Thoughts on rationalism and the rationalist community from a skeptical perspective. The author rejects rationality in the sense that he believes it isn't a logically coherent concept, that the larger rationalism community is insufficiently critical of it's beliefs and that ELIEZER YUDKOWSKY IS NOT THE TRUE CALIF.
I just finished the first season of Timeless and I can’t help but feel the characters, and especially Lucy, are being irrational. (Some spoilers but only serious spoiler is in bullet 3 at the very end).
What they know about Rittenhouse is that every generation is initially totally horrified and appalled at the thought of it, wishes it was destroyed and eventually comes to see it as important and necessary once they have sufficient time to think and evaluate the evidence yet this gives them no pause as to whether they themselves might be in the wrong.
Indeed, the only defensible reason to be an ardent support of a democratic system is that the evidence of the past few centuries makes a super strong case that democracies are good places to live and produce far more utilities than dictatorships but if you found out that US had secretly been an oligarchy the whole time the evidence would actually point the other way and suggest skepticism of non-oligarchical rule (or well influence).
The show writers try hard to make sure we see Rittenhous as evil by making hereditary and talking about good strong bloodlines but once you’ve decided on a dictatorial system (or I guess technically a very small oligarchy) hereditary rule is probably not merely desirable but a necessity as otherwise the subsequent set of rulers will conflict with the children of the last. By having 50+ members they can smooth out the ups and downs of monarchical hereditary rule and even work expel the less able members creating positive selection pressure. As far as being from ‘good families’ well every government needs a mythos to legitimize themselves and inspire its members even if its small.
As far as the supposed bad acts that Rittenhouse is supposed to have committed in the show I have three comments.
Those bad acts actually pale beside the genuine injustices and horrors the legitimate democratic government of our country committed at the same times. I mean WWI was basically a pointless slaughter of 400k US soldiers or more then there are thinks like Tuskeege, Japanese detentions etc.. etc..
Even the recent ‘bad acts’ like killing Flynn’s family in the name of some kind of national necessity (or was it just impunity by some elements) doesn’t seem out of line compared to the (IMO often justified) use of drone strikes even given the occasional civilian casualties to protect our national interest. If that’s the price we have to pay to get the kind of America we have then it doesn’t seem particularly large.
Especially when you compare that to the acts taken by the supposedly misguided but ultimately forgivable/noble Flynn in his campaign against them including attempts to assist nazis, commit massive terrorism with huge death tolls etc…
Rittenhouse is (as I understand the extent of its power) is essentially analogous to the UK house of lords before the reforms which made almost all the positions non-hereditary and let commons pass laws without approval from lords after a 2 then 1 year wait. That always seemed like a pretty good system to me…focus and primary power reflects the people but you essentially (modulo a bit of self-interest) also have to convince a bunch of rando professional legislators who don’t have to please constituents.
But even if Rittenhouse isn’t great at the moment at the end of the season Lucy has cleaned out all the old power structure and is basically being offered the keys to the kingdom. It’s totally irrational for her not just to accept and try and use that power to make the world a better place and turn Rittenhouse into a force for good.
So the following letter is being widely reported online as if it is evidence for the importance of gun control. I’m skeptical of the results as I detail in the next post but even if one takes the results at face value the letter is pretty misleading and the media reporting is nigh fraudulent.
In particular if one digs into the appendix to the letter one finds the following statement: “many of the firearm injuries observed in the commercially insured patient population may reflect non-crime-related firearm injuries.” This is unsurprising as using health insurance data means you are only looking at patients rich enough to be insured and willing to report their injury as firearms related: so basically excluding anyone injured in the commission of a crime or who isn’t legally allowed to use a gun. As a result they also analyzed differences in crime rates and found no effect.
So even on it’s face this study would merely show that people who choose to use firearms are sometimes injured in that use. That might be a good reason to stay away from firearms yourself but not additional reason for regulation as is being suggested in the media.
Moreover, if the effect is really just about safety at gun ranges then its unclear if the effect is from lower use of such ranges or that the NRA conference encourages greater care and best practices.
Reasons To Suspect The Underlying Study
Also, I’m pretty skeptical of the underlying claim in the study. The size of the effect claimed is huge relative to the number of people who attend an NRA conference. I mean about 40% of US households are gun owners but only ~80,000 people attend nationwide NRA conventions or ~.025% of the US population or ~.0625 of US gun owners. Thus, for this statistic to be true because NRA members are busy at the conference we would have to believe NRA conference attendees were a whopping 320 times more likely to be inflict a gun related injury than the average gun owner.
Now if we restrict our attention to homicides this is almost surely not the case. Attending an NRA convention requires a certain level of financial wealth and political engagement which suggests membership in a socioeconomic class less likely to commit gun violence and than the average gun owner. And indeed, the study finds no effect in terms of gun related crime. Even if we look to non-homicides gun deaths from suicides far outweigh those from accidents and I doubt those who go to an NRA convention are really that much more suicidal inclined.
An alternative likely explanation is that the NRA schedules its conferences for certain times of the year when people are likely to be able to attend and we are merely seeing seasonal correlations masquerading as effects from the NRA conference (a factor they don’t control for). Also as they run all subgroup analysises and don’t report the results for census tracks and other possible subgroups the possibility for p-hacking is quite real. Looking at the graph they provide I’m not exactly overwhelmed.
The claim gets harder to believe when one considers the fact that people who attend NRA meetings almost surely don’t give up going to firing ranges during the meeting. Indeed, I would expect (though haven’t been able to verify) that there would be any number of shooting range expeditions during the conference and that this would actually mean many attendees would be more likely to handle a gun during that time period.
Though, once one realizes that the data set one is considering is only those who make insurance claims relating to gun related injuries it is slightly more plausible but only at the cost of undermining the significance of the claim. Deaths and suicides are much less likely to produce insurance claims and the policy implications aren’t very clear if all we are seeing is a reduction in people injured because of incorrect gun grips (see the mythbusters about this..such injuries can be quite serious).