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Jonathan Haidt is Wrong—Weekly Wisdom

Also, the victimlympics involved in cancel culture, a better written account of twitter not being real, some great advice and why ‘realists’ are anything but!

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💡Something I learned

The real Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a psychological phenomenon defined thus by one of its authors:

As empirical evidence of meta-ignorance, I describe the Dunning–Kruger effect, in which poor performers in many social and intellectual domains seem largely unaware of just how deficient their expertise is. Their deficits leave them with a double burden—not only does their incomplete and misguided knowledge lead them to make mistakes but those exact same deficits also prevent them from recognizing when they are making mistakes and other people choosing more wisely.

—David Dunning, Advances in Experimental Social Psychological v44

The example used is usually the ‘Invisible Ink Thief’. People presume it is only describing stupid people who are too stupid know they are stupid. However that is not even half the picture. The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a meta-ignorance bias. A bias that infects ‘intelligent’ people a lot more than ‘stupid’ people.

For Example, this is an interview of pop psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt’s specialty is psychology of crowds. In the interview, he lays out his case for the negative impact of social media on teens and preteens, especially girls. A quite convincing one.

However, he follows it up with his case for social media causing polarization and negatively impacts democracy. There is a strong case to be made there as well. While he cites major platforms, his main focus is Twitter. A platform that is not even real. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect in the real world. It is an expert in one domain(psychology) over-estimating his competence in other domains. There are other factors feeding into this effect for Dr. Haidt; like his centrist reactionary political agenda, his skewed perspective of free speech. However, the meta-ignorance is there.

📕Something to read

  • Conservative Victimlympics: US Conservatives, aided by reactionaries like Dr. Haidt, have created a masterstroke of narrative building. The ‘Cancel Culture/Woke Mob’ moral panic has warped reality itself. While Republican supporters engage in violence against even the perception of Democrat support, conservative commentators whine about people being mean on Twitter. It would be taught in PR classes 20 years from now. Probably in Mandarin.

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🗣Some Quotes and Notes

Wear Sunscreen

This speech is 25 years old, yet it is relevant as ever. Mary Schmich gives advice that is beautiful, poetic and succinct.

Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worry is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind. The kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

—Mary Schmich, The “Wear Sunscreen” speech

Anti-realists

Everyone’s favorite crank, writes about Ukraine war. Or more appropriate, adapts a French language interview as a blog post. The overarching theme is the difference between the global liberal order and autocratic Russian tendencies. However, Taleb being Taleb, he goes after Libertarians, Edward Snowden, Steve Pinker, etc. He also tears down the so-called “realists”. Maybe one of the worst misnomers you can give to a group that, as a collective, never seem to have a grip on anything resembling reality.

These sloppy thinkers such as Mearsheimer and similar handwavers conflate states with individual interests; they believe that there is only a balance of power between powers — for Mearsheimer, Putin is only reacting to undue progress by the West on its ground. But the reality is quite different: what Ukrainians want is to be part of what I would call an international “benign” order, which works well because it is self-correcting, and where the balance of power can exist but remain harmless. Putin and the “realists” are the wrong century, they do not think in terms of systems or in terms of individuals. They suffer from what I call the “Westphalia Syndrome” — the reification of states as natural and fixed Platonic entities.

This also confirms, if it were still needed, the absurdity of Samuel Huntington’s ideas in The Clash of Civilizations. Not only is his book full of pseudo-mathematical reasoning (causing Serge Lang to blackball him at the Academy of Sciences), but, like other “realists”, his obstinacy to think in geopolitical and identity centers leads him to conclude that Ukraine belongs to the Russian domain. But one can be Orthodox in New York!

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, A Clash of Two Systems

Seriously, Twitter isn’t real

Computer scientist and productivity guru states the same things that I did, but he is a better writer. Which is why he’s published in the New Yorker and I am not.

He does succumb to the reactionary musings of Haidt, but otherwise a solid reality call for the twitter obsessed.

From a strict economic perspective, this reaction [to Musks proposed purchase] is overblown. Twitter is one of the least successful of the major social-media companies, with revenues last year that were more than twenty times less than what was earned by Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta. And, though Twitter’s forty-four-billion-dollar price tag is substantial for a buyout of a public company, it’s not exceptional in the broader context of corporate mergers and acquisitions. (I don’t recall CNN posting live updates last summer, for instance, when Square, now called Block, announced it was buying the fintech company Afterpay for twenty-nine billion dollars.)

— Cal Newport, Our Misguided Obsession with Twitter


Thank you for joining me this week. If you know some who might enjoy this, please forward this email to them. See you next week.

Mudassir Chapra

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