Links Post 20/12/2016

It has been some time since I last posted links on this blog, even though I still regularly post links on a Twitter account dedicated to that purpose. I also haven’t had an open mic thread for some time.
This post is me toying with reviving both.
I don’t have the same time to engage consistently with comments nowadays, although there clearly was an expectation from some that I ought to. Rather than having to deal with this common expectation, I simply stopped producing links posts and open mic threads. If readers and commenters here are patient with my entirely arbitrary and occasional contributions, or lack thereof, in the comments and don’t expect me to answer any queries or questions, I might continue producing links posts. If not, they will be more bother than they are worth and I’ll have to stop.
It is important to stress that I have disagreements—often extremely strong disagreements—with or profound uneasiness about certain of the things that I will link here. I link to pieces that merit thought and engagement, some of which are seriously misguided, wrong, or even possess a dangerous attraction. I may also occasionally raise socially taboo issues or link to direct challenges to prevailing orthodoxies. It is important to bear in mind that many falsehoods are ‘politically correct’ precisely because there is strong reason to believe that a great many people won’t handle the truth responsibly or will fall into far more dangerous error, and that this assumption is often justified by the words and actions of those who break with the orthodoxies. Please exercise caution with some of these posts accordingly.


Superb long-read on The Great AI Awakening:

Once you’ve built a robust pattern-matching apparatus for one purpose, it can be tweaked in the service of others. One Translate engineer took a network he put together to judge artwork and used it to drive an autonomous radio-controlled car. A network built to recognize a cat can be turned around and trained on CT scans — and on infinitely more examples than even the best doctor could ever review. A neural network built to translate could work through millions of pages of documents of legal discovery in the tiniest fraction of the time it would take the most expensively credentialed lawyer. The kinds of jobs taken by automatons will no longer be just repetitive tasks that were once — unfairly, it ought to be emphasized — associated with the supposed lower intelligence of the uneducated classes. We’re not only talking about three and a half million truck drivers who may soon lack careers. We’re talking about inventory managers, economists, financial advisers, real estate agents. What Brain did over nine months is just one example of how quickly a small group at a large company can automate a task nobody ever would have associated with machines.

Angelo Codevilla on the Rise of Political Correctness:

The imposition of P.C. has no logical end because feeling better about one’s self by confessing other people’s sins, humiliating and hurting them, is an addictive pleasure the appetite for which grows with each satisfaction. The more fault I find in thee, the holier (or, at least, the trendier) I am than thou. The worse you are, the better I am and the more power I should have over you. America’s ruling class seems to have adopted the view that the rest of America should be treated as inmates in reeducation camps. As Harvard Law School Professor Mark Tushnet argued earlier this year in a blog post, this means not “trying to accommodate the losers, who—remember—defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War.”

Michael Sacasas, Evaluating the Promise of Technological Outsourcing:

When McLuhan invites us to ask what a new technology renders obsolete, we may immediately imagine older technologies that are set aside in favor of the new. Following Borgmann, however, we can also frame the question as a matter of human labor or involvement. In other words, it is not only about older tools that we set aside but also about human faculties, skills, and subjective engagement with the world–these, too, can be displaced or outsourced by new tools. The point, of course, is not to avoid every form of technological displacement, this would be impossible and undesirable. Rather, what we need is a better way of thinking about and evaluating these displacements so that we might, when possible, make wise choices about our use of technology.

The Diversity Tax. A very controversial case that, on a great many fronts and in a great many contexts, cultural and ethnic ‘diversity’ seems to be far more of a cost than a benefit (or, we can at least acknowledge that it seems that way to far too many people to ignore). What is the future of the West’s massive experiments with diversity? As the body of research unsettling sacred values of cultural and ethnic diversity builds up, whither societies that have irreversibly thrown in their lot with this?

Conor Friedersdorf asks uncomfortable questions about the limits to diversity.

Meanwhile, the BAFTA awards will exclude insufficiently diverse films from eligibility from 2019.

What is the opposite of diversity? University. It is interesting to ask what counts as ‘diversity’ and why, especially as some evidence suggests that the most innovative settings are diverse in values, but not in ethnicity.

The Right Has Its Own Version of Political Correctness. It’s Just As Stifling.

Jonathan Schulz, The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-networks and Democracy:

These findings point to a causal effect of marriage patterns on the proper functioning of formal institutions and democracy. The study further suggests that the Churches’ marriage rules – by destroying extended kin-groups – led Europe on its special path of institutional and democratic development.

Of course, HBDchick has been arguing this position for some time.

Peter Leithart on the book Ritual and its Consequences, from which he quotes:

Civilizations or movements with a diminished concern for ritual have an overwhelming concern with sincerity, which we can see in forms as widely varied as those Puritan sermons and the Buddhist concern with uncovering the Buddha nature hidden within each of us. In some sense, then, sincerity works as the social equivalent of the subjunctive, which we discussed earlier. If there is no ritual, there is no shared convention that indexes a possible shared world. Instead, social relationships have to rely on a never-ending production of new signs of sincerity (though of course there can be ritualized forms of the search for sincerity).

A Defence of Adversarialism in Philosophy:

Wilfrid Sellars once defined philosophy as the study of how things, in the most general sense of the term, hang together, in the most general sense of the term. We’re doing pretty abstract work, and we’re often trying to see how things fit together at a very general level. What makes us different from conspiracy theorists, or people who claim to see Jesus in their toast? Or what stops us from just making stuff up and believing it? I really think that the only thing keeping us tethered to the world is the disciplinary culture, and the fact that we have to defend ourselves, in a room full of people who have spent decades listening to arguments and identifying bad ones.

Charles Camosy on Robot Sex

Christmas and Political and Religious Differences in the US

How well do you know the nativity story?

Understanding statistics through interactive visualizations. Some really helpful tools here.

William Deresiewicz, who is always worth reading, is on the Art of Manliness podcast.

Scanning Reveals What Pregnancy does to a Mother’s Brain. Small sample size, but would be interesting to follow further research in the area.

Freddie deBoer asks liberals and the left what political questions they believe are hard. I’d be interested to hear conservatives answer the same question from their perspectives.

Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians. Female general internists treating elderly medicare patients had significantly better results than male ones. What accounts for the difference?

Thomas Hegghammer, The Future of Jihadism in Europe: A Pessimistic View: ‘continuing as we do today, with small, incremental policy adjustments, arguably has a predictable outcome. It is a Europe with much larger intelligence services, an entrenched Muslim economic underclass, and more anti-Muslim sentiment.’

Peter Singer discusses Paul Bloom’s recent book, Against Empathy.

Feathered dinosaur discovery

The gerund that tore Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson’s friendship apart

Colin Furze makes a giant AT-ACT playhouse

Casey Neistat and friends build a drone that can lift a human being

Do you have any thoughts on any of the issues raised above?

The comments of this thread are also free for you to:

  • Discuss things that you have been reading/listening to/watching recently
  • Share interesting links
  • Share stimulating discussions in comment threads
  • Ask questions
  • Put forward a position for more general discussion
  • Tell us about yourself and your interests
  • Publicize your blog, book, conference, etc.
  • Draw our intention to worthy thinkers, charities, ministries, books, and events
  • Post reviews
  • Suggest topics for future posts
  • Use as a bulletin board
  • Etc.

Over to you!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Links. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Links Post 20/12/2016

  1. Andrew Z says:

    Hi Alastair – I suspect a number of us would be interested in a biographical update from you. I think I remember you saying that you’d likely be moving to the states at some point. Is that still the plan? Will you be teaching somewhere or hoping to?

  2. Aaron Siver says:

    I loved that article by Leithart and the critique of the cult of sincerity.

  3. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve just looked at your Freddie de Boer link and your comment in relation to it, Alastair. I’m not sure if I’m eligible to respond to this because although I am very pro-life and therefore social conservative, I come out in quizzes as being slightly left of centre politically and my most difficult question is probably not from a conservative position. Anyway here goes – my most difficult question is about justifying a ‘just war’ because I can’t justify it, but I can’t justify pacifism in some contexts either. For instance, I think that the Holocaust was downright evil, but I am appalled by the Allied bombings of Dresden and Hamburg in WW2, and also by the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One friend once silenced me in a few seconds by asking me this question:’ What do you think would have happened if those attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not taken place?’ While I was standing there speechless, he answered his own question: ‘We would have lost the war against Japan – those nuclear bombs ended the war’
    (One of my greatest fears about Donald Trump is that he might start a world war)

    • Yes, those are very difficult questions, questions I struggle with too. I disagree with your friend’s claim that we would have lost the war. However, it is quite possible that the Allied death toll would have been considerably greater.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you, Alastair. I think you are right. I can see now that I could think of nothing worse than dropping those atomic bombs and I tried to find out more about it last night – very complex! I suppose there was a very remote possibility that The USSR might have supported Japan if the Allies had invaded Japan rather than dropping the bombs, and that it might have gone the way Vietnam went later… but that is just speculation.
        I have just seen your link to the Matthew Loftus’ article and your comments on this – I will study both later when I return from visiting family.

  4. Joshua says:

    de Boer’s comment section was surprisingly decent. I usually write off comment sections, but that wasn’t too horrible.

    The AI thing is something I’ve thought about a lot lately. I don’t think most folks are prepared for how fast AI automation is going to come. I suspect there will be a lot of good that comes about, and lots of bad. Probably won’t look too different from the I, Robot movie with Will Smith, I imagine. But with universal basic income.

    • Yeah, I really don’t think people are prepared for what AI will bring. The impact will be spread very unevenly, in a manner that could cause serious social problems. For instance, what happens when self-driving taxis become the norm in the UK? An overwhelmingly number of taxi drivers are Pakistani Muslims and an entire community, already vulnerable to radicalization, may receive a devastating blow to their livelihoods.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.