Aaron's Blog
Pigeon Hour
#1 Laura Duffy solves housing, ethics, and more
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#1 Laura Duffy solves housing, ethics, and more

Transcript

Note: created for free by Assembly AI; very imperfect

AARON

Cool. So we have no topic suggestions.

LAURA

You mentioned last night that you have takes about working in the government, and I kind of wanted to hear that.

AARON

Yeah. Okay. My thoughts are not fully collected, so I have latent takes. Yeah. So basically, also, I need to get out of podcast mode and get into conversation because then I'm actually more normal and less weird. Okay. I worked at the Department of the Interior and FDIC, that's why you're a statistics major. Okay, cool.

LAURA

Well, what remark is that?

AARON

No, that's like a positive remark.

LAURA

Okay. She can't do math. That's why she's a statistics major.

AARON

No, wait, I'm the one that can't do math because I was the one checking it on my calculator. That wouldn't even make sense. Here's, like, a really dumb thing. So the offices just look bad and dark, for example, and this is compared to, I've been into, I guess, two tech looking EA offices, and they're, like, bright. I don't know if they're fake plants or real plants, but there's, like, plants around everything's white. That's, like, the dominant aesthetic. It's not, like, a lot of buildings owned by the federal government. So I'm talking about, like, literally one. Okay, the one sample size, n equals one. But it was like yeah, it's just, like, very much, like, stereotypical, kind of old official, not ugly. Just like, not the kind of not the kind of aesthetic you would imagine if you're coming in to shake things up or something like that. It's kind of, like, obvious or whatever. But I feel like a lot of that the to be expected stereotypes actually hold up really well in a way that was kind of even more like I would have maybe even expected more variance or or something, or like and.

LAURA

Then, yeah, I can't help but wonder if because it's like the Department of Interior is not a sexy organization hey. Seen, like, the Department of Education building?

AARON

No, I don't know. Not, like, intentionally.

LAURA

It's over. Kind of by lone fox Plaza. But it is so ugly. It's, like, brutal architecture. It's probably terrible inside, very dingy and dark. But I have to imagine that other government buildings that get more higher budget are probably much nicer and newer.

AARON

Yeah, I don't even want to say it was bad. I'm not even saying it wasn't bad. It didn't look cheap or whatever. It was, like, a nice old building, which is, like, kind of like the okay, this is not a particularly important point. It's, like, one side example, I guess, more substantively. I think there are actually and this is something I have more experience with, I guess N equals at least two, but potentially N equals, like, many, depending on how you count things. There is just, like, at least in my experience, more of kind of like an aggressive conservatism or something, which is kind of what you probably want as, like, an American taxpayer who doesn't want the deep state to come in and ruffle feathers. But yeah, go ahead.

LAURA

I feel like that aggressive conservatism can make the deep state even more awful to work with though.

AARON

How so?

LAURA

It's the red tape thing, right?

AARON

Yes.

LAURA

So there's definitely that incredibly inefficient, like, working government websites. Yikes.

AARON

Oh yeah. They build everything from the well, not okay. I'm talking from extremely limited personal experience, but my experience is just like the one thing I saw there was like building a survey from the ground up instead of using Google forms or whatever and spending hundreds of hours instead of like zero. That's like on the procedural side. But even beyond that there's also just like an ethos of try to do exactly what the last exactly as we were doing yesterday and it regresses back forever or whatever. Instead of thinking actually what is the best decision? Or something like that. Also, I should just say for the 25th time, I have exactly one year of experience. Federal government is a big place.

LAURA

That confirms my priors on this a bit. Did you at all listen to the Ezra Klein podcast about contracting in the government?

AARON

No.

LAURA

Okay. So it's pretty bad because in order to bid for a contract successfully, there's a lot of these suggested criteria that you meet. And it's not just for like say you want a government website and you're going to contract that out to some private entity in the bid. They will put together their proposal and say why they're the best for doing the website well and in a cost effective manner. But there's also all these other things like dei requirements or suggestions or parental leave and things that are just totally ancillary to the actual effectiveness of the organization at being able to do the job of building the government website. And oftentimes these things are given a lot of weight in the overall scoring as to who's going to win the bid. And it ends up being like this long protracted process and you end up not getting the best person for the job sometimes.

AARON

Yeah, that definitely also fits with my priors. Yeah, I can totally imagine that. I'm like speculating, but I'm like I would guess it's like a bunch of cobbled together laws. Like there was like somebody's hobby horse in like 1983 or whatever and somebody else's hobby horse in like 1989 and it's like added up. So there's like a million, um, things like that. Yeah, I can totally see that on the other side. Do you have any positive government takes?

LAURA

Shit?

AARON

I put you on the spot there.

LAURA

You know, I've actually never had really a bad experience at the DMV.

AARON

Okay, fair enough.

LAURA

Yeah.

AARON

Did you get your driver's license on the first drive?

LAURA

No. Yeah, I couldn't parallel park. In my defense. It was like I was in this neighborhood where the curbs are not very steep and so they're kind of like softly sloped. So it's very easy to roll up onto the curb, kill a pedestrian while you're parallel parking.

AARON

That's probably fine.

LAURA

So I failed the first driver.

AARON

Okay, same. Yeah, that was scary because failing the first one is fine, but like ex ante, you don't know whether you're going to fail the second one. If you fail the second one, you're like bringing your parents to the DMV with you or I was 16 or whatever, and so I was very scared about filming anyway. Okay. Yeah. Positive government. No, and I think to relate that, to bring that back to the core subject matter, aggressive conservatism goes along with actually people that are very good at once again, N equals zero. Basically very good at what they're actually trying to do. There's like a stereotype. Yeah, maybe this is like a stereotype. I don't actually know how live of a stereotype this is, but I feel like I've vaguely seen stereotypes about incompetent bureaucrats, and that's definitely not the situation in my experience. It's like people very competently doing a lot of bullshit along with in the process of doing some important things also, but.

LAURA

I don't know about very confidently. It's very hard to fire people in the government.

AARON

Yeah, it probably depends on I could definitely see this varying a lot by position. There are some things where it's kind of the same with, I guess, tenured professors or something. They could just not do anything. But if you're selecting for the people who are obsessed with, I don't know, sociology or math or something and who get tenure, they're just not the type of person who's going to do nothing at that point. And so if you're working with more senior people, like professionals, then they're just probably pretty selected for. But maybe there's other parts that makes sense.

LAURA

I have to say. Obviously I went to public schools, but other than that, I haven't had that much experience with the government, which is kind of a plus, I suppose. That could be government is operating correctly when it's not that much in your life.

AARON

Yeah, that's also like the count. I know it's local in Maryland, but it seems local in Montana also, so there's a lot of different governments. Like the government is like 17 things. No, but yeah.

LAURA

Privilege too, right. To deal with trying to navigate the welfare process.

AARON

Yeah, for sure.

LAURA

I think one of the coolest things about being in Montana, at least in the past few years, is that I was in a pretty middle of the lean right town, and they really have been on top of the whole housing crisis situation. So all of the people in the planning department are like I feel like they're kind of YIMBY's. They're very tuned into YIMBY planning.

AARON

We need to get them into San Francisco. Unfortunately, they're stuck in Montana. I'm sure they're doing a great job.

LAURA

In Montana, but they are it's like thumbs up to a 432 unit apartment complex or something like that on big empty lot in the middle of nowhere. And same thing with the planning board and the city commission. So they just keep green lighting all of these projects, and I'm like, I was so not expecting this. And they're not they sometimes even talk back to the NIMBY people who show up.

AARON

How do you know this? Did you go to meetings? Yeah, I would go to oh, of course. Okay. I'm not unfortunate. That's like a couple of steps above my civic engagement.

LAURA

No, it was kind of funny, right? Because this one lady stands up, she's like, I bought my house here 32 years ago, and it was affordable. So I don't know what you guys are complaining about. The person on the Planning board is like, well, it was affordable 32 years.

AARON

Ago, but not anymore. Nice.

LAURA

Yeah. I think that some of the local government people are really getting it.

AARON

Nice. Nice. Cool. Thank you for representing the Montana Planning Boards. Yeah, I have no other connections, as far as I know, to the Montana Planning committees. Cool. Yeah. So is there anything else? What's? Any hot takes? You've been thinking about your hobby horses recently? Hobby horses or that's like, my turn. I, like, use that in a self deprecating way, but it can be like anything.

LAURA

I'm not sure.

AARON

What'S the Davis Bacon wage?

LAURA

Yes. So in 1931, there was this congressional act that said that every project well, it's kind of an oversimplification, but publicly funded projects that get federal money have to pay contractors and subcontractors local prevailing wages. And it's basically like price fixing for minimum wages for different professions within four categories of construction. So residential building, highway, and heavy industry kind of stuff. And it's like, in DC. The distinction between residential and building is extremely arbitrary, and it penalizes building higher. So any affordable housing complex that has four or fewer floors counts as residential, and the wages that you have to pay on that are much lower than the ones that you have to pay for five and above course, because those fall into the building category and not residential for some reason. I have no idea.

AARON

Okay, why do you know all this?

LAURA

Okay? Because I was at a YIMBYs of DC event.

AARON

Okay, I see.

LAURA

And he just kind of like this one developer, affordable housing developer, just kind of threw out there like, oh, yeah, we're just assuming that in this model, we're building four or fewer floors, because if we're building five, then just pay just a completely different wage amount. I'm like, what is this so arbitrary? Cut off. I like, five over ones. And so I went and just Googled the regulations and downloaded the actual policy and then just make a spreadsheet, and it's like, yeah.

AARON

Oh, wow, cool. Yeah. Did you do, like, an extended amount of research on all this stuff? How did you how did you come to know everything there is to know about building codes in DC and Montana. Okay. Only more than every other person in the country. Not literally everything.

LAURA

It's like an 80 20 thing, right? You spend an hour just looking at the wage structure of DC building. Like common people end up knowing a lot about the thing.

AARON

Yeah, but I still fair enough. I haven't done that. But yes, that would happen if I did that.

LAURA

I assume it's really interesting. I don't know if there's some economics literature on whether or not that actually increases the construction costs, and some studies say that it does, but they're for school construction, not residential. Sometimes after Hurricane Katrina, george W. Bush suspended the Davis Bacon wages for rebuilding in that area and then brought them back, like, two months later. So it was an interesting kind of natural experiment because he was just getting a bunch of pushback from people in Congress, like, you're creating a race to the bottom and not paying people fairly or something.

AARON

Yeah, I'm just going to default to adopting all your views until I know more than anybody. Yeah, cool. Sorry, I literally no opinions on this. I do, but they're all, like, seven layers down. Seven layers? Like more abstracted and less specific.

LAURA

I don't have fully formed views on this. I just think it's very interesting. And I had no idea, like, five days ago that going from building, like, four floors to five floors just completely changes the rate structure. And I'm like, wow, interesting. Cool.

AARON

Fascinating. Okay. How did you get into EA?

LAURA

How did I get into EA? I suppose I'm I guess I started listening to a lot of, like, skeptic slash Rational podcast. Rationalist podcasts? Late middle school, early high school, and about halfway through high school, I found Rationally Speaking. And I got really into philosophy at that point, and I kind of was like, oh, yeah, the Peter Singer Shallow Pond argument. I hate it, but it makes sense. And so I kind of started planning my future life around how can I make enough money so that I can give more than 10% of my income to effective charities? And I guess that's like, EA light, right?

AARON

Because it seems pretty legit to me.

LAURA

Yeah, I guess this is true. But I remember I was working out one time and I was just, like, really bored running on the treadmill, so I was, like, constructing a little budget in my head. How much do I need to make in order to pay rent in San Francisco in order to buy food, utilities, et cetera, and then just donate all the rest of it to against Malignant?

AARON

Okay, I respect that. That's awesome. Do you remember what the figure was or, like, the cut off at which you could start donating everything else? For my own personal interest, I think.

LAURA

I ended up needing around $40,000.

AARON

Oh, that's, like, really low, but you could make that work. Somehow, but I think I'm just too selfish for that. But yeah, San Francisco is expensive. I think I could maybe even make that work in Montana. Not that Montana is like a single.

LAURA

Place talking me living in a crappy apartment in San Francisco, so maybe more like 45,000 if I.

AARON

Yeah, okay.

LAURA

Well, nice vermin infested areas, but I think with inflation it's definitely gone up since then.

AARON

Cool. Yeah, cool. Yeah, cool. Nice.

LAURA

I was always EA adjacent then through the rest of high school, but then I didn't get into EA proper. I had never heard about existential risk long termism stuff until I was like senior year of college.

AARON

Yeah, that's not that when did the precipice come out? Like not long before that. So it's like not like you're like that delayed in terms of everybody else. I mean, not like the cutie ord was thinking about it ten years ago or whatever, but most years wasn't that salient like that long ago?

LAURA

Yeah. It is interesting to look back how it was always around though.

AARON

Yeah.

LAURA

Was somewhat always of a bit of a long termist organization.

AARON

Sorry, who is that?

LAURA

80,000 hours.

AARON

Oh yeah. I remember I was looking at the like sorting the for the EA forum posts by old one time and I felt like I was in a museum or something where I could just cut all the artifacts because there are all these Will McCaskill posts with zero upvotes. I didn't know if I was supposed to leave it and not disturb the nature of the posts or whatever by upvoting them or something. But yeah, there were and I think this is like just about exactly ten years ago, maybe like eleven, but one of them was like in 2013 or something, was like Peter Singer and talking about something, something like animals in the long term future. I might be making that up, but it was some combination of like Peter Singer and McCaskill talking about applying the most singers, like basic arguments to long term feature or something. Yeah, I guess it just took a while to manifest anyway.

LAURA

Yeah. And I recently saw something, at least some quote on Twitter about Peter Singer pushing back a little bit against the long term, something at least in terms of he's just saying, hey guys, let's make sure we don't lose sight of current harms.

AARON

Yeah, that fits with my image of him, but I know he's yeah, I mean, I would want to look into more specifically me too. Yeah, what he said. Because I do think he's like unless he's changed his mind, I think he's like sympathetic to the core arguments of long termism or whatever, but I could totally leave a lot more to be defined once you say that that doesn't define your fees that specifically.

LAURA

Yeah, I think this is true because my biggest worry with EA is that in 30 years we'll just look back at long termism and time apparels and be like, we just wasted a bunch of money that could have been spent on saving the lives of humans and animals.

AARON

I shouldn't have been like, that was like a bad laugh. That was like a nervous laugh. Because I think there's a chance that's right, I think I would have mostly been at least instinctively or intuitively in agreement with that a couple of years ago. Now I'm pretty sure the world in 30 years is not going to be recognizable. And actually the AI weirdos basically had it right. And I don't know if that means we're going to maybe things will be fine, maybe they won't, but it's no longer. I think it's very unlikely now that especially in 30 and maybe probably in ten, at least the AI segment of insofar as AI and long termism interact resources dedicated, or the decision to spend a large amount of resources in that area will be seen as naive or something. Or just like a bad ex anti decision. Maybe there's like a 10% chance that the world will basically look the same or something. But I don't know.

LAURA

It raises a question. What do you mean by unrecognizable? Right. Because I think of past ways of technological progress. It's like yes, go from America in antebellum period 1850s versus America in 1890 or 1920 and there was huge amount of change to where people lived. I think somewhere around that time half of the population was living in cities. I want to fact check that. But at least by the early 19 hundreds and you had basically the industrial revolution take off. People are just not farming as much. But I wouldn't say that the world was unrecognizable in terms of humans basically are just doing normal human things. Yes, they're working different jobs, but they still have families and stuff like that. It was unrecognizable. The same thing with the internet. Right? It's like if you went back to 1970 and tried to predict what 2020 would look like and you had some knowledge about the World Wide Web, would you say that it would be unrecognizable today? And I would say largely no. Right. It's like yes, we are much better off, I think, than we were in 1970, but the world is pretty much the same in the US. In terms of probably people's happiness, except for we've made a lot of social progress. But if you were in the upper middle class, say in 1970 versus now, it's kind of similar. What do you mean by unrecognizable?

AARON

Oh no, I agree with literally everything you just said except I just think AI is different. I feel like this has been litigated on a million different blog posts and podcasts or something. So like we're probably not going to like solve the like the like the differing of intuitions or maybe we will. You never know here, but oh yeah, I totally agree with like yeah, except that except that then I also think AI is like not AI is like several orders, at least two, probably more probably how many orders of magnitude bigger of a discontinuity is it than the Internet or than the population moving to the cities? Like, definitely one, probably two, probably not four. Probably like, probably like two to three. I don't know, 500 or like 300. Just pulling that out of nowhere. I don't even know what I'm talking about. But yeah, like a lot more significant. I don't know.

LAURA

I think our prior should just be strongly against that because humans are very status quo biased.

AARON

Yeah, I also agree with that.

LAURA

Predict the future.

AARON

If you can. Yeah, cool.

LAURA

The best argument against my case, at least just based upon observable evidence, is last 15 years, how we interact with other people has changed a lot, at least how I interact with other people. And I really do buy into this whole mental health crisis being caused by social media kind of theory. And what is that? Displacing. Right? Because they're not hanging out with their friends as much in person and they're not getting as much sleep. And I think instagram is terrible. For at least my mental health it was because it's like, oh, yeah, a bunch of hot looking girls that I know, they're having a good time. I'm not having a good time. It's like that social comparison kind of stuff really dramatically has an effect on mental health. And I think that has been a very substantial change to how people live in society. And so I can see something like that occurring again in the next 30 years.

AARON

No, I very much relate to that. I think I still have an instagram, technically. Not even technically. I definitely do. I haven't used it in a while. But yeah, as a medium, it's definitely just conducive to, I guess, just the usual markers of social life and status is very conducive to FOMO and stuff like that. And it's also definitely interesting to think about what the net effect on, I guess, human hedonic well being is because I don't know, I think it's really pretty ambiguous. I guess it being like the whole cluster of computer things that's come along in the last half century. I don't know. This isn't to dismiss it at all, but I do think that the mental health specs are real and also concentrated in the relatively small group that is like female liberal teenagers and not small in an absolute sense, but it's like several dividing blocks or whatever to get there. And yes, it absolutely sounds like it really sucks for that particular group and this is a big deal, but why liberal? No, I feel like I'm just stealing madaglaces take on this, but I think it's like, in the data. I don't know why exactly, but it just pops out of at least self identified liberalism if you just take surveys, like at their word or whatever. Yeah, I don't really know.

LAURA

That's fascinating. I wouldn't have thought that.

AARON

Yeah, I feel like I wouldn't either.

LAURA

Be true, but yeah, I just don't know that many young women who are not liberal.

AARON

Yeah. So maybe there's just like a selection effect of weight. Who are the people that aren't? Maybe there are. I'm just like speculating. It could be like disproportionately religious, which is like, I think predicts like happiness and stuff, but I don't know what the actual answer is.

LAURA

And probably also involvement in community. Right. If you're a conservative, religious, young teenage girl, you're probably going to youth group and you're not spending as much time on social media.

AARON

We'll take your word for it. I assume youth group is like the name for a Christian meet up thing.

LAURA

Sorry.

AARON

Okay. Sorry. Okay. What's your experience in youth group? Or if you want to talk, you.

LAURA

Don'T have to talk to shit. Well, my experience in youth group was like through 6th grade because then I just stopped going to church.

AARON

Oh, same. I mean same, but except with Judaism.

LAURA

But yeah, and no, it was my mom ran the youth group at Birch and so it was me just eating together a bunch of my friends from school on Wednesday night, coming together and having dinner and then just playing a bunch of games and sounds awesome. It was really fun because we had like this three story tall church which also had like a really creepy basement that definitely haunted. Yeah, we thought it was haunted.

AARON

It is, obviously.

LAURA

Yeah. And so we just were messing around. I finally told my mom this like a year ago, but we stole the fire extinguisher and just started spraying it all around.

AARON

Oh shit.

LAURA

Who knew that that stuff is not fun to breathe in?

AARON

But it isn't actually. Yeah, I honestly didn't know until you just said that. I have no idea. But cool. Okay.

LAURA

I think youth group is a good time for young teenagers. You're in a space where you're getting a little bit of a moral lecture but then you're just kind of like there's guardians around but you're also free to do some fun things.

AARON

Freedom. Freedom is slavery or slavery is freedom. Sorry, I'm being deliberately provocative, but that does sound good, basically. But then what was your decision to stop being Christian or stop participating? I don't know. How would you characterize your religious phase transition?

LAURA

I think part of it was like I remember screaming and crying several Sundays when I was very small because I didn't want to go to church because it was super boring. And I can't help.

AARON

I had the exact same experience. I fucking detested. I don't know why, but like going to synagogue but anyway sorry, keep going.

LAURA

No, I mean, I can't help but wonder if I found it so boring because I was an atheist or if I became an atheist just because I found it so boring and I hated going to the thing, so I always hated doing that. I would talk back a little bit in Sunday school.

AARON

Yes. I would say.

LAURA

There'S some commandment that's like love the Lord your God more than anything else. Basically.

AARON

I think they say that like a billion times in all the Testament.

LAURA

Kidding. I'm supposed to love God more than my parents. No, that's not happening, stupid. And it didn't help that it was a bit of a conservative church. So they would sometimes talk about Obama and I'm like, you're trashing Obamacare? No, absolutely not. So I think there was several factors and then in 6th grade I was just like, yeah, I don't believe in God. If God exists, then why are children dying from malaria?

AARON

Yeah, that's it. Problem of evil is like a real thing. Yes, a bunch of people have noticed this and there's some cope to get around it. But no, I think it's like a good objection to the whole God.

LAURA

I can buy that there's this God that created the universe and it's kind of hands off or something. But I cannot believe in a God who answers prayers because I have to imagine that the parents and the children who are in poor countries and who are not well off are praying to God and hoping answers their prayers.

AARON

Yeah, I think it's legitimately serious and good. And I shouldn't probably haven't engaged enough with the actual theological takes on this to adjudicate or whatever, but my impression is that yeah, this is actually like a pretty solid objection or like a reason why you should doubt doubt the existence of God. Although now I've become sort of, from a different angle become like quasi theological, the weird simulation stuff. But we could talk about that if you want to. But I didn't mean to cut you off.

LAURA

But that's kind of like the deist type of God.

AARON

I don't even know what's deism again.

LAURA

Creates the universe but is hands off.

AARON

Yeah, that seems like consistent. Yeah.

LAURA

During COVID I got super into theology, I guess.

AARON

Oh, nice.

LAURA

Yeah, especially like Jewish theology.

AARON

Oh, wait, you definitely know more about Judaism than I do. Okay.

LAURA

But there is always that free will defense of theodacy and human responsibility. We are creatures that by our nature are supposed to have responsibility to act towards each other well and we have freedom to do so or not to do so. And that's what it means to be made in God's image. But I'm sure I'm messing that up a bit. But it's like either we have free will or God answers our prayers. And I think you can only believe in the free will version of it, in which case God looks kind of shitty in The Brothers Karamazov. It's like why would God create a universe in which there's even a single child who is being abused by their parents? This free will defense is just evil. And I'm like, yeah, I kind of agree with that. You can't have both things. You can't have he answers your prayers and it's all good. But then also we have free will to torture each other.

AARON

Yeah, once again, I very boringly. I think this is all correct take, although this is also, I think, placing, I guess God is a concept squarely in the Christian post year, like, I don't know, 50 or something. Not while Jesus is still around, but like one particular line of, I guess the Abrahamic religions and in the last 2000 years or so and there's a lot of other the notion of a benevolent single God I think is pretty peculiar. The people on the podcast won't be able to see me doing air quotes to this particular time in history.

LAURA

Yeah, that is true. I don't really know why this occurred.

AARON

Yeah, I don't think anybody does. But I actually did read most of or listened to I never read, but like, listened to most of a book by Robert Wright called The Evolution of God. And I think probably I don't want to claim it my takeaway for better whether it's true or not or whether it's good representation or not is basically that what's the word for one God again? Isn't there like a single term for that anyway? The core Abrahamic theology of single God whose law applies to all people, or at least it's sort of all people, depending on exactly what you mean. It's just like conducive to civilizational flourishing. And so it's kind of like a memetic argument in combination with, I guess, cultural evolution, probably not biological evolution. Yeah, and actually I actually kind of buy that relating to the 80,000 Hours podcast, the best podcast on Earth after this one, that Christianity is probably actually like a good force overall compared to the base rate or the base of what was going on before that in terms of its actual effects.

LAURA

Nisha might call it slave morality, but that's good.

AARON

Yeah, same with me.

LAURA

Yeah, I don't know, I think there's something of a little bit of a Western bias in that. Is Hinduism really all that bad?

AARON

Yeah, honestly, I know nothing of all the things I could not know less about, there's like wait, I don't know what I'm scratch that. But I don't know anything about Hinduism. So maybe. Although I do think it seems like from first principles, that if you have a religion where, like, every like, all human beings are, like, equal in some at least. Well, yeah, there's like some people think it's. Like, Calvinism or whatever that's, like, says or some strain that, like, says, you know, some people are saved and some people are, like, not saved or whatever, but at least the group of people who this applies to the Divine law applies to and is, like, just universal rather than, like, a particular, like, ethnic group is, like, on first principles. Like, that does seem conducive to not enslaving other people.

LAURA

I think that is a rather radical idea of the Abrahamic religions of being created in the image of God. And I think that probably has had some huge influence on the evolution of liberalism. I'm actually interested in hearing from you. How did you get into all of the different things that you did? So you did like mathish and also philosophy. You have read things about Robert Wright and evolution. What's your backstory in terms of how did you get into all of the things?

AARON

Okay, well, look, the three things that are math, econ and philosophy I just read the 80,000 hours of advice for undergraduates. It was like one it was like two pages in their ebook that's like their career advice ebook that I found late in late high school. And it basically said, yeah, do the most rigorous quantitative majors you can, maybe a communication based minor. And they gave some suggestions and like, okay, then I just picked out math, econ and philosophy because those that seemed interesting and that is the top down story of those particular degrees. And then this was doable because I had some AP credits. But yeah, I don't know, just my background, my intellectual background, put it in pretentious terms. I think I just went vegetarian for not even first principles, but like the normal reasons, like why people do like I don't know, just like not hurting animals and like at twelve and then vegan at 14 for the same reasons. And then ran into EA in like, I don't remember exactly, like 15 or 16 or something. And it was pretty convinced. I was like, yeah, it was already pretty disposed. I fit all the characteristics of the stereotypical EA, more or less. And so like, both like not just demographically, but like also like ideologically, I guess. And so it's pretty disposed to find it important and interesting. Yeah, I don't even know the math. I'm not interested in it at all. That's just signaling.

LAURA

Okay.

AARON

Econ is like more interesting. I don't know. I don't even remember of all the things. I don't know, it seems like kind of cool. Philosophy. Probably would have majored in philosophy if signaling wasn't an issue. Actually, maybe I'm not sure if that's true. Okay. I didn't want to do the old stuff though, so I'm actually not sure. But if I could aristotle it's all wrong. Didn't you say you got a lot out of Nicomachi or however you pronounce that?

LAURA

Nicomachian ethics guide to how you should live your life. About ethics as applied to your life because you can't be perfect. Utilitarians. There's no way to be that.

AARON

But he wasn't even responding to utilitarianism. I'm sure it was a good work given the time, but like, there's like no other discipline in which we care. So people care so much about like, what people thought 2000 years ago because like the presumption, I think the justified presumption is that things have iterated and improved since then. And I think that's true. It's like not just a presumption.

LAURA

Humans are still rather the same and what our needs are for living amongst each other in political society are kind of the same. I think America's founding is very influenced by what people thought 2000 years ago.

AARON

Yeah, descriptively that's probably true. But I don't know, it seems like all the whole body of philosophers have they've already done the work of, like, compressing the good stuff. Like the entire academy since like, 1400 or whatever has like, compressed the good stuff and like, gotten rid of the bad stuff. Not in like a high fidelity way, but like a better than chance way. And so the stuff that remains if you just take the state of I don't know if you read the Oxford Handbook of whatever it is, like ethics or something, the takeaways you're going to get from that are just better than the takeaways you're going to get from a summary of the state of the knowledge in any prior year. At least. Unless something weird happened. And I don't know. I don't know if that makes sense.

LAURA

I think we're talking about two different things, though. Okay. In terms of knowledge about logic or something or, I don't know, argumentation about trying to derive the correct moral theory or something, versus how should we think about our own lives. I don't see any reason as to why the framework of virtue theory is incorrect and just because it's old. There's many virtue theorists now who are like, oh yeah, they were really on to something and we need to adapt it for the times in which we live and the kind of societies we live in now. But it's still like there was a huge kernel of truth in at least the way of thinking that Aristotle put forth in terms of balancing the different virtues that you care about and trying to find. I think this is true. Right? Like take one virtue of his humor. You don't want to be on one extreme where you're just basically a meme your entire life. Everybody thinks you're funny, but that's just not very serious. But you don't want to be a boar and so you want to find somewhere in the middle where it's like you have a good sense of humor, but you can still function and be respected by other people.

AARON

Yeah. Once again, I agree. Well, I don't agree with everything. I agree with a lot of what you just said. I think there was like two main points of either confusion or disagreement. And like, the first one is that I definitely think, no, Aristotle shouldn't be discounted or like his ideas or virtue ethics or anything like that shouldn't be discounted because they were canonical texts or something were written a long time ago. I guess it's just like a presumption that I have a pretty strong presumption that conditional on them being good, they would also be written about today. And so you don't actually need to go back to the founding texts and then in fact, you probably shouldn't because the good stuff will be explained better and not in weird it looks like weird terms. The terms are used differently and they're like translations from Aramaic or whatever. Probably not Aramaic, probably something else. And yeah, I'm not sure if you.

LAURA

Agree with this because we have certain assumptions about what words like purpose mean now that we're probably a bit richer in the old conception of them like telos or happiness. Right. Udaimnia is much better concept and to read the original text and see how those different concepts work together is actually quite enriching compared to how do people use these words now. And it would take like I don't know, I think there just is a lot of value of looking at how these were originally conceived because popularizers of the works now or people who are seriously doing philosophy using these concepts. You just don't have the background knowledge that's necessary to understand them fully if you don't read the canonical text.

AARON

Yeah, I think that would be true. If you are a native speaker. Do you know Greek? If you know Greek, this is like dumb because then you're just right.

LAURA

I did take a quarter of it.

AARON

Oh God. Oh my God. I don't know if that counts, but that's like more than anybody should ever take. No, I'm just kidding. That's very cool. No, because I was going to say if you're a native speaker of Greek and you have the connotations of the word eudaimonia and you were like living in the temper shuttle, I would say. Yeah, that's true actually. That's a lot of nuanced, connotation and context that definitely gets lost with translation. But once you take the jump of reading English translations of the texts, not you may as well but there's nothing super special. You're not getting any privileged knowledge from saying the word eudaimonia as opposed to just saying some other term as a reference to that concept or something. You're absorbing the connotation in the context via English, I guess, via the mind of literally the translators who have like.

LAURA

Yeah, well see, I tried to learn virtue theory by any other route than reading Aristotle.

AARON

Oh God.

LAURA

I took a course specifically on Plato and Aristotle.

AARON

Sorry, I'm not laughing at you. I'm just like the opposite type of philosophy person.

LAURA

But keep going. Fair. But she had us read his physics before we read Nicomachi.

AARON

Think he was wrong about all that.

LAURA

Stuff, but it made you understand what he meant by his teleology theory so much better in a way that I could not get if I was reading some modern thing.

AARON

I don't know, I feel like you probably could. No, sorry, that's not true. I don't think you could get what Aristotle the man truly believed as well via a modern text. But is that what you? Depends. If you're trying to be a scholar of Aristotle, maybe that's important. If you're trying to find the best or truest ethics and learn the lessons of how to live, that's like a different type of task. I don't think Aristotle the man should be all that privileged in that.

LAURA

If all of the modern people who are talking about virtue theory are basically Aristotle, then I don't see the difference.

AARON

Oh, yeah, I guess. Fair enough. And then I would say, like, oh, well, they should probably start. Is that in fact the state of the things in virtue theory? I don't even know.

LAURA

I don't know either.

AARON

Yeah.

LAURA

I actually need to read after virtue.

AARON

I'd like to know that ringing a bell, but who wrote that?

LAURA

Alistair McIntyre?

AARON

I know the term after virtue. Or like, I've seen that a bunch, but like, sure.

LAURA

It was one of the recommended books at the keynote ending address, EAG London, which is kind of cool.

AARON

Oh, I wonder if I uploaded that to my other podcast feed. That's just the eaglobal talks yesterday. So maybe it worked its way into my subconscious, perhaps. Yeah, cool.

LAURA

No, I think that teleology has actually made me a little bit more friendly towards conservatism, at least like small C conservatism. Each human being kind of has this function in society that you can't understand yourself and you're flourishing without reference to your political community. And you need that in order to yeah, I guess, like, I don't know if I'm I'm probably not explaining this well, but there's a certain way of life that, on average helps people achieve, like eudaimonia. And it's usually one in which you are embedded in social groups to a very deep extent and you see yourself as a member of that group. And I think that's kind of conservatism light and there's a lot of ways in which that's kind of gross and we don't love it because you get conformity and oppression and stuff if it's taken way too extreme. But I think there's something very true there.

AARON

No, I think there's something very important and true there, which is kind of a serious challenge. I guess the things I generally sympathetic to, which is, like, rigorous analytical philosophy. You're basically just doing math. That's like a facetious point. Just thinking through ideas at the explicit level or whatever, which is that conservatisms are actually just, like, happier, I think might be misremembering some statistic, but it seems like the wrong ideas are actually just conducive to happiness which is kind of an uncomfortable position to be in because I wish that wasn't the case. But it does seem like religion is conducive to happiness. Maybe that's, like, the main thing. It doesn't seem like political liberalism in the American sense is conducive to happiness. I do think it's like, in some sense, like, more like better or more true. But like, what's that even good for if it's like, not producing, like, inclusive to human well being? I think there's more to be said.

LAURA

There, but yeah, I think there's a difference between liberalism in theory and liberalism in practice, where I'm basically just stealing detectville here, where he's like, if Americans took their individualistic theories seriously, america would not work. Because what makes America work is that people are just coming up with solutions as members of groups to solve community needs. And it's a very organic process of creating a free society that is not theory driven. And it would actually be bad if it were more theory driven because you would get a lot more atomization and people just not looking out for each other.

AARON

Yeah. And I think that's kind of the direction the modern world has gone. For better or yeah, largely for better, I guess. Kind of contra my last point. I actually think in some circles at least, like, western individualism is like, underrated. I don't know, being able to do what you want is actually has a lot of value.

LAURA

I totally agree.

AARON

Yeah. Sort of lost my train of thought, but yeah. I don't know, man. Maybe you're just right.

LAURA

I think I've tried to strike a balance of this in terms of like, yeah, I don't have to be beholden to the community in which I grew up just because it was where I was from. And that would be a very extreme conservative position. But I've kind of like, okay, I have freedom of movement. I'm going to go where I want to be in a place where I find people that are like me and weird and want to talk about philosophy and random economic stuff all day. And that's a huge benefit of Western individualism because I was just a strange kid growing up and I just did not fit in. And I am very individualistic because of this. But it's like if I go and find other people who are like me and then form a little community around that, then it's like the best of both.

AARON

Yeah. Yes. I once again very boringly think this is this is all good and true, but it's like not in an obvious sense. I feel like this is kind of like what the Internet, the ideal Internet was supposed to, in air quote sense, be good for. And I think we both find ourselves in something of abnormally benefited at least intellectual community in the sense of EA and EA adjacent spaces, being able to get a lot of intellectual and social value out of finding other weirdos on the Internet. But I do think that's a kind of abnormal. A lot of people haven't just been able to find fellow weirdos.

LAURA

I wonder I was never a video game person, but I young men like video games.

AARON

Maybe social community out of this. Yeah, I don't know. I actually kind of wonder whether above and beyond the actual playing of the video games. I feel like I'm such a nerd, but people with video game friends, I don't know, they don't have video game global or something where they travel to London and play video games together, do they? Maybe they do.

LAURA

No idea.

AARON

Yeah.

LAURA

No, I think this is great. Twitter is like the best of the internet and this is like the hottest because everybody's just trashing it all the time. I'm like, well then just don't be in that space.

AARON

Yeah, for sure. This is also a correct take. You have a lot of correct takes except for not the nicomachian ethics stuff.

LAURA

Okay, well, I'll take it.

AARON

Okay. No, I totally agree. Yeah, it does just yeah, I actually yeah, even at a like very personal like like not very personal, but like it's like a day to day level. Even like even though the app is optimizing for me to spend time on it. Actually. I haven't looked in a couple of weeks or something, but the last time I checked, I'm averaging an hour and a half a day on Twitter. And that's like my main app of distraction, being bored. Like what app I go to. There's honestly not there's nothing else, I really except for podcasts, but in terms of visually stimulating apps or whatever, twitter is the single one that I go to. I don't think that that's actually more than I would want to use on reflection.

LAURA

Interesting.

AARON

I probably wouldn't want to do 4 hours a day, but like half an hour, I would probably say like, no more is better. At that point.

LAURA

I think I am probably on the side where I'm at the less optimal too much on there because I found that I've stopped reading all of the things. Yeah, I probably need to start unfollowing a bunch of people, actually, because it used to be at least when I was late teenager, most of it was econ Twitter and I was just learning a lot of stuff and now it's me kind of scrolling because I'm addicted to scrolling.

AARON

Yeah, no, there's definitely some of that. It's like not for me as well. And I guess the more that I post, the more I'm not it's like, hard. That's actually like a very localized thing. Especially if I have some posts. It's like generating notifications or whatever. I can't actually focus on anything else but like a little notification thing that's like where my dopamine is like hijacked or whatever. But I'm sufficiently bad at posting. This is, I guess not like the dominant mode or something like that.

LAURA

Yeah, it's like I don't post during work hours anymore because the productivity will be gone for the rest of the day.

AARON

Okay. Respect. Yeah. Okay. Nice.

LAURA

Or I try not to.

AARON

I'm sure you oh, yeah. How was your neoliberal election experience? Neoliberal twitter bracket. What's the official name of the contest thing?

LAURA

Bracket?

AARON

Yeah. The shill bracket.

LAURA

Yes. What was that like a lot of stress.

AARON

Oh, really?

LAURA

Yeah. I don't want to become a politician, basically.

AARON

Wait. Oh yeah. Wait, why not me? Okay, sorry. Not why not? People are entitled to their preferences. I'm not going to say that's like a bad preference, but I would think both think that maybe would be the kind of thing that you'll be interested in and then also that you would be a good politician. So I'm like mildly surprised or something.

LAURA

I think there's something about performance that stresses me out a lot.

AARON

Yeah.

LAURA

And optimizing for engagement.

AARON

Yeah.

LAURA

The kinds of goals that running for office or running to be elected in some dumb Internet thing optimizes for and I'm not sure it's like the type of person I want to be.

AARON

Yeah, no, I respect that and definitely see that.

LAURA

Besides, I'm just a follower. I'm so not entrepreneurial and I just want to be like the bureaucrat with the statistics numbers, helping people out and just in the background.

AARON

Okay. Yeah, fair enough. Definitely fair enough. It definitely takes a certain type of person. I could also not. Yeah. That's like the last thing I would ever want to do. There we go. We share that lack of ambition to be President of the United States.

LAURA

I would never get to work out my routine. Interrupted.

AARON

Yes. Oh my God, it would be terrible having to deal with crises and God knows where. I don't know, like the Russians invade. I can't go to oh, God, I don't know.

LAURA

Hopefully not.

AARON

Yeah. No, honestly, I feel bad for Biden because he's probably going to die in not that long and I feel like if you're president, you should get to chill for like a while after.

LAURA

I agree.

AARON

Yeah. It's his own fault, though he did try didn't he try running before? Like a bunch of times. Yeah, but I guess thank him for his service. Except not the animal welfare stuff in the AG department. I don't know how much of that is his fault.

LAURA

Yeah, that's another reason I couldn't go into politics. I'd have to suck up to the agricultural industry.

AARON

I mean, were you the person who posted about Cass Sunstein or was that somebody else?

LAURA

No.

AARON

Okay.

LAURA

With his animal welfare stuff being the most controversial aspect of his getting confirmed.

AARON

Yeah, it was just kind of weird because I think polls are mostly bullshit. But I'm surprised. I wouldn't be surprised to see AG industry spending on ads. I guess I am kind of surprised to see senators actually caring about that a ton because evidently I'm wrong about that.

LAURA

The amount to which they have gotten corporate welfare and just all of the politicians in their pocket is extraordinary because everybody on the political spectrum except for good libertarians just really loves the farmers for some reason.

AARON

Yeah. I feel like there's like a I don't remember who coined this or maybe I'm just making it up, but all the professions or industries that appear in children's books. People love those. People love fishermen. They love farmers. Even though farmers are just like Monsanto and Purdue or whatever.

LAURA

Family farmer who's actually just a contractor for Purdue.

AARON

Oh, yes. I do hope we get to go to that farm sanctuary and kidnap the pig.

LAURA

Sorry.

AARON

This is like a big tangent. Yeah. If I was a billionaire, I would definitely have several pet pigs. Anyway, I feel like it wouldn't have to be a billionaire. Just like, more time and money, but anyway yeah. What other industries are, like, overly I don't know, I guess teachers. That's like a can of worms.

LAURA

It's like education too. Biggest scam ever. And you can't become a teacher for high school or elementary school, middle school, without at least showing that you're working towards a master's degree in education.

AARON

It's wild.

LAURA

A ton of money to just learn their nonsensical kind of fluffy it usually ideologically skewed education stuff.

AARON

I mean, I actually don't have a strong take on whether the content of education programs I just don't know anything about that. But whether they're bad, but certainly doesn't seem necessary to pedagogy absolutely, yeah.

LAURA

Become a professor without going to education school.

AARON

Right. In fact, I was able to become a math tutor without even going to finishing high school, in fact.

LAURA

True.

AARON

And I would like to think that I was a competent yeah. I did not have to get a master's in education. Okay, I think I might be winding down or, like, running out of podcast team. Is there anything you would like to say to the people of the podcast?

LAURA

If you're still listening, you're kind of weird.

AARON

Yeah, join the club. It's a weird party. Yeah, for sure. I was going to say, do you want to show your links? But I feel like that's such a cringe. Okay. Actually, I'm not going to allow you to say your Twitter handle if you do that. I'm going to cut it out or anything like that.

LAURA

If anybody is listening to this, they probably already follow me.

AARON

Yeah. How many views do you think this is going to get? I'm going to get conditional on it being posted, which is like, very probable.

LAURA

Forecasting is not my forte. Except for about prop twelve.

AARON

I have absolutely no idea. I would rather you be good at prop twelve forecasting than this particular question. Yeah, I'll go with like, 14.

LAURA

Okay. I was going to say ten. What's your confidence interval?

AARON

Because we must provide confidence intervals zero to infinity.

LAURA

Zero. Well, I'm going to at least min max.

AARON

What percentage confidence interval? 80%.

LAURA

Okay. No, I'm going to do a 90% confidence interval that is between three and 20.

AARON

I feel like there's definitely a right tail. You never know. There's definitely a right tail. 5% chance. Yeah, three sounds like a good lower bound. Like 5% chance of at least, I don't know, 10,000. There's a 5% chance of no, 10,000 is a little high. Maybe like 2000 or something. But not like what was yours? 20.

LAURA

Pessimistic.

AARON

There's definitely a 5% chance of at least 21.

LAURA

Listen, okay, I'll revise.

AARON

I'll do like 2000.

LAURA

It's a good lower bound because it's close to zero and we can't go negative.

AARON

You never know.

LAURA

Is a log normal distribution. Right? So yeah, three to 200.

AARON

Okay, I'll go three to 2000. Okay. Thank you for being on the podcast.

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