Social studies

Seems like at some level (high school seems ideal, and also some kind of continuing ed) we should have classes that teach people how to navigate various social spheres and institutions.
 
I can tell a lot of people coming into college are pretty disoriented navigating academia. Plenty of us inside get disoriented with some more public places. How to interact with hospitals, banks, etc. is unintuitive, and especially given the declining social capital, people would be helped a lot by some instruction.

What a Gift

Locked inside this facility
Designed to produce clean minds
Binded in by laws to better
Imprisoned for good functioning

It's a world of suffering
Those who succeed are miserable
Those who are happy fail miserably

They claim it's a gift
A gift we need and can't refuse

It's a prison and a cult

Why we need it I don't know
Wait I do—to be a good cog

They own us—they control us
From the start they claim their power
Rules us for every hour

Fight for freedom be destroyed
Give in and be destroyed
Let your mind be destroyed
What a gift

Fuck credit scores

The Equifax leak (which still happened and is still a problem for, well, an absurd amount of people, though it’s fallen off the news radar) should really have us question why this sort of thing is allowed to even be.

If credit scores/reports were just for credit cards, I could see a case for their existence, maybe. But that’s not what they’re just for. Rather, they’re used for credit cards, loans, bank accounts, renting, and hiring. Basically, your options are just be incredibly wealthy or have three private companies with almost zero oversight have an absurd amount of power in your life. Given the former isn’t an option for almost anyone, three companies are essentially acting as a pseudo-government. Except instead of at having to pretend to care about people, they can be as misanthropic as they want.

There’s already plenty of used reason to break them up. Monopolies, especially unregulated private monopolies, cause problems. That’s why there’s laws in place to break them up. Sometimes those laws are even enforced. There’s also laws about price fixing that are occasionally enforced. Now, whether those by the letter include non-monetary prices is not something I know, but if they don’t, there’s no good reason not to expand them to do so. Because selling your personal information to these companies is absolutely a price. It’s just also a price charged by nearly every bank, landlord, etc.

(Now, whether these reports could even function if people had options that enabled them to avoid them entirely is another question. Seeing them fail entirely seems quite alright.)

Going perhaps a bit further, though, why do a few numbers enable someone to create so many problems for someone else? Like, I understand which existing mechanisms are the source of the problem. Why not fix them? As the video below points out, the problem is you cannot change your SSN or date of birth. I really can’t see any reason why not to take the obvious solution: Allow people to change their SSN and date of birth.

(SSNs also were not originally intended for identification. Really the idea of any sort of permanent identification rubs me the wrong way. Especially the kind anyone can look up. (Or demand your consent to look up. I could see perhaps having a permanent medical record. I can’t justify, say, potential employers having any sort of (de facto) right to access your history.)

 

Even if we hold that we will have some ID, SSN is a terrible authentication method. Given how many forms and databases they’re in, in an unencrypted format at that, they are incredibly insecure. If we are going to have fixed identifiers, SSN seems like a good enough ID inasmuch as it’s non-ambiguous. Indeed, terrible for authentication for the reasons you listed. If someone really wanted to create havoc (and possibly make out with a ton of money in the end) they could rob a bank of all of the papers with people’s SSNs, DOBs, names, etc. and abuse those. (Or go to a rental leasing office. Or, hell, put up a Craigslist ad for a job that doesn’t really exist and have that information on the bogus application. Sure, phishing scams are bound to happen with any system (Well, TFA could be tricky to phish.) but also given people fall for them so frequently, a system wherein people’s most sensitive data can be easily and permanently stolen is ridiculous.

According to the video (I haven’t dug deeper) you can freeze your credit and then unfreeze it with a PIN you set. Of course, that also costs a bit every time because of course it does.

My favorite form (or factor) of authentication is still social, though how to make it work online or in very highly populated areas can be tricky. It’s nearly impossible to fake, though, and is more directly what we’re really doing when we identify people. We (people) are generally pretty good at identifying others. If I see someone I know I don’t need to see an ID card to figure out who they are. If someone else tries to claim to be someone I know, I can tell they’re lying regardless of any ID cards. Identifying people as themselves seems thus ideal. (The two biggest problems I’d foresee in expanding it to the current age and urban areas are the obvious just not knowing millions of people to just get a credit card or buy something online or whatever, and also presumably it’d worsen economic stratification as knowing the right people could become even more important if not handled with proper care.))

The entire problem of credit scores seems to be relatively simple: having an informational advantage over someone gives you an advantage. Of course anyone doing business with you would prefer to know everything about you. And of course you’re better off if you can keep your hand hidden. The people on the employer/loaner/insurer/banker side of the table will collude if they’re allowed. Anything done from the other side presumably has to be done via the legal system since those are very hard things to avoid.

(I suppose filling the information with noise would also do the trick. Either by plenty of omissions via options to do things while avoiding the credit reporting agencies or else by somehow filling the databases with garbage information. Similar things to the former have happened. Some people tried to do something similar to the latter with web ads (via a program to hide all ads from view while also spamming them with bogus clicks) but clearly it didn’t go so far.

Pervasive technological problems don’t get solved by just opting out

Interesting article, if you ignore the stupid headline. The mentioned studies connecting screen-based activities and unhappiness is of note. (Though I wonder how ebooks compare to books.)

“As teens have started spending less time together, they have become less likely to kill one another, and more likely to kill themselves.”

Is, well. Something. (Reminds me of the meme showing 80s/90s rock screaming “I kill motherfuckers” and 00s rock saying “I wanna kill myself, motherfuckers”.)

“Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet.”

Well someone born in 1995 having an Instagram account (possible only in 2010 and after) before high school would be mildly impressive. Considering the Internet started somewhen in the 60s, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first generation to not remember a pre-Internet world.

(Ofc this is just me poking fun at boundaries at fundamentally spectral things.)

And the best thing about this article is, as long as I’m on the generational boundary, I get to feel smugly justified in refusing to appear in pictures on social media (in general — I still do photos that would have justified a Polaroid).

The article suggests getting away from phones as a solution, but I really question how much good any individual can do for themselves.If the population is full of isolated people, cutting yourself off from the one means of communication with them doesn’t magically bring back the old methods. It just leaves you alone.

Ignoring values (is silly)

A certain article on the Huffington Post is making the rounds on Facebook among those opposed to the current actions of the GOP regarding healthcare. The main point is that the author cannot argue for caring about other people on the basis of their being people.

This cuts right to a common problem in popular discussions about most political problems right now: we have lots of arguments getting from a value to a policy, but the values themselves are left untouched, despite their being the crucial starting point.

I’ll move to the question of minimum wage because I think it more easily illustrates the point. Let’s say Larry thinks we should raise the minimum wage, and Ronnie thinks if anything it’s already too high. Larry argues that the minimum wage right now at full time is not enough for someone to get by on, so it should be raised. Ronnie argues that minimum wage creates a market inefficiency and thus should be chopped.

That Larry and Ronnie don’t necessarily disagree on the descriptive facts (minimum wage is not enough to get by on, and it also creates market inefficiencies) should indicate that the problem is not the descriptive facts of the matter. The disagreement is on the values driving the decisions, and that disagreement has to be settled first. The relative importance of making sure everyone can get by, everyone working can get by, unemployment is minimized, GDP is maximized, etc. has to be settled first. (Unless one option satisfies all of the values — in these cases the value question can be skipped, but they’re pretty uncommon unless you stumble upon a close cluster of values.)

My particular position and the progressive series of compromises going rightward illustrates the importance of settling the value question. In this case, the main value driving my position is that everyone should have enough to get by and their individual freedom maximized. An anarcho-communist system (as far as I know — the descriptive matter is less important for the sake of this post) maximizes this, and with such a system the concept of wages isn’t really there to have a minimum. Given capitalist, a move over to universal basic income makes sense, and with such there’s no need for a minimum wage, so then my ideal minimum wage given capitalism and a UBI is $0. However, if there is not UBI, then (again, as far as I know) people are best served with a higher minimum wage than the US currently has. So with the one value a wide range of incompatible policy options are optimal depending on the other givens.

Now, we may or may not agree on the goals. Usually there’s more than one in play, complicating the matter. I saw a clip from Hannity last night and, despite the usual anti-conservative rhetoric suggesting the otherwise, he made repeated appeals to helping the poor, unemployed, and uninsured. As it turns out, apparently a lot of conservatives aren’t monsters. Rhetorically, getting that first matter sorted out as the goal makes the following discourse much clearer. Getting the further goals into play and sorted out also helps. One may place more or less value on, say, keeping resources out of the hands of the undeserving, and who is deserving a further question.

For example, drug testing welfare recipients and pouring money into immigration control is, economically, stupid. However, that may or may not be the point. If the goal is to save money, then obviously don’t do those things. However, if spending a little extra is worth keeping money out of the hands of the undeserving, and either of those groups are considered undeserving, then that it costs a little extra isn’t an effective argument against it.

One more example: abortion. In this one, I see people even putting values onto each other. Every now and then I’ll see someone say everyone agrees that killing people is wrong outside of self-defense, and the whole disagreement is the fact of the matter of whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a person. However, the famous violinist argument even goes as far as to use an adult person as an example of someone it’s okay to deny access to your body to. (For the unfamiliar: Consider a famous violinist was deathly ill and to survive required being hooked up to your body for a few months, using you as life support. The one making the argument says you’d be within your rights to deny him access or allow access and later change your mind.) Clearly some people value bodily autonomy over a dedication to the lives of persons. For these people, the personhood argument is a waste of time; the heart could beat and brain be fully functional at 1 week.

Thinking skill in the STEM fields measures intelligence is bad

For whatever reason math, science, and pretty much any heavily quantitative study has become the metric on which intelligence is based. Someone who can do calculus mentally must be a genius and someone who struggles with fractions must be dumb. I’m not immune to this oddity–I met one particularly brilliant individual years ago and assumed he must be great at maths. (He’s not bad,  but also not significantly above average.) However, this sort of assumption is just toxic for many people. While some people let the cultural assumption roll off their backs, I have friends who insult themselves for being dumb simply because they’re not skilled with a particular mental skill or two.

I’m generally alright at math; I think it comes more easily to me than many others. I got a 3.8 on a math major and likely to have a coauthored paper published soon. But when I try my hand at writing a compelling story or poetry, I often fall flat on my face. Of course, with practice it improves, but if math abilities were an indicator of intelligence generally, I’d expect to be at least average at these things. Being able to craft a driving story, create art that inspires or comforts people, or say things that somehow improve life for people are themselves incredible intelligences to have. If I could trade my logic skills for those sorts, it’d be quite the tempting offer. Understanding people, feelings, aesthetics, etc. is hard. In my mind, far harder than crunching numbers and symbols.

Ultimately this is just a result of misdirected priorities. The pursuit of money and new technology (for the pursuit of money) has distracted us from the happiness and fulfillment those things were meant to serve in the first place. Certainly a lot of math and science is done for joy, knowledge, beauty, or some other virtuous thing, but the state of cultural supremacy they have taken seems to stem from these misdirected priorities. These misdirected priorities speak nothing of the art-oriented people. Quantitative skills have their place in good living, but it’s not the place that’s given them their current status.

As I can imagine certain complaints will come in, I’ll address them right now. I’m not saying everyone is smart. Some people are dumb. If nobody was, being smart wouldn’t really be anything. (I’m not saying just that it wouldn’t be valuable–it literally doesn’t make sense for there to only be smart people. Of course, there is a wide spectrum, but I don’t foresee anyone trying to make an object on the basis of apparent binaryism.) This isn’t to say they have less value as people. There’s a lot of very good things to be besides smart. Being smart is often only a useful trait in more valuable things. Nonetheless, for people who desire to have that trait but consistently fail because what they do is aimed at knowledge or some sort of mental skill but not one quantitative in nature, this attitude is harmful. (The underlying issue of priorities is an issue with a much larger scope. That there is a problem is simple enough to state, and all that is needed for my point here.)