Note: only the block-quoted section below is AI-generated. Also the audio, above.
Without externally-imposed deadlines or peer pressure, I’m an awfully slow writer (and with them I’m an awfully stressed writer). That’s the main reason I haven’t been publishing as much as I’d like.
But this is 2023, meaning I have access to practically infinite AI-generated text at the literal press of a figurative button.
ChatGPT has been around for a while, now, but I’ve only recently started regularly using a second AI tool, AudioPen (see the end for more). Together, and with a bit of copy and paste and prompting and a truly minuscule bit of editing at the end, it seems like these might just suffice to write for me - albeit in the generic, corporate-upbeat style regular chatGPT users are all too well acquainted with.
To be clear, my goal here isn’t to write well but to see if I can capture the real meaty semantic content of my thoughts in language, even if it’s translated into PR-speak by a robot.
So, without further ado, a short, not that began as a semicoherent rambly monologue, was distilled into English by chatGPT and AudioPen, and coalesced into its current form in a 5 minute editing window that ended just moments ago. Comments are super welcome (always, but on this post in particular)!
Contra Caplan on parenting
Childhood intrinsically matters
The discourse around parenting often resembles a tug of war between nature and nurture. Economist Bryan Caplan stirred the pot not long ago, arguing in his book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids that parenting doesn't have as much impact on long-term outcomes as we might think. Genetics and other factors, he suggests, play a more significant role. As I lean towards biological determinism, this idea resonates with me. Indeed, nature, rather than nurture, seems to the primary determinant of outcomes in various domains, such as education.
For instance, while parents may worry about improving their child's test scores and college prospects, intelligence appears to be mostly determined by early childhood development and genetics. Intelligence is the dominant factor in educational success and years of schooling. In addition to genetics, nutrition and medication can also play a significant role in shaping an individual’s cognitive abilities. For example, studies on ADHD have shown that stimulant medications are more effective than therapy for treatment. This suggests that directly influencing brain function through biochemistry has a greater impact on outcomes
But Caplan's argument, while thought-provoking, doesn't paint the full picture. Focusing on long-term outcomes can give parents the wrong impression - that they can sit back and let nature take its course. But here's the thing: childhood makes up about a quarter of a person's life. So, it's crucial to think about how parenting shapes a child's day-to-day experiences during these years.
Take my personal experience. My folks were pretty great, even though they didn't always get it right. They were a bit overprotective, which meant I couldn't walk short distances alone in our safe neighborhood. This didn't scar me for life or anything, but it did put a damper on the intrinsic value of my childhood, to me.
On the other hand, my parents were pretty chill about schoolwork. They could've pushed me harder or signed me up for extra tutoring, but they didn't. I think this decision was a good one. It didn't hold me back academically, and it let me enjoy other parts of life. I knew a kid who was forced by his parents to attend tutoring services after school despite being naturally intelligent. He resented the additional pressure and ultimately did not benefit academically from these sessions; he merely experienced a less enjoyable childhood due to the imposed limitations on his free time.
It's tough to give a one-size-fits-all piece of advice for parents, as some may do certain things too much or too little. However, one key aspect to consider is respecting the child's preferences. If a child expresses an interest in an activity like playing with Legos, it's likely that they will enjoy doing so. Of course, there are instances where indulging their desires may not be appropriate, such as during formal events like funerals. Children often enjoy spending time with their parents and express a desire for parental interaction. While this may require sacrifices on the parent's part, engaging in activities together can directly improve both parties' quality of life. Parents should also adopt a more relaxed approach towards aspects such as schoolwork and friendships - unless these pose direct dangers to the child’s well-being. Allowing children autonomy over their choices without significant reasons not to do so is generally wise.
While prioritizing happiness throughout childhood has its merits, taking this mindset too far can be detrimental due to the necessity of parental guidance and protection against potential hazards. This principle extends beyond parenting into educational settings like schools which should offer students greater autonomy while still maintaining necessary structure and boundaries. For example: allowing occasional days off at the student’s discretion; reducing homework loads (especially in subjects where evidence shows limited benefits); implementing effective measures against bullying; promoting social well-being among students – all contribute towards better childhood experiences overall.
So, while Caplan's argument about the limited impact of parenting on long-term outcomes is compelling, it's important to look at the bigger picture. Parents need to think about more than just long-term outcomes. They need to consider how their actions shape their children's lives as children. This perspective gives us a more nuanced understanding of the role of parenting in shaping children's lives.
Bonus content: shilling for charity
AudioPen’s core function is converting an incoherent rambling recorded monologue into relatively nice, clean prose (almost certainly, I’d guess, using GPT-4). Somehow, it manages to do better than what I’d previously tried: feeding a transcription to chatGPT (incl. the GPT-4 version) with a prompt like “turn this messy transcription into a blog post without summarizing.”
Like any self-respecting online subscription service, AudioPen will give you (upon request) a referral link, meaning I’ll get ~30% of your money if you use it to sign up for the paid version.
I was gonna include a whole schtick trying to credibly demonstrate that I really do like the product and would be mentioning and linking it even without the the referral link thing, but it seems like the easiest way to do this is just not to directly benefit from the money.
So, I’m gonna donate any amount generated to Rethink Priorities (at least as long as these words are published online), which is my current guess for “charity that most effectively turns marginal dollars into ethical value.” I guess you’ll have to trust me to actually follow through on this.
25% of the $60 annual subscription = $15 (which is what I have); or
35% of the $120 lifetime subscription = $42
We’ll done, Aaron! Glad to see a post from you after quite some time. Liked (and agreed with) the piece about parenting (for which I suppose we served as a convenient example) as I also agree that childhood (and life) is determined by some mix of nature and nurture (with the former perhaps more prevalent). And while we got a middling 50% mark for parenting based on the factors described (I don’t think I was the overprotective one 😊) what about more generally the parents’ enthusiastic (and often time consuming and monetary) support for their child’s extracurricular activities which are often a very (sometimes most) important part of their growing up experiences and undoubtedly contribute to their well being (not that I’m suggesting this might apply to your or your sister’s adolescent interests 😘).
Nice post. I agree with the core point made in the essay (that even if parents have a limited ability to effect long-run outcomes, childhood still matters), but I also found it surprisingly readable.
I would envision that this method of writing would be most useful for people who are extremely busy, but who want to get their thoughts in written format for long-term perusal by others.
I'm not sure how much utility it would get in other contexts. The reality is that a lot of what draws in readers isn't merely the content of the writing, but also the idiosyncratic style and panache of the writer him/herself.
Take someone like Freddie deBoer. I love Freddie, and he's one of my favorite writers. But it's hard to deny that he has a couple of talking points that he likes to iterate over and over again. So why do I enjoy reading him? Because I like Freddie as a person. Reading his substack feels like catching up with an old friend.