Posts tagged Assorted
Bullshit and Ideology + a little about swedish politics

A study I came across today courtesy of MR.

Swedish researchers mapped the relationship between political ideology and receptivity to bullshit. I’ll let the abstract speak for itself.

Among Swedish adults (N = 985), bullshit receptivity was (a) robustly positively associated with socially conservative (vs. liberal) self-placement, resistance to change, and particularly binding moral intuitions (loyalty, authority, purity); (b) associated with centrism on preference for equality and even leftism (when controlling for other aspects of ideology) on economic ideology self-placement; and (c) lowest among right-of-center social liberal voters and highest among left-wing green voters

(emphasis added)

Note the study happened in Sweden, not the United States. This is actually part of why they were able look into bullshit receptivity as it relates to social versus economic liberal/conservative beliefs. Apparently, Sweden has a varied political field with parties that range the social and economic political spectrum (probably like the rest of Europe, but it’s funny thinking about this as an American).

From the study. What variation!

From the study. What variation!

This allowed them to compare results between social conservatives that may have different economic perspectives, and really try to isolate if a tendency is closely associated with a specific political viewpoint.

The article is also good for a brief review of the literature surrounding a lot of this type of reserach. There’s a lot of recent psychological work that is focuses on an individual’s epistemic style (need for certainty, order, tends to reason intuitively, etc) and moral judgements that is covered.

Some interesting things I came across:

insofar as a certainty- and security-oriented epistemic style is associated with a lack of analytic, deliberative forms of thinking (Jost & Krochik, 2014), this account predicts that bullshit receptivity is associated with right-wing ideology in the social domain but with left-wing ideology in the economic domain, particularly among persons low in political engagement.

The reasoning is that those in need of epistemic certainty will tend to process issues of economic policy through a personal lens, and prefer laws that can give financial security to a greater portion of the population.

Pfattheicher and Schindler (2016) found that bullshit receptivity predicted general conservative self- placement and favorable ratings of Republican presidential candidates (especially Ted Cruz) in the United States

The study also confirms, through claiming bullshit receptivity was highest among green voters, anecdotal beliefs about the level of self-reflection members of far-left parties may engage in on a daily basis.

Green party (which is on the left) stood out in terms of their belief in alternative medicine (including acu- puncture, energy healing, and homeopathy), astrology, anthroposophy (Waldorf education and biodynamic growth), electric allergy, paranormal phenomena, and the moon land- ing conspiracy theory, although they had strong faith in the scientific method, the theory of evolution, and the reality of global warming

This description seems to recall images of young, LA/West Coast liberals that love to proselytize progressive views but will also try to convince you of the predictive powers of astrology. We may make fun of conservatives believing in “Q” or the deep state, but having faith in healing crystals is equally epistemologically irresponsible to me.

What I'm Reading

The Economist

I received a print subscription for Christmas and have been enjoying it. Beyond a little bit of the NYTimes , this represents my primary news source. I particularly appreciate the global focus as I am slowly working to cure my ignorance of everything that happens outside of North America. Somewhat counterintuitively, it also gives me more impetus to stay up-to-date with domestic political affairs. I am beginning to reach an understanding of America’s outsize role in the world and the ramifications of our actions on global welfare. If you care about the well-being of all people, you should care about the decisions of the American government.

Essays on Patriotism

I’m still working through these. Kateb’s piece is especially interesting as it tries to investigate the source of patriotism and duty. If the government exists to serve the people, why would we be obliged to die for it?

The Management Myth by Mathew Stewart

When I heard an ex-philosopher became a management consultant and then wrote a book about the experience, I had to buy it. The book is particularly valuable for its historical exploration of the origins of management theory. Apparently, the two most foundational figures in management thought, Frederick Winslow Taylor and Elton Mayo, were total frauds. Both fabricated stories and explanations to support their points and on the basis of this ended up immortalized in business schools across the nation. Business as an academic discipline, it seems, lays on shaky foundations.

I have yet to finish it, but the book has been enjoyable thus far.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment
Girls vs. Boys

Lisa Damour in the NYTimes

Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

Damour sees this fact and makes the argument that the same traits that propel females to academic success hold them back in the workforce. She emphasizes they tend to be more industrious, prudent, and better performers academically than their male counterparts, but lack the confidence that can propel them to leadership positions. Females are perfectionists. By contrast, males tend to put in minimal effort for the same academic marks. According to Damour, this means they can “see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits,” and build confidence in their abilities. Accordingly, the solution to this problem is to get females to focus on “economy of effort” in school rather than fall prey to the law of diminishing returns.

I have seen what Damour describes in my own academic experience. I know many perfectionists that don’t take anything less than 8 hours of studying a day for an answer but still seem terribly insecure about their own abilities. I agree with Damour on everything except the corrective action.

Females, ceteris paribus, are more diligent and insightful than their average male counterparts. Damour links to some studies illustrating this. I will not speculate on the origins of these difference, but my anecdotal evidence, along with the empirical supplements, highly suggests this is the case. In every step of my life, there has been a girl that has outworked me, is more articulate than me, and is generally better than I am. I expect this to be the case forever and I would be concerned if it wasn’t.

What I’m trying to say is that girls are smart and their work ethic is probably what gets them there. Currently, females have the right to increase their confidence generally because they are already winning in an academic sense. It doesn’t appear they need to change their attitudes or habits, and slack off like the boys, in order to build confidence. Rather, they should take stock of what they have and realize they should trust themselves. If anything, this is a problem with us. Why are we promoting all the indolent men running around with unearned confidence rather than the people that have consistently outperformed them? There’s something ideologically fishy about telling females they need to be like “the guys” in order to succeed.

Diminishing returns are real, and I don’t doubt Damour’s experience with young women who exert inefficient effort to curb their anxiety about school. That will always be unproductive. Yet, I don’t think females have a poor strategy, but rather that we have been rewarding the wrong one. This, I feel, is a small component of a larger question surrounding women’s equality. Does the problem lie with the world being a certain way, or women? Is the problem with women not being confident/assertive/skilled enough (all improvable traits), or us having a narrow view of excellence?

If you know me, you know I am not an expert on anything, let alone gender issues. If you think I have something wrong, please tell me. I stand by my views, but I can be convinced otherwise.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment
Visibility = Value

Theory: what’s valued is what’s visible.

I understand this is almost exactly what Girard’s mimetic theory of desire is, but I arrived at it recently thinking about what types of behaviors are valued at different institutions.

Eloquence and general knowledge aren’t as valued here as traits as they were at my high school. I understand there are innumerable factors that could be influencing what I observe (not the least of which my bias and ignorance), but I think salience of behavior has explanatory power.

Consider a high school classroom. It has (hopefully) fewer than 30 kids, and, unless you whisper, not much can be said without others hearing it. Pedagogically, it’s also an interactive environment. Exchanges between students, and between teachers and students, are common and often about the class subject-matter. This means academic engagement is much more salient. When someone has an insight or a perspicuous point, they raise their hand, share, and everyone knows about it. Because clear thinking is (again, hopefully) rewarded in the classroom, students see there’s social value to being intellectually present during class.

Contrast this with a large college lecture. The most salient behavior your peers exhibit in this setting is note taking and silence. If they have a point to make or are wrestling with a valuable question, you will most likely never know about it. Even though students might engage in academic behavior after class and during office hours, this is almost never visible to the majority of students. They are most likely already out the door or believe the opportunity cost of going to office hours too high. The behavior isn’t visible, so it isn’t valued.

There is much more to thinking than the social value you (may) get from exhibiting it, but I feel like this principle explains some aspects large university culture. I am definitely not the first to think of this, but I believe the slogan has a grain of truth. Our own wants and desire (ontological status pending) are often so foreign to us. It’s much easier to look to the world for cues as to what we should value.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment

“And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and strongest that are crowned but those who compete”

-Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Riley WilsonAssortedComment

I shamelessly copy this style from Tyler’s own Marginal Revolution, but I think excerpts from his conversation with Larissa MacFarquhar are worth seeing.

MACFARQUHAR: I was writing about people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger, and I discovered . . . I was talking to people about the people I was meeting, and they would say, “Well, those people surely are all mentally ill, right? Or they have some problem, or they are probably very, very censorious or judgmental.”


COWEN: You’ve argued that there are quite few ambitiously good characters in fiction. Is that also true for genre fiction?

MACFARQUHAR: No. I’m so glad you asked that. I think that science fiction is full of heroic characters. So are romances. This is one of the things I concluded — that the absence of unambiguously altruistic heroic characters is almost one of the things that marks highbrow fiction as such.

Of course, there are many, many exceptions, and there are heroes in higher-brow fiction. Over the past 100 years, it has become noticeable that genre fiction is filled with far more heroism than higher culture. And it’s such a noticeable pattern that it’s almost as though there is something pushing against that kind of character.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment

Arist Launches!

This is huge news! Because of the hard work and vision of my good friend Michael Ioffe and his colleagues at Babson College, anyone in the world can now get high quality educational content delivered straight to their phone.

Full disclosure, I’m technically a cofounder of Arist, but I left day-to-day duties at the beginning of fall quarter. Everything that’s happened since then (and a great bit of what happened before) is the result of Michael, Ryan, and Joe making the Arist vision a reality. It’s been incredible to see what they’ve done, and I only expect good things in their futures.

Frances Tiafoe gets the biggest win of his career. Plays Seppi next round, which is a winnable match.

I see Frances playing on the UCLA courts every once in a while. He’s a funny guy, and it’s nice to see him pick up some steam in his career. I hope he can capitalize on this momentum, as it’s clear at this point he like he has the wherewithal to hang with the top guys.

Presentation I gave at Bruin Entrepreneurs

I think it’s important to have a role model in life, and equally important to have a startup role model if you want to become an entrepreneur.


Often and often, a marriage hardly differs from prostitution except by being harder to escape from

-Bertrand Russel, Proposed Roads to Freedom

What’s at stake in LA

Apparently, public schools in LA used to be good. I’ve heard anecdotally from adults that LAUSD schools are notoriously shitty, and that’s why there are so many private schools in LA proper and the valley. All of the good public schools are now south in the Irvine area.

The article also posits a charter school conspiracy headed by Eli Broad.

In Los Angeles, they have had more success. After his plan to move half of the Los Angeles district students into charter schools failed to get traction, the billionaire and charter school supporter Eli Broad and a group of allies spent almost $10 million in 2017 to win a majority on the school board. The board rammed through the appointment of a superintendent, Austin Beutner, with no educational background. Mr. Beutner, a former investment banker, is the seventh in 10 years and has proposed dividing the district into 32 “networks,” a so-called portfolio plan designed in part by the consultant who engineered the radical restructuring of Newark schools.

Their alleged goal is to get the LAUSD to implode from within so charter schools seem more attractive by comparison.

Personally, I think Southern California embodies the worst of modern education systems in different ways. You can take your pick between underfunded public schools, private/charter schools oozing with privilege (Harvard-Westlake, Marymount, Pacific Palisades), or the hyper-competitive public schools where the average GPA is 4.8 and if you’re not taking 6 AP classes your sophomore year, you may as well not apply to college.

Depending on how long this strike lasts, I really want to head downtown and lend some support to the teachers.


My friend and I disagreed about morals today. She took the position that good, bad, everything is relative (which I concede a lot of it is), while I claimed there existed some type of universal morality. Admittedly, my point was hard to defend, but I still maintain the belief (faith?) that there do exist “morals” somewhere out in the world and it is our job to think/search hard and find them, whether these morals are rooted in biology or the nature of social arrangements. This is a tough belief to have, as many brilliant people have spent their lives trying to find these morals that I have postulated, yet, I just can’t give in to relativism.

On another note, I am very excited to see Maggie Rogers this Thursday. She is dropping her debut album on Friday, so I expect her to approach the night with a specific type of emotional energy/gravity and the crowd to match it. In case you’ve never heard the fantastic Maggie Rogers, search her up on Spotify, or listen to this record she made in a broom closet while she was a teenager. I recommend “Kids Like Us,” “Embers,” and “A Love Letter.”


The worst ambiguity that ever existed.




adjective: biweekly; adjective: bi-weekly

done, produced, or occurring every two weeks or twice a week.

"a biweekly bulletin"

2. 50 year trends in the values / behaviours of American college freshmen. A study conducted through the UCLA department of education.

Worth poking around in. It covers everything from fluctuations in preferred majors to degree of religiosity. Beer drinking is also on the decline. I want to do a brief write-up on some of the more interesting findings soon.

Riley WilsonAssortedComment

Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Apparently, it’s uncool in certain countries to be especially ambitious or distinguish yourself academically/professionally. I can see how this may be good in cases where you want to prevent excess competition or ensure the success of the group as opposed to the individual, but the drawbacks are obvious. If you will be “cut down” for doing things well or setting yourself apart, you will have no reason to. See also the “law of Jante” and “crab mentality

“A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations”

Functional stupidity is organizationally-supported lack of reflexivity, substantive rea-

soning, and justification. It entails a refusal to use intellectual resources outside a narrow

and ‘safe’ terrain. It can provide a sense of certainty that allows organizations to function

smoothly. This can save the organization and its members from the frictions provoked by

doubt and reflection. Functional stupidity contributes to maintaining and strengthening

organizational order. It can also motivate people, help them to cultivate their careers,

and subordinate them to socially acceptable forms of management and leadership.

Thought it would be tongue-in-cheek, but it really isn’t. I haven’t finished it yet, but it seems to reinforce the notion that sometimes, irrationality is good (at least in the business world).

Riley WilsonAssortedComment
  1. Makes me want to visit Australia

  2. Ever wonder which animals have minds?

the second paper gets very technical very quickly, but the brief upshot (from what I understand) is that there are two sufficient conditions for having a mind: you can either be conscious (feel pain, experience what it is like to be awake, etc…) or be able to represent things. From what certain experiments have told us, some insects are able to represent things, and therefore they have minds.

This is an extremely short account of what is clearly a very interesting and complex idea, and I want to share more about it later when I’m confident I fully understand the entire argument. I’m taking Tyler Burge’s class right now (Burge is the author of the article and a leader in the field of philosophy of mind) so I should be learning about this topic at a steady pace.


COWEN: There’s a good deal of evidence that people in businesses are overconfident, but do you think they’re more overconfident than they should be?

KAHNEMAN: Overconfidence has many virtues. In the first place, it’s nice, it’s pleasant to be overconfident, especially if you’re an optimist. Optimism is valuable, much more than overconfidence. Overconfidence is sort of a side effect.

But to exaggerate the odds of success is a very useful thing for people. It will make them more appealing to others, they will get more resources, and they will take risks. It’s not necessarily good for them. The expected utility of taking risks in the economy is probably moderately negative. But for society as a whole to have a lot of optimists taking risks — that’s what makes for economic progress, so I call that the engine of capitalism, really, that sort of optimism.


KAHNEMAN: Yeah, happiness feels good in the moment. But it’s in the moment. What you’re left with are your memories. And that’s a very striking thing — that memories stay with you, and the reality of life is gone in an instant. So memory has a disproportionate weight because it’s with us. It stays with us. It’s the only thing we get to keep.

From an episode of Conversations with Tyler with the Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

The first statement seems intuitively true. I do think it’s interesting that Kahneman says the expected value of taking risks in the economy is probably moderately negative. This leads to the weird conclusion that what is best for the economy isn’t necessarily best for the individual.

The second is also interesting. When you think about it, you have a memory of an event much longer than you actually experience the event, so why not spend your time trying to maximize the quality of your memories as opposed to the actual events? Take advantage of our bias towards how intense the peak of an experience is and how it ended.


1. A Danish travel agency created an advertising campaign called “Do it for Denmark” in an effort to increase the national birth rate and ensure they have enough future customers (mildly NSFW).

Apparently, it’s working.

now - about nine months after the last ad campaign - Denmark is boasting 14% more children due during the summer months than during the corresponding period a year ago, according to Cphpost. That's about 16,000 babies.

2. Parenting is getting more intensive.

“As the gap between rich and poor increases, the cost of screwing up increases,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and inequality. “The fear is they’ll end up on the other side of the divide.”

Another good one from the article:

Ms. Sentilles’s mother, Claire Tassin, described a very different way of parenting when her two children were young, in the 1970s. “My job was not to entertain them,” said Ms. Tassin, who lives in Vacherie, La. “My job was to love them and discipline them.”


Girard is looking pretty good right now.

researchers set up a series of experiments in which one “observer” female fruit fly watched a “demonstrator” fly pick between two males that differed only in their artificial color—pink or green. When it was their turn to mate, observers chose the same color of mate more than 70% of the time,

Scientific corroboration that what we want is a function of what we see others desire.

Also, I was getting my cousins presents at Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of David Brooks’ “The Road to Character.” I started reading it, and from what I understand so far, it’s meant to be a sort of modern-day edition of Plutarch’s Lives. Each chapter covers someone from history (often unexpected or otherwise obscure) who has lived a life, that in Brooks’ eye, embodies character.

I was compelled to buy the book in part because I’ve listened to Brooks speak a couple of times and he’s always been articulate and surprisingly funny. His writing (so far) is more of the same, and I’m impressed with how he argues for what many will call a “conservative” message of character and self-control as opposed to achievement and technical proficiency.