Feb 17, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

Dear Not Boring,

Sigh. Deutsch's claim that evil is due to a lack of knowledge may be *literally* true, but it is not *linearly* true. The truth will (eventually) set you free -- but first it really messes you up!

It is easy for us techno-urban elites to decry the petty tribalism of the proletariat. "The future is coming -- you just have to deal with it!"

Which is of course true -- but misleading. The irrational, tradition-bound thinking of our forebears IS what creates a society that enables our comfortable, knowledge-seeking left-brains to ignore petty issues of survival and group identity. Until of course we can't. At which point we close ranks and Other the teeming masses -- just like they (rightfully!) do us.

The hard truth *we* don't want to face is that we actually need them more than they need us. And what we love to style a disinterested pursuit of knowledge (*cough*, elite education) is all too often a status game designed to keep them in their place.

If you really want to model what it feels like to pursue truth at all costs, I dare you to read this Slate Star Codex piece on "tribalism" all the way to the end:


I am an optimist, and I love your optimism. But as you say, the only way we can win is if we have the courage to rightly understand the problem.



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I'll check out the SSC article -- I don't think we disagree with each other here! There's a whole chapter in the book on the fact that academia is becoming less interested in the pursuit of truth.

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Feb 18, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

Thanks, but my concern is deeper than the corruption of academia (though it is related).

I am making the radical claim that the pursuit of knowledge -- like other forms of power -- is "inherently" corrupting.

We don't need more Spectacle to convince the masses that Knowledge is Power. We need to demonstrate that Power knows "them" -- and actually gives a damn. #UltimatumGame

That is the real reason people oppose Progress for seemingly irrational reasons. Because they (rightly!) fear that the resulting Power will *not* be evenly distributed.

I know you personally practice a lifestyle of compassion, humility and curiosity. But I am concerned that recent articles seem to be preaching a Gospel of Progress at the expense of genuinely understanding why people might rationally oppose it (cf. Robert Moses vs Jane Jacobs).

Our own subconscious biases are the hardest to see, especially when they are shared by all the people we respect.

Which raises the question I most worry about: is society's biggest challenge that "they" are blinded by tribalism -- or that "we" are.

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Feb 18, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

Just thought I would pop into week 30 to say I love this newsletter and I hope you keep it up.

Can’t wait to read Tim Urban’s new book. Although I’m not sure there’s a viable path away from the tribalism back to truth. Of course objective facts still exist, but everything is so heavily filtered now. The separation between truth and tribal perspective is basically invisible unless you go looking.

A better answer might be new and better (more optimistic) tribes all together.

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Feb 18, 2023Liked by Packy McCormick

LOL that tuberculosis graph is pure propaganda (https://informationisbeautiful.net/beautifulnews/517-tuberculosis-deaths-falling/)

1) lower bound of x-axis is extremely misleading. statistical manipulation

2) doesn't look like it was made by someone with any knowledge of tuberculosis, as the source is not a scientist or a doctor, but a website that makes random graphs. given how easy it is to lie with statistics, even unintentionally, especially so when you lack the context of those statistics, as a non-expert likely would, this is concerning. this is corroborated by these further points:

2) tuberculosis vaccines started long before 2000 (1954 [1]). it looks like the only reason the year 2000 is marked as the start of the vaccination is bc it makes it look like the vaccine works (i.e. for purposes of propaganda)

3) the graph also cuts off all the data before 1990. another statistical manipulation. rates of disease were falling long before vaccines were invented [1]. in fact the start of vaccination coincides with a relative blunting of this decline [1], so the vaccination may in fact have negative efficacy. though there is also a chance that the increase in decline starting from antibiotic use (1947) [1] could have reached a local maximum of use at the exact same time vaccination started, so perhaps the vaccine just has no efficacy rather than negative efficacy (then again, i would need to look at the same graph with the x-axis at exponential scale to confirm this. the vaccine may have some efficacy)

[1]: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tuberculosis_in_the_USA_1861-2014.png

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All good points -- will pull that one out. Thanks for pointing it out.

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These biotech/pharma technology stories would be a lot more interesting if it were not for the fact that any outputs from them will almost certainly be priced far above what most Americans can afford, and will drive up costs for everyone else.

Thiel said it well: software engineering isn't engineering, and the US focus on these types of "technology" will not deliver anything like the productivity increases which marked past increases in societal prosperity.

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