longer, baggier basketball uniforms. His father prefers the short shorts of days past.

            He has no problem with how the underhand shot looks, but no way would he be willing to wear short-shorts!

          • Loris says:

            I remember this article. It is about high school girls basketball. I think lots of youth sports balances sub-optimal playing with actually playing something resembling the sport.

            It’s not just that, although that is the main featured case. There’s some stuff about higher level play later on:

            In the world of basketball, there is one story after another like this about legendary games where David used the full-court press to beat Goliath. Yet the puzzle of the press is that it has never become popular. People look at upsets like Fordham over UMass and call them flukes.

            The only person who seemed to have absorbed the lessons of that game was a skinny little guard on the UMass freshman team named Rick Pitino. He didn’t play that day. He watched, and his eyes grew wide.

            Pitino became the head coach at Boston University in 1978, when he was twenty-five years old, and used the press to take the school to its first N.C.A.A. tournament appearance in twenty-four years. At his next head-coaching stop, Providence College, Pitino took over a team that had gone 11–20 the year before. The players were short and almost entirely devoid of talent—a carbon copy of the Fordham Rams. They pressed, and ended up one game away from playing for the national championship. At the University of Kentucky, in the mid-nineteen-nineties, Pitino took his team to the Final Four three times—and won a national championship—with full-court pressure, and then rode the full-court press back to the Final Four in 2005, as the coach at the University of Louisville. This year, his Louisville team entered the N.C.A.A. tournament ranked No. 1 in the land. College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories.

            I think lots of youth sports balances sub-optimal playing with actually playing something resembling the sport. I know in my early youth leagues, playing defense in the back court was just declared against the rules of the league, because otherwise we would just never learn how to play actual basketball.

            It seems to me that that is more consistent with enforcing the style of play the managers of early youth leagues want, than learning how to play “actual basketball”.

            I should say that I don’t have much interest in sport, and don’t follow basketball at all. But what I suspect is happening here is collusion between big-league teams to not play using this effective tactic, because it doesn’t make enjoyable games for spectators. If a team did commit to using that strategy routinely, then other teams would have to use it, and games would become scrappy affairs which people wouldn’t pay to watch. Then the association might change the rules to preclude it. That’s if the initial team couldn’t be excluded somehow.

          • meh says:

            Full court press is a tool, and can be useful in certain situations. It is not completely useless, but it is not so great that everyone will suddenly switch to playing this way, like the way the high jump changed.
            Professional sports is very competitive, a small market team would use this if they thought they could win. I will give that it can be useful in high school or college or teams with limited talent (as the article states). NBA teams usually have talent though. Those that don’t are usually more interested in rebuilding to a talented team than picking up a few extra wins (they have incentive to actually lose as much as possible to get draft picks).

            Also, I don’t think we can generalize David v. Goliath strategies to Goliath vs. Goliath. The strategy may give David the only chance to win, but Goliath likely has higher performing strategies. Also, we don’t really hear much about the times David used the press and still got crushed.

            It seems to me that that is more consistent with enforcing the style of play the managers of early youth leagues want, than learning how to play “actual basketball”.

            No, that’s not how these leagues work. These are not some gung ho friday night lights youth leagues. These are Dad’s who would rather be doing something else. These leagues are not about winning, but developing the skills needed to play the game at a later level. The managers don’t care what the style is, they don’t really want to be there. Most sports are just too complicated or skillful to just throw kids into though. These early leagues are basically just extended practice, not really competitive.

            But what I suspect is happening here is collusion between big-league teams to not play using this effective tactic, because it doesn’t make enjoyable games for spectators. If a team did commit to using that strategy routinely, then other teams would have to use it, and games would become scrappy affairs which people wouldn’t pay to watch. Then the association might change the rules to preclude it.

            The second half of this is correct, not the first. Teams don’t collude, so the association does step in and make rules changes. The teams are too competitive to collude. Also, no real reason to collude, the rules will be changed. Happens frequently

            http://www.school-for-champions.com/sports/basketball_players_who_caused_rule_changes.htm

            So I don’t think there is really much here to dig for. IMO, this idea of looks and not playing optimally has a better argument in the NFL than the NBA.

    • JulieK says:

      Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question.

      A very important thing to keep in mind for anyone who wants to engage in Kolmogorov complicity.

    • Loris says:

      I’ve got to admit that I find the whole idea behind that paragraph kind of horrifying.

      If something is true yet saying it is “considered low-status” in a society then that society is broken.

      If it’s not clear if something is true or not, then it should be discussed, not suppressed.

      • jasmith79 says:

        That’s a rosy view, but truth makes a lousy signaling device unless it’s controversial.

        • Loris says:

          I don’t see it as being about signalling at all.

          Corrupting your own brain so that you believe an idea is true but wrong is just … well, doublethink.
          Or worse, if you get to the end of the pathway.

          • jasmith79 says:

            Perhaps we’re arguing past each other.

            For example, it is statistically true that African-Americans are more likely to be criminals than Caucasians. But stating that fact without caveats or qualifiers is frequently used to state a false implication (black -> criminal). So making that statement is “low-status” not for it’s veracity but for it’s subtext. In fact, the very way I’ve framed it here as binary truth/non-truth when by it’s nature it’s a probabilistic statement is also an error of sorts but not factually incorrect.

            And that conundrum does indeed lead to doublethink on that subject and similar ones.

          • Loris says:

            I don’t disagree with that.
            Except that I think it’s very much not a constructive path to follow. If people who make such statements get discounted out of hand, then the underlying issues will never get dealt with.
            In your example, anyone trying to reduce poverty, or deal with institutional racism in the justice system, or whatever, won’t make progress if people flat out deny that it’s a problem.

            I care about my mind – I think because I trust my thought-processes much less than most people. I would worry that I’d slide right down that pathway and off the end, so would be inclined to try and nip that in the bud right at the “principled decision”. Which I think just means that if something seems wrong I can’t let it lie. Alternatively, perhaps I’m just much less good at reading subtext.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “If something is true yet saying it is “considered low-status” in a society then that society is broken.”

        Of course society is broken.

        Wisdom is realizing that it’s not completely broken.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Everyone knows your mother-in-law is a poor cook. Pointing it out loudly during Thanksgiving dinner is low-status.

      • Witness says:

        This may come as a shock, but Moloch does not optimize for truth-seeking behavior.

      • Sebastian_H says:

        But the point of the paragraph is that the question of whether or not it is true ends up being meshed with the question of what status believing it produces.

    • MartMart says:

      I’ve recently experienced something very similar, but also somewhat different, that I’d like to share in the form of a story with all the loaded terms removed for the sake of not arguing about ideologies.
      Imagine getting a craving for some desert you haven’t had in a long time, say cherry pie.
      So you walk down to your local eatery, and order some cherry pie. You’re told that they don’t approve of child pornographers, wont be serving cherry pie, and start acting rather hostile towards you from that point on. You think this is all very weird, but dismiss it, until it happens again at several other places. Something is very strange, and for some reason people associate cherry pie with child exploitation, and you don’t know why, and you heard some theories and they don’t make any sense.
      You share this weird experience with a coworker, who says that its some form of mass hysteria, and you should ignore those idiots, and why don’t you come over this weekend, he’s going to have some friends over for some cherry pie. So you do. And there is this nice little party, full of normal seeming people you haven’t met before, and there is cherry pie, and when everyone gets their slice they all sit down and start watching child p*rn together.
      And after that you’re suddenly filled with desire to never touch cherry pie ever again, and maybe all cherry pie fans really are awful people. But you still don’t know why, and deep down you don’t see anything bad about the pie itself, and still think its perfectly innocent and delicious.
      In other words, what if a group that represents a certain ideology (that you believe/used to believe in) is accused of being something awful, and you feel that’s very unfair because that ideology does not in anyway require the awful thing, but the group turns out to be filled with those same awful people.
      I suddenly find myself pulling back from the ideology itself, despite it seeming right on many fronts (or at least more right than alternatives), and I can’t quiet square it all up in my head.

      • Aapje says:

        Isn’t the issue here that unreasonable vilification becomes self-justifying in the eyes of society? If eating pie gets you socially ostracized, then all the already ostracized people can just keep publicly eating pie, because it can’t get worse for them, while the otherwise acceptable people stop doing it (publicly).

        The non-child porn people who have a huge craving for pie and keep eating it, will be mostly invisible to society, as they will bake their own pie and eat it in private, never letting others know.

        So the visible evidence will make social ostracization seem warranted, even though all the evidence was created by the ostracization in the first place.

        • MartMart says:

          Would non child porn people be in such a hurry to make and eat pie, even in private?

          • Aapje says:

            It depends on what pie stands for, in this analogy. If it stands for having heterodox beliefs and discussing it anonymously on the Internet, then this forum and many others suggest that some people definitely have a strong need for some good pie.

      • dionisos says:

        I really like this analogy.

        Could changing the name help ?
        I mean, doing something like naming it “a cake of cherries”, and then if somebody say “hey your cake of cherries thing is just cherry pie, and it is very bad because of child porn.”
        You can answer :
        “Not it is not, one of the main difference is that there is nothing about child porn here”.

        Because they can’t point at people eating “cake of cherries”, and in the same time doing “child porn”, and that there are no logical link between cherry pie and child porn in the first place, the association become harder to do, and weaken.

        Is that a bad strategy ? Like it would backfire horribly or something ?

    • John Lynch says:

      People who have something to lose change how they think. Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. When you are a nobody, you can think and say things no one else can.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        This is what really bothers me about people getting fired for political/social opinions. The boss can say whatever he wants because he owns the company (Trump). The destitute can say or do whatever they want because they don’t have jobs or anything to lose (rioters). All of us middle class schleps have to keep our mouths shut, so our public discourse is left to the wealthy and the desperate. This does not seem healthy.

        • helaku says:

          This does not seem healthy.

          Maybe it’s not a bug. Maybe those states (I doubt there are any of that kind now) with a looot of horizontal connections are somewhat protected from this “feature”.

        • herbert herberson says:

          Strong agreement, with a couple additions: this is why the people who think limiting anonymity/pseudonymity will improve the discourse (a type who seems to have quieted down a little in the last year or two but used to be loud and proud) are extremely wrong. And there’s a place you can go to see how wrong they are: articles with Facebook-embedded comment sections

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      I recognize the opposite of what Scott described. If an opinion is considered low status I become worried it might be true, because if it untrue people would reject it without feeling the need to do anything extra. If people feel the need to also lower the status of anyone who holds the opinion, maybe they’ve got something to hide.

      In other words: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

      Of course, this gets annoying when opinions are both low-status and untrue, like conspiracy theories.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        gets annoying when opinions are both low-status and untrue, like conspiracy theories

        And the square of that annoyance for conspiracy theories that turn out to be true.

        Example: knowing about government surveillance pre-Snowden.

    • I certainly recognize it but remain in the condition of being low-status and cringeworthy instead of avoiding it.

    • FLWAB says:

      I’ve felt exactly what Scott described. For me it was Young Earth Creationism.

      I was really into Young Earth Creationism, always reading Answers in Genesis blogs and books, keeping up with the Institute for Creation research. I can still cite you 10 different proofs that the world can’t be 4 billion years old.There was never a moment where somebody gave me a piece of evidence that proved I was wrong (that is to say, that I perceived as proof I was wrong).

      But I had a blogged, and it was one of many subjects I blogged about, and I got so much pushback and ridicule about it that I began to despair that nobody would take me seriously because I was a YEC. I wondered what the point of talking about YEC was if it would just make it easy for others to dismiss anything I have to say as coming from a wacko nutjob. So I stopped blogging about it. Then I stopped reading Answers in Genesis. Then I started to cringe whenever the subject came up on its own. Then I did my best to stop thinking about it altogether. Now I don’t know how old the earth is: I don’t know because I don’t want to revisit the subject, because its painful and embarrassing and who really cares? Yet at no point was I convinced that my previous position was wrong. I was passionate about YEC, had piles of books on YEC, etc. Yet now I don’t want to think about it, and I don’t really care. Not because of evidence, or argument, but because of social shame: in other words, because being a YEC is “low status” and “cringeworthy.”

    • Sebastian_H says:

      I don’t think he’s writing it as if he expects most people to have experienced it. It is probably like meditation, lots of people are never introspective enough to see it changing. But now that you’ve heard about it, look for it when you start changing your mind.

    • cuke says:

      I’m confused about what low-status is referring to here. How would I recognize a low-status opinion or a low-status person if I ran into them? Are we talking about economic class, professional labels, perceived intelligence in some domain, popularity in a specific group or some other thing? How is status related to wisdom?

      I understand the feeling of looking back at views I once held and recognizing how my views have changed or evolved or how prior views seemed simplistic or more partial or strident or whatever, but I don’t understand what it means to experience this in terms of status.

      I guess I think about wisdom largely in terms of psychological depth and self-awareness, as well as emotional flexibility. Things like having a strong inner locus of control, being able to regulate one’s emotions better so the field of one’s awareness is less reactive, being able to roll with the punches a bit more, and living more in accord with one’s self-set priorities. And something about more kindness and generosity of spirit and less dogma and epistemic closure. I don’t think it necessarily increases with age. It seems more to increase in response to how people learn from adversity along the way and whether too much adversity has set someone into a kind of permanent defensive fear mode that precludes growing wisdom.

      “Status” to me is a word I only understand ironically; it seems like a concept so fraught and subjective as to be meaningless unless modified in some specific way like socio-economic status. The way status is used in the post it almost seems like it means something like “opinions or people I happen to value at this moment in my life.” Anything beyond that seems too contestable.

      • maintain says:

        >How would I recognize a low-status opinion or a low-status person if I ran into them?

        You can tell the status of a person by the way people around them react towards them.

        In the absence of that evidence, you try to tell if they have traits in common with other people who are low status. This can be more difficult as different cultures have different status symbols.

        In your post, it seems like you’re saying that status isn’t a big deal. It’s a very big deal to a lot of people, so I encourage you to take the concept more seriously.

    • pirelli says:

      I think it might relate to ambition, at least to some degree. If you’re someone with an intense desire to achieve distinction, ie set yourself above others, you’re going to be able to relate to what he’s describing.

      It reminded me somewhat of his earlier piece comparing political opinions to fashion. You really, really don’t want to be mistaken for the people one rung below you, even if you basically agree with what they’re saying.

      • Mark says:

        I would say that it probably has more to do with compliance/conformity than ambition.
        “Oh, why must they rock the boat?”

        Maybe it’s the dark side of agreeableness.

    • dansimonicouldbewrong says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ve never had this experience, because for as long as I can remember, the overwhelming majority of my opinions have been considered ludicrous by most everyone, including most everyone I know.

      As for the whole “wisdom” thing, I don’t believe it exists. People develop a perspective based on their experiences as interpreted by their personalities. As they get older, their perspective gets richer and more complex, until around age forty, at which point brain cells start dying faster than new connections get formed, and their perspective starts hardening and simplifying. But there’s no particular “wisdom” in the point of view that a particular type of person develops in a particular set of circumstances–it’s just an accumulation of specific experiences processed by a specific experience-assimilator. Are the adaptations of the mountain goat “wiser” than those of the grasslands gazelle or the forest deer?

  3. ravenclawprefect says:

    Happy birthday, Scott!

    This sort of bias worries me too, but I’m a little more optimistic about my prospects as I age. A lot of old people certainly go around being really conservative and complaining about Facebook, but a lot of young people also go around being young Earth creationists – Peter Singer is 71, but doesn’t seem to have deteriorated into a crotchety old great-uncle. I think part of the problem here might be sampling bias. Most relatively young people are probably going to spend the majority of their time in intellectual contexts talking with people around the same age, so disproportionately few examples in their model of “old people” will come from those within their ideological bubble, and thus when I think “old person” I imagine something roughly like the median 70-year-old, who is probably much closer intellectually to the median 30-year-old in 1987 than they are to the median 30-year-old I know.

    That said, I don’t think too highly of the views of 3-years-ago me, and even a significantly lowered rate of change in my future opinions would suggest I’ve got several more iterations of this to go; it’s not clear to me how (or if) this sort of forced epistemic uncertainty should be combated. Perhaps one could do careful self-surveys on a variety of topics annually, and track their opinions over time to see what’s more and less stable?

  4. scyborg says:

    Happy birthday, Scott.

  5. Said Achmiz says:

    And old people mostly seem to go around being really conservative and saying that everything was better in the old days and the youth are corrupt and Facebook is going to be the death of us.

    Scott, sometimes you display the most regrettable ageism.

    (A very popular sort of ageism, in our society. Sadly. But that’s no excuse to jump on the bandwagon.)

    First: no, they don’t. Second: to the extent that they do, why are you so sure they’re wrong?

    As to the first: ask my grandmother if “everything was better in the old days”. She’ll look at you like you’re an idiot.

    As to the second: are you really prepared to defend the claim that Facebook won’t be the death of us? Shall I dig up your “Lies, Damn Lies, and Facebook” post series? (How many of those were there? 4? 5?) And all the hand-wringing lately about how Facebook (and other social media) contributed to our current political situation/climate…

    Perhaps you could’ve picked a better example of something that “old people” “go around saying” and that is so laughably wrong that you can casually, without much reflection, write off the possibility that they’re right.

    • BlindKungFuMaster says:

      The quote you got hung up on is just an illustration for “people are getting more conservative as they age”. I don’t think you should take it too literal.

      I mean, the whole post is about how he doesn’t know whether they are right.

    • jeqofire says:

      My first impulse was that Scott’s probably right and you’re over-reacting… then I tried to model how my grandparents would / would have answered the question, and remembered that all the talking about decades past tends to be about how much the Great Depression / lack of ubiquitous cars and air conditioning sucked. I did hear a couple of old ladies complaining about video games and people not getting their parents’ permission before marrying, and a couple old men saying racist things. I wonder if it’s a bubble thing: those old ladies were in the sort of setting I’d normally avoid, while the old people I’d more consistently interact with are more of the “you don’t know how good you have it” variety.

    • Murphy says:

      actually you appear to be factually incorrect.

      From some quick googling:

      From recent polls of adults over the age of 50:

      50% believe that life in the past was preferable to today,

      19% per cent prefer the present day.

      Your grandmother is part of a minority.

      What you call ageism is actually just an accurate description of the majority belief among older people.

      I would be quite willing to argue that while Facebook effectively turns standard gossip up to 11 it is extremely unlike to actually be the death of us all.

      • Watchman says:

        You do realise that people might think life was better – the ‘we didn’t have to lock our doors back then’ ideal (the Terry Pratchett response that that was because no-one had anything worth stealing should always be born in mind) – but also recognise that life now is better in terms of medical technology and the like. So if you ask a question about was life better (and a link would be useful, as the question could be loaded) people may think so in certain ways.

        Another way to look at it is that for most of us life was better as a kid, since it was more exciting, novel, fun and free, but is also better now, since we have autonomy and (unless you are a lot younger than me) a much more accessible and friendlier world. (And if you are still a kid and are reading this, congratulations on your great future ahead of you.)

        • Murphy says:

          You’re making the claim utterly unfalsifiable.

          The poster above specifically claimed they didn’t believe X. Switching to the position that they mean X metaphorically or spiritually or whatever when faced with evidence that they actually do believe X is kinda sketchy.

          Classic examples include older people believing that the world was safer for children back in their day, even though children are safer than they’ve ever been and they simply didn’t hear about it when kids were abducted or raped back then.

          • Ketil says:

            You’re making the claim utterly unfalsifiable.

            But it is probably something that is extremely dependent on phrasing and things like priming. I.e. did you read that poverty is at a global low, that polio and smallpox are history, and that never before have there been so few wars – and by the way, do you think life was better during WW1 and 2, and the spanish flu, when people worked 12-hour shifts in dirty factories?

            And it is also unclear if you are talking about the world or about the specific people. It is better to be young that old, so to some extent the world was better when the specific subject was young.

            So even if you have evidence one way or another, it might not be all that meaningful.

    • Matthias says:

      Nearly all the young people I know, across the political spectrum, think the past was better than the future will be (though what their referent of the good past is depends on politics, obviously, and is never something they lived through themselves.) All of the exceptions I can think of are people with jobs in tech who are active in EA. Though obviously both aspects of this reflect the filter bubble thing. (A quick Googling for “millenials optimism pessimism survey” returns confident headlines that young people are super pessimistic and young people are super optimistic, so take that for what you will.)

    • Eponymous says:

      Mostly agree with Said on substance.

      I find old people are often very wise. For example, take these interviews with centenarians.

      And frankly, I’m not at all convinced that Facebook isn’t rotting our brains, which makes me suspect that people who said analogous things about past technologies were actually right (e.g. TV).

      If I imagine a world in which technology has been progressing, so that we keep getting richer, but we also keep inventing more destructive things (Facebook, video games, drugs, TV, etc) that make us dumber, depressed, less self-reliant, and less able to function like adults, would that world look different than ours?

      (Of course, this trend will reverse when we start genetically engineering the kids.)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        What I’ll say in defense of FaceBook over TV is at least people are writing more. I think we’re in a golden age of literacy. Used to be you wrote some essays in high school and then never wrote a thing again unless your job demanded it. Now people are reading and writing every day.

        • n8chz says:

          During the golden age of blogs, about 10 years ago, people were writing more. To the extent that written material is part of Facebook, it’s sound-bite-size writings.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What percent of the population is on facebook today versus the percent that had blogs 10 years ago?

          • Matt M says:

            To the extent that written material is part of Facebook, it’s sound-bite-size writings.

            And what’s wrong with that?

            Twitter is great practice for writing professional e-mails, where being able to say something important in few words is incredibly valuable, and anything over five sentences will get skimmed at best and instantly deleted at worst.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I listened to some of the interviews with centenarians, and the general effect seemed to be happily retired.

        What does wisdom look like if you’re still trying to do things?

    • Deiseach says:

      Just as the youth have the pleasurable activity of shocking the older generation with their hairstyles and fashions and “Today my pronouns are xe, lir, and bomptypom”, the oldies have the pleasurable activity of harrumphing about “you kids get off my lawn!” as well as forcing them to listen to tales of having to walk ten miles barefoot in the snow uphill both ways to get a raw turnip for the only meal of the day 🙂

  6. mdv1959 says:

    Happy Birthday.

    I don’t know about wisdom, but what 58 years on this planet has taught me is perspective.
    In my experience things are rarely as good or bad as the conventional wisdom suggests.

  7. sustrik says:

    I am 44 and looking back at when I was 33 I cannot help noticing how naive I have been back then. I’ve also grew much more conservative. I can only guess what kind of person I’ll become at 55 or 66 if the trend continues. Sometimes I console myself that I’m getting wiser, but it may also be that I am, as I grow older and any change becomes ever more painful, getting trained to avoid change. I’ve just returned from Silicon Valley back to Europe. At 33 I would be pleased to go there, meet people, have interesting conversations. Now I’m mostly complaining about jetlag. Next time I’ll probably invent excuses to avoid such trip.

    • sustrik says:

      The desire for intellectual consistency then makes me say things like “travelling is bad” and “in the ancestral environment people were not supposed to leave their group”. And one can easily imagine how that can morph into, say, anti-immigration argument.

      Another example: I worry a lot about nuclear weapons these days. I can give a coherent argument for why they are the most important problem right now: They are the endgame of every doomsday scenario. Whether you worry about AI, economic inequality, bioengineering or nanotechnology it always ends in the same way. The problem disrupts the society, social chaos ensues, nuclear weapons end up in the wrong hands, one missile is fired, with all the defence systems on hair-trigger alert the chain reaction happens, the end. However, it may also be that I am just replaying the fears from 80’s, returning to my childhood as old people tend to do.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        AI, economic inequality, bioengineering or nanotechnology

        I don’t think the people worried about any of these four things consider nuclear weapons a critical part of the danger.

        • sustrik says:

          That’s the point. People at large don’t panic about nuclear weapons. So maybe I am just growing dumber as I age. But how can I know?

        • roystgnr says:

          Indeed – nuclear weapons are to an extent self-limiting: it takes a relatively advanced civilization to make them, and they’re powerful enough to knock out advanced civilization but not to wipe out humanity entirely, so even at peak stockpile we were under gigadeath risk but not existential risk.

          Weapons based on AI, engineered diseases, or nanites could, if they’re possible at all, reproduce themselves without further civilizational support, so they’re actually existential risks.

          Economics has never been an existential risk in the past, but I suppose it may have become a possible precursor to “not with a bang but a whimper” existential risk in the future, if/when technology makes “a boot stamping on a human face forever” become possible.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          The US built its nuclear arsenal (the ones after 1945 anyway) to preserve economic inequality.

      • Deiseach says:

        Funnily enough, even with all the fretting about North Korea and US gunboats, nuclear obliteration is not something that really scares me, precisely because in the 80s in my teens and early twenties I went through a period of “okay, all that rhetoric ramping up, Russia in Afghanistan, this is really going to be it” – and it wasn’t, and here we all are and the Cold War is over (well, overish? Is there a new Cold War with Putin?)

        So right up until we are all reduced to a fiery ball of ash, I’ll be going “Nah, never gonna happen”.

  8. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Happy birthday!
    And don’t let worrying too much about being wrong or not taking into account all aspects or something keep you from taking up a stance on things you feel strongly about. Richard Dawkins wasn’t all wrong, you know. He wasn’t completely correct either, but he put his weight on the scale on the side where it was needed at the time.

    Regarding 4: remember that for hundreds of year, Theology was the noblest of academic disciplines. Also remember that the people at the top are probably better than their competitors at something, but it may not be the thing that ought to be required in that position. (Or do you think that 45 is a particularly sharp thinker on policy issues?)

    Regarding the NMDA receptor thing, and the worries that your younger self had the “intact” intuitions, you might consider that turning more conservative and cautious with age may very well be an evolutionary feature, not a bug, and that it takes all sort of risk-taking styles in a complex society, but it’s for good reasons we don’t let 20-year-olds run the show.

    Again, don’t worry too much, and don’t stop caring about the truth. You’re doing fine, much better than most everyone else, you’re making an impact, and we need you.

    • To expand on an interesting point you made …

      Being male is a high risk profession, reproductively speaking. So it makes sense for young adult males to be willing to take risks in order to get mates and status. In the modern world, you can see the result in auto accident statistics and the resulting insurance rates.

      One thing this suggests is that the increasing conservatism pattern might be more true for males.

      • Tibor says:

        One thing this suggests is that the increasing conservatism pattern might be more true for males.

        Only if you don’t have an effect in females which goes in the same directions. Many women become much more conservative after they’ve hand children. At a risk of explaining everything with biology, this makes sense – a woman invests quite a lot in her offspring. Being socially conservative has a lot to do with being risk-averse. If you are a woman over 40 then you are not likely to have any more children. The best you can do is to protect what you have and this can result in a similar increasing conservatism pattern.

        What would be interesting to see though is whether these shift happen in men at women at roughly the same time and what the shape of the function is (how quickly it changes at which point in life on average). Of course, the latter is way too detailed to ascertain from any sociological data.

      • n8chz says:

        Since when is conservative the opposite of risky? I mean conservative in the sense of “conservative investment strategy,” sure. But political conservatism seems to me to be, by definition, pro-risk, and aggressively hostile to risk-averse people. I mean, isn’t that why conservative politicians are going full-court press on eliminating remaining civil service jobs, and glorifying ontapanureship, and attacking what little is left of the safety net?

        • Nornagest says:

          I mean, isn’t that why conservative politicians are going full-court press on eliminating remaining civil service jobs, and glorifying ontapanureship, and attacking what little is left of the safety net?

          No.

        • pdbarnlsey says:

          Interestingly, neither French nor English has a word for “ontapanureship“. 😉

          I think there’s something to this – Jacob Hacker makes the argument that the right has systematically transferred risks which had been socialised back to individuals over the last few decades. So there’s evidence of being in favour of individual risk acceptance at the societal level, at least, even if movement conservatives might personally experience high levels of risk aversion.

          I suspect that differences in policies in response to collective societal risk aversion probably just reflect other differences in political values, rather than any through-line linking left/right ideology to risk aversion. Republicans emphasise personal responsibility, but don’t seem particularly averse to market-based insurance, for example, and are probably more open to bail-outs for farmers than for government programs.

          • n8chz says:

            “Ontapanure” is a neologism I borrowed from Eddie Murphy.

            I guess the problem with left-right spectrums is always “along what axis.” I think of Bernie Sanders as left of Hillary Clinton mainly because he actually sees Hackerian risk shift as a problem rather than a non-problem. But my snark was in reply to David Friedman, who is probably pictured in the dictionary under “Classical Liberalism.”

            This ties into the question of whether life was better in the past. I always vote for the present over the past (and am generally optimistic about the future), but in the narrow area of social norms re. job security, jobs with bennies, etc., I think of the mid 20th century as sort of a golden age. I think the improvements we’ve made in areas like personal freedom and civil rights more than offset the quality of life downgrades caused by the risk shift, so I don’t think of the past as a better place, just better in one thing, labor market norms. I’d like to have the best of both worlds, trente glorieuses labor market norms and 21st century social norms.

          • Null42 says:

            In reality I think political views are effectively points in Hilbert space (R-infinity) that we then project down to a single left-right axis or, if you’re fond of the Nolan chart or the political compass, two axes. More than that and you can’t draw pictures; it’s more of an artifact of living in a 3-D universe where we communicate in two dimensions than any fundamental truth.

            To use the Political Compass beloved of memes, I think most Americans are red-quadrant, the Dems are green-quadrant, the Repubs blue-quadrant, and the genius of Trump was to run in the red quadrant (though he has now reverted to type). Libertarians are purple-quadrant, which is why they are popular on the Internet but never really gain any headway.

        • Null42 says:

          My personal mental model was that there was an elite right and a popular right, and that one was manipulating the other–the corporate masters kept the yahoos in red states bamboozled with theories about small government that happened to stroke their racial prejudices (since people of color disproportionately receive government transfers); in essence the ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas’ theory. So the corporate masters are the ones shifting the risk off them, and the right-wing base eats it up and colludes in their own impoverishment, with the cultural shibboleths anesthetizing them while the risk is shifted onto them–they feel more secure even as they are made less secure. Trump is an example of someone actually calling the corporate masters out on this and then going out and doing the same thing.

          (Similarly, there’s an elite left that stirs everyone up with talk of sexual minorities and and cultural appropriation so nobody talks about trade or immigration or unions…but that wasn’t the question).

        • Baeraad says:

          I don’t get it either. In fact, that’s always been the reason why I agree much better with conservatives than with liberals on general principles, but much better with liberals than conservatives on specific issues.

          CONSERVATIVE: “Life is dangerous, people can’t be trusted, and change is usually for the worse!”
          ME: “Well said! I couldn’t agree more!”
          CONSERVATIVE: “So we need to remove all safety nets, let everyone run around and do whatever they want, and encourage a state of constant chaos and turmoil where the fastest adapters are the ones to thrive!”
          ME: “… wait, what?”

          Or conversely:

          LIBERAL: “We need to carefully minimise risk, force people to do the moral and rational thing whether they want to or not, and maintain a stable and functional society.”
          ME: “Sounds good!”
          LIBERAL: “Because that’s the only way to keep the mean and ugly people from interfering with the good and beautiful people’s expression of their inner sparkly wonderfulness!”
          ME: “That’s… literally the worst reason I’ve ever heard to do a thing that I technically agree we should be doing.”

          • Null42 says:

            Exactly. One of the things I realized a while ago was that a political party comes up with the coalition first and the philosophy second. It explains a lot of the holes in everyone’s philosophy. When coalitions change, the philosophy adapts. You can see this now with the GOP feeling out how much populist nationalism to adopt.

            The Republicans need the businessmen for money and the white working class for votes, so they go on about tolerating risk (so the businessmen don’t have to pay taxes or be regulated) and threats to the country and, implicitly, the white race (so the white working class are scared). The Democrats need the liberal segments of the upper class for money and the nonwhite working class for votes, so they go on about the joys of diversity (racial to please the base and gender/sexuality to please the moneypeople) and toss in some mild social insurance.

            The further you go back, the more different the coalitions are–William Jennings Bryan was a Christian socialist, and NYC was a huge hotbed of pro-Confederate sentiment because they couldn’t sell the South’s cotton anymore.

          • John Schilling says:

            CONSERVATIVE: “Life is dangerous, people can’t be trusted, and change is usually for the worse!”
            ME: “Well said! I couldn’t agree more!”
            CONSERVATIVE: “So we need to remove all safety nets, let everyone run around and do whatever they want,

            But mainstream American conservatives, at least, don’t want to remove the churches and extended families, and they definitely don’t want to let people running around fornicating, doing drugs, etc. So there’s a room for a consistent philosophy based on who is the least-distrustworthy group of people to maintain the safety nets and decide what needs to be disallowed.

            LIBERAL: “Because that’s the only way to keep the mean and ugly people from interfering with the good and beautiful people’s expression of their inner sparkly wonderfulness!”

            OK, this might be a reasonable paraphrase of mainstream liberalism’s motives, from a certain point of view, but I’m pretty sure it’s not their point of view because they are consistently not admitting to it in the manner of people who aren’t even admitting it to themselves.

            Again, at the conscious level there’s plenty of room for a self-consistent philosophy in mainstream American liberalism.

          • Baeraad says:

            But mainstream American conservatives, at least, don’t want to remove the churches and extended families,

            What’s going to force the churches and the extended families to provide for the needy? ‘Cause I’m damn well not going to trust them to do it as long as they have the option to opt out at a moment’s notice (conservative opinion: people can’t be trusted). Oh, I don’t trust the government to not cut welfare programs, either, but the government moves slowly and clumsily by its very nature, and that means it’s at least trustworthy in the sense of being predictable – anything it’s going to do, you’ll see coming from a mile away. It isn’t capable of just waking up in a bad mood one morning and cutting someone off because he looked shifty (conservative opinion: change is usually for the worse, and definitely so if it’s sudden).

            and they definitely don’t want to let people running around fornicating, doing drugs, etc.

            Then they worry about entirely the wrong things. Not that I’m for doing drugs and fucking everything that moves, but if a thousand and one after school specials haven’t taught people that Drugs Are Bad For You, then I think it might just be hopeless. And as for fornication, what with the invention of safe sex that’s less inherently dangerous today than it has ever been before, so hell with it.

            And that’s accepting as given that conservatives do, in fact, prioritise those things. Because most conservatives seem to be very proud of what shameless libertines they are – case in point, the current POTUS…

            OK, this might be a reasonable paraphrase of mainstream liberalism’s motives, from a certain point of view, but I’m pretty sure it’s not their point of view because they are consistently not admitting to it in the manner of people who aren’t even admitting it to themselves.

            Aren’t they, though? Okay, I’ll grant you that they don’t come out against “ugly” people per se, but the basic idea of “we have to protect the interesting and praise-worthy minorities from the homogenous mob of worthless bastards” seems to be pretty explicitly stated these days.

  9. MawBTS says:

    Have you considered that you’re still mostly the same guy, but you’ve just immersed yourself in a different culture?

    There’s college kids who do drunken jello shots off women’s breasts in Cancun during spring break, and then fly back to their dad’s law firm. They’re still the same person, but they have a wild side and a conservative side. The environment modulates their behavior.

    I’m pretty embarassed by Parable On Obsolete Ideologies, which I wrote eight years ago. It’s not just that it’s badly written, or that it uses an ill-advised Nazi analogy. It’s that it’s an impassioned plea to jettison everything about religion immediately, because institutions don’t matter and only raw truth-seeking is important. If I imagine myself entering that debate today, I’d be more likely to take the opposite side.

    Can you model your 25 year old self’s brain, and ask him to read this post? What does he think about it? Maybe he would have had the exact same reaction. “Yeah, I guess I can’t argue with it.”

    He might also have said that this post was appropriate for the world he was living in, while your post is appropriate for yours.

  10. xyzelement says:

    I am 36 and while I have seen some of the same, call ’em, heuristics, I think I reached the opposite motivation. The first half of the article seems to have a “why bother” vibe to it. Like, people don’t care about the truth, so why search and speak it? But I think the more interesting idea is “ok, how do you make them care when they don’t care?”

    I was roaming the Blue Mosque in Istanbul last week, reading some of the educational information about Islam and Mohamed that’s posted in the courtyard, and it occured to me that “what is a prophet but someone who sees a version of the truth that others don’t and can speak it in a way that makes enough people care?” I don’t know a ton about Mohamed or Buddha but just living in the West I know enough about the life of Jesus that it was something like “he saw and spoke what he believed to be radical truths, it resonated with a lot of people, but a lot of other people didn’t like it and made life difficult for him.”

    That sounds like a day at the office to me 🙂 My point is that seeing the world as it is doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end, it could be the end of the beginning, the “now what” stage. How do you go from being an elevated thinker to an elevated doer, once you recognize that wise thoughts themselves don’t change the world?

    I think that’s really important. In Judaism there’s a concept of “Tzadikim Nistarim”

    It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end.

    Since nobody knows who they are, not even themselves, every Jew should act as if he or she might be one of them

    I think that’s an incredibly encouraging concept, it speaks to the power and relevance of an individual striving. If you think of anyone in history who’s done anything worth remembering, they have done it with understanding but transcending all the “reasons not to” that you mention in your writing.

    Just below the surface, there are likewise lots of people working to make things happen which is what moves the world forward. The world needs the best and brightest to act.

    • jchrieture says:

      Thank you “xyzelement” for this erudite & hope-inducing comment … note that the mathematics community, too, appreciates and celebrates its lamed vavniks. 🙂

    • Eponymous says:

      Assuming the Biblical account is roughly accurate, reactions to Jesus (both positive and negative) were much more political in nature. It was not that his teachings resonated with some and upset others, but that he was claiming to be the Messiah. This was understood as a political claim at the time, and a threat to the existing power structure. (He also criticized the religious authorities directly, which probably upset them.)

      • Watchman says:

        Mohammad was hardly a peaceful presence, and the Old Testament prophets were according to the texts about them extremely involved politically. Buddha was a prince by birth, whose renunciation was a public statement. So Jesus claiming to be the Messiah is of a type, not an exception.

        This makes sense in the light of xyzelement’s suggestion of prophets as those who see an alternative truth. An alternative truth is not simply another way of seeing society, but a way of reorganising society, a politically disruptive and potentially violent renegotiation of social order (I can’t get through a thread nowadays without recourse to postmodernism, thanks Scott…). Whilst in a mature democracy a fair amount of new truth can be contained within the system through new parties and through open discussion, in any theologically-defined society prophets were either threatening the social order or reinforcing it in a novel fashion. Prophecy was a mechanism for change not simply a religious manifestation – for a prophecy to have effect, followers had to be attracted, which would be an indication the prophet’s views were widely accepted. It is not hard to find failed prophets in scripture and history: those who never acquired a critical mass of followers and caused limited change might still be prophets, but their prophecies were not in tune enough with conditions to cause change.

  11. Jack V says:

    My impression is that aging is likely to bring more experience (which is generally good) but also more temperance (which is good for most things, but bad for shooting for the stars which is often needed even if it’s unrealistic).

    But it’s very very hard to untangle that from changes due to the society you’re immersed in.

  12. kalle says:

    And a Nietzsche quote on that:

    When one is young, one venerates and despises without that art of nuance which constitutes life’s greatest prize, and it is only fair that one has to pay dearly for having assaulted men and things in this manner with Yes and No. Everything is arranged so that the worst of tastes, the taste for the unconditional, should be cruelly fooled and abused until a man learns to put a little art into his feelings and rather to risk trying even what is artificial: as the real artists of life do. The wrathful and reverent attitudes characteristic of youth do not seem to permit themselves any rest until they have forged men and things in such a way that these attitudes may be vented on them:—after all, youth in itself has something of forgery and deception. Later, when the young soul, tortured by all kinds of disappointments, finally turns suspiciously against itself, still hot and wild, even in its suspicion and pangs of conscience: how angry it is with itself now, how it tears itself to pieces, impatiently, how it takes revenge for its long self-delusion, just as if it had been a deliberate blindness! In this transition one punishes oneself with mistrust against one’s own feelings; one tortures one’s own enthusiasm with doubts, indeed, one experiences even a good conscience as a danger, as if it were a way of wrapping oneself in veils and the exhaustion of subtler honesty; and above all one takes sides, takes sides on principle, against “youth.”— A decade later: one comprehends that all this, too—was youth!

    • LukeReeshus says:

      Nietzsche was a wise dude.

      Unfortunately, I myself am not yet wise enough to understand what made him so wise. Guess I just have to keep reading him. Is that from Genealogy of Morals?

      • kalle says:

        It’s from Beyond Good and Evil. It is hard to tell if he is wise or crazy, but he for sure is a skilled writer. Typical of him, the first sentences of the foreword of Beyond Good and Evil combine an irrelevant ad hominem attack (philosophers are inept with women) with a hunch that I have a hard time to shake off. What if we, the type of people who are naturally predisposed to be philosophers/rationalists/scientists, have an approach to truth which is fundamentally limited by our predisposition to prefer order, mathematics, logic and above all simplicity? It is relatively easy to shake off that feeling in physics (at least since Newton) but I am a social scientist and the thought lingers: What if our whole approach is just wrong?

        SUPPOSING that Truth is a woman–what then? Is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women–that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman? Certainly she has never allowed herself to be won; and at present every kind of dogma stands with sad and discouraged mien–IF, indeed, it stands at all!

        For there are scoffers who maintain that it has fallen, that all dogma lies on the ground–nay more, that it is at its last gasp. But to speak seriously, there are good grounds for hoping that all dogmatizing in philosophy, whatever solemn, whatever conclusive and decided airs it has assumed, may have been only a noble puerilism and tyronism; and probably the time is at hand when it will be once and again understood WHAT has actually sufficed for the basis of such imposing and absolute philosophical edifices as the dogmatists have hitherto reared: perhaps some popular superstition of immemorial time (such as the soul-superstition, which, in the form of subject- and ego-superstition, has not yet ceased doing mischief): perhaps some play upon words, a deception on the part of grammar, or an audacious generalization of very restricted, very personal, very human–all-too-human facts.

        https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/nietzsche/1886/beyond-good-evil/preface.htm

      • Protagoras says:

        Clearly you need to read Ecce Homo; it has a chapter on “Why I am so Wise.”

  13. John Nerst says:

    First of all – happy birthday! (and I just realized you’re younger than me)

    Second:

    And if I accept my intellectual changes as “gaining wisdom”, shouldn’t I also believe that old people are wiser than I am? And old people mostly seem to go around being really conservative and saying that everything was better in the old days and the youth are corrupt and Facebook is going to be the death of us. I could model this as two different processes – a real wisdom-related process that ends exactly where I am now, plus a false rose-colored-glasses-related process that ends with your crotchety great-uncle talking about how things have been going downhill since the war – but that’s a lot of special pleading.

    I think there could be selection effect. Not all people get wiser as they age and many hit a ceiling at some time. Maybe those are the ones most likely to make their opinions heard (I mean, it’s hardly the case that the wisest are the loudest among the younger population either). And the really wise ones stay silent because their wisdom has become impossible to communicate?

    It reminds me of the quote from Julian Barnes’ Staring at the Sun:

    Everything you wanted to say required a context. If you gave the full context, people thought you a rambling old fool. If you didn’t give the context, people thought you a laconic old fool.”

  14. greencerenkov says:

    Scott, I’m curious what you make of terror management theory. I haven’t researched it much myself, but some of my psychology friends are really into it. The Tl;dr as far as my understanding is that a lot of human cognition is based around fear of death, and that one of the biggest ways we manage that terror is by binding ourselves to our cultural values and identity.

    I wonder of there are parallel processes occurring as we age–we gain new information which causes us to be wiser and less revolutionary, which may make us more conservative or more liberal, depending on our starting position. But with age comes increased mortality salience, so we become concerned with the preservation of traditional values so that something we are ego-bonded to will survive us.

    (I think the former process may also be largely contingent as having openness to experience as a strong personality trait.)

  15. AC Harper says:

    An alternative hypothesis (that ‘makes sense’ of the change in NMDA receptors amongst other things and processes) is that people in their teens and twenties are the descendants of other people who ‘successfully’ established their social status and found mates. People in their thirties and later are also the descendants of other people – but those who ‘successfully’ nurtured and protected their children and grandchildren. And that change is ‘enabled’ by changes to receptors in the brain and amplified by culture. Individuals may differ but populations display evolutionary themes.

    So wisdom is perhaps finding your place in the world and then conserving it. Just as other troop or herd animals do…

  16. SquirrelInHell says:

    So, the subconscious, glacially-slow, nigh-undetectable by introspection, and yet obvious from the outside view, shift of preferences and incentives with age.

    It’s driving me crazy too. E.g. I’ve long known that with age, I’d acquire a strange urge to “settle down”. And when it happened, I found it perfectly easy to justify as having less slack in how I treat my body, and needing a more stable lifestyle to maintain productivity. GAAAAAH

    Please, everyone, share your data points. I beg you. I’m 28, what else is waiting for me?

    • AC Harper says:

      You’ll feel worse for a time when you realise the glory days of ‘youth’ are behind you and responsibilities are building up. After that you will start feeling better as you realise that the struggles of youth and the routine stress of later adulthood are behind you. Realising that those earlier things were not really that important is one of the comforts of age, grants you a little more of a balanced perspective, and is often called ‘wisdom’.

      It is not inevitable though. Some people retain the political views of their youth, or the sexual attitudes of their youth but people who do not seem to be authentic are pitied.

      Hope that helps.

    • moridinamael says:

      I’m barely older than you, but I do have a buncha kids. The new incentives imposed by kids impose such a stark, nearly instantaneous impetus for behavior change that it’s one of the few times when you can perceive yourself changing over a very short span of time. You see that external incentives drive your very preferences.

      As a bonus, you may come to see that you don’t really control your own existence, because your outer reality and your inner landscape are both constantly shaped by things that aren’t you.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      I’m 35 and would just say to expect an increase in the instinct to settle down, combined with wishing you’d started maybe 10 years earlier. I have a nephew who is turning 6, another nephew turning 2, and we lost a niece along the way but she’d have been 3 this year. I live in Brooklyn (a place I love) and am free to do as I please when I’m not working. Yet my sisters post photos of themselves in the suburbs (a place I hate), dragging these little vomit and poop machines around in their time off, and I’ll suddenly find myself painfully envious of them.

    • ashlael says:

      Older people generally have a lot more money and status than young people. So, it’s not all bad.

    • Deiseach says:

      28? Oh honey, enjoy it while it lasts. The human body is a bit like the wonderful one-hoss shay; it hangs together marvelously well for quite a while but when one part goes, they all tend to go. The good news is that you have another twenty years or so before it all goes south at once!

      • Error says:

        28? Oh honey, enjoy it while it lasts.

        This sentiment always feels so full of despair that I want to destroy the whole edifice giving rise to it.

        …I really need to start donating to SENS.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Meanwhile, I recommend taking up some sort of movement/awareness self-maintenance. Tai chi, yoga, Feldenkrais….

          I think most people could benefit by starting by the time they’re 40, but starting later is much better than not starting at all.

        • soreff says:

          I agree with Deiseach – enjoy it while it lasts.
          I’m 59 myself, and every year another subsystem acts up –
          and most of them are things where good self care doesn’t help.

          Re SENS – yes, aging is a finite problem.
          Yes, it is potentially amenable to a full solution.
          But… notice that in the SENS proposal, fixing cancer is a subtask?
          Also notice that we already live around 3 billion heartbeats,
          while most mammals live around 1 billion heartbeats.
          Animal models are going to be a big problem…
          Any longevity assist for a lab mouse has a good chance
          of already being maxed out in humans.

      • Probably longer than twenty years. I was well into my sixties before my first serious medical problem, and in my early seventies most of my body still functions pretty well.

        And women, on average, last longer than men.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think you’re unusually fortunate, as I am.

          I’m 64, and not in chronic physical pain– maybe I’m just hearing more from people who have problems, though.

          My situation is partly luck– no big genetic problems and no history of major injuries. However, I’ve also been doing tai chi and such– not with extreme diligence– for over 30 years, and I know how my lower back starts tightening up and hurting if I neglect that sort of thing for a couple of weeks.

          I get pretty good agreement if I say that the human body has a 40 year warranty. 30 years if you’re an athlete.

    • Reasoner says:

      “needing a more stable lifestyle to maintain productivity”

      Well, moving somewhere new is also one of the best ways to modify habits.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Start saving seriously for retirement. Compound interest (The Invisible Foot on the Accelerator) is still on your side. You will not believe how pleasant you will find it in 25 or 30 years to have the freedom to decide whether your career is still bring you enjoyment. Even if it does, choice about exactly what you do is worth rubies.

      (“Seriously” is of course open to interpretation. You can find various guidelines about how much to save, but I think the real key is just to be a little nerdy about it. Learn to plot growth curves at various rates of savings and appreciation, and if the result scares you — and it will — use that fear to save more and/or learn more about investing. Though some people will tell you that you will spend less in retirement, don’t believe it — at least unless your pre-retirement spending includes putting several kids through college.)

  17. themadmammaker says:

    All these seem like convincing insights. But most of them are in the direction of elite opinion. There’s an innocent explanation for this: intellectual elites are pretty wise, so as I grow wiser I converge to their position. But the non-innocent explanation is that I’m not getting wiser, I’m just getting better socialized. Maybe in medieval Europe, the older I grew, the more I would realize that the Pope was right about everything.

    Another explanation for that – one I was expecting you to give – is that as you grow older you grow more powerful / gain status, so “keep things mostly as they are” seems like a better deal than “let’s overturn everything and rebuild society from scratch”, and your mind comes up with more rationalizations for the status quo.

    Maybe in the antebellum south, the more slaves you owned, the more you would realize that slavery is not so bad an institution after all.

    The two effects could work together; to get a better idea of which one is stronger you’d have to look for the opinions of people who are young-but-privileged, or old-but-powerless.

    • Baeraad says:

      I have a slightly different explanation. Positive change has a cost (all the pain and misery you have to go through as you first live through the transition and then have to adapt to the new situation) and a reward (getting to live in a world that is better than the world you used to live in).

      The cost is static.

      The reward is proportional to the time you have left to live.

      Thus, the older you get, the worse the tradeoff becomes. When you’re 20, suffering for 10 years to create a better world that you’ll get to enjoy for 50 years is an excellent bargain. When you’re 60, on the other hand…

      Plus, there’s the fact that when you’re 20, the idea of living in the world as it is feels almost insufferable, because just look at the state of this place!!! You feel like you have nothing to lose and everything to win. By the time you’re 35, you’ve either figured out how to stand it or you’re not around anymore, so it no longer feels quite so urgent to improve things.

  18. fortaleza84 says:

    I am middle aged and probably the best thing about aging has been that my emotions are duller now. When I have a problem at work, I am less likely to freak out about it and more likely to sleep well, knowing that in all likelihood I will find a way to muddle through. Even having less intense positive emotions has been constructive since I am less likely to engage in destructive behavior just for some thrill.

    When I was young, a mildly unpleasant incident felt like the end of the world, so to speak. That feeling was pretty much counter-productive.

    So to the extent that wisdom means exercising good judgment, I would say that my wisdom has improved with age because my judgment is less clouded by intense emotions.

  19. liskantope says:

    First of all, happy birthday Scott!

    Secondly, I will join some other commenters in saying that I’m not really on board with your blanket characterization of old people being “really conservative”, thinking the old days were better, etc. The closest sense in which I observe such a thing to be true is in my observation that older people seem less accepting of very modern ideas and developments than younger people are. For instance, an elderly person is more likely to express concern over the fact that nowadays people are spending more time looking at their phones than interacting with each other. This is not exactly in the sense of “things were better in the good old days” (I’m sure they mostly recognize the benefits of having the internet in one’s pocket too), but in the sense of feeling apprehension about some of the dangers of new lifestyles and reluctance to adopt them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to notice some of this in myself as well. My theory is that this comes down to a feature of our brain development, where we are more flexible to new behaviors and ideas when we are younger, so our brains get molded during our youth but then become more rigid and resistant to accepting new things. We don’t become more conservative as we age, so much as we become more set in our ways while the world around us continues to innovate.

    Actually, what I am much more interested in lately, and would love to see a thorough discussion on, is how idealism/radicalism versus pragmatism/incrementalism is correlated with age. Or to put it more concretely, why were so many of my younger friends passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016 (even with his crotchety old guy aesthetic!) while more of my older friends stood behind Hillary Clinton? This ties in with your changing attitudes towards utopianism as well. I suspect it has a lot to do with perspective gained from experience, both in that (1) things can get much more dire than younger people fully understand; and (2) there tend to be a lot of complicated hidden mechanisms that dampen radical change, and most pushes for revolution are less likely to work than younger people realize. This is not to imply that the pragmatism/incrementalism route is always better, because there are also disadvantages to being jaded and discouraged to the point of having one’s mind closed to radical new ideas. Maybe an analogy can be made with mutations versus continuous genetic variation driving evolution, or something like that.

    (Btw I still like the “Parable on Obsolete Ideologies” essay, but I think that’s because I choose to view it as a rebuttal to one particular strongly-taken position rather than as a thorough analysis of all sides of an issue.)

  20. Deej says:

    Happy birthday. Just started commenting but I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and find it inspiring and interesting. So, thanks.

    Some thoughts and experiences related to this post. I’m a similar age, and have been through a similar process – although much less rigouress a process.

    First. I’m pretty sure that a lot of this is proper learning from experiences where things have seemed obvious or clear and you believed them quite strongly, and then it turns out you’d missed things. That’s certainly been quite a big part of my experience – it’s often been I thought I knew what I was doing or understood someting and then it truned out that i didn’t. Likewise, and possibly more influentially, it’s often become clear that clever people in senior positions don’t have much of a clue (I note this and recent post about how do I know it’s not me – but for less complicated ideas soemtimes it’s clear).

    Second. As someone says above, we need to distinguish between individual people changing their views as they get older, and the centre grounds shifting as younger people are more liberal than their predecessors. My feeling is that for economic issues people’s individual views probably do shift rightwards as they get older, but for social issues it’s seems likely that it’s the centre ground that’s moving. Although for today’s more exterme identity politics left youfs that might change.

    Third. I think it’s worth distinguising between types of people and how their views might change. People who are properly interested in politics, for example, are – I would exepct – much more likely top have big changes in their views, than those that aren’t. See ex-trotskists now in the Tory party or at least Blairite in the UK. I expect that the people interested in politics changes are likely to be relatively more driven by learning from experience and reflective thought than people just slowly change their views over time from, for example, a bit left to a bit right of centre. Or left to a bit left less left, right to a bit less right etc.

    Fourth. I think three probably applies to the rationalist community. Not necessarilly in terms of political views, but certainly in terms of beoming more sceptical, less sure, more cynical etc. That’s not to say the NDMA receptor thing isn’t going on too. Just that it’ll be both learing and biolgical changes, no doubt in a complex circular kind of way, but that people that think about things a lot will have relatuvely more influence from the learning and thinking stuff.

  21. Bruno Loff says:

    Funny, I’ll be 33 in less than a month. I thought of trying to make a similar list (now vs 10 years ago).

    1. The birth of consciousness about power and politics, and how it affects everything.
    2. A much heigthened understanding of subtext – how people say things with hidden meaning, sometimes even hidden to themselves.
    3. Due to 1 & 2, a greater understanding of self-image and self-deceit.
    4. Due to 1-3, loss of belief that I am a good person, and how that actually makes me a better person than I was before this understanding. Also, a much greater ability to see what really motivates people, and how that is dissonant of what they say or even believe actually motivates them.
    5. Due to all of the above, a much diminished hope in mankind’s future in general, and a move from very leftwing political thinking to a more centrist political alignment (yes, Chesterton’s fence).
    6. I have fully understood that I am going to die.
    7. Due to 6, I have started meditating intensely, having kept a meditation practice for 8 years now, with several months spent in solitary retreat. And I hate meditating, as I find it very unpleasurable, very time consuming, and a very difficult thing to do in general.
    8. Due to 7, I live in a condition that is close to a permanent low-grade acid-trip. This makes my sensory perception very different from how it was 10 years ago.
    9. I am less sure that there is such a thing as truth, and more focused on usefulness — applicability and expectable outcomes — and self-consistency — even at the expense of usefulness.
    10. I have drastically cut down the number of activities I engage in, and the number of people I engage with. I still somehow read this blog from time to time.

  22. Michael Pershan says:

    Maybe whether you see young functioning of NMDA receptors as “intact” or “unripe” depends itself on your other views. What I mean is, who is to say that the changes make the NMDA receptors function more poorly, from a political or value perspective. There would still be no way to say whether the views of wisdom are worse than those of youth.

    Oh yeah, and happy birthday.

    Anyway, if it’s any comfort, I don’t think it matters much whether you’re right or not. It doesn’t matter much whether any random individual is right or not. What matters more is the beliefs of the population or community in aggregate, and the dynamics there are complicated. That’s a population made of people both old and young, liberal and conservative, etc. And I can think of people who were dead wrong about a lot of things who still influenced a lot of people in a good way.

    But of course our inability to bust out of our own heads and grasp the truth and the thing itself extends to this too. We can never know if we’re having a positive influence, probably. That sucks. Still, you’ve got to try.

  23. vV_Vv says:

    There’s one more possibility that bothers me even worse than the socialization or traumatization theory. I’m going to use science-y sounding terms just as an example, but I don’t actually think it’s this in particular – we know that the genes for liberal-conservative differences are mostly NMDA receptors in the brain. And we know that NMDA receptor function changes with aging. It would be pretty awkward if everything we thought was “gaining wisdom with age” was just “brain receptors consistently functioning differently with age”.

    What is the cause and the effect there? Maybe becoming more conservative affects your NMDA receptors? Remember, there is no ghost in the machine, you are your brain.

    Btw, I’m slightly older than you and I also became more conservative in recent years, mainly as a reaction to identity politics. I don’t think it has anything to do with socialization, since some of my beliefs that changed, changed towards the “lightning before thunder” side.

  24. meh says:

    4. More willingness to assume that other people are competent in aggregate

    This is funny. I found that as I got older I realized how terrible most people were at their jobs.

    • Peffern says:

      I think this is a ‘rejection of your upbringing’ kind of thing:

      If you were raised to believe that people are basically good and competent at their jobs, which I understand was true for a decent chunk of the recent past, then as you mature you’re more likely to realize people actually suck.

      If you were raised to believe that people suck at everything, which seems to be the case now, at least in my bubble, then as you mature you realize that maybe people might not necessarily be morons.

    • Janet says:

      Yeah, me too– in my 20’s, I pretty much assumed that everybody doing a job, was competent at the job. Now, in my 40’s, I pretty much assume that everybody is mediocre, at best, and possibly quite dangerously incompetent even at their core job… until proven otherwise.

      Now, I will grant that I’m MUCH more aware that there are likely to be strong reasons for why things are the way they are, or why people do what they do, that are not necessarily apparent to me as an outsider. These reasons may not be good reasons, but they don’t simply vanish from the world by pointing that out. And I’m also much more aware that “Obviously” is not either an argument or an explanation.

  25. colomon says:

    I dunno. I’m 47 and I do feel like I’ve gained wisdom as I aged. But most of that wisdom is of the form of learning my own limitations and something of everyone else’s too.

    I’ve seen things I passionately argued for (or against) happen and turn out to be terrible (or great). I’ve been working on the same piece of software for nearly two decades, and so routinely get my nose rubbed in mind-bogglingly stupid things I did a decade or two ago. I recall my impressively awful episode of Dunning–Kruger in Irish Traditional Music, when I thought I was hot shit but didn’t even have a hint that I didn’t actually understand much of anything yet. (And now 16 years on, I have the wisdom to recognize how badly I did then, and to wonder where I might trip up that way again, but I don’t have the … meta-wisdom? … for that to manifest as anything other than doubt.) I’ve seen how badly I can misjudge a person. From studying up on autism I’ve learned that a lot of traits I previously attributed to basically conscious choices might well not be — that feels like my latest epic lesson.

    I’ve also been paying attention to politics enough to see both US parties swap positions and go on arguing that their approach is correct without ever apparently noticing their own 180 degree turn. I’ve see my friends on Facebook spread really stupid viral arguments like they are slam dunk logic.

    Thing is, my “wisdom” mostly manifests as doubt. I think that does help me avoid falling into stupid mistakes quite so often. I’m not at all sure it helps me make correct decisions.

  26. TheZvi says:

    (I should probably expand this to full post length, and hope to do that later, but I don’t want to accidentally doing the thing where an email is important enough to get a good response, so you end up never responding to it)

    Happy birthday, indeed. Since no one else seems to have pointed it out yet, let me state what seems to me to be completely obvious, which is that #2 is a load of bull.

    You are special. You can and do change the world.

    I’m not saying that to the proverbial/general you; this isn’t a “everyone is beautiful in every single way” thing, or a “anyone can change the world” pep talk. This is a “You are Scott Alexander and you have a voice and platform that actually matters” pep talk. People really do actually listen to you. People who matter. Your opinions filter in to the general discussion. I’m not talking only about rationalists or people in Berkeley, I’m talking about people like Tyler Cohen and Ezra Klein. If I had to list “blogs/people everyone in my office reads that aren’t explicitly about our work” you’d be on the list at #3 behind Tyler Cohen and Matt Levine.

    Maybe 10 years ago it would have been reasonable to say that you (probably) weren’t special and couldn’t change the world. But why would you believe that less now rather than more? You’ve actually already changed it, and mostly for the better. So when you notice you’re doing things that quash truth, or worse encourage others to quash or disregard truth for other values (as you’ve done recently and explicitly), you’re not just fitting in. You’re doing real, sizable harm. Snap out of it.

    Act like you matter. Because you do.

    In general, it seems like you’re making the mistake of thinking that because there are hidden/complex reasons behind the things people do, and you’ve seen some of those reasons but not others, and at least some of those reasons are good reasons, that this means that there’s a good reason for most (seemingly dumb) things people do and believe. No. A reason, or even worse an explanation, does not mean a good reason!

    Anyway, that’s what I have time for right now, except the reminder that yes Facebook is ruining everything and seriously you have all the information and know full well that it’s true, and implying that it isn’t true by associating it with low-status in the form of an old-person stereotype really isn’t helping.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      Amen!

      (Also: this might not be your cup of tea personality-wise, and be at odds with your anonymity policy, but once you have recovered your conviction that spreading your opinion is a significant net good, you should consider becoming more visible on channels other than your blog. I would definitely love to hear you talk with, say, Joe Rogan or Sam Harris for two or three hours.)

    • Nick says:

      In general, it seems like you’re making the mistake of thinking that because there are hidden/complex reasons behind the things people do, and you’ve seen some of those reasons but not others, and at least some of those reasons are good reasons, that this means that there’s a good reason for most (seemingly dumb) things people do and believe. No. A reason, or even worse an explanation, does not mean a good reason!

      But what should the default assumption be? Should Scott’s default assumption when he sees someone do something he doesn’t understand be “There’s probably either nothing to understand here or it’s nonsense”, or should it be “I should attempt to understand this”? It sounds like he’s learned—from experience—that the latter is often better than the former. I’m not saying I necessarily agree (it happens that I do), but unless you have an argument for why most people’s hidden/complex reasons are most of the time bad, it seems you’re just asking him to ignore what he’s learned.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        Maybe something like, “make a good-faith effort to understand it, and if it still sounds like a bunch of bullshit, come to the provisional conclusion that it is.”
        A short view at history should convince anyone that it’s entirely possible that large groups of people, as well as lots of brilliant individuals, have been completely wrong. If there’s a discrepancy between a group of people and a dissenting brilliant individual, there’s no shortcut to determine which one is correct, no guarantee that the group’s paradigm is in any way better.

    • Reasoner says:

      +100. Also, happy birthday!

  27. Anon. says:

    I’ve been reading Age of Em and it’s got some related bits:

    Controlling for birth cohort, individual productivity does not peak until at least age 60, and may never peak (Cardoso et al. 2011; Göbel and Zwick 2012). […] Also, any falling productivity after age 60 for humans today may be primarily caused by declining physical abilities, not declining mental abilities

    Today, our abilities at different kinds of tasks peak at different ages. For example, raw cognitive processing peaks in late teens, learning and remembering names in early 20s, short-term memory about age 30, face recognition in early 30s, social understanding about age 50, and word knowledge above age 65 (Hartshorne and Germine 2015).

    As an intellectual, your productivity is presumably measured in ideas. So as you age you’d expect them to get better, but less innovative?

  28. vjl110 says:

    And if I accept my intellectual changes as “gaining wisdom”, shouldn’t I also believe that old people are wiser than I am? And old people mostly seem to go around being really conservative and saying that everything was better in the old days and the youth are corrupt and Facebook is going to be the death of us. I could model this as two different processes – a real wisdom-related process that ends exactly where I am now, plus a false rose-colored-glasses-related process that ends with your crotchety great-uncle talking about how things have been going downhill since the war – but that’s a lot of special pleading.

    FWIW… I would expect an intellectual age curve that balances: cognitive development, experience, and senescence to peak somewhere between 30 and 40/50. It actually isn’t that unreasonable that you currently have things figured out better than you ever have and will be peaking at some point in the next decade.

  29. Vamair says:

    I liked that phrase about cynicism that its goal is not to maximize truth, but to minimize disappointment. It’s safer if you’re really hurt by disappointment, and that’s the reason a lot of innocents shift into cynicism so easily after being traumatized.

  30. 1 is also a change that has occurred in my thinking.

    Intellectual conservatism is not the label I would apply to James Scott, although he does say interesting things.

    You are wrong about point 2.

    • James S. works better on the populist/elitist axis, IMO.

    • liskantope says:

      I get very mixed emotions reading things like #2 (“I’m special and can change the world”), because I’ve gone through the exact same humbling evolution during the last 10 years (I’m roughly 3 years younger than Scott), yet I’d dearly love to have realized the level of talent and influence that Scott has. I guess, Scott explained in his 30th birthday post of three years ago, it’s all relative.

      • Deiseach says:

        To stick up for young people now all we oldies are tut-tutting over them, you do need that sort of innocent vanity and brashness to think “I can do this, I can change the world!” in order to tackle the big issues and hard problems. If you had the attitude of age at the start, you’d never try. It’s only once the world has knocked some of your corners off that you realise it’s a very big place and maybe you can’t change it all, but perhaps there’s a manageable chunk you can do something with.

        And some people do go on to change the world, even when everyone else is shaking their head and saying “it’ll never get off the ground”. So hurrah for the self-centred blinkered viewpoint of youth which thinks it is special enough to do what has never been done before, because sometimes that really happens!

        • Baeraad says:

          That’s how I see it too. If you’re a random young person, chances are that you’re not in fact one in a million. But in every million young people, one of them definitely will be – and we’ll never find out which one unless each and every one of them is delusional enough to think it’s them.

          Even though, as someone who went on to discover that he was one of the 999,999 other ones, I do find youthful overconfidence extremely grating. :p

    • moridinamael says:

      Changing the world is easy. You just have to identify a thing that is important to some people and work on it until those people recognize that you’ve contributed something meaningful. By this definition, I’ve changed the world, like, three or more times. Just not in the kinds of ways that Elon Musk has changed the world.

  31. bean says:

    Happy birthday!
    I think the diversity of perspective that comes with age is a valuable thing, so long as we remember that it’s the diversity that helps, and not just that one type is necessarily strictly better than the others. I’ve seen this at work. There were (previous job) some older engineers who have seen basically everything, and they were so conservative it sometimes drove me nuts. “If you only care about the plane not crashing, just ground the whole fleet now.” (This was pretty much the logical extension of some of the stuff they were saying.) At the same time, I recognize that my position is probably far too aggressive for the flying public. My proposed solution was to take the decision-making out of the hands of the most senior people, and give it to people in the middle, advised by both the old people and me.

  32. Murphy says:

    I’ve noticed a vaguely related trend in science:

    you get a number of grand old academics, the kind of people who continue to hang out at the institution long after they’re officially retired who are an absolute goldmine for various minutiae of their subject.

    They’ve tried many approaches over the decades and can warn you about dead ends….

    but they also often have an overabundance of cynicism.

    Often they remember that approach X didn’t work, they may not remember the exact details as to why. their memory of the event gets pared down to “that’s a dead end”… and then at some point a new generation of grad students come along and eventually someone ignores the advice that X is a dead end and it turns out that in the 30 years that have passed the things that made X a dead end no longer apply. The sequencing methods can now read through long-repeats or the chemistry used for some step is improved or some background piece of knowledge has been added to the field that now allows people to power through the former roadblock.

    Is that wisdom? Knowing lots of dead ends can be useful and can save resources…but it can also be maladaptive as the world changes around you.

    Outside science:

    The distribution of wisdom seems to be a tad spotty. Some people get older and wiser… some just get older. There’s a reason “forwards from grandma” are a thing and are quite recognizable.

  33. Brandon Berg says:

    My mental model of old people who say crazy things is that they’re unthinkingly regurgitating the conventional wisdom of their day. Young people do this all the time, too, but their day is today, so they’re unthinkingly regurgitating the conventional wisdom of the present day. This gives them cover. Instead of sounding crazy, they just sound basic.

  34. Richard Kennaway says:

    It would be pretty awkward if everything we thought was “gaining wisdom with age” was just “brain receptors consistently functioning differently with age”.

    Alternatively (and I’m guessing the mouse study would not be able to decide this) gaining wisdom might be one with aging. To spell that out, if the mind is a physical process of the brain, then gaining wisdom must be a physical change in the brain, part of which could involve those NMDA receptors.

  35. Emanuel Rylke says:

    On thing that happens as you grow older is that mental processes run their course. So it wouldn’t surprise me if there is both more wisdom and more foolishness going around among old people.

  36. I’m more than twice your age, so it may be interesting to see what has changed.

    1. I am considerably less interested in learning new skills. My younger son spend a good deal of time on what look like very interesting computer games–Paradox Interactive historicals. From time to time he suggests I might like them, and thirty years ago I would have, but at this point both the learning curve and the amount of time they take are serious barriers. Similarly, I have pretty much dropped out of WoW, largely because I concluded that I was not going to make it above mediocre relative to the people I was raiding with–for a number of reasons, but one of them that I wasn’t willing to put the time and effort into playing better that they were. For similar reasons, although I find blockchain currencies interesting and ingenious, I haven’t put the amount of energy into understanding the details and issues that I would have when younger.

    2. In at least one case, I am less able to learn something new. I know a lot of poetry by heart, learned in the past very easily. It’s still possible for me to memorize something new, but much harder.

    3. My guess is that there is some shift from fluid to crystallized intelligence, a pattern I observed in my father–from thinking things out afresh to using the answers I thought out in the past.

    4. My daughter thinks that, although I still enjoy interacting with small children, I am less patient than in the past, comparing my interaction with her when she was little with my interaction with my (adorable) granddaughter. That raises the interesting question of whether, if ending or reversing aging becomes practical in time for me (unlikely but not impossible), I would want to raise another set of children.

    • jchrieture says:

      David Friedman’s self-report on aging and cognition is consonant with, and is compatibly extended by, a semi-obscure neurological monograph (that is in our local university’s music library): neurologist Frank R. Wilson’s Tone deaf and all thumbs? An invitation to music-making for late bloomers and non-prodigies (1986):

      In case you are undecided about your own interest [in late-life musical learning], you may wish to consider […] additional benefits that fell to me as a result of beginning the study of music when it was already `too late’ […] It may also occur to you, as it has to me, that the cultural value of appeal of music need not be abstract, academic, or highbrow. There is nothing like active participation to bring this realization alive.

      I recall being told in my early teens that the music of any period reflects something of the society in which it was conceived: listen to the music of Mozart, or of Chopin, and you immerse yourself in the traditions of an earlier culture. No one would gainsay this special attraction of music — without it symphonic music would hardly be as popular as it is. But something far more personal, and more powerful, occurred as a result of my trying to play music that had been written long before I was born.

      The first time it happened, I was practicing Debussy’s La Cathédrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) when the piano unexpectedly yielded a sound I had neither heard nor even imagined before. I felt almost as though the piano and I were going to float right out the window, that Debussy and I were in that room together, outside of time, suspended in a resonance he had created in his mind when he wrote the piece.

      I played the chord again several times to make sure my ears hadn’t deceived me, then went outside and looked at trees for an hour or so. Music can surprise you this way, making you wonder a bit about the nature of human affinity, or even about our notions of immortality.

      Professor Wilson’s older-learning experience closely matches my own, in that the essential quality to be treasured and cultivated is not youth itself, but rather the actively participatory passion of caring … a passion that, most commonly, is first experienced in youth, yet fortunately is not unique to youths.

      When it happens that active caring-passions diminish with age, the reasons are (most commonly) not physiologically geriatric, but rather originate (for example) in accumulated life-disappointments … disappointments that need not be passively accepted as affectively determinative.

      A concrete recommendation: “yes” to coffee, “no” to alcohol.

    • Murphy says:

      Re: blockchain, I found that simple basic crypto as covered in The Code Book is enough to give you a fair understanding of blockchain basics while also giving you enough to understand most of modern info security.

      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Code-Book-Secret-History-Code-breaking/dp/1857028899/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510154128&sr=8-1&keywords=the+code+book&dpID=5198GJK75JL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

      Personally I’ve been a little depressed about how much of the world is obsessed with crypto-currencies while having basically no idea what any of it means.

      A while back I was hanging out at my local hackspace’s open night when some young women got to asking me about bitcoin services “for a report”.

      All fairly basic stuff, so over a few drinks I explained the reasoning behind why people criticize some services because it means them having both X Y and Z piece of information etc.

      I assumed they were students doing a report. A while later I got a thankyou email and it turns out they were actually working for a financial services company and said report was apparently for that.

      I had a “holy crap, major financial decisions are being made on the basis of What Some Guy in a Hackspace Told Me” moment.

    • Reasoner says:

      This sounds a lot like you are just getting more tired as you age. Does that sound accurate?

  37. hanmeng says:

    I’m 30 years older than you.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that one can’t be sure who’s right and who’s wrong, and sometimes what’s wrong for me is right for them and vice versa.

    Part of this way of thinking (is it wisdom? is it stupidity?) may come from experience. Or maybe my declining energy has something to do with it.

    When I ask someone about something I usually accept what they tell me at first, and then slowly come to believe they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    Edited to add: Maybe they are right.

  38. Majuscule says:

    I’m wondering if there might be a connection here to your earlier post about New Atheism. Perhaps in addition to the factors you described in its decline, enough of the brash young things who populated the movement at first might have simply aged into more nuanced views of religion and society. Not that they’d start believing in God, but they might be less interested in the kind of strident expressions of atheism you mentioned as being the first half of the problem. There will always be a fresh crop of young atheists, but without enough elders/mentors, a movement never gets past a certain point.

    • moridinamael says:

      I know this is a weird hill to die on, but I absolutely don’t see that New Atheism has become less popular. Or perhaps I think that’s just not a useful framing on the issue. Perhaps the marketing phrase “New Atheism” has declined but the underlying phenomenon didn’t go away. New Atheism isn’t something people talk about anymore because it’s boring. It was really shocking for a brief period of time that famous people were loudly saying “religion is bad”, because that wasn’t normal. Now it’s downright mainstream.

      It’s not that New Atheism somehow died out. It’s that the debate about it died out because it won. It made its way inside the Overton window.

      When I was a kid it was weird and scary to find out that somebody was an atheist. It’s normal now. It’s just a thing.

      Part of this is that the Internet happened. When I was a kid and teenager, I think many of my friends were closet atheists. The Internet created shared knowledge that there are a *lot* of atheists, and mutual knowledge about that mutual knowledge, which instantly changed the equilibrium. The Internet also promulgated and filtered the best atheist arguments.

      Sam Harris, one of the New Atheists, is a frequent and popular guest on the Joe Rogan podcast, which has millions of regular US listeners, and Harris has his own very popular podcast. He constantly talks about how bad religion is. Dawkins continues to write books and give talks. Daniel Dennett continues to be Daniel Dennett. Christopher Hitchens died, so we’re not getting that particular firebrand of a voice anymore. To me all of this amounts to a shift in marketing tactics following a big social success, not “fading into irrelevance.”

    • Reasoner says:

      Is New Atheism’s rebuff to Atheism Plus insufficient to explain why left wing journalists snark at it?

  39. Eponymous says:

    I think the Bible has a lot of wisdom to offer here (speaking of that old post of yours!). I’ve come to really enjoy the book of Proverbs, and I now consider Ecclesiastes one of the best works of literature ever written. I guess that figures, since they were written by the wisest person ever! 😉

    Proverbs begins with an extensive meditation on just what we mean by “wisdom”. It basically works out to “willingness to learn”, whether from experience or from others. Of course, the net effect of taking this mental posture over a lifetime is to learn a lot.

    I think there’s a certain natural arc of personality changes that accompany aging, that are probably a combination of biological, social, and learned. People become more mellow, less ambitious, less willing to try new things, and so on. This probably partly reflects learning: with more experience, people have a better perspective on life, and know what they want. But I think it’s also biological and social, reflecting an adaptive strategy: early in life, you pursue a more risky strategy of aggressively trying new things to find your niche. Then later you adopt a safer strategy of sticking with the best option you’ve found so far. This matches the explore/exploit optimal strategy in the multi-armed bandit problem.

    Then there are changes that basically come from switching to a different reasoning style due to a different knowledge base. When you’re young, you have little experience, but relatively more explicit knowledge, and a well-functioning brain. Thus you tend to reason out logical conclusions from known facts and premises. However, as you age you accumulate more implicit and tacit knowledge, and thus your reasoning style switches to something closer to averaging over lots of similar cases. (Sort of like a switch from inside view to outside view reasoning.)

    Anyway, right now I’m pursuing an intentional strategy of trying to keep my outlook young in various ways, while also trying to incorporate the best of age-related wisdom. One part of this is trying not to become too cynical, which I think is a mental poison in our society.

    (p.s. I think that part of your becoming more cynical isn’t age-related, but just reflects the world being relatively crappy recently. That’s my guess anyway. I would be curious to hear the perspective of older readers on this, since they presumably have a longer perspective.)

    • Deiseach says:

      What can a 33-year old tell a younger self, or a relative, or anyone aged 11 or 22, for example?

      Well, you can’t tell them. I mean, yeah sure you can tell them as in speak to them, but they won’t listen unless they’re inclined to, and if they’re hitting those teenage years they’ll be sure you’re an outdated old fart who knows nothing about how they feel and what they want. And early twenties are going to be “oh you baby boomers/gen xers have no idea how tough it is nowadays!” (to be fair, life is tough for the young adults nowadays, but uniquely tough? I don’t think so). It’s only after it happens the way you warned that the message sinks in.

      So basically all you can do is warn them, step back, and be prepared to help with the mopping up if things get messy (if the kid is right and it turns out okay after all, that’s good too and you should acknowledge that). But a lot of it is “okay, this is a bad experience and you are suffering but honestly you will get over this” and giving them a shoulder to cry on.

      It’s easier when you’re not the parent/authority figure they’re having the dispute/rebellion against, because the one thing that you can do is give calm advice since you’re not taking sides. Even if you have to say “yeah, your mother is right about this” and they go “I hate you uncle/aunt!”, then it’s still a lot less heated than the battlezone of adolescence in the family home.

    • Deiseach says:

      Wisdom sits beside the gates and lifts up her voice 🙂

      Proverbs 8:22-31

      22 The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning.
      23 I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made.
      24 The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out:
      25 The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth:
      26 He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.
      27 When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths:
      28 When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:
      29 When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth;
      30 I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times;
      31 Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.

  40. TyphonBaalHammon says:

    I’m not sure if there’s a direct link with NMDA, but one of the biggest change in life, which seems to affect everyone, is how we relate to time. I don’t miss my childhood much, but one thing I do sorely miss is how summer afternoons seemed to last forever and ever.
    Nowadays time seems to go by much more quickly. Which is alarming since I’m obviously more aware now of the inevitability of death. I’m not sure what to make of it in terms of how it affects opinions, but it’s one of the most noticeable change between youth and old age.

    • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

      Not trying to be coy or flippant or anything but,
      Have you ever read any books on time management?

      The reason i ask is i just complete a few after finishing undergrad and noticing how much time i was wasting and how much days on end seem to slip by in an instant.
      By no stretch of the imagination am i good at it, but the few times I’ve actually managed to follow the books advice and manage my time well, i noticed time seemed to slow down.
      Like i felt like i was 8 again and the time between 11 and 3 was never ending, and i’d wake up thinking it was friday then notice it was only wednesday and i had somehow gained 2 days instead of losing 3.
      I dont know maybe I’m just feeling the correction from bein a lazy slob for so long, but i think a part of the Time Flies experience as you get older might be just that you lose the artificial time structure provided by teachers and supervisors

      And i really want to hear what ithers have to say about their subjective experience of time!

      • TyphonBaalHammon says:

        In my experience, time seems to slow down when I’m doing things, preferably concrete things (making stuff, going places, etc, as opposed to merely reading). I guess being lazy is part of my problem. On the other hand I don’t think organisation in itself would change my perception, except insofar as it would push me to do more things (maybe this is the whole point ?).

        I’m pretty sure nonetheless that there is a change, a physiological change in time perception, I should look for studies on the subject.

        In any case I haven’t read any books on time management, I’ll take recommendations if you have some.
        I do indeed think that some of my bad habits today were acquired as a reaction against externally imposed structure in school.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          I really liked Getting Things Done by David Allen.
          He goes through in equisite detail how to organise a desk, your papers, your things to do, ect. So that that you can actually relly on them And not have remebering tasks and appointments be a drain of will power.
          The book is the rare self-help boom that has the real feel of knowledge instead of just the feel of being “inspired”
          It has the right ratio of inspiring sounding ideas to proper use of a filing cabinent.

          To your point about school. School actually was really good at making time stretch out, remember looking at the clock at what felt like 6 and seeing it was only 11, and then checking the calendar and realizing “shit its not friday but monday”.

          The problem is you weren’t achieving anything in school except stretching out time. And because you always had that external structure you never learned how to do it by yourself without that structure.

          It could be one of the pathways to immortality is just kung fu master level time management. Like if i can get really good at it maybe I’ll be able to live a subjective century from now and only be 26 afterwords.
          I mean there’ll be the tradeoff of always having to maintain self control, but hey if you want to drink the blood of the unicorn you have to deal with the side effects.

  41. The Nybbler says:

    “It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles being too tired.” — Robert Heinlein.

    At 45, I don’t know how wise I am (probably not very), but I’m definitely too tired.

    A few of the things you list I’ve gone the other way on. On 4, I’m even more likely to believe others are incompetent in the aggregate, and that academics are just circlejerking. I find myself surprised when I deal with someone who knows their own job (home renovation will do this to you), and I dread seeking out experts in fields I know little about because I know sorting out the incompetents and the frauds is so difficult. Less belief in Chesterton’s fence. And less worry that I’m wrong about everything, because it’s pretty clear that even if I am, there’s no one who has the right answers.

    But I never was much of a utopian, and I can see ways the world is better than it was when I was younger. Obvious ones include the fall of the Soviet Union, meaning no fear of global thermonuclear war (sorry, Kim, but while you might make me nervous but it ain’t the same), and the reduction in street crime. Then of course there’s the modern Internet. But there’s negatives too, including the rise of Social Justice, the concentration of jobs in urban centers, increased government (rules, regulations, and taxes), and there just being too many people (did I mention I’m antisocial and always have been? This at least saves me from Facebook and Twitter.)

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      and the reduction in street crime

      Oh god, this. Who here *remembers* living in the dense urbans in the 1960s and 1970s?

      Anyone who has rosy memories of that time were too young, were not actually there, or were on the wrong side of that conflict.

  42. Luke the CIA Stooge says:

    Wow our personallities are almost the complete opposite.
    (Maybe major difference in trait agreeableness)

    I intuitively reject respectable, high status, non-cringeworthy oppion when i come across it (atleast treat very skeptically/hold it to a high standard of rigour) speciffically because I intuitively know that the social and societal pressure to get me to believe it is so strong.
    Ive found this to be really helpful in calibration and my thinking A. Becuase even if i reject an idea or set of oppinions i’m still going to know the ins and out of it becuase i live in this society and B. Because I can actually trust my common sense when i think something is “just common sense” becuase I’ve already given an extreme, rigourous and suspicious thinking over to anything i would classify as common sense.

    Im not sure how well this would work for others:I talk rather coyly when i talk about politics or anything controversial when im in polite company, and my close aquaontances roll their eyes when i dont act so contrained, also I’m not sure whether or not its easily translatable to anyone whose not a moral nihilist ie. Thinks moral questions are just preferences once coordination problems have been identified. Like i cant count the number of times just noticing “ah he’s using moral language instead of nuetral (rational) propositions, this is a power play” helped me really see through a problem (i now consider “moral” language a tell that someones trying to exploit someone else and use their status to make someone act against their interest). But this method really isn’t available to someone who takes moral language seriously.

    On the whole i find it much better to be a freak with wacked out socially unacceptable ideas than the normie i used to be, i have a ton of new frames and ways of looking at things and i havent lost anything! I can still apply the normie interpretation whenever i want because you just absorb what “respectable” people would think about something by osmosis.

    Has anyone else tried this? What do you think? I know im a bad person by almost every standard, but do you expect I’m a more accurate person?

    • SUT says:

      > “ah he’s using moral language instead of nuetral (rational) propositions, this is a power play”

      If you’re a WEIRD Millenial (like the majority of this forum) you were taught to question moral authority from the Church, and from the “Corporations” [scare quotes]. I think this lines up well with Scott’s theory that low-status=low-belief. Your problem is that you’re targeting high status institutions, and that’s a risky road to walk for you and anyone seen walking with you.

      Consider an office in SF: one person keeps a statue of the Virgin Mary, the other person keeps an action figure of Hillary Clinton. Which one do you ridicule?

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Might just be that I’m no longer in a red tribe enviroment but virgin mary is really inoccuous, like it just signals their background isn’t anglosphere (if i was in a very catholic country i could imagine mocking the virgin mary being funny (like in private moments or with friends im not a complete asshole)).
        The hillary clinton action figure on the other hand…

        But to adress your point: I’m very aware I’m targeting institutions and groups with power and real “moral” authority. What would be the point in trying to tear down a group thats already beneath you?
        You select your targets based on their threat assessments, and groups that are high status, control the culture and control the epistemic environment are a threat to my very thoughts!
        This is why i was so suprised by Scott’s admission that he couched his ideas in his thoughts and looked down on those who spoke up in public!

        Sure maybe you need to pretend to be a good high status believer, but you should try to be atleast free in your thoughts! You should be working to correct for the toxic epistemic enviroment so as to atleast have accurate beliefs yourself! You should be dreaming of the day when you can speak your mind openly! You should be privately chearing on the brave souls who challenge the system that you dont feel you can challenge! You should aid and abet those brave souls to the extent you can without risking yourself! You should save your contempt and hatred for the real enemy!

        You shouldn’t internalize the attempt to control you. If your surrounded by the high status enemy then you just look them in the eye and lie. you don’t contort your beliefs so as not to be offensive to the enemy.

        (Moral nihilism note: i don’t mean “should” in the above in a moral way but a practical way. I assume Scott and readers want to have accurate beliefs, to be free in their thoughts and that they have a healthy hatred of those who want to distort and control their thoughts. If you don’t mind being a slave in your own mind and don’t hate those who would be your masters, then good for you! You may disregard my advice)

    • (i now consider “moral” language a tell that someones trying to exploit someone else and use their status to make someone act against their interest).

      or to solve a co-ordination problem to get a better outcome. Not that that’s really different. If individual interest and gorup interest invariably coincided , there would be no need for morality.

  43. Quixote says:

    Consider that different problems might best be handled by different frames of mind. Old people could be systemically better about personal relationships and youth could be systemically better about public policy.

    I’m older now than I was, and also older than you, and I ‘feel’ wiser. I feel a lot wiser and think I could easily dodge many of the mistakes of my youth now given similar decision points. But whenever I feel myself getting complacent in my wisdom I remember:
    Young people were more opposed to slavery than older people
    Young people more opposed to Vietnam than older people
    Young people realized that black people were people before older people did
    Young people realized that female people were people before older people did
    Young people realized that gay people were people before older people did
    Young people realized that people who immigrated were people before older people did
    Young people realized that drug policy was bad people before older people did
    Young people realized that mass incarceration was bad people before older people did

    Getting those questions right is probably more impactful on a social level than a wide variety of other seemingly important points. Across time, if you lived through all human history, a very strong strategy for maximizing your moral worth would have been to always side with the 20somethings regardless of your own judgment.

    • knockoffnikolai says:

      Which 20somethings, though? If we mean specifically the ones on the winning side of historical ideological battles, then that just leaves us back at the original question of “which ideology is going to win?” without the reference to demographics.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Almost all of your “realized that X people were people before older people” did are wrong, a conceit of activists (some of whom are young and some of whom are not). And they were wrong in the same way; that no one actually believed that the X people _weren’t_ people. The partial exception is “black”, and that was an abberation; considering black people as less than people was a rationalization for their treatment, not the cause of it. Probably a rationalization invented by young people, but I don’t have data on that one.

      Institutionalization rate (combined involuntary committment and prison) is inversely correlated with crime, so I’m not so sure that is bad.

      I don’t know about age and opposition to slavery. Or Vietnam, though young people had an obvious self-interest in that one.

    • Deiseach says:

      Young people realized that female people were people before older people did

      So true! When I was a four year old female girl-child, my grandmother insisted on treating me as though I were a chair – she was too old to realise that female people are people, too!

      If you mean things like “suffragettes agitating for the vote”, the leaders were often married women, so whether that counts as “older” or not I don’t know – what is your cut-off point for “young”, up to 25 or what?

      If you mean “the sexual revolution and free love”, then probably yes, it was young men who wanted to fuck young women without the necessity of marrying them first, but as the saying goes, “a standing prick hath no conscience” so I don’t know how much that was about “you are a free equal independent person like me” and how much about “don’t be a drag, baby, men need to be free and women shouldn’t hang on to them!”

      • TyphonBaalHammon says:

        I remember seeing a picture in one of my history books of a women’s society for the right to vote (in France, not sure if the word “suffragette” applies, but they were contemporary). And I was struck by the fact that their reasons for voting were really not progressive at all. It was stuff like “women should vote to fight against immorality”.

        And I’ve read that, at the beginning, women voted more conservatively than men, at least for a time, after being given the right to vote (again, in France, seventy years ago, not sure if this applies elsewhere).

        • John Schilling says:

          The first big political issue for the newly-enfranchised suffragettes of the United States was Prohibition. Susan B. Anthony, IIRC, was a prohibition (or at least “temperance”) activist before she was a women’s-suffrage activist, and I suspect the latter may have been but a means to the former end.

          Took them a few generations, but they got what they were after. As did everyone else in the country.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          Specifically, what happened is that as soon as women got the right to vote, they

          1) made damn sure that younger women were deemed “not adult” and so thus were not in vote competition with them, and
          2) made damn sure that prostitutes and other “immoral” women were branded as criminals, and so thus not in vote competition with them.

          They then turned their voting bloc on criminalizing consorting with the women they had just made sure were not going to be allowed to vote, then criminalizing drinking, and then imposed a tax on bachelors.

          You cannot say I’m wrong about any of this.

          • ashlael says:

            I think preventing “vote competition” from prostitutes was probably not a major concern for most newly suffraged women.

          • TyphonBaalHammon says:

            And I cannot say you’re right either. You should provide some sort of source for these claims.

          • I don’t think it was *vote* competition that was the issue.

            An academic I know has studied “student law”–the norms of American college students. One pattern he observed was the tension between women who saw dating as a route to marriage and women who saw it in terms of short term relationships. The former group saw the latter as competitors on the dating market and attempted to use social pressure against them.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Can you point to me to a paper about that?

          • As far as I know, the paper hasn’t been written, or at least published, yet. There is supposed to be a chapter on Student Law in my current book project (Legal Systems Very Different From Ours). The author said I would have it by the end of last year–so far I don’t.

        • Null42 says:

          From what I recall, one of the major reasons for temperance was that men would go out drinking and drink all their money away.

          • Protagoras says:

            And come home and beat their wives. There are a lot of drugs with reputations for being associated with violence, with varying degrees of accuracy; alcohol is one of the cases where the evidence is quite strong.

          • Null42 says:

            I forgot about that one, but yes, definitely also a consideration!

    • Eponymous says:

      Your history is a caricature, and your examples are cherry-picked (try “young people recognized communism as the wave of the future before old people”). Besides, old people had a point on a few of those.

    • TyphonBaalHammon says:

      Others have pointed out that you’re probably overly simplistic, yet I completely agree with your first sentence and you’re probably onto something regarding the relative advantages of young people and old people.

  44. Some Troll's Serious Discussion Alt says:

    You aren’t made up of the same atoms you were made up of a decade ago, why should you be made up of the same ideas?

  45. knockoffnikolai says:

    My PI is a developmental psychologist, and we’ve talked about wisdom before. I haven’t looked into the literature myself, but apparently it does exist, and it seems to be associated with two things. All of this is based on my imperfect recall and anyone capable of reading the literature on their own would be much better served by doing that.

    First is “postformal operational thought”, which is the developmental stage where you have a bunch of systems and ideas on call and can choose which to apply to a given situation (there is an epidemic of this in Scott’s posts). This thinking strategy is extremely good at picking up on nuances, which is why we’ve internalized the idea that a certain style of contradiction sounds wise. (e.g. “It is precisely because Chesterton is wise that we should not believe anything he says he says”; see also Yoda’s line in response to the phrase “great warrior”: “Ha! Wars not make one great.”)

    Second, in order to gain wisdom, you need to have both experience and enough time to properly think about that experience. So it is the case that some people get wiser as they grow older, and others (whether because they’re unreflective, or because their life circumstances aren’t conducive to productive reflection) don’t. I think this largely explains the difference between the old people who are obviously awesome and the old people who do stupid things like vote for that dastardly Other Political Party.

  46. Doctor Mist says:

    It’s probably redundant to remind you of SMBC’s cartoon about societal complexity, because SSC is probably where I first saw it myself. But I’m over sixty and can 100% vouch for its veracity. Many of the things you seem sort of melancholy about losing will in fact come back to you (for better or worse).

  47. Witness says:

    Wisdom is like that.

    Call it metis, if it helps 🙂

    A friend of a friend once let me in on three axioms he used to explain, well, people and politics. This looks like a time to bring up Axiom 2: People are Stupid.

    Now, the important thing to remember about Axiom 2 is that it’s wrong. People are incredibly smart about the things that we specialize in and practice frequently. Unfortunately, we tend to think we’re smarter than we are about everything else, especially things that impact us.

    A chunk of what you’re talking about here (3, 4, and 7 especially) are basically internalizing that Axiom 2 applies to you, and not just other people. This, I think, is wisdom.

    The part about getting “better socialized” is more like Use and Abuse of Witchdoctors For Life – in some areas of your life, being factually correct is (relatively) maladaptive, and you are going native. This seems like settling for a local optimum. Not surprisingly, people start to do this after spending a while searching. So it’s a natural part of aging, and probably a lot of why older people tend to be “conservative” – they’ve spent some time searching for better states, and have come to value the stability of the best one they found. Not sure I’d use the word wisdom specifically, but it’s a defensible algorithm.

    Also, apparently you were born 6 days after my little brother. Happy birthday!

  48. Neutrino says:

    If Scott had children, how would he go about transmitting wisdom, lessons learned or related ideas in an age-appropriate way?

    What can a 33-year old tell a younger self, or a relative, or anyone aged 11 or 22, for example? How does that transmit in an age of social media?

    • The Nybbler says:

      If Scott had children, how would he go about transmitting wisdom, lessons learned or related ideas in an age-appropriate way?

      Tell them all the things you think they ought to do. But present them as cautionary tales of things NOT to do, and make them sound really cool when describing them.

    • Eponymous says:

      Explicitly imparting wisdom is hard, so I’m guessing quoting aphorisms at them won’t work.

      I think you teach kids wisdom by (1) giving them a wide variety of books from different perspectives, and (2) giving them lots of diverse experiences.

      Kids also learn a lot tacitly by example. So modeling wisdom in your own words and actions is probably important too.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        Kids also learn a lot tacitly by example. So modeling wisdom in your own words and actions is probably important too.

        There is absolutely *nothing* more important, after the dice-roll of biology and genetics.

        “I can’t hear what you are saying over the sound of what you are doing.”

        “Where did you learn that this was okay?!!!” “From you, Dad.”

        Cat’s in the Cradle, by the Silver Spoon…

    • Deiseach says:

      What can a 33-year old tell a younger self, or a relative, or anyone aged 11 or 22, for example?

      Well, you can’t tell them. I mean, yeah sure you can tell them as in speak to them, but they won’t listen unless they’re inclined to, and if they’re hitting those teenage years they’ll be sure you’re an outdated old fart who knows nothing about how they feel and what they want. And early twenties are going to be “oh you baby boomers/gen xers have no idea how tough it is nowadays!” (to be fair, life is tough for the young adults nowadays, but uniquely tough? I don’t think so). It’s only after it happens the way you warned that the message sinks in.

      So basically all you can do is warn them, step back, and be prepared to help with the mopping up if things get messy (if the kid is right and it turns out okay after all, that’s good too and you should acknowledge that). But a lot of it is “okay, this is a bad experience and you are suffering but honestly you will get over this” and giving them a shoulder to cry on.

      It’s easier when you’re not the parent/authority figure they’re having the dispute/rebellion against, because the one thing that you can do is give calm advice since you’re not taking sides. Even if you have to say “yeah, your mother is right about this” and they go “I hate you uncle/aunt!”, then it’s still a lot less heated than the battlezone of adolescence in the family home.

  49. Deiseach says:

    Many happy returns and enjoy the celebration of your natal day!

    Getting older may not necessarily mean getting wiser but it does mean having seen Thing before, so you’re less enthused than young person whose first experience of Thing/Event/Sensation/Feeling/What the hell, you mean this happens? it is, and less likely to pick up the torch and pitchfork and sally forth demanding revolution now. You’ll either have found a way to work around Thing, cope with Thing, or decide that Thing isn’t really that important.

    Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it.

    Re: this, I can’t say I’ve had the same experience. I’m used to things I believe and/or consider true being considered low-status and even cringeworthy*, but that has never really mattered that much to me (“so you think I’m low-status? eh, haveta agree with you there, but that has no bearing on whether this thing is true or not”). But like, I’m a hopeless loser, so YMMV as the young people say.

    *This is as a social conservative and as a Catholic, though often not at the same time. I mean, when it comes to Catholicism or more broadly religious belief in general, some people even write neat little parables comparing us to Actual Literal Nazis, can you believe it? 😉 Plainly risible, as Catholicism is the Most Evil Evil That Ever Eviled, way worse than the Nazis – just ask Richard Dawkins!

    Though in that parable, asking what would I do at the end? Kill Colonel Y, he obviously knows too much and is attempting to pull my strings for his own ends. Then I’d worry about the problem of de-Nazification without some spooky time-traveller trying to make me his sock-puppet – how do I know but what he’s a human quisling sent back from the 34th century to pave the way for the rise of our new insect overlords by diverting history, via the choices I make now under his advisement, into the path they wish it to go?

    • Witness says:

      I mean, when it comes to Catholicism or more broadly religious belief in general, some people even write neat little parables comparing us to Actual Literal Nazis, can you believe it? 😉 Plainly risible, as Catholicism is the Most Evil Evil That Ever Eviled, way worse than the Nazis – just ask Richard Dawkins!

      I just wanted to say thanks for your contributions to this site, Deiseach. You’ve been a joy to read :).

      • Deiseach says:

        Gently teasing the young’uns is one of the privileges when you get to be decrepit and your knees are creaky and bending down takes longer than it used to.

        I’m old enough to be Scott’s – auntie, let’s say 🙂 It’s a privilege and a joy to read his work and it’s great enjoyment interacting with all the folks on here. Ad multos annos, Dr Alexander!

  50. Squirrel of Doom says:

    I care about truth. Deeply. I really do.

    That doesn’t mean I go talking about uncomfortable truth to random people I meet.

    You’ll understand when you’re older.

  51. Peffern says:

    I have self-esteem cycles. The period is usually about a month, and they go like this:

    I do something impressive or I read about something impressive and uplifting. This puts me on an upward trajectory where I feel good about myself, accomplishments feel like they matter, and I can get work done. This plateaus for a bit. Then I start to slip or get distracted. Then either I screw something up or something terrible happens and I start to backslide. It gets to the point where I feel terrible about myself, I can’t get anything done, and my life is useless. That plateaus for a bit, untio mechanically going through the motions starts to produce results again. Then the cycle repeats.

    The reason I mention it is that I introspect a lot, and this influences my philosphy drastically. This post is exactly the kind of thing I would come up with during my down cycle, especially about fundamental human experiences that I’m just missing.

    I wonder if Scott or anyone else has an experience like this.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I used to get this a lot, now I deliberately do things that act counter-cyclically. If I start getting too excited about some new achievement, I slow down and think about it more. Maybe pick it apart and find flaws, or deliberately take a break to let passions cool a little. Not too much- I still want productivity!- but enough not to spiral up to an unsustainable plateau.

      On the downswing, I do similarly- I take breaks from the “bad stuff” to get easy wins (single player games are good for this), I try extra hard to do things that had positive effect on me in the past even if it doesn’t “feel” like it will work right now, I set deliberately-low goals that I can knock out and get a sense of achievement, etc.

      This has done a lot to moderate me- I’m often the most cheerful person in the storm now, and the most cynical during the parade. (so to speak)

  52. slofgren says:

    My speculation:

    Specifically related to socialization (ie. acquiring socially acceptable ideas) vs wisdom (acquiring true ideas), I think it’s socialization you’re describing. Specifically, you’re experiencing synaptic remodeling that you can’t control as a result of all of the social stimuli, positive and negative, you receive as a blogger/famous person. Something like operant conditioning or whatever. I felt this was happening to me when I was tweeting. The thought would be as I wrote a tweet / post “what will the community think of this? Will it be praised? Will it be dramatically flamed?” After I posted I would worry about this also. I think synaptic remodeling must be happen in the presence of such worries (if they are happening for you like they happened for me).

    My solution was to never engage with social media ever again, because I didn’t like how I felt it was changing my thought patterns. In fact I deliberated a long time before even responding to your post, as even that is ‘off limits’ in my new policy. But I *really* like your blogging and so I sometimes feel a compulsion to reply comparable to the feeling I get when someone brings donuts to the lab (more social instinct?). Given that I want you to not remove yourself from the blogosphere like I’ve done, my proposed solution, if this model is correct, is to have a kind of policy of social vigilance (actively expect that you will conflate truth with acceptability, the process you described where you ideas you believe to be true but low status get downgraded, and try to always get back to the roots of your beliefs) and well as social courage (I will say what I believe to be true, respectfully and with appropriate qualifiers, and damn the consequences). It feels to me like you’re already exercising such policies, but maybe strive to practice them even more vigorously?

    In any case, keep blogging. Also, you may never hear from me again (it’s against my policy ;), but know that the social stimuli coming from the comments section is the product of serious selection pressure and that there are many lurkers like me who don’t like to comment but perhaps view things differently, more moderately, and are pretty down with you just writing whatever you think is true so we have the chance to experience your viewpoint.

  53. Telomerase says:

    “Age”, yeah right. Bowhead Whales live over 230 years, Greenland Sharks live over 400.

    1. Read Mitteldorf’s book.
    2. fix your telomeres.
    3. fix the rest of your epigenetics (start by reading up on nicotinamide riboside… which, BTW, is what most of your old patients need rather than your brilliant “therapeutic droning”)

    As Yellowbeard says, “They’ll have to kill me before I die!” 😉

    Mitteldorf:

    https://www.amazon.com/Cracking-Aging-Code-Science-Growing/dp/1250061709

  54. enkiv2 says:

    There’s an alternate hypothesis (which seems pretty obvious to me): time is necessary but not sufficient for producing wisdom. (Or, alternately: wisdom is the result of integrating and generalizing from really enormous quantities of really diverse experience, and while cosmopolitanism can speed up wisdom generation and being sheltered can slow it down, we don’t have any reliable way of making information exposure and wide-scale integration and generalization fast enough to see deviations from average adult wisdom levels before around age 30.)

    Wisdom also seems to have a big overlap with types of thinking that require impulse control — ‘wise’ behavior depends upon extended system II thinking. Infants are totally incapable of this kind of impulse control, and it’s generally not great at age 20 either. “Age leads to wisdom” may actually be a misleading overgeneralization of a much more accurate idea along the lines of “adulthood makes wisdom possible”.

    If both of these things are true, then you can expect that people don’t generally reach average wisdom levels until around 25, and then in even the best case progress is slow enough that it’ll take five to ten years for all but extreme outliers to become noticably better.

    You’re in a great situation to optimize for wisdom: you’re a deep thinker with a background in psychology (giving you the tools to identify and counter your own biases), living in a world where instant cosmopolitanism is in a glowing rectangle in your pocket, and you’re basically willing to give new ideas a chance to infect your brainmeat.

  55. pjiq says:

    Scott:

    To put it bluntly, I think you’re right now and you were wrong then :). But when talking about “does age bring wisdom?” it depends on what you mean- information accumulation or absolute moral truth? Clearly, we accumulate more experiences over our lives, and thus have a “more statistically significant sample size of life” to draw from as we get older. The average 50 year old probably knows more about trees or politics than the average 5 year old. And although it is somewhat zero sum- in that the facts I might have known about video games faded as I got older while the facts I knew about college or my job became more in focus- it’s not completely zero sum by any means, at least until we get Alzheimer’s or whatever. We accumulate information. We’re humans. That’s what we do.

    But moral truth- as that is a more shifty topic- I mean, maybe it just peaks at age 33?? The old and the young tend to either have utopian ideas about how we can easily “fix everything” or tend to embrace a somewhat hopeless nihilism regarding social change. The middle aged tend to take a more balanced approach to these problems. And this might simply be because middle aged people actually have the most “skin in the game” due to their station in life. Old and young people are more willing to watch the world burn, and thus more willing to jump to hasty conclusions regarding moral truth. Middle aged people are so attached to everything that they really will be hurt if the status quo suddenly collapses in a negative way, and so they are bit more reasonable and less exciting in the way they talk about things. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always right of course, but that they tend to take the risks associated with their propositions a little more seriously. Anyways, those are my thoughts.

    Happy 33rd Birthday. Try not to get crucified.

    pjiq

  56. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Happy Birthday!

    I’m 64.

    I was planning to bring in “It’s amazing how much mature wisdom resembles being too tired”– thank you, Nybbler, for supplying the source.

    I came up with “Nostalgia is fond memories of when your knees didn’t hurt”.

    One change in me– I used to be a just plain libertarian. I no longer have faith in people’s ability to make big social changes and get good results. It’s also possible that people who hate libertarianism have a point. I have become what I call a harm-reduction libertarian. If I see a government policy which I think has clear bad effects, like the war on drugs, I oppose it.

    I’m not at all sure how much what I think of as me is just neuroticism in the general sense (not Big Five)– for example, I’ve noticed I’ve got a habit, a strong fast habit, of comparing my emotions to other people’s and assuming theirs are better. I’m not talking about the unabomber here, but anything that’s vaguely in the normal range. If you feel a need to offer advice, please talk about methods for making things better, not just that I shouldn’t judge my emotions.

    Speaking of, I’ve learned that it’s possible to head useless advice off at the pass. I’m not saying this always works, but telling people firmly that I only want certain kinds of advice does help. It may be especially useful to tell people to indicate their experience with the area.

    Time and change: Food is a *lot* better than it was when I was a kid. Maybe not junk food, but there’s a tremendous varied amount of good food around. On the other hand, people are less sane about food. There are more eating disorders, more weird beliefs, and probably more status tangled up in food. I’m not sure whether there is a net win for people, but I’m better off.

    We have no idea what people who live to be 200 in good health would be like, and this may depend on details of longevity tech. Do we get people who are physiologically 20? Or 50? Or there are various changing processes that go at different rates.

    Age and wisdom is probably complicated. Which old people? Wisdom about what?

    I’ve heard that people don’t mature during the years that they have chemical addictions. Is this true? Plausible?

    • Randy M says:

      I’m not sure whether there is a net win for people, but I’m better off.

      Modern life is like this a lot. There are credit cards every where, which can be a trap for people, but if you use them judiciously, you can benefit from the ease even earlier. Free to play games, likewise. The internet has tons of garbage, from disinfo to hyperstimuli, but you can use it to make life easier in many ways.

      • romeostevens says:

        Wealth is an amplifier.

      • One interesting effect of credit cards that one notices if one travels–concern with different monies has almost vanished. I’m spending two weeks on a speaking tour in Brazil. I changed $200 into Brazilian money at the beginning, figuring I would need at least that much, and my guess is that some of it will still be left at the end of the trip.

  57. JRM says:

    Happy birthday, old man! I’ve got 18 years on you, but I was a little curmudgeonly in my 20’s.

    A quick review of my personal perceptions; the risk of a personal post on a blog like this is that you get personalized heckling:

    1. Less excitement about radical utopian plans to fix everything in society at once

    JRM: Good. AI alignment is important, but I think this is a positive step.

    2. Less belief that I’m special and can change the world

    JRM: This is probably pretty normal, but you’ve never been [name redacted to avoid debate derailment.] You are special and you are changing the world a little bit. The thing is, a 0.1% increase in world utilons is a huge deal. I don’t know what your contribution will end up being, but having a truth-sensitive person is vital to societal well-being.

    3. Less trust in any specific system, more resignation to the idea that anything useful requires a grab bag of intuitions, heuristics, and almost-unteachable skills.

    JRM: I’m uncertain about this. What I am semi-certain of is that luck plays a meaningful role; you just can’t plan adequately for that and it’s probably healthier not to just yell “luck!” and duck down and hope for the best.

    4. More willingness to assume that other people are competent in aggregate in certain ways, eg that academic fields aren’t making incredibly stupid mistakes or pointlessly circlejerking in ways I can easily detect.

    JRM: Good. Usually. Some, of course, are, but a rebuttable presumption of field-level expertise is useful, I think.

    5. More willingness to believe that power (as in “power structures” or “speak truth to power”) matters and infects everything.

    JRM: Drat. I kind of think this too, and I’m worried about it, from both sides of the power grid.

    6. More belief in Chesterton’s Fence.

    JRM: This is sensible. As a curmudgeon, I always believed in this.

    7. More concern that I’m wrong about everything, even the things I’m right about, on the grounds that I’m missing important other paradigms that think about things completely differently.

    JRM: Doubtful. I mean, there may be bigger/better models, but I think your general rightness exists and is important.

    8. Less hope that everyone would just get along if they understood each other a little better.

    JRM: Yeah. At some point I will tirade on the failure of people to try to actually improve the thing they want improved, from gun control to pro-life folks.

    9. Less hope that anybody cares about truth (even though ten years ago I would have admitted that nobody cares about truth).

    JRM: NO NO NO NO NO NO. Some people care. A lot. I realize you feel infected by non-truth considerations and that’s understandable, but don’t quit on us, man. Your audience largely cares about the truth, which is why we are here. Many of us are willing to step up for it. Bring truth. (I concede that people collectively care about the truth less than I’d like to see.)

    Of course, those are just my opinions. I could be wrong.

    • William Newman says:

      JRM wrote “NO NO NO NO NO NO. Some people care. A lot.”

      I basically join JRM in his disagreement, and would even put it more strongly. Any claim like “no one cares about the truth” seems to collide with a powerful counterargument generated by taking any of a classic class of classic counterarguments against “there is no truth” (Samuel Johnson “striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — ‘I refute it thus'”, or Dawkins’ “show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet and I’ll show you a hypocrite”) and not exactly filing off the serial number, but maybe doctoring just one digit of the serial number. And IMHO, the classic counterargument wins, hands down.

      In particular, in the real world, if you try to operate as though no one cares about truth, reality will trip you up.

      That said, a related slightly more careful and twisty claim does seem to be true. (And you, like me, seem to grouchily appreciate its importance more at 33 than you did at 23.) People and organizations do rather strongly tend not to be very fond of the truth. A lot of the time when they happen to arrive and remain near the truth, it is not just blind luck, but it turns out it is not fondness for the truth that has put them there either. You needn’t look very deeply to see how only painful correction by reality has driven them there despite their strong tendency to stray. (“Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.” — Truth remarked this, and I overheard. It’s true!)

      It seems to me that this is a close parallel to various other distastefully unglamorous things, and I’ll give two examples. First, it is proverbial and true that many people tend to delight in thinking about more-glamorous military issues but overlooking workaday issues, notably logistics. Second, it is proverbial and true that “where there’s much there’s brass” while people show a notable tendency to be drawn to more glamorous occupations.

      In all three cases of tendency for lack of enthusiasm — for truth, for logistics, and for unglamorous occupations — people who *want* to care do seem to be thin on the ground. Indeed they are rare enough that by Lizardman’s constant, perhaps absolutely no one wants to care. However, in all three cases, reality is patiently stubbornly insistent, and this matters. If you go to war, don’t tell yourself no one cares about logistics, because you are at considerable risk of facing an adversary who has come to care about logistics, distasteful or not. If you go someplace that only financially successful people can reach, you are likely to find a significant proportion of people who care about less-glamorous occupations, even if at some level they would prefer not to. And as you pass through reality, you are likely to encounter various outcomes which are hard to explain without underlying concern for the truth, even if you may reasonably suspect that this concern is no more than wary respect for the truth, rather than any enthusiasm for it.

      We are at an extremely unusual, possibly unique historical moment[*] when our technology has lifted us so far above subsistence that a hard winter is a laughably insignificant threat, and even military rivalries seem to have very little urgency. (How many generations has it been since conquest has made a nation more prosperous than rivals that just chilled and hung out, patiently taking advantage of low-hanging fruit of tech progress? Some became more militarily formidable, yes, because size matters in war. But in most other eras the conquest temptation could be much stronger, because the military pie-eating conquest offered prizes other than more pie. And the bigger-but-less-prosperous combination is also less obviously a military advantage in our era than in many others.) In many ways this tends to make our era a nice time to live, but it does tend to make truth bite less sharply and promptly, which tends to give delusion much more scope to run wild without being promptly pruned by starving to death this February, which does tend to be aggravating. Despair for truth is probably a normal reaction, but IMHO it is clearly an overreaction even in the short term (given that, e.g., we routinely travel at 6 miles above the ground). And in the longer term, all bets are off because the population of minds is likely to change radically (overdetermined: general AI, genetic engineering, and/or some surprise like radical innovations in brainwashing), but if somehow none of those game-changing things kicked in, then very likely our absurdly cost-effective communication and recording and computing would weigh in very strongly against some kinds of confusion and delusion. (More or less the same way that the eventual impact of movable type and paper was considerably greater than its impact in the first generation or so.)

      [*] (The rivals I can think of are prehistoric, not historic. E.g., quite possibly there was a comparable amount of slack in various regions of North America for some generations after humans first arrived on an ice bridge, and/or after various plagues raced ahead of the European landings and stomped native populations far below the carrying capacity of the land.)

  58. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    I’m pretty sure that my current view is more sophisticated than my previous beliefs: I have a pile of arguments my younger self had never considered, and I don’t think I’ve forgotten any of the arguments my younger self had.

    But if I try, I can steelman most of my younger self’s beliefs to account for my current arguments, requiring only hard-to-test empirical premises that my current self finds implausible but my previous self probably wouldn’t.

    So the question is, does increasing sophistication actually correlate with tracking the truth?

  59. Radu Floricica says:

    A counterpoint to the general mood of the last few posts: modernism. There do exist society-wide changes which trample over fences in the road based on logical decisions (ie unstable inference chains), and end up with colossal utilitarian improvements.

    The reason doctors didn’t wash their hands for centuries was mostly… that they didn’t wash their hands for centuries. Until someone did the math and insisted that this particular fence is broken – only to be utterly ignored by older, more conservative doctors.

    On the other hand, yes, revolutionaries pretty much always end up being proven to be idiots.

    I think you’re describing a calibration problem. We are idiots, swimming in a world complex beyond our comprehension – that’s a literal truth. But we still _have_ to make decisions, the best we can given the circumstances. We should occasionally (often) backtrack and check context and track records, but aren’t you describing here context-first decision making? You’re WEIRD, so your decisions etc. Isn’t there a hint of identity logic in this? It is pretty infectious, after all.

    Revolutionaries are idiots because they’re young, inexperienced and with an agenda. I don’t think revolutions themselves are like that – because, well, modernity wasn’t.

  60. Randy M says:

    One thing that complicates these ruminations, at least for me, is the unreliability of memory. I’ve long considered myself to have above average recall. But unless I were to go back and read the occasional bit of on-line argumentation from a decade ago, I don’t have views now and then to compare, what I have is my views now, and a recollection or reconstruction of my views as a younger person. I remember my confidences and passions shifting over time, some different patterns of behavior, but how much of that is a subconscious attempt to paint my current self as wiser?

    Anyhow, that disclaimer aside, here’s some changes from early 20’s me to late 30’s me:
    -Definitely less certainty on many broad topics, especially ones that don’t connect to me personally. Health care policy? I was probably in the right direction before, more or less, but certainty goes from, say, 90% to 55% or something. Similarly with government spending and other macro-econ topics. This could be a product of not reading about it as much, but the general lack of certainty holds true often, though not universally.
    -Lack of focus. I think this is not entirely aging, but also habit/technology related. I worry an ability to multi-task is actually an inability to focus. Probably related to the easily accessible, intermittently rewarding internet etc. Less follow-through on projects, although I was always more of a starter than a finisher.
    -Less physical energy, more care needed for body upkeep, including stupid little things like not having the same tolerance for spicy foods. Or possibly I didn’t care as much about bodily discomforts before? Or couldn’t see cause and effect clearly? This relates to the memory thing.
    -I would agree on the observation of increased cynicism, although I was never utopian, so it isn’t a huge increase.
    -I’m more aware of my flaws now, living with the results of them. I’m more confident of my strengths, I think, but I’d have a shorter list than before, I expect.

  61. meh says:

    I think being old (and more financially secure) makes you better at satisficing. I remember not long after moving for a job, the cable company charged me for an installation fee that I was told was free. After spending 4 hours on the phone, and being transferred 5 times, I realized that I could either get angry and frustrated fighting it, or just pay it and be happy. This obviously would have been a harder choice when I was younger and had tighter finances.

    This is also possibly relevant
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884451/

  62. abstract gradient says:

    none of this is the kind of wisdom that humans gain with age. humans get used to living; they dwell within their systems and gain deep skill in handling what life throws at them. if they socialize, they gain skill at avoiding simple scams; if they farm, they gain skill at surviving the winter; you understand that humans are animals?

    you are correct that this is just you being dommed by the society

    i have observed 2-5 humans who care about truth, total

  63. Jeff R says:

    The pessimistic version of this phenomenon, I think, is that as you get older, your cognitive biases simply shift from one batch to another. Or from one combination to a different combination.

    The more optimistic version, is that wisdom really is a thing you can acquire as you get older; some mixture of intelligence, experience and observation.

    You’re a smart enough chap that I would figure you for the latter camp.

  64. blacktrance says:

    Happy birthday!

    Regarding obsolete ideologies, I think you got it right the first time. “Anything that can be destroyed by the truth, should be”, and so on.

    I’m not as old as you, but reflecting on my aging, I don’t see much in common – compared to you, I probably started out less “radical” and optimistic about people’s willingness to change. I was and remain “radical” in the sense that I think there are many $20 bills on the ground, I was and remain cynical about convincing people to pick them up. I increased my estimate of the number of competent people in the world, but I still don’t expect much from the average person. I’ve certainly changed my views on several object-level issues, but I still think I got the overall big picture right in my late teens – though one of the bigger differences is that I now see that the world is even further from my ideal than I thought then (the education system being a prominent example). I went from neoliberal centrism to radical libertarianism, both politically and culturally.

  65. quinnjones2 says:

    Happy birthday!
    Does age bring wisdom? Does age make us more conservative or liberal?
    I’m 73, and I find that I have become more cautious in some ways and more adventurous in others.
    This is mainly for two reasons, one of which arises from the other: this is for me a time of loss and limitations (loss of good health in some ways, decreased energy, loss of my car, living on a low fixed income, and last but not least, loss of family members and friends); while mourning what I am losing I am also thankful for what I still have, and I want to be a good steward of what I have, so I try out new things which are still within my capacities, such as starting to study NT Greek.
    So I have a sense of loss, and also a sense of gratitude and adventure, and I treasure God’s gift of life. I also know that we have an amazing God, who created an amazing world, and that there are many things that I could not know even if I could live for several lifetimes trying to find out about them. I am at peace with having a sort of ‘folder’ in my mind which carries the label ‘don’t know’.
    Is this wisdom?
    I don’t know 🙂
    Blessings
    Christine

  66. Watchman says:

    I worry that you are for some reason losing trust in your own ability to construct the truth in favour of an impression of truth created by those who have managed to create a consensus about which views are ‘low-status’. But you are an incredible thinker, so if your thinking leads you to a truth that differs from that of the crowd, why are you cowed by the fact that so many people look down on it. Ask yourself what assumptions they are making, and how many of them have actually asked the questions you have asked to reach the point you are at. It is a salutory lesson that you can make a good living in academia destroying received wisdoms, repeated in print, because no-one has ever gone back and checked the original source or replicated the original experiment, or that something presented as a hypothesis has somehow become a fact without ever being proved. If intelligent and skilled people as a group can manage to create falsifiable truths quite so often through simple acceptance and assuming others have checked the fact to be accurate, why do we fear that going against the beliefs of the group is wrong? If you are thinking for yourself you have to justify your points (and you do this well); if you are part of a group this sort of effort is not required and group think sets in: 10,000 minds following group think are less effective than one mind considering the question, because only one side of the equation is actually thinking.

    You seek to protect your reputation and ability to participate in society, or at least that is what you state above as the reason behind the temptation to abandon ‘low-status’ thoughts. But this is a paradox, considering your blog is not simply a restatement of conventional wisdom, but at times a vicous demolition of that – I first read it through being introduced to You are Still Crying Wolf as part of a debate around whether Donald Trump was a bad candidate (summary of debate conclusions – yes, but perhaps not that bad, and perhaps better than the opposition), a post which blew me away with its ability to reason a point and disrupt a narrative.* I do not get the feeling that you associate with circles that will have looked on that post kindly, despite its deployment of evidence, because the narrative around now President Trump is more important to many than anything resembling truth: they seek to create a truth through consensus (because they know Trump to be racist…) rather than a truth through facts. You seem to resist this, and therefore place yourself in what to many appears to be a low-status/wrong view despite your reasoned argument. Do you feel that you are wrong to do this? It is something of which you should be proud.

    I don’t remember at what age I lost the concern to follow the silent majority and to stick to where my questioning took me (it never took me anywhere as good as yours does…). At the lastest it can’t be that much after your age, since I’m only nine years older than you, and since I’ve been difficult to label and liable to undermine arguments for years (I do have the training of a humanities PhD though, which helps). But hopefully a further change to come will be for you to adopt a much more justified realisation of the value of your opinion against the consensus. Even people you trust and respect who have not thought through an issue that you have are not going to be able to comment on it as well, and will likely fall back of what is known to be correct. So stick with your rational conclusions, and if they differ from those of others, remember that you are as likely to be right as not, and that it would be a hell of a lot less fun if everyone agreed with each anyway.

    It is perfectly acceptable to abandon views to fit in socially, and so long as you are aware you are doing this, not even intellectually dishonest. But it seems to be a concern to you (it has come up before recently, notably in the uncertainity about the reception of your explanation of postmodernism) that others who you hold important or learned disagree. But ask yourself this – if these people are truly important to you, will they insist on their thoughts being followed and your conclusions being underplayed? Would those you respect be worthy of your respect if they refuse to accept you functioning as a thinker, but only as a follower?

    *Intellectually honesty requires me to point out you did tag this as a thing you’d regret writing. God knows why – it was something that needed (and still needs) to be said.

  67. sovietKaleEatYou says:

    Happy birthday! Dude, 33 is too young to get all old-timey. People tend to be more productive and more knowledgeable in their 30s: I think it’s conventional wisdom that between 30 and 45 or so educated people have a plateau where they basically believe things consistently and “get better at being themselves” (the ages may vary for different people). More risk-taking and mental plasticity is great in some contexts (especially in tech, which is why we can even have the level of obsession with age that leads you to lament your old age at 33). But I think it’s objective to say you’re wiser and more likely to be right about any particular thing now than 10 years ago, and will be until you’re at least 40. When you’re 55, then we’ll talk.

  68. Conrad Honcho says:

    Happy birthday Scott!

    Just wait until 35, though. That’s when the TV starts talking to you. “Men over 35 should ask their doctor about Xzxyphlam…”

    You move up an age cohort on all the surveys. “Under 18; 18 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to Dead.”

    Just saying, more crotchetiness incoming.

  69. secondcityscientist says:

    Happy birthday. I too am 33 this year. What has surprised me about aging is that I am moving, politically, to the left rather than to the right. I was a teenage libertarian, but have voted for Democrats in all presidential elections. Many of my friends likewise moved left – some voted for Obama ’08 after voting Bush in ’04. Another has transitioned from being a standard-issue Republican in 2014 to a standard-issue Democrat in 2016, now he supports BLM and his local teachers’ union. Maybe that was a function of us all starting from a more conservative place (we grew up in solid Red-Tribe communities) and moving away from the extremes.

    But rather than just a generic “conservative” or “liberal”, I find that age has made me become less individualistic and more communitarian. I find I value the communities I’m a part of more highly and want more people to join and feel welcome. I want to make little sub-communities and spend time with people in them. Having a kid has increased this feeling – it’s hard to find communities where my spouse and I can both participate, especially at the same time. It’s hard to take time away from my family to participate in communities as just myself. As a result I value the communities I can participate in all the higher.

    • ksvanhorn says:

      Are you implying that you consider libertarianism to be right-wing? these guys, among others, would object strongly to that characterization.

      FWIW, I don’t consider communitarian impulses to be incompatible with libertarianism. True communities evolve from voluntary interactions; they can’t be created at the point of a gun.

      • The Nybbler says:

        FWIW, I don’t consider communitarian impulses to be incompatible with libertarianism. True communities evolve from voluntary interactions; they can’t be created at the point of a gun.

        Some voluntary interactions among a few strong leaders. Everyone else does what they’re told or else.

      • secondcityscientist says:

        Anarcho-communists are pretty atypical for libertarians. I was more of a Paul Ryan type, which I think is more typical. When I was a teenager, especially during the Clinton administration, many libertarian ideals were shared by conservatives. The Bush administration was surely very non-libertarian which contributed to my vote for Kerry in ’04, as I still held many libertarian ideals even as I moved away from them.

        As a teenaged libertarian, I thought that community could be built through enlightened self-interest and voluntary interactions. Part of my change in politics has been the observation that, at a large-community scale, the incentives against defecting become too weak.

        • roystgnr says:

          Many libertarian ideals were parroted by conservatives. Not sure if we ever saw enough action to qualify as “shared”. They always seemed to be much more skeptical about government power if and only if they didn’t currently have much…

        • ksvanhorn says:

          @secondcityscientist: The left-libertarians I linked to aren’t anarcho-communists; they believe in private property and markets.

      • Nornagest says:

        I know a bunch of self-identified anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists, and most of those I’ve met would be offended to be called libertarian except in a certain crunchy technical sense. Walk up to them when they’re five drinks in and accuse them of libertarianism, and you might get hit.

        I have also found that when the chips are down, they tend to support more rather than less government intervention except when that intervention involves cops.

    • Watchman says:

      Looking at the US from a UK perspective, it would seem quite natural for libertarians here not to support Republicans, as until Trump the Republicans were a big state party allied to a certain extent with religious interests – much more comparable to the UK Labour Party (socialists) than to the Conservatives (supposedly free market, although someone should remind our Prime Minister of this). The right-left division is sometimes better at obscuring links than showing similiarities.

  70. dndnrsn says:

    Happy birthday! Given that you’re our anointed cult leader, you probably should be extra careful for the next year or so. Just a precaution. Also, don’t go causing disruptions in places of worship and/or trade.

  71. ksvanhorn says:

    One thing that happens as you get older is that you can look back and see all the times things did not turn out as you expected. This tends to blunt the overconfidence bias.

  72. I’m 62. I have a lot of thoughts on all this.

    (1) I don’t use the word “wisdom” much, but I think it comes experience and reflection rather than just chronological age.

    (2) Don’t make the mistake of thinking that getting older will make you more like today’s existing set of older people. First, every cohort is qualitatively different. Second, the older the cohort, the less formal education it has, and that turns out to make a difference.

    (3) Don’t assume that past generations had it easier or better than you do. I am old enough to have seen SEVERAL glum pronouncements that “this current generation of young people will be the first to be less successful than their parents…” It never turns out to be true. Indeed, I wonder if that moment of deep pessimism is a necessary developmental stage, breaking down expectations and making it possible to succeed.

    My father was a professor of history and a homeowner in a college town. I envied him and took it for granted I could never be as successful as he was. When he finished his Ph.D, he had faculty job offers from three universities, which seems inconceivable today. But he also volunteered (and lied about his age) to fight in World War II — he was badly injured by shrapnel, his teeth were blown out of his mouth, he contracted malaria, etc., etc., and he probably never would have gotten to college without the G.I. Bill.

    I never got a Ph.D or a faculty job, but in pretty much every way, I am far better off today than my father ever was.

    (4) When I was young, I was deeply pessimistic about the world, and about myself. I participated in the 1970s anti-war and environmental movements, indeed, I felt some responsibility to do so, but I didn’t entertain much hope that we were actually changing the world.

    Like Scott, I have become mellower, more sophisticated, more nuanced, more practical, more accepting of things as they are, less interested in utopias. I continue to be on the political left, and I can’t imagine repudiating that.

    What has changed most dramatically in forty years is that I am optimistic now. The more I learn about the world, the more grim the past looks compared to the present. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels connected up and crystallized a lot of things I already knew: we live in the most humane and peaceful and prosperous time in history. We (the world) are doing many things right.

    I have come to regard large-scale paranoia, historical pessimism, and cynicism (all of which I have plenty of personal experience with) as emotionally rewarding but ultimately blinding and self-destructive habits of mind.

  73. Sebastian_H says:

    “Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it – or say it only in a very careful way – in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations.”

    For me the first time I noticed something like this I was listening to a Bill Clinton speech. Before that speech I had thought of ‘charisma’ as mostly a myth or something about good social skills. I can’t remember the topic of the speech, but it was something I disagreed with strongly. But throughout the speech I found myself nodding along, completely agreeing with him. When I turned the TV off suddenly I thought “wait, I don’t agree with that at all”. It really scared me to realize that as smart as I thought I was, I could still fall under the spell of charisma under the right circumstances. If you’re being fair about how you think, it can be troubling to really see how much of it isn’t as rational as you want to believe.

    • CatCube says:

      I hate Bill Clinton and everything he stands for, but by all accounts he was an amazing politician. Apparently after the 1994 elections, the Republicans would send representatives to the White House to negotiate on whatever legislation was on the floor of Congress with instructions on what was acceptable, but the negotiator would come back having agreed to a deal outside of what the party leadership directed. The next time they’d send more people with the negotiators to keep them in line, and Clinton would talk them into capitulating, too!

      • the Republicans would send representatives to the White House to negotiate on whatever legislation was on the floor of Congress with instructions on what was acceptable, but the negotiator would come back having agreed to a deal outside of what the party leadership directed. The next time they’d send more people with the negotiators to keep them in line, and Clinton would talk them into capitulating, too!

        Right — the GOP found they couldn’t trust Newt Gingrich — Newt Gingrich! — if he was left alone with Clinton. Newt would (as his colleagues put it) get his “pocket picked”.

        So they sent chaparones along with him, and still got their pockets picked!

        Someone I know well was a Democratic Member of Congress during that era. When planning to vote against Clinton’s position on something, the hard-learned rule was to decline all invitations to the White House. Otherwise, he would talk you out of it.

        Only a faint shadow of Bill’s charisma comes through on TV. In person, one-on-one, he is pretty much irresistible. As my friend said, you have no idea.

  74. Sebastian_H says:

    On the old people are wise front, one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was told to me by a 97 year old woman at the bridge club. She said:

    I don’t know if there is an afterlife. But if there is, I have millions of years to figure it out so I don’t need to worry about it or rush it now.

  75. MRockz says:

    I imagine that to some extent this could be tested by looking at predictive abilities, a la “Superforecasters” by Philip Tetlock, and The Good Judgment Project, wherein his research claims to identify people who are systematically better able to make predictions. That systematic higher accuracy, if true, suggests that there is something knowable about the seeming messiness and non-linearity of the world, and I think that would spill into the domain of wisdom, suggesting that not all is merely subjective. There are discernible patterns in the world, and the human experience maps onto an objective reality (or a consistent simulation of reality) which can be optimized to produce better or worse outcomes with respect to the reduction of needless suffering (presumably the heart of wisdom?). So two things could be tested with the prediction framework — 1. how accurate are an individuals’ predictive abilities (and therefore understanding of reality) and do they change over time, and 2. does this predictive accuracy seem to improve with time in the general population? If an individuals’ predictive judgment were to improve over time, that seems like a reasonable proxy for general discernment. Similarly with the general population – do people have better judgment on average in their 40s than in their 20s? It would make sense, since if the cohort of people who traditionally held more power in societies were also those with the best judgment, that would be evolutionarily advantageous. It seems we could test it this way.

    I empathize with a fair bit of this post in any case. Not the bits about avoiding low-status opinions, as most views are high-status somewhere, making them attractive for developing community and for social climbing in one or another subcultural dominance hierarchy if that is what one is interested in. But I’ve had some dramatic shifts in perspectives over the years, most recently with respect to the utility of religion, based on Jordan Peterson’s advocacy of religion as a sort of cultural operating system which gives life meaning and helps us better orient ourselves as individuals and societies. That doesn’t do much to dent my metaphysical sense that the Abrahamic “God” is no more likely real than Thor or Vishnu, but it makes me much less likely to try and persuade anyone to give up their belief in their god(s). This after agreeing with the New Atheist perspective that religion was likely a major contributor to needless suffering in the world. And similarly on newly seeing the sexism inherent in modern feminism, after considering myself a feminist for a good fifteen years. And finding globalism to be wreaking more havoc in the world than it is likely to ameliorate. And others. In all these cases, I feel I have a better informed opinion, but also feel chastened enough by suspecting that I was wrong in the past that I hold these latest, “conservative” opinions more loosely than my earlier opinions. Except in the heat of debate, when I sometimes find that perspective shrinks. My neocortex is strong, but my limbic system is still a bit rowdy.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve been an agnostic for most of my life, and I still am. I was raised in a corpselike sort of Judaism, where I wasn’t sure why anyone was doing any of it, and I didn’t believe anyone actually cared about religion until I met some serious Catholics in college.

      However, in my thirties I went to a Unitarian workshop where people talked about their history with religion and I came out believing that I got off easy compared to people with abusive religious upbringings *and* that religion is a tremendous facilitator of mutual aid. People judge religions by how outsiders are treated and this is reasonable, but they tend to ignore the good members of a religion do for each other.

      I used to feel that my mistrust of Christianity was unearned (I’m Jewish, but I’ve run into minuscule amounts of anti-Semitism) compared to people with abusive Christian upbringings. I’ve calmed down about that, but I still wonder whether knowing somewhat about historical anti-Semitism tells me anything useful about upcoming risks.

      • Null42 says:

        I kind of wonder if the historical experience leads American Jews to *overestimate* upcoming risks. I used to read the Forward, and whatever you think about Donald (I am not a fan), there seemed to be the feeling that somehow this guy was going to launch pogroms. My gut feeling was, much like Breitbart, the guy had a thousand defects, but antisemitism wasn’t one.

  76. Happy birthday (on the 7th), to you and me! You 33, and me plain old 30.

  77. hlynkacg says:

    I know I’m a bit late to the party but happy Birthday Scott. May you have many more to come.

    As for the question, this may seem a bit flippant but no. Age does not bring wisdom. What age does bring is perspective, and perspective and wisdom are often correlated.

  78. mondsemmel says:

    Happy birthday! (Edit: A day late.)

    One way in which you IIRC moved more towards the direction of “everything was better in the old days” than you maybe recall here, would be your essay on cost disease.

  79. Besserwisser says:

    I get what you’re saying but medieval people believing in what the pope says is a bad example. There were plenty of “heresies” until one or two became popular enough to stay at the end (or after, depending on definitions) of the Middle Ages. And heresies were only the extreme part of it. The history of the Holy Roman Empire in particular was a long strain of disagreements between the emperor and the pope. We mostly know about the disagreements of secular and clerical leaders with the head of the Church but common people probably had their own beliefs which frequently clashed with the official line. Even in cases where people agreed the pope was always right, how do cases where we had two competing popes fit into the schema?

    • but common people probably had their own beliefs which frequently clashed with the official line.

      Duby has a book on William Marshall, focused on his dying. One of the points Duby makes is that the History of William Marshall, a biography in verse commissioned by his friends and relatives after his death, is one of the few medieval sources we have that is coming from the knightly class rather than the clerical class.

      The Marshall was clearly a believing Catholic, but he didn’t take what his priest told him while he was dying very seriously.

  80. Jack Lecter says:

    And.

    Facebook is going to be the death of us

    Related:link text

    Zvi at Don’t Worry About The Vase making a principled case for (a steelmanned version) of this- and he hardly fits my mental model of “cranky one guy”.

    Maybe we should update in the direction of the elderly being right about this one? Or at least less wrong than they seemed at first?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      One partial solution: Dreamwidth.org and http://www.livejournal.com. These are much more searchable than FB and present new material in straightforward chronological order. The structure is that members have individual blogs.

      Livejournal is owned by a Russian company and subject to Russian law. Some people avoid it for that reason. Also, they pulled a nasty trick– when they took over, you suddenly couldn’t access your account unless you agreed to their TOS.

      I recently found that when I archived my lj at dw, comments from deleted lj accounts were preserved.

      They both use the same software and can be linked to each other.

      I’m nancylebov at both of them.

  81. Jack Lecter says:

    Also, happy birthday! We’re lucky to have you.

  82. Jack Lecter says:

    If you’re curious about the effect you have on other people, here’s a brief rundown of how my stances on these topicshave changed since discovering your blog, and, through it, the Aspiring-Rationalist-Sphere:

    1. Less excitement about radical utopian plans to fix everything in society at once (YES, A LOT)
    2. Less belief that I’m special and can change the world (YES, A LITTLE- this is still sinking in)
    3. Less trust in any specific system, more resignation to the idea that anything useful requires a grab bag of intuitions, heuristics, and almost-unteachable skills. (YES, A LITTLE- I tend to hear this argument from people who put too much trust in their preferred grab bags, though, so I don’t think either option works *consistently*. This shouldn’t be surprising- if one approach consistently worked with no tradeoffs, everyone would use it for everything.)
    4. More willingness to assume that other people are competent in aggregate in certain ways, eg that academic fields aren’t making incredibly stupid mistakes or pointlessly circlejerking in ways I can easily detect. (NO, NOT AT ALL- I had to double check this to be sure I was reading it right. Yudkowsky just published a great article entitled “Moloch’s Toolbox” making the opposite case much better than I could. But, dude, you christened Moloch, so I’m very surprised to hear this from you. I’m confused. Elucidate?)
    5. More willingness to believe that power (as in “power structures” or “speak truth to power”) matters and infects everything. (SORT OF?- It’s an oversimplification, but sort of broadly true. You wrote a great article about this on your old LiveJournal- something with a long title and a parable involving Donald Trump and Rebecca Black. I didn’t completely agree with it- I thought it oversimplified things, too- but it was ten times better than what you usually hear on the subject. To be fair, I’m currently attending a very left-leaning college, and so I usually hear the term used by people who seem to have no mental model in mind at all for how it works.)
    6. More belief in Chesterton’s Fence. (YES)
    7. More concern that I’m wrong about everything, even the things I’m right about, on the grounds that I’m missing important other paradigms that think about things completely differently. (NO- your arguments for this are great, but I was already MAXIMALLY PANICKED about this.)
    8. Less hope that everyone would just get along if they understood each other a little better. (COMPLICATED- I’ve been exposed to some great arguments for and against this. Yes, a lot of the differences between people run very deep, but I also think real understanding levels are very low. Even Ideological Turing Tests can only measure what people believe, not why they believe. I think increasing understanding would probably help, but wouldn’t fix everything.)
    9. Less hope that anybody cares about truth (even though ten years ago I would have admitted that nobody cares about truth). (YES- but I probably agree more with you-ten-years-ago than you today. I think I care about truth. I think my parents do. I don’t think civilization would have gotten this far with literally zero concern for truth. So the issue is that many people sacrifice truth to their other concerns, and that people are incentivized to pretend to care about truth when in fact they do not. I would say that truth is a Haidtian Sacred Value to people like you and me and a lot of the other people here, and we tend to model other people that way, too, which is often a mistake.)

  83. n8chz says:

    Guess the 1/3 century mark is only 4 months away, then.

  84. Bellum Gallicum says:

    When I was in my thirties I realized most things that people did were Chesterton’s Fences for creating Grandchildren.

    Once I could see this much of people’s behavior and society’s rules made much more sense

  85. ainsophistry says:

    Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it – or say it only in a very careful way – in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations. Then I start looking down on them just for being low-status or cringeworthy. Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it. This is endemic, and I try to quash it when I notice it, but I don’t know how many times it’s slipped my notice all the way to the point where I can no longer remember the truth of the original statement.

    I think the dynamic is often a bit more complicated than this. Society isn’t just a big group consisting of higher and lower status individuals; it’s a bunch of smaller groups competing for status with each other, where each of these is composed of individuals competing for intra-group status with other local group members. If the Local Dominance Effect is a real thing [insert broad caveat about social psychology and the replication crisis here], then these small groups can seem to those most deeply enmeshed in them like the entire social world, at least as far as their perceptions of their own status go (I suspect the strength of this effect tends to vary inversely with the intensity of competition between the local group and others). To those not quite as deeply enmeshed, this can create some weird tensions.

    I was a pretty early partisan for (what became) New Atheism (from around the time of Kitzmiller v. Dover). When I decided many years later to seek a graduate degree in philosophy, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a group (most of whom were de facto atheists themselves) in which NA was roundly reviled–both for fair reasons and for decidedly pettier and irrelevant ones. There was certainly a lot of pressure to conform to this view, but this by no means seemed like a straightforward path to higher status. Conformity, after all, is a quintessentially low status behavior. The only way I could have really gained status from giving in to popular demand here would have been to become singularly vociferous in my NA-bashing, something I couldn’t do in good intellectual conscience (and which assuredly had nothing at all to do with sunk costs. Nope…not a thing.).

    The dilemma: To defend NA would have been to risk ostracization to a hated outgroup; to repudiate it would have been to risk anonymization within the ingroup. For whatever reasons (about which I can offer only the loosest speculation), the latter horn seemed scarier than the former, so my attempt to navigate between them had me mostly leaning toward a kind of local contrarianism, occasionally chiding the New Atheists for saying dumb or intemperate or groupthink-y things but reserving most of my critical attention for the often equivalently dumb or intemperate or groupthink-y rejoinders issuing from my colleagues. Now, I had little to no social contact with New Atheists at this point, so I wasn’t attempting to appeal to them for status; I think, rather, I was trying to do that silly fashion thing where one tries to signal high status by adopting/repurposing markers of those locally regarded as low status individuals. I was, I suppose, trying to found a new class/subgroup of Newer, More Nuanced and Sophisticated Atheists, folks who engaged critically with theological arcana like Robert Maydole’s modal ontological argument and the complicated literature on religion’s enormous variety of social effects.

    Needless to say, I don’t think it really caught on.

  86. benwave says:

    Gefeliciteerd Scott!

    You’ve been my favourite author consistently since I discovered you a couple of years ago. I value that regardless of the accuracy or the degree to which my priors agree with you, reading your articles seldom fails to put my brain in a new state, let it consider something new, or something old from a different angle.

    For what it’s worth, my own take on the older and more conservative trend is that it is something that you would expect to see even in the absence of some social forces pushing people in different directions as they age. When one is young, one’s space of things they consider possible and worthy of consideration is huge. Brains are optimising machines, so one will gravitate to the most exciting or promising solution in one’s consideration space. Over time, more things are tried, more things are failed (because hard problems are hard). New constraints are discovered, one’s consideration space shrinks, and the new most exciting candidate is less exciting than the first exciting candidates. Not due to socialization, simply by process of elmination, and because of gradually shifting priors on matters such as the estimate of the probability that a solution exists. Of course one can argue about the relative contribution of this effect vs the that of a socialization effect.

    I feel the things you describe, but I don’t feel put off by them – all the time I’m becoming more accurate in my model of the universe. It fills me with determination. I honestly feel I’m closer to solving the world’s problems than I ever have been in the past, and I’m sure the same is true of you.

    Have a great day Scott, you deserve it!
    I don’t feel I’m very good at interacting with hundred-posts-long comment threads, but I’ll try to be more active here in the future. The work is worthy, and the space is special : )

  87. G Gordon Worley III says:

    As you notice, the issue seems to be confounded. Developmental psychology suggests you are able to get wiser as you get older if you continue to engage in postformal development, but also older brains appear less adaptable, slower, worse at remembering, etc. Both of these are correlated with age, so there’s a sort of battle going on between the two to see which affects you more first. If you’re lucky you might reach something like Kegan 5 before your brain starts to really degrade and this may enable you to have some resilience against the normal effects of aging, but if you’re really unlucky you might stay at the formal stage all your life and just keep getting older, so you never get any “wisdom” and are just a crotchety old person yelling at kids to get off their lawn.

    We’re pretty good at telling how old you are, okay at telling how well your brain is working, and capable but rarely put in the effort to figure out your postformal developmental stage, so I expect it will mostly look like aging makes you dumb even though we know there are exceptions of wise old smart people. I suspect what is missing to make sense of this is better data on postformal psychological development.

  88. D.O. says:

    Many happy returns!

    33 is the age of wisdom? You must be joking. Wait until you are at least 64.

    People do care about truth. It does not mean they care only about truth or that they care about truth on all subjects, but there is no need to be a cynic.

    About being right and being politic, here’s my point of view. You might think you are right, but still allow for possibility of being wrong. That’s one thing. And you can be sure you are right, but be humble and politic and don’t shout it at everyone. Those are two different things, both valid. If you allow that other people might be right or that it is unwise to contradict them too strongly even if they are wrong, you still can be polite and express your point of view, if others are willing to listen. And stop worrying who is low status and who is high status.

    Many happy returns again.

  89. Well... says:

    Holy crap, I’m older than Scott.

  90. blarglesworth says:

    One of the things I’m really worried about is that old-timers might be right in most ways that matter to humans when they say that “everything was better in the good old days after the war.”

    I don’t believe that they would prefer to live on a 1950-level real income, or that they would prefer not to have any medical advances that have happened since then, or anything of that nature. But I’ve come around to the argument that social cohesion was vastly stronger in the 1950s than in the present, among the vast majority of people. People were mostly living in the same “consensus reality” that has since collapsed so thoroughly that people are grappling with the “post-truth era”. Community organizations, including churches, were strong. The rate of depression and anxiety, now almost ubiquitous, was very low by modern standards. Homicide rates were low as well. Trust in US institutions was also very high. Economically, the stock of real GDP may have been much lower, but the flow was not: real wages were rising, unions were strong, and inequality was very low, in large part because the US made up something like 50% of gross world product and the owners of capital were unable to offshore it. The half of the population with an IQ below 100 were mostly able to gain satisfying work – industrial work is dangerous and repetitive, but it involves making tangible things, and the transition to a service economy was The US really was, self-evidently, the best country in the world in which to live.

    Of course there are the usual caveats: segregation was still in force, women who wanted careers were rarely allowed to have them outside of a few designated areas (e.g. teaching and nursing), the sexual acts of gay people were illegal and extremely stigmatized, and so on.

    But yet, unlike today, black people were actually making economic and political progress vis a vis whites – albeit starting from a very low baseline – and their social structures had not suffered the sort of collapse (very high violent crime rates, very high out-of-wedlock birth rate, and so on) that started, ironically, just after the Civil Rights era. The transition toward a social norm where women are expected to work seems to have led to women’s average self-reported life satisfaction declining below that of men, whereas it had been higher when working was not expected. On the other hand, I can’t say anything positive about how LGBT people were treated; the only real advantage was that private lives were much easier to separate from public ones before tiny cameras spread like wildfire.

    If there were some magical way to revert to the 1950s but with modern social norms about women and racial/ethnic/sexual minority groups, plus some of the lifesaving medical advances that have happened since then, I would wager that most people (perhaps not most people on this site, but most people as a whole) would find it a more satisfying time to be a human once they got through the smartphone withdrawals, much as earlier Europeans and American whites who joined American Indian groups (back before they were destroyed) hated going back, while virtually no American Indian liked white society. I think being poorer in absolute terms and having no non-crappy glowing screens would be fairly easy to adjust to given all of the things that actually make people happier, such as strong community bonds, trust in public institutions, religion that was taken seriously but not in a modern fundamentalist way, low inequality, a sense of personal advancement available even to people with an IQ of 90, etc.

    Of course this is pure speculation, and it’s deeply offensive to progressive types who think we are or ought to be making “progress” from our current state in some non-technological way. But, without bothering to cite anything, I think I understand many of the root causes that are causing skyrocketing rates of mental illness. They all seem to involve disconnection and alienation from society, along with the profound sense of meaninglessness that happens when you don’t have anything – secular or religious – to really believe in.

    Or I’m just projecting my issues onto large segments of the population. That’s a distinct possibility too. But I suspect this strikes a chord with people, especially the older crowd who have seen both worlds. At the very least, there’s not a clear-cut case that people are happier today than they were in the 1950s, whereas older people I’ve talked to report that when their grandparents would say things about the “good old days” 60 years before them, all they had to do was mention having to poop in an outhouse (outside major cities), and not having airplanes or cars or antibiotics or anything else invented or put into wide use from 1895-1955, their grandparents were pretty quick to admit that things got much better throughout their lives. Our group of old people, though, actually does have real issues to point to that aren’t clearly outweighed by the technological advances of the past 60 years.

    edit: Wow, I’m almost as verbose as Scott is! I hope some people have some time to read it. I keep qualifying everything, but that’s important because otherwise people might write me off as some sort of reactionary when what I’m trying to express is more subtle than that.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In the 1950s, we still had mass institutionalization of the mentally ill, keeping rates low in the uninstitutionalized population. Also some illnesses were probably not recognized as such. And desperate housewives were popping tranquilizers like candy. And of course all those social institutions must have been very confining for those who weren’t in charge of them… possibly one reason young people moved out to the Levittowns, to get away from that stuff. I think you may be looking on that era with more than a bit of nostalgia.

      And of course it couldn’t last anyway. It was a product of WWII, and the Cold War was coming like it or not, as was the civil rights movement. And a massive increase in leaded gasoline use, if you believe that theory. Maybe de-institutionalization could have been stopped; not sure if it would have made a difference.

      • Randy M says:

        And desperate housewives were popping tranquilizers like candy.

        Moreso than women on anti-depressants today?

      • blarglesworth says:

        Yeah, I’m not arguing that the US 1950s were sustainable, any more than anything else that’s contingent on historical events like WWII. Nor do I think that parts of it (the most obvious examples being the lack of civil rights and the Cold War) should have been sustained. I’m just arguing that old-timers who remember it fondly might be right to do so: low inequality, low violent crime, strong family and institutional structures, abundant jobs with the existence of a safety net for the occasional recessions (granted, mostly for whites only), and so on. If it were possible to just move in time like we can move in space, it would be a very reasonable place to move to.

        I’m also making a Thiel-style argument that modern computing technology has not been increasing our overall level of happiness, especially in the past 20 years. I suspect the ability to retreat into bubbles of like-minded people has played a role in leading to the “post-truth era”. Even for those of us who don’t do that, such as Scott and most of the people who read him, it’s not as though learning about how things really work actually makes us happier. Cynicism and pessimism tends to prevail, and those things are pretty potent triggers for depression. In my own case, I know that I became markedly less happy after shedding my libertarian fantasies in 2011 and never really recovered from that. Losing faith that things, at least within the First World, are truly improving in ways that actually satisfy people followed from that, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to retain that faith – which I think most people here still have.

        Now “overall level of happiness” is obviously difficult to measure, but we know some things. Depression rates are still rising quite rapidly, and I sense that it’s not just me who has an increased amount of existential despair. I’d look especially at the markedly increased rate of lone-wolf spree killings and terrorist attacks over the last few years; they’re practically always troubled men who have either lost their faith in everything or who turn to insane fundamentalist ideologies in order to get some sort of solace. Not that those make up any sizable percentage of all homicides, but their rates have gone up no matter how you measure it. Drug overdoses and suicides among non-college-educated types, particularly outside major urban centers – people who have every reason not to believe in a better future – have also shot up.

        All of this paints a very bleak picture, even though science is still chugging along quite well and there’s much more computing technology to go around. Basically we landed in a cyberpunk dystopia, and it’s likely to get worse as automation accelerates and deprives more people of jobs, which matter not just because of money but because people without jobs feel and are treated as useless, and this shows no sign of going away. Perhaps in a generation or two we’ll finally come to our senses and learn to live with that, but for the foreseeable future it will just worsen existing trends.

    • Null42 says:

      Nah, the 1950s were pretty good (if you were in the right group of course)…for Americans, ie citizens of the USA. (most of) The rest of the world was recovering from WW2 or under colonialism. So, yeah, we didn’t have to compete with anyone, all our rivals were in rubble…of course we felt great!

      • blarglesworth says:

        The inequality thing, the long-term growth rate, and the “still believes in something” rate, and the consensus about creating safety nets were all much better from a “makes people happier in aggregate” (lower, higher, higher, stronger) perspective for most of Western Europe and Canada+Australia+NZ+Japan c. 1955 than the present. These were countries that were markedly poorer at the time. So although I restricted my analysis to “with some exceptions, it would be better to be an American in the 1950s than now”, or even the weaker form “white American men who remember the 1950s are mostly correct [based on what we know today about human satisfaction] to perceive it as a period better for them than the present”, it does apply to most of the countries we think of as “First World” today.

        Now that’s not to say that WWII, and the American realization that they needed to recycle their surpluses into allies they wanted to build up and generally plan the economies of the rest of the First World, wasn’t the reason that this happened. Read Piketty and you’ll see why (for example) the French call them Les Trente Glorieuses, and similar terms pop up all over non-Communist Europe – it did all have to do with the huge disruption caused by WWII, especially in inflating away inequality and convincing the remaining or newly powerful that establishing safety nets was a good way to prevent anything like Nazism or Stalinism from happening to them. The actual destruction and deprivation was there too, but it was the inflation that really killed European inequality.

        Somehow I was a standard leftist 11 years ago, a libertarian 7 years ago, and then went through the spin-dryer back through American liberalism until I came out a left-wing borderline conservative, in kind of a Burkean way (no sympathy for Republicans, whom I perceive as dangerous radicals while the Democrats are mostly conservative except on social issues, which they make sure to signal loudly about). I may easily change to something else in the next 6 years.

        But I empathize strongly with the general changes in attitude that Scott had – I’ve had those same feelings too, and now I find myself nostalgic for eras I’ve never lived in, having read fairly extensively about them. I’m 28 and expect more chaos and dissatisfaction in the next 5 years, so I expect the trend towards increased cynicism about everything will keep on going in society at large, not just me as an individual. I hope I’m wrong – I don’t actually believe I’m right about much, but I think I have more pieces of the puzzle than most. Still, somehow I doubt I’ll be wrong about this prediction – even though it’s unclear how to measure “increased cynicism in society at large”. But one thing I’ve learned over the last 7 years is that most of what matters to people is difficult or borderline-impossible to measure, let alone replicate. So that’s a problem too.

      • So, yeah, we didn’t have to compete with anyone, all our rivals were in rubble…of course we felt great!

        You seem to assume that if other countries get richer that makes us poorer. Why?

  91. Mattusa says:

    I was thinking about this recently. To use one very relatable example, I think of my own perception of the NFL. I’ve always enjoyed the NFL both within a community of fans and the incredible anticipatory tension and entertainment that comes with big games and good teams. That perception basically hid what’s now an incontrovertible fact: pro football leads to very problematic long term health declines. I dispute it when I hear people saying that it’s always been obvious but just ignored. That’s certainly not true in my case. I grew up watching the game, and just figured that once players retired they can go back to living normal lives. As a kid, perhaps, one thinks of all injuries as purely transient. You might hurt yourself, but you always recover quickly (basic biological rule is the younger you are the faster you heal), and I just figured the same would go for NFL players. And really, this thought process carried over until the last few years. Now I grimace anytime I see an obvious conclusion or big injury, especially because it’s the rule for NFL players, not the exception. What should have been obvious, only became so after a long period where reading article after article wiped away my previous biases.

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      This is starting to be a Thing for parents of athletic kids.

      They are vetoing their kids joining the local High School football team.

      The knowledge that brain injuries never actually fully heal, and that a “minor” concussion is still a serious injury, has worked it’s way down to suburban families.

      Fewer players and fewer broadbased fans at the high school level, means fewer and fewer at the College level, which will dry up the pro level. Professional level American football may be dead within another generation, or two.

  92. Nonketh says:

    This post reminds me very strongly of the introduction to Princess: The Hopeful.

    “We didn’t get wiser when we grew up: we just became more cynical.”

    Anyway, I’d much prefer to live in a world where people err on the side of innocence rather than cynicism. If your more idealistic and/or naive beliefs are in fact eroding for reasons other than the increasing accuracy of your worldview, then the same is probably happening to a lot of people, which is concerning.

    Hard to tell without asking a lot of people about it, but I’ll have to keep an eye on myself and those around me, at least. I don’t wanna be a cynic when I’m 33.

    • If it’s any consolation or inspiration: I am 33 (yep, actual age!), and I am not a cynic! 🙂 I strongly believe in the best of people – I believe the vast majority people I interact with are not going to try to lie to me, are not stupid (though they may think very differently than I do and communication may be different), and are not going to try to hurt me.

      I stick with this worldview because it has helped me immensely.

      That said, unfortunately, currently at work, I am surrounded by cynics that I need to endure all day – this was the effect of a sort of evaporative cooling that happened to my department. I do not hold their cynicism against these people – our company has gotten significantly smaller without that our tech stack and infrastructure shrank any, and it’s a healthy mental immune system reaction to rant about the ‘pile of crap’ circumstances have left these people with. But I cannot hear hateful remarks without wanting to defend those being hated on, and I am censoring myself each day, because my colleagues are calling their ex-colleagues “idiots” every other loudly articulated sentence, and I really need to restrain myself from shouting at them. (Sometimes I fail, though this is usually not related to work, but to complete strawmanning of political opinions that also occasionally get thrown into the mix.)

      All in all, I recognise this culture is toxic to me. I recognise it as an active threat to my worldview, in that, were I to stay in it, I would have to erode what is both dear to me and has served me very well. In fact, I have already taken some damage from this – I know I will need to teach myself tolerance of some things again when I am out of here. However, I am also actively looking for a new employment (with full knowledge of my current employer, by the way, because I would find it unethical to just ditch the company I am currently in, which is really struggling with technology pains, on short notice, without that they can plan for it).

      I had lost sight of how it is anywhere else since I’ve been with my current employer for five years and the current status quo was a very creeping culture change. Friday I spent a day at a completely different company and felt utterly emotionally invigorated. At some point one of the people there was criticising some legacy source code (just the code, not the person who wrote it!), then looked at me and sheepishly asked: “Am I being too negative? :(” I was so floored by that question, since I hadn’t even noticed it was negative. From my baseline, this person was just giving well-reasoned criticism. But from *his* baseline, he wasn’t sure.

      tl;dr: My advice would be to choose your environment carefully. Don’t let your environment erode your innocence. If it’s doing that, change your environment, if it’s at all in your ability to do so.

  93. Mr Mind says:

    “Yesterday I was a fool, the week before an idiot, and last month an imbecile. Don’t show me code I might have written yesterday. Show me code as I will write it tomorrow.”

    The Codeless Code

  94. Baeraad says:

    I think the most optimistic takeaway is that people function in different ways during different stages of their lives. People in their thirties are supposed to be more conservative than people in their twenties, because people in their twenties need to go out and impart daring new solutions gained from their fresh and vital perspective, while people in their thirties are in the middle of their transition into the crusty, boring Old Guard that’s needed to keep the world together so it doesn’t collapse from all the daring new solutions it’s being hammered with. In which case, no one is right, exactly, they just see things from different perspectives – and the lesson to take away is that we need to remember to respect and value the young hooligans for the necessary function they serve in our society. Regardless of how fucking noisy and annoying they are.

    When I’m feeling less optimistic, I feel sure that we’re all born idiots and that we stay idiots, with the only change being the exact form our idiocy takes, until finally one day merciful death puts an end to all our bullshit. :p

    As far as your exact points go, I have gone the exact opposite way on 5, because I’ve come to think that things happen less because of Power and more as some kind of random brownian motion that no one can control or predict. I definitely subscribe to 7, but then I always did, I just used to bluster and yell a lot more to cover up for my insecurity while these days I’m philosophical about my inability to know anything. And I don’t think I entirely understand what 9 even means, but then as per 7 I never quite believed that the truth was knowable anyway so I’ve always had a hard time understanding why anyone would care about it (as opposed to caring about what seemed moderately plausible and helped you make useful decisions). As for the others… yeah, same here, for all of them.

    ETA: Also, in fairness, Facebook, Twitter and similar nonsense really are blights upon the face of our society that I blame for much of what is stupid and hateful about it. Back in my day, we had blogs! Where you made arguments longer than 140 words! And we posted on them while seated behind our oversized stationary computers like civilised people, not by thumb-tapping on our phones all the damn time!

    … ahem. Okay, so maybe I’ve just turned into a crotchety old geezer at the tender age of 36. What can I say, I’m an old soul. :p But seriously, when old people complain about Facebook, I feel like it really is the wisdom of age talking.

  95. glasnak says:

    Scott,

    You’ve been a godsend in my own search for wisdom and I thank you for that so much. I don’t think I’ve had anyone in my life I have learnt more from and I’m still learning with every new post. Thanks so much for letting us see a glimpse of the inner working of your brain, it has been immensely helpful. I love your style of writing, loved Unsong and all the Raikoth posts, I still recommend to people that they should read Moloch and I still struggle to explain what I have learnt from you. I hope I can learn your explanatory style too if I read some more. So thank you. So so much.

    I’m barely 25, so my own list of comparisons with 10 years ago would include things like “music isn’t something that compartmentalize people into completely distinct categories”, “religion isn’t the biggest problem and atheism won’t solve everything or bring on technological utopia” and “not every quote that is in latin and sounds great is necessarily profound or meaningful.” Boy, was I edgy.

    But hey, looking forward to my next 10 years and to see how little I knew at 25. My progress during my last ~3 years towards the “wisdom” is mainly thanks to you and others you introduced me to. So thank you. And keep on, making a world a bit nicer place, a little easier to understand. I’m actually glad for your doubts, because you’re leading us all towards the same wisdom, so you better know the right path.

    So, although a bit late, happy birthday!

  96. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A thing I learned– the beginning of Psychetypes shocked me so much it took me two or three years to settle down and read it.

    It’s a theoretical take on the Myers-Briggs types, discussing how the types think about time and space in various ways.

    The shocking thing was that there are many ways of approaching the universe and living well, and I was shocked because I had a strong belief that either I was fucked up or everyone else was. I did get over it, at least somewhat.

    (My mother had an amazing talent for implying that I was the only fucked up person in the universe.)

    Good book.

  97. rich lewis says:

    As many have pointed out knowledge doesn’t accumulate in this linear way in real world disciplines. There are thresholds (Kuhnian thresholds?) beyond which prior knowledge and techniques become no longer fit for new environments, and rather than being absorbed are simply neglected. A nuanced example might be western classical music (not unlike alchemy in being a series of ‘wise men’ stretched out over a 500 year+ timeline) – if you look closely at how traditions replaced each other it’s striking how soon bodies of accumulated skill were abandoned. I mean J S Bach spent 50 years honing a polyphonic tradition of 300+ years (a true alchemist) but the style of Mozart and Haydn was barely influenced by these discoveries. It’s not as if the 18 year old Mozart had to learn that polyphonic tradition in order to start writing sonata form movements. He took some bits and pieces from it (mostly when he discovered Bach much later in his career)) but he was ‘going his own way’ in a new enlightenment environment that saw polyphony as socially backward – one ironically founded by Bach’s sons who had rejected his ‘heavy’ style. Is ‘hard’ science much different than this? Perhaps strong Kuhnianism has been rejected, but surely there are these thresholds even in hard disciplines, where a new technique or new problem posed by the environment make past knowledge more or less defunct.

  98. LadyJane says:

    I can definitely relate to what you were saying about “low-status” views, particularly regarding some of my own libertarian ideas.

    For instance, if you’d asked me five years ago, I would’ve said that Christian bakery owners shouldn’t be forced to serve gay couples, on the grounds that private businesses should be free to associate or refuse association with whoever they wanted. But the vast majority of people who agree with that stance *aren’t* idealistic libertarians who care about protecting all rights; they’re religious ultra-conservative homophobes who would prefer that gay couples not be allowed to get married at all and want to do everything in their power to hinder gay couples and de-legitimize gay marriages and prevent homosexuality from being seen as socially acceptable.

    But since I’m a gay trans woman living in a liberal enclave city, my social group includes a lot of liberals and leftists, a few Blue Tribe Romney-style conservatives, and zero religious ultra-conservatives (and let’s be real, if I did know any, they would probably despise me based on my sexual orientation and gender identity anyway). It’s not just liberal/leftist influence either, the same pattern holds true within libertarian groups online. The types of libertarians who make a big deal about Christian bakers and gay wedding cakes tend to be the ones who associate with the alt-right, complain about “SJWs” and “Cultural Marxists” all the time, make fun of queer and gender non-conforming people, criticize Gary Johnson for not being libertarian enough, and so forth. Conversely, almost all of the libertarians who are socially liberal and accepting of LGBT people tend to not care about Christian bakers; either they believe the bakers should be forced to bake the cake (which was the stance Gary Johnson took, even if it doesn’t strictly fit with an orthodox interpretation of libertarian principles), or they agree with the conservatives but just don’t talk about the issue because they don’t see it as a worthwhile hill to die on. Myself, I’ve come to agree with Larry Sharpe’s compromise, namely that bakers should not be allowed to refuse service to specific customers, but should be allowed to refuse the content of specific requests (e.g. Christian bakers would still have to sell wedding cakes to gay couples, but wouldn’t be required to write “Congratulations Amy and Jane” on the top or decorate it with figurines of two brides).

    Now that I think about it, I’ve found myself a lot more sympathetic to the social justice movement in general, and a lot less sympathetic to its opponents. Five years ago, I thought that most SJWs were awful fanatical hypocrites, and maybe a few were well-meaning but misguided fools; on the flip side, I also thought that the 4chan anti-SJW types were mostly heroic rebels against the tyrannical social justice establishment, even if some of them took things too far and a very small minority were actual bigots. Now I see things in almost the exact opposite light: The SJWs seem mostly well-meaning, even if some of them take things too far and a very small minority are power-hungry status-seeking extremists, whereas the anti-SJWs seem mostly like horrible nightmare bigots from Hell with a few naive useful idiots mixed in.

    • Conversely, almost all of the libertarians who are socially liberal and accepting of LGBT people tend to not care about Christian bakers; either they believe the bakers should be forced to bake the cake (which was the stance Gary Johnson took, even if it doesn’t strictly fit with an orthodox interpretation of libertarian principles), or they agree with the conservatives but just don’t talk about the issue because they don’t see it as a worthwhile hill to die on.

      I have no problems with LGBT people, some of whom I know, and when the question comes up I continue to argue that requiring a baker to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple is not only morally wrong, it is morally wrong in the same way in which slavery is, although a much smaller example of that wrong. My objection to the conservative approach to the issue is that they think the arguments depends on the reasons for refusal being religious. For what it’s worth, my father resigned from the ACLU a very long time ago over their support for either “fair housing” or “fair employment” laws, I now forget which, on the grounds that they were now opposing liberty instead of supporting it.

      And I think Gary Johnson’s position in the campaign–I don’t know him well enough to speak to his actual views–badly diluted libertarianism.

      My realspace environment for most of my life has been universities, where my views are very much a minority, although I have also had family, where they were not.

      So I don’t think I fit your model. I have argued at some length online against libertarians who water down their views in order to fit in better with their academic environment.

      • LadyJane says:

        I completely believe that you have perfectly valid reasons for opposing anti-discrimination policies that aren’t rooted in bigotry. I just think that makes you an outlier, among the general populace and probably even among libertarians. For every libertarian who thinks that Christian bakers shouldn’t be forced to bake the cake because it violates libertarian principles, there are 10 “libertarians” who just hate gay people (or at least consider homosexuality to be an aberration that shouldn’t be socially tolerated) and are just using libertarian principles as an excuse. And for each of those pseudo-libertarians, there are 10 non-libertarian ultra-conservatives who openly admit that they just don’t like gay people and don’t even bother with an excuse. The amount of people who are on your side *for the right reasons* is negligible, and the people who are on your side for the wrong reasons are very likely to stop being on your side as soon as circumstances are even slightly different. (I’m also curious if you consider Larry Sharpe’s compromise on the issue to be morally acceptable, or at least less of a moral wrong; I find it to be a very elegant solution myself, and while it might not fully be in keeping with doctrinaire libertarian beliefs, I also recognize the importance of compromise in modern politics.)

        Perhaps a more clear example would be the various bathroom bills that’ve popped up over the past two years, which legally mandates that in government facilities, people can only use bathrooms intended for the sex they were assigned at birth. In my view, this constitutes active discrimination by the state against trans and non-binary people, thus violating the classical liberal principle of equality under the law. I can understand how some libertarians might be neutral on the issue, if they don’t believe that government property should exist in the first place and would rather focus on more important issues. But I don’t understand how anyone calling themselves a libertarian can actively support such laws – and yet, I’ve gotten into arguments with dozens of so-called libertarians who’ve done exactly that, usually on the grounds that bathroom bills are “common sense” or that they represent a victory against progressives.

        It gets worse, since some bathroom bills expand their scope to cover all public bathrooms, even those in privately-owned establishments. (Probably the most egregious example is the utterly ridiculous bill that was proposed in Alabama requiring that all unisex public bathrooms be monitored by security guards to prevent crimes from occurring there – which in practice would make it virtually impossible for any establishment to have unisex bathrooms at all.) I think even the most hardcore purist completely-neutral-on-social-issues libertarian would agree that these bills violate libertarian principles, yet once again, I’ve found no shortage of people in the libertarian community who are inexplicably willing to not just defend them, but accuse anyone who opposes them of being “leftists” or “Marxists.” This leads me to believe that a lot of these libertarians are really just devout social conservatives who are primarily driven by their hatred of the left and don’t actually understand libertarian principles at all. And if you don’t believe me, go read the comments section on any Reason.com article that deals with trans issues.

        Admittedly, there have been some bills from social liberals that violate orthodox libertarian principles as well, such as the California bill mandating that all single-occupancy bathrooms be considered gender-neutral. There are many libertarians who claim to oppose these bills for violating the rights of private businesses, and I’m sure some of them are being genuine in that claim. But I’m also sure that a great many of them are the exact same people who support anti-trans bills that violate the rights of private businesses just as much. And even the ones who are being genuine would probably argue that the pro-trans bathroom bills and anti-trans bathroom bills are equally bad, and while that may be true according to the strictest interpretation of libertarian doctrine, I can’t bring myself to agree with that. If I was forced to choose between a pro-trans bathroom bill that violated business owners’ rights and an anti-trans bathroom bill that violated business owners’ rights, I would choose the former in a heartbeat. Even if the former somehow violated business owners’ rights by 25% and the latter only violated their rights by 10%, I would still choose the former.

        • I can’t speak to the case of social conservatives, but I think your comment on libertarian support for the bakers is mistaken if “libertarian” means someone with a serious intellectual commitment to libertarianism–someone who is active in SFL, for instance, or has opinions on the minarchist/anarchist issue, disagreements between me and Rothbard, etc. It might be true of people who choose to call themselves libertarians–I don’t have as good evidence on that population.

          On bathroom bills, I of course oppose ones that impose requirements on private firms. I don’t oppose a private school that requires students and teachers to use bathrooms corresponding to their physical gender, might support it, although if there are transsexual students or faculty it would be a good idea to provide a single occupant unisex room as well.

          I can’t see that the objection of (say) a pre-op m to f transsexual to sharing a washroom with males is any more legitimate an argument than the objection of a girl to sharing a restroom with a (physical) male, and there are a lot more girls than pre-op mtf transsexuals.

          Given that, and given that government exists, I don’t think I can object to a government following the same policy. It shouldn’t avoid zero cost accommodations to transsexuals, such as making any single user rest rooms unisex, but it doesn’t have an obligation to accommodate them at the cost of making things worse for other people.

          • LadyJane says:

            So the objection of racists to sharing a restroom with black people is perfectly legitimate, and racial segregation in government facilities is totally acceptable? After all, there was a time when there were a lot more white racists than black people, at least in certain parts of the country.

            Within public spaces, the burden of exercising freedom of association should fall on the people who refuse to associate with others, not on the people they refuse to associate with. This remains true even if the people refusing to associate with others comprise a majority. Can we agree on that as a general principle?

            By that logic, I would place the right of trans women to use public bathrooms meant for women above the right of cis women to refuse association with trans women. Those cis women can choose to exercise their freedom of association by not using public bathrooms.

  99. piero says:

    In recent years I’ve been surprised by my inability to embrace new ideas. My overriding principle has become “if it smells like bullshit, tastes like bullshit, etc., spit it out”. So far it has served me well. I’ve been able to rightly call bullshit on several fads, ranging from the downright stupid (Urantia: who the hell was dumb enough to fall for that?) to the initially intriguing but ultimately empty (complex systems theory: it’s over, get over it).

    In short, I’ve been driven further and further to the following intransigent position: show me the evidence or shut up. And by “evidence” I mean a clearly defined, measurable, detectable and predictable effect on matter or radiation. That’s all there is to it.

  100. Null42 says:

    I’m about 5-6 years older than you (ambiguity intentional). And I’m a newbie, so none of you have anything to compare my comments to. So take it as a generic random person’s experience, nothing more.

    1. I ditched radical utopian plans in my early twenties; it was obvious I didn’t have any charisma, which is necessary to get people to go along with your plans.
    2. Not getting into the school I wanted in my mid-twenties ended any hopes I had of making real changes in my field.
    3. Agree on 3. That’s why they call it ‘experience’, though you’ve stated it a lot more eloquently.
    4. Not so sure about 4; I’m convinced certain fields are basically existing only to push certain political fields. But enough flamewars.
    5. I kind of believed this to begin with, but now I think everything is power plays behind the scenes. Which makes sense–if herbivores fight over grazing areas and carnivores fight over hunting grounds, why wouldn’t humans fight over resources in our own complicated social-primate ways?
    6. I forget if I read it here, but I think Chesterton’s Fence is one of the best statements for conservatism (in the general sense, not the low-taxes-and-abortion-banning sense) I’ve ever read. Nobody understands everything.
    7. I gave up trying to understand everything–I figure my brain has finite capacity. You can only bother gaining skills that are useful to you in your current situation.
    8. Agree 100%! Resources are limited, that’s why people fight over things. If we understood each other perfectly, unscrupulous types would just use that to take advantage. I’m convinced the upsurge in identity politics (on left and alt-right) is part the largest group no longer being the majority (or at least this being in sight) and part the realization that the pie is shrinking and it’s evening in America, so you’d better get yours, and universalist ideas are just a way to fool you into letting other people rob you.
    9. It’s more about internalizing the lesson. It’s more important to make people around you happy than to be right; in fact, it is worse to say obnoxious things and be right than to say obnoxious things and be wrong! I still read things I’m interested in that aren’t useful, but I feel guilty.

    Oh, and in personal terms, my greatest lesson that trying to get ahead by not having a personal life in your twenties just leads you unable to have relationships in your thirties, and then you have nobody to take care of your decrepit self in your seventies…now I have the desired low six-figure salary, but having a real relationship is asking for a huge divorce settlement a few years down the road, because there’s all those relationship skills the rest of humanity picked up having all those relationships, and you don’t have them!

    But nobody does that, so it doesn’t generalize. But in case anyone reading this is thinking about doing it, don’t.

  101. Zorgon says:

    Sudden thought – take the NMDA receptor conservatism issue, extend life expectancy to infinite, and you get hyper-conservative change-averse Tolkien elves.

    • LadyJane says:

      Well yeah, that’s why they’re written that way. There’s a reason Tolkien’s elves and most of the other immortal races in fantasy/science-fiction tend to act like that. I think people have always understood that people become more conservative with age (not necessarily in the political sense, but in the basic sense of aversion to change), and it makes sense that writers would extrapolate from that trend. Even if they didn’t know the exact biological or psychological reasons for it, it’s something that seems somewhat obvious on an intuitive level.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Also, if very long-lived species retained interest in innovation as they got older, they’d probably be almost as hard to write as a superintelligent species.

  102. RMc says:

    Believing nobody cares about truth is cynicism, which seems sort of like wisdom.

    For a lot of people it is wisdom, which explains its popularity.

  103. vsletten says:

    Wisdom gained from reading several books on human evolution, genetics, and history of migration:

    Since the Enlightenment, we have been “unlearning” truths about our species’ nature that were acquired over tens of millenia. Partly due to this, partly due to population pressure, we increasingly organize ourselves in societies in ways that are completely unnatural to us as a biological species – we haven’t evolved to live the way we do in modern Western societies. Some are better adapted / evolved than others, and you can fairly easily distinguish, in general, who is which by looking at the ancestry – how long have their ancestors been city-dwellers. This is why the Scots-Irish contributed so much to rural American culture. They’ve been “civilized” for far less time than the English or continental Europeans.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve believed without evidence that city life selects for genes for tolerating living with strangers.

      This being said, I don’t know to what extent Nazism was an urban phenomenon. Or whether historical Nazis were more likely to have forbears who moved to cities more recently.

  104. Immanentizing Eschatons says:

    There was a post by DeBoer that was linked on SSC previously, which I can no longer find, that from what I remember strikes me as- the sort of take on new atheism equivalent to the “religion as social technology, etc.” take alluded to here and in the wisdom post.

    I’m not entirely sure where I’m taking this but it seems potentially relevant.

  105. Anon256 says:

    Leaving us hanging with a section I. but no section II.?

  106. Gerry Quinn says:

    “the young version was intact and the older version was just the result of some kind of decay or oxidation or something”

    You mean, like wine?

  107. I need to make an impassioned argument against cynicism being wisdom here, although it is going to end up more of an ode (or reverse ode) than anything worth scoffing at in rationalist circles.

    Cynicism is saying “that will never work”. It ends discussions. It closes the mind.
    Curiosity is saying “how do you expect that to work?”. It allows discussions. It opens the mind.

    Cynicism is saying “you will have to accept that you’ve been [intentionally] misled by [x]”. It breaks trust and offers no solutions.
    Mediation is saying “let me try to talk to [x], this sounds like a misunderstanding”. It opens an avenue toward mending the problem. (It may not lead you far, but I personally have had extremely good experiences with this.)

    Cynicism is saying “this widget was obviously created by idiots”. It conflates personal usefulness with absolute usefulness.
    Reflection is saying “this widget was probably created for a different target audience than me, or for different circumstances than I need it for, or at a time when things I take for granted now were not popular”.

    You do not strike me as very cynical, or very jaded, so I assume we are talking about concepts that only have a little overlap in the first place, but I may be wrong.

    If I am wrong and you would still describe yourself as somewhat cynical, I implore you to consider alternatives – they usually exist. In my experience, cynicism is simply the tendency to stop discussion, or to have an opportunity to feel superior, to skip mental work. This can be a useful mental immune reaction in some situations (see my other comment further up the page), but I fear it may stunt the mind unnecessarily if indulged in for too long, depending on what heuristics drive said cynicism. Being able to stop mental exploration is necessary, but cynicism is a very early inner disincentive to explore that I can only discourage.

    (I hope I am wrong about the ‘stunting’ effect, too.)

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