Happy New Year—Weekly Wisdom

Best of 2021 part 2!

Hello Subscribers, New and Old.

Welcome to Weekly Wisdom, your weekly dose of highlights, quotes and notes from my notebook. This issue is a part 2 of a year end summary. Part 1 can be read here. If you would like to check out the archive of regular posts, click here. Receive this in your inbox by subscribing now.

I delayed the post a day for the New Year traffic. That’s a lie. I just couldn’t get it done on time. Hope you have a great new year. Please don’t be harsh on yourself for not realizing your resolution. You’re only human after all.

Sense and Sense-ability

Author Adam Robinson discusses the concept of understanding. To be specific, he talks about understanding markets. Why can’t some people can’t make sense of the market, despite years of ‘expertise’?

You hear it all the time from even the most seasoned investors and financial “experts” that this trend or that “doesn’t make sense.” “It doesn’t make sense that the dollar keeps going lower” or “it makes no sense that stocks keep going higher.” But what’s really going on when investors say that something makes no sense is that they have a dozen or whatever reasons why the trend should be moving in the opposite direction.. yet it keeps moving in the current direction. So they believe the trend makes no sense. But what makes no sense is their model of the world. That’s what doesn’t make sense. The world always makes sense.

In fact, because financial trends involve human behavior and human beliefs on a global scale, the most powerful trends won’t make sense until it becomes too late to profit from them. By the time investors formulate an understanding that gives them the confidence to invest, the investment opportunity has already passed.

—Adam Robinson, Understanding

Lay back, it’s all been done before

Continuing from a few weeks ago, here’s yet another excerpt on overcomplication. The tendency of smart people to not focus on simple solution is their undoing. The world is full of complicated solutions to simple problems.

Investing isn’t the only field where people avoid simplicity. Smart people love to over-complicate things so they can feel like they’re working hard. And if they fail, at least they can say to themselves: “I tried something though and it just didn’t work.” But the world rewards you for outcomes, not effort. When you insist on working hard, even when it’s not the most effective strategy, you miss obvious solutions that are right in front of your eyes.

Whenever you’re trying to solve a problem, ask yourself: “What am I missing because it feels too stupid?”

—David Perell, Monday Musings (The Stupid Test, School, Holland, Cities, Peter Thiel)

The truth putting on its boots

This article from Current Affairs is really about access; the lies are a lot more accessible than the truth. Even before paywalls, Facebook, Youtube, et al prioritize quantity over quality. And lies outnumber the truth by an infinity.

This means that a lot of the most vital information will end up locked behind the paywall. And while I am not much of a New Yorker fan either, it’s concerning that the Hoover Institute will freely give you Richard Epstein’s infamous article downplaying the threat of coronavirus, but Isaac Chotiner’s interview demolishing Epstein requires a monthly subscription, meaning that the lie is more accessible than its refutation.

—Nathan J Robinson, The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free

Colonizing New Experiences

From one essay collection to another. Susan Sontag’s On Photography is a seething take-down on the art of photography. When I previously shared her thoughts on the craft, it was about how photography “elevates” is subject, regardless of merit.

In this essay, she uses the work of Diane Arbus as to illustrate how photography denigrates the marginalized.

The most striking aspect of Arbus’s work is that she seems to have enrolled in one of art photography’s most vigorous enterprises—concentrating on victims, on the unfortunate—but without the compassionate purpose that such a project is expected to serve.

The photographer is supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of their exotic doings and strange gear. The photographer is always trying to colonize new experiences or find new ways to look at familiar subjects-to fight against boredom.

—Susan Sontag, On Photography


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The Meritocracy Myth

There is an aura of competency we project on people who are in authority. We conflate competency on success. But success is just as much luck as ability. More success does not mean more capability.

My friend Sam has this saying that, to the contrary, “Nothing is rocket science, even rocket science.”

This is one of those things I think you learn as you get a bit older. The same people that told you stories about Santa Claus are the people doing rocket science, the people running the largest corporations, the people running the government, the people shaping much of the world.

They’re probably not any more capable than anyone in this room – in fact, many of the people running the world are probably less capable than most of the people in this room.

—Andrew Kortina, The Emperor has no clothes…

Open Incentives

This essay is about Microsoft’s hidden advantage in the metaverse. However this passage reminds us about the incentives that birthed the internet. Those incentives are not present for any similar endeavor. So your Crypto Meta Web3 will not be an open platform. It would be more like terrestrial TV at best and Cable TV at worst.

The entire reason the Internet is as open and interoperable as it is is because it was built in a world without commercial imperative or political oversight; all future efforts will be led by companies seeking profits and regulated by governments seeking control, both of which result in centralization and lock-in.

— Ben Thompson, Microsoft and the Metaverse

Bad Guys Winning

This is a Hacker News comment on this essay. It is probably one of the best w of why a lot of predictions go wrong. We bias ourselves towards our values. These leads us to predict against consequences that we do not want to happen.

It’s interesting, the original article is one giant Appeal to Consequences fallacy. The arguments are structured like “If Bitcoin succeeds, X will happen, and X is bad, therefore Bitcoin will fail” or alternatively “Bitcoin undoes policy Y, policy Y was a good thing, therefore Bitcoin is bad and will fail.” And then the epilogue here finally acknowledges that yup, all the bad stuff did happen, and yet Bitcoin still succeeded, and the future will probably involve more bad stuff but that’s the way it goes.

I feel like one marker of maturity is understanding that not everything true is going to be good, and not everything that we want is something we’re going to get. So many timely debates take the form of an Appeal to Consequences fallacy. “Hyperinflation would be bad for everyone, therefore the government will not allow hyperinflation to happen” – ignoring that the government may not have the mechanisms to stop it once it begins. “If it’s too late to do anything about global warming, we’re all fucked anyway, so let’s proceed on the assumption that it’s not too late” – ignoring that “we’re all fucked anyway” may mean many different things and some of them might be significantly more pleasant than others. “America is a great country, so it can’t possibly collapse”, ignoring that many once-great countries have collapsed before.

I found my predictions got significantly more accurate, though significantly less comforting, when I realized that good doesn’t always win out in the end.

User nostrademons on Hackernews

Marshall McLuhan was right

The main subject of this essay hits me close to my heart due to recent events. More on those soon.

I am featuring this passage for another reason. The famed media theorist Marshall Mcluhan, of ‘The medium is the message’ fame, predicted that humanity would revert to a more tribal state due to TV. He called it the state of the ‘Postliterate’ society.

While TV did achieve some tribalization, it is no match for social media. The filter-bubble, the fake news, and the worst aspect of news media are transforming societies slowly. The post-literate era is here. I think we should be ready.

A 2016 survey of 589 rural districts[of India] found that 50 percent of students could not read books intended even for three grade levels below their own. A news-portal owner estimated to me that just ten million Indians are capable of reading a book in any language. As he put it: “A country of 1.2 billion people has the reading population of Belgium.” And rather than seeing the Internet as a space to redefine themselves, Indians continue to enact group affiliations of caste, religion, and region. An earlier Facebook study had found that the median membership of groups Indians joined was 140,000 users, suggesting that Indians prefer the safety of large groups to the solitude of individual pursuits.

— Vina Sinapati, Facebook and India’s Paradox of Inclusion

Style is Substance

Criticizing women politicians on their dressing is fraught with misogyny. However in this cesspool an important distinction is lost; that of style as a statement. Tressie Cottom, writing for the New York Times, takes US senator Krysten Sinema’s recent statement to drive this point.

Whether we know about this research or not, we have gotten the message that good people simply do not comment on how people look because that can be rife with bias. The problem with that response is that the bias still happens — we just do not name it. When you “don’t comment on bodies,” you lose the discernment to think critically about how some bodies move through the world at the expense of how other bodies can move through the world. In short, when our language atrophies, we lose the mental acuity to talk about how power operates in our everyday life.

— Tressie McMillan Cottom, Why We Should Talk About What Kyrsten Sinema Is Wearing

Thank you for joining me today. Part 2 will be live this Thursday. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. And if you are reading this on the web.

Mudassir Chapra

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