Open Thread 283
This is the weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. ACX has an unofficial subreddit, Discord, and bulletin board, and in-person meetups around the world. 95% of content is free, but for the remaining 5% you can subscribe here. Also:
1: In the comments of the Flashing Element post, several people complained that ACX has a subscribe popup. This is unintentional, and I’ve tried to get rid of it by checking all the relevant boxes on my dashboard. If you can still see it, please comment here to report it as a bug to Substack.
2: Last Thursday I wrote about a paper on the illusion of moral decline. Thanks to Filippo for pointing out that one of the authors has a Substack where he’s explained the paper and countered some arguments against it. I’m embarrassed that he addressed my major criticism (that the paper is mostly about kindness-and-honesty, whereas other people interpret “morality” more broadly to include things like self-control) in a section called “Note To Pedants”, where he agrees this is true but says “morality” rolls off the tongue better.
So am I a pedant? The original paper is much less clear about this. It uses the phrase “moral decline” in the title, starts with a quote from Livy about moral decline, situates itself in the tradition of historians like Arthur Herman who talk about moral decline, and dunks on modern populists for believing in moral decline (saying it has disproven them). I think many of these people were using morality in the broader sense, and the paper is claiming to have refuted them while really only having refuted a weaker sense. So while I appreciate that the author knew what he was doing, I still think the paper as written implies that it’s proven something more exciting than it did.
(can you consistently replace “morality” with “kindness/honesty” but otherwise keep the conclusions the same? Most of the polls showing that past generations believed in moral decline just use the words “moral” and so don’t obviously connect to the kindness-and-honesty method of the rest of the paper, although in the blog post the author claims that respondents usually say they mean kindness-and-honesty. But the authors also ran a poll of their own using a kindness-and-honesty framing, and I think this at least proves their point for the current generation).
If the paper accurately reported its results as being about kindness/honesty in the current generation, that would address most of my concerns. But I would still worry that these terms can change meaning over time. For example, the Biblical Abraham would famously feed and host any guest who came to his door, which is better than most modern people. But also, he kept slaves, had a child with one of them, and then agreed to his jealous wife’s demand to send the slave-woman and child out into the desert to die. So was Abraham more or less “kind” than we are? I think a Bronze Age Hebrew would say kinder (because hospitality is most important, but what you do with slaves is your own business) and most moderns would say less kind (because feeding anyone who comes to your door is so crazy you don’t even really get credit for it, but keeping slaves is monstrous). So I think there’s still room for people to anchor on the morality of their childhood.
3: Saar Wilf of Rootclaim and ACX commenter BSP9000 have made a $100,000 bet on COVID origins (lab leak vs. natural). They’re looking for judges to moderate. You would have to listen to/read both of their arguments and come to a conclusion. If you’re knowledgeable, unbiased, and have a good reputation for honesty, and would be willing to help (they will compensate you for your time), message them here.