I make freely available two main categories of things. 1) Online writing/video/audio. This is non-interactive and distribution costs are approximately zero. 2) Interactive discussion, which is expensive in terms of my time. It overlaps with (1) because people are welcome to read the discussions without saying anything. There’s also overlap the other way because people can start a discussion about e.g. a blog post.
There’s a huge amount of material. I’ve written ~50,000 public contributions to discussions, in addition to the blog posts, essays, YouTube, etc. I also sell digital products which are much cheaper than consulting because they aren’t personalized – the same work can be sold to multiple customers.
How many people read books by a great author and become even 1% as great as the author? That’s very rare! Non-interactive stuff helps people, and it’s easier to engage with, but the results are usually pretty limited. People read/watch too passively and uncritically, don’t think of enough questions or pursue enough followup issues, understand stuff vaguely and think they agree (too low standards), and don’t apply/use the ideas enough. And they misunderstand parts which causes misunderstandings of later parts, which causes even more misunderstandings of later parts, which can spiral out of control.
So what about discussions? I’m available for free discussions primarily at the FI email group (and the Curiosity website which is similar). I visit other forums periodically but you can’t rely on that.
I discuss primarily because it's part of being a philosopher – I can get questions and criticism, learn things, practice writing, practice understanding people, share ideas, think about issues, etc.
Participating effectively in FI discussions is hard and doesn’t work well for most people. I know lots of specific problems people have, but there’s a fundamental issue:
The FI group is about reason and intellectual progress. To use it well requires being good at those things or being on a path to get good at them.
Discussion methods and skills are, essentially, thinking methods and skills. One has to be a good thinker to discuss effectively. This is because thinking is self-discussion, or, put the other way around, discussion is externalized thinking.
The same epistemology governs both discussion and thinking. The same methods for resolving a disagreement between ideas apply if those ideas are in one person or in multiple people.
Relevant skills include dealing with criticism rationally, organizing ideas effectively, being able to look at issues objectively (avoiding personalizing and bias), coming up with questions, knowing when you do or don’t know enough, and figuring out how to apply ideas.
Learning to use the FI group well is a somewhat equivalent problem to learning to think well. So that’s hard.
A tip for using FI: If you think something is bad (e.g. that a person was rude, mean, demanding, pushy, dumb, not listening, etc.), ask about it. People (especially the better posters) often do things on purpose for reasons. The online discussion group is 25 years old and has developed and refined its approach intentionally (guided especially by David Deutsch and myself). If you choose to silently disagree with something, you should to be tolerant, not have it start building to a bigger problem. This comes up particularly because of violations of social-cultural norms.
Second tip: Be careful when people aren’t talking to you directly. When speaking to a newer poster people often try to write something that’ll make sense to him, which doesn’t require as much background knowledge. But other posts may build on years of prior context and can easily be misunderstood by newcomers who don’t ask tons of questions.
Paid consulting is about helping the customer with what they want help with. In free discussions, my primary goal is my own learning, and I interact with people when our projects overlap. What my goal is has large consequences for what happens.
When consulting, I make things easier for customers and they can control the topics. In free discussions, I often ask topic-changing questions and I’m often interested in judging people and filtering out irrationality and dishonesty. In free discussions, I often don’t take hints and want things to be made clear that other people don’t want to make clear.
In consulting, I help organize what happens and help take responsibility for the other person achieving their goals. In free discussions, I expect people to manage their own affairs (like deciding how much time to spend, when, on what). I volunteer help less and expect people to take reasonable steps for making progress such as reading books and critically discussing as they go along.
Free discussions are mostly text, asynchronous, often partial effort/attention, sometimes slow or no reply, and are a permanent part of the public record. In paid consulting customers reliably get high attention and effort, and can get faster help, voice chat, real time interaction, and privacy.
Free discussion replies are often generic on purpose. Instead of giving personal help, I take the issue someone brought up and write an answer that would be of interest to many other people too.
People often don’t really understand what sharing ideas publicly means. It means your post is just like an article or book by a public figure. People can scrutinize it, discuss it, criticize it harshly, misunderstand it, analyze things the author unintentionally revealed about himself, etc., and the author has no control over any of that. The author doesn’t have to participate or read what’s said, but what he wrote is now evidence to be used by others as they choose. Your post can become a permanent example or reference point about irrationality or some other flaw. FI posters sometimes bring up quotes from years ago.
Lots of people think they want the role of a responsible intellectual/adult/peer/equal in a rational discussion forum. “Reason? Of course I want that! Sounds great!” But that’s hard and people usually don’t like it, and they'd be better off buying help. Admitting weakness and inequality, and publicly taking on more of a student/learner/child/beginner role, also doesn’t work well for most people (they both dislike it and don’t know how to do it well).
Another reason for consulting: in the medium or long run, to get much value from others, there’s no good way to get out of offering value to others. Money and rationality are both values one can offer. Money exists in greater supply and is easier to come by and offer. Intellectual progress is hard and finding ways to throw money at the problem can be good. (I would personally be thrilled if I could find effective ways to spend more money to get philosophical benefits.)
Human civilization has more knowledge than any one person. We have a division of intellectual labor. Some people specialize in chemistry, others law, others fashion, others history, others football. A specialist in a type of knowledge is called an “expert” or even an “authority” for his field. The division of intellectual labor has progressed to the point of narrow specialities – e.g. we have experts in ancient Greek history, or WWII history, rather than all of history. There are different kinds of scientists, and then within a kind, e.g. physicist, there are sub-kinds, e.g. astrophysicist.
People accept expert advice from car mechanics, doctors, lawyers, scientists, tech support people, sports coaches and more. You may be able to learn about a few topics, in detail, yourself, but not all the topics that come up in your life. There’s too much to know it all yourself.
If you didn’t use other people’s expert knowledge – if you didn’t participate in the intellectual division of labor – you’d be handicapped, have a limited life and not accomplish much compared to people who do (just the same as a person who doesn’t participate in the economic division of labor cannot produce much compared to people who do participate).
The intellectual division of labor raises problems to be addressed. How do you know which ideas from other people to use? How do you judge an expert’s claim when you don’t know much about the field? How can decide what to think when experts in a field disagree with each other?
One attempted solution is credentials. Some people perform the task of judging experts. But the people saying which experts are good are themselves experts (in the field of judging expertise), so you’re left with the same problem of deciding which experts to listen to. They’ve just moved the problem: instead of deciding whether to listen to a scientist saying humans evolved, you decide whether to listen to a guy telling you he knows which scientists to listen to. And normally the qualifications of the people giving out credentials in a field are that they are experts in that field (not that they actually have any special expertise at judging experts), so it’s really just “Listen to me about which physicists you should listen to, because I’m a good physicist.”
Another attempted solution is reputation. Some people have a bunch of success is some visible way and then people listen to them more. And reputations can partially carry over to their associates, and to a lesser degree to their associate’s associates.
Another attempted solution – which is how a lot of reputation works – is to judge by popularity. But great ideas usually start out unpopular.
Another way people judge expertise is by charisma, social status, social skill, and stuff like that (including dressing well and speaking in a “smart” sounding way). This is a poor method. It leads to competitions not at field expertise but at expertise in impressing people and presenting as credible to them.
Another way people judge experts is by which ones create material (articles, books, videos, etc.) for a general audience that they like. This isn’t very good at figuring out who is the best at the details of the field because it looks for skills like being able to communicate well about the basics of the field.
I propose a better way to judge experts. This solution is especially meant for intellectuals rather than, e.g., bike repair experts. Experts should provide public information which can be evaluated by lay people. It’s their job to prove their own case if they want to be considered an expert. But how? Specifically by being open to debate. Experts should be open to questions and criticism, in public, and organize the information in a way that people can look it over and see who blocked further progress on resolving the disagreement. The public should favor experts who have addressed all outstanding criticism of their knowledge over experts who have withdrawn from that kind of discussion, ignored criticisms, refused to answer questions, derailed debates, etc. Experts should be judged by the current state of the debate in the field, and should organize that debate so it isn’t a mess with no clear answers.
People who don’t know how to do this aren’t fit to be experts in a fields that deal with controversies (but maybe they can successfully be an expert accountant). If your field has ongoing disagreements and debate, then you need to know how to organize and evaluate disagreements and debate in order to do effective work in your field.
The starting point of clarifying the state of the debate is to invite debate. The people who decline debate are the people blocking resolution of the issues. The people who are unwilling to try to address questions and criticisms should be presumed wrong, even though they might be right about some particular issues, because their methodology – their way of dealing with knowledge – is not oriented towards truth-seeking. People who reject intellectual collaboration, on principle, are limiting their participation in the intellectual division of labor and thereby limiting their effectiveness (just like a business that won’t consider any business deals with other businesses).
A good expert has the general attitude: “If I’m wrong, tell me what I’m wrong about. And I’ve told you what you’re wrong about and I’m still waiting for you to respond.” And he thinks of debate as primarily a matter of writing, over time, not verbal debate in person. So he can write a blog post criticizing something, and that advances the state of the debate, and if it’s not answered then that shows the other guy isn’t debating (or discussing, which should be the same thing). And it shows the other guy also lacks proxies to discuss for him. And lacks sources he could cite that address the issue with no new work. (Or else he has the perfect answer, already written, and just won’t say? Not a plausible story.)
Openness to debate is a well known criterion so many people pretend to meet it. But most don’t pretend in more than a token way. Suppose I wrote a blog post with some questions and criticisms for an expert. You, right now, could predict that most experts would ignore me. For example, Richard Dawkins would ignore me (and that’s not mere speculation, I have actually contacted him and been ignored, even though I’m an expert who has written serious criticism of some of his work). His openness to debate is limited in some ways.
What are the limits on the openness to debate of Dawkins and the large majority of other supposed experts? I could try to analyze and criticize them and talk about some Paths Forward stuff. But there’s a much simpler way for lay people to evaluate the matter. Has Dawkins written down what his limits on debate are, himself? Has he publicly shared a policy stating his openness to debate, including the limits and the reasons for those limits? Has he asked if anyone knows any ways to remove or reduce any of those limits? No he has not. Because he isn’t seriously interested in discussing and getting disagreements resolved.
Many experts were more open to debate when they were younger, and they get disillusioned after many bad, ineffective discussions. They give up and decide talking with people is mostly a waste of time. What they should have done is learned better methods that better conserve their time, get to the point faster, and so on (see Paths Forward for info on how to do that). Organize the debate better instead of giving up on debate (and then dishonestly pretending you’re still open to debate). Learn enough philosophy – methods of dealing with ideas, learning, resolving disagreements between ideas, etc. – to be an effective intellectual. Sure that’s hard (most philosophy is crap) but if you want to be a good intellectual you need to deal with that problem and find or create and then use actual good methods for making intellectual progress (and if you think you have those, write them down and expose those to criticism and debate, and also make them available for others to learn and use if you think they actually work well! As I have done.).
By the way, what if all the experts in a field are bad? What if none of them are really open to debate? Then it’s hard to evaluate, so you should ask a philosopher (general purpose expert) to evaluate the field (and you can judge which philosophers are experts by their openness to debate).
People don't want unbounded discussion of ideas. They will debate a specific topic, like minimum wage, if you aren't allowed to talk about discussion and thinking methodology, how important the issue is relative to other issues, how it fits into the bigger picture of life, etc. And if you don't expect to actually reach a conclusion, and don't mind if they give up halfway through without explanation. The first time a problem comes up which isn't part of the limited topic (e.g. they think your communications indicate negative feelings, or they have negative feelings themselves), the discussion soon ends without problem solving because that kind of problem solving is out of bounds.
Most people and forums are hostile merely to continuing to discuss a topic for more than a few days. They're also broadly hostile to quoting what people say and replying to that, rather than everyone just making general comments on the issue and then everyone agreeing that everyone is smart and their comments merit respect. Also people don't like criticism – they don't want to be told what their mistakes are. People view mistakes as bad things to avoid because they don't expect to actually solve problems (if you can't/won't correct a mistake, being told about it isn't helpful).
People don't expect or seek progress. They think discussions are a hobby where you try to sound clever and entertain each other. They aren't actually trying to contribute to human knowledge.
I want to talk with people who are trying to make a substantial contribution to human knowledge. There are two ways they can approach that goal. They can think they already know enough to work on achieving it now, or they can think they don't know enough and be trying to learn enough to get there. Identifying which category they are in, or even saying what goals they do and don't have, is the kind of thing that people generally don't want to talk about (it's out of bounds since it isn't keeping the discussion limited to e.g. whether or not a border wall is a good idea).
Another question I ask people, which is also out of bounds, is whether they have a discussion forum or know of one they think is good and participate at. And if the answer is no, is that something they want and would they like to join my forum and actively participate? And if they are going to judge my forum negatively, will they say why and will that judgment be open to clarifications, questions, criticism, etc? People don't like to talk about this because it involves admitting they aren't looking for discussion. (Sometimes they pretend that they already have plenty of great discussion, so they don't need more. They have to claim it's private though, or else I'd ask to see it. People who claim to have lots of great private discussion, but none in public, are liars and also are, apparently, not interested in contributing their knowledge to the rest of the world.)
Lack of discussion means there are no paths forward for people's mistakes to get corrected, even when the correction is known.
Lack of debate means obscuring which ideas do and do not survive criticism. Which ideas can handle questions and scrutiny? Let's find out!
Intellectuals and the Marketplace discusses the important problem of the hostility to capitalism by the “intellectuals”. Interestingly, the article itself is written in an intellectual style and ignores Ayn Rand (a major contributor on this topic) in favor of quoting people with more "intellectual" styles or reputations. The article covers only a limited range of theories about what the problem is, and doesn’t offer solutions. But I still think it has value because it’s such an important problem with so little work being done to address it.
I think the key fact is that understanding and valuing capitalism, freedom and other parts of liberal civilization is the rare exception in the world. Only a few societies have ever done that, and only in a partial, incomplete way. There has never been much of a pro-capitalist society. Things didn’t get worse. We didn’t forget what we knew. By and large, people just never knew it in the first place. Almost no one has ever understood capitalism very well or been competent to defend it intellectually. Historic periods of greater economic flourishing were largely unplanned and were never on an adequate intellectual footing to withstand sustained criticism over time.
Why haven’t the few people who understood capitalism well been able to widely share that knowledge? Because of generic resistance to learning and new ideas. It’s not about capitalism specifically, the same thing happens with most innovative ideas in most fields. People are bad at changing their minds, feel attacked by criticism, don’t study/learn/think much, avoid effort, and focus on things like social status rather than truth. That is really ingrained in people, so it’s hard to spread important new ideas, like about how and why capitalism works or anything else. A few independent thinkers learning economics doesn't address the problem of widespread irrationality.
Almost all people, whether “intellectuals” or not, are puppets of static memes. The most notable thing about the anti-capitalist intellectuals is they are totally ignorant of how and why capitalism works – e.g. they are clueless about logical consequences of price controls or tariffs, and they often fall for variations on the broken window fallacy (so do lay people). The “intellectuals” are not people who learned about an intellectual field like economics, they are the people who learned how to achieve the label “intellectual” as a social status. People actually interested in ideas are very rare.
Real intellectuals, people who energetically seek the truth, are rare and have always been rare because static memes cause people, especially parents, to crush the rationality of children – mostly before age 7. The big picture solution is rational parenting, which can only be done effectively by the few outliers who are fairly rational and honest themselves, and who are capable of learning a lot of cutting edge philosophy and who want to do that. (The solution to bad ideas is not a retreat from ideas, but a better approach to ideas which is better at finding and correcting mistakes.)
If we're bad at assimilation, then immigration is dangerous.
If we're good at assimilation, given modern communications technology, we should be able to assimilate people living in other countries. They can learn English and Western values online. They can access our books, TV, radio and online or mail-based educational courses from their own countries.
Therefore I propose the following immigration policy: only let in immigrants who already assimilated before immigrating.
There's no need to let in unassimilated immigrants and then try to assimilate them after they're here and hope it works.
Assimilation has a failure rate. If we assimilate them in their home countries, the failures can stay there instead of already being here. And even with a low success rate, we can still assimilate a larger number of people than we actually want to bring here (we can still pick and choose the best ones).
If you want to come here, prove it first by assimilating yourself remotely.
What if someone doesn't have access to the internet, or there is some other obstacle, so they don't have the opportunity to assimilate? Too bad. Life isn't fair. Our immigration policy should benefit our country by only taking people who found a way to already be a good fit before coming here (there are enough of them that people without internet access are not our problem).
Also, the best thing we can do to help underprivileged foreigners is to spread Western values to the whole world. We should be making it clear that Western values – the ones that originated with the Greeks, then the Romans, then the Western Europeans – are the only ones that bring peace and prosperity. Other countries can help their own underprivileged by adopting capitalism and limited government, by favoring economic and personal freedom, and by having a government which protects men from violence instead of violently oppressing its people.
There are a lot of people in the world. They can't all come here. Foreign countries need to improve. That's the only way to help everyone.
The U.S. needs to improve as well. It's in real danger from anti-Western ideas that have gained popularity internally. Bringing in more people who don't have Western values is making that problem worse. That problem is threatening to destroy the most civilized country, which is the best able to lead others to freedom and prosperity. It's in the interest of all men of good will, in all countries, that America remains a free and prosperous country that is capable of sharing good ideas with others.
America should be spreading its values to other countries, not bringing other values here. Sadly, a lot of the problem is that America is currently exporting anti-American values. The "intellectuals", media and "cultural elites" are predominantly anti-American. But thanks to the internet, anyone can help, regardless of where they live, by learning English and studying the ideas that made America great in the first place, and then communicating, explaining and teaching those ideas. The world needs fighters for ideas – the American ideas that came from Europe that came from Rome that came from Greece. Those ideas about reason and liberty are the only civilized ideas the world has ever known.
Also, immigrants are no threat to a free country. Immigrants with other values become a problem when the government meddles in men's lives, restricts liberty, fails to protect law and order, and redistributes wealth. Help fight the intellectual battle to save the U.S. from the authoritarian ideas of a giant, all-controlling government and we could then be in a position to reasonably (instead of suicidally) consider a more generous immigration policy.
I watched the first few minutes of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and saved two interesting clips, the opening narration and a social interaction from a few seconds later. This post is only about these clips. Note that this movie is extremely popular. People paid over half a billion dollars to watch it in theaters, like they did for the first movie too. Six seasons of a TV spinoff have been created. A third movie is coming out soon (Feb 22, 2019). Take a look at the clips:
When you watched the clips, did you notice anything? Did you have any opinions? What was good? What was bad? Did you stop to think about them? If you think about it now, can you come up with much without rewatching?
I'm going to guide you through some analysis, instead of just handing you all the answers, so that you can learn more. I want you to think instead of just read what I say and nod your head. Do you want to think?
Write down your comments on the clips (don't watch the clips again, just use your memory). Don't write things you wouldn't normally say. Don't stop being yourself to do analysis. Don't write a bunch of dumb stuff just to have more written down. Don't write what you think I would say. Only write points you think matter: reasons stuff is good or bad that you care about and genuinely, in your own opinion, think is important. Only write things that make sense to you. Don't write down picky criticism you don't care about but you think might be what a pedantic philosopher is looking for. Write your actual beliefs. If you don't see anything wrong with the clips, don't write anything negative. Writing about what you liked is a good idea too.
Writing things down lets you see if your thinking changes at any stage in the process. Don't rely on your memory of what you thought of the clips at first. Put it in writing so you can compare later.
Now that you've written down your initial thoughts, go ahead and rewatch the clips as much as you want and check out these transcripts. After the transcripts are some things to look for and questions to consider, which you can look at immediately, or after considering it more yourself (it's your decision).
Clip 1 transcript
This is Berk. The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
Clip 2 transcript
Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!
Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!
Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!
Claims or conclusions given without arguments, reasoning or evidence.
What does the narrator do to try to be persuasive or credible?
Are you being given unbiased or useful information?
Every time someone says something, who is he speaking to and what does he want his audience to think? Why does he say it?
Write down additional thoughts now that you've looked more closely. Keep the first and second batches of thoughts separate and clearly labelled.
When you're done, look at what you missed the first time that you can see now. I haven't told you anything about the clips yet. Did you miss much that you could have seen without learning anything new, just by looking closer yourself? Some people will have missed a lot that they could have caught if they gave more thought to what they were doing, but for other people it won't make much difference to look closer because they don't know anything to look for. It's good to know which situation you're in. Would it help much if you did things more thoughtfully using your existing ideas, or should you focus more on learning what kinds of thoughts you can have? Or maybe you think you have a ton of great answers and didn't miss much, and you can compare what you wrote to my commentary later in this post.
The Cultural Situation
I thought the first clip was bad enough to stop watching the movie and do critical analysis. It's full of the kind of manipulation which turns people into puppets and controls their lives. (This movie has only a minor role in making people into puppets; it primarily just pulls their strings. That's because the strings are attached by parents, family, friends, teachers and culture in general, mostly at a younger age. And there's so much stuff to influence people that any one movie doesn't make a big difference. The movie is one little piece of culture.)
If you're blind to this situation – that people are manipulated like puppets having their strings pulled, and that the movie clips are crammed full of that kind of manipulation – then you factually don't have much control over your life. You're not an effective, independent thinker. Our culture is dangerous and these clips are prime examples of huge, life-threatening dangers. If you see no danger, that means you are a victim, a puppet, a naive, gullible dupe. Note that disliking this particular movie (because of e.g. the genre or target viewer age) is no protection, and similar manipulations are everywhere in our culture.
These clips are typical, standard examples of evil and irrationality. They're good to analyze because they don't stand out. They're representative. They're not special.
You can't defend yourself if you can't see the danger. You need some idea of what your enemy is before you even start combatting it. No, Muslim terrorists aren't the biggest danger to civilization. It's not MS-13 gang members crossing the wall-less border either. Philosophical corruption and intellectual error are much more important. If people were better thinkers, and thought for themselves more instead of being manipulated by static memes and George Soros, then our current political problems would be pretty easy to solve.
The first clip has over 20 flaws. And the main issues are dishonesty and social manipulation, not just poor literary qualities (which it's also guilty of). There's no need to catch even half the flaws on your first viewing; I didn't. But you should catch some flaws on your first viewing and notice something's wrong. Then you ought to care enough to look more closely at what you're watching (or stop watching), and ought to be able to identify many flaws. Don't just swallow a movie like this uncritically. And don't think I couldn't do a similar analysis with some other popular movie that you like more than this one. And don't think that you know it's not very good, so it's not affecting you: you're not immune to things you spend time on uncritically or inadequately critically. (Like the people who read the New York Times and say they know it's left-biased, but it's not affecting them since they know that. Those people are consistently lied to in big ways, correct for 10% of the bias, and are duped.)
In order to live in today's irrational culture and not be a pawn of manipulators, you require the following skills:
Able to see something major is wrong on your first pass through clips like these.
Able to identify and explain many large flaws when you review them.
Remember, notice and care about those kinds of flaws during your daily life, not just when analyzing.
Able to connect these flaws to an understanding of how they control people's lives and use men as puppets.
Be able to handle subtler stuff. This movie is aimed at the masses and doesn't try to manipulate people who aren't easy targets. And it emphasizes things extra for the young audience. Lots of manipulation is way harder to spot.
And even those skills won't make it safe for you to have a conversation. You need more than that to safely have a conversation without being manipulated! Your puppet strings can be pulled during the conversation, before you get a chance to analyze it, even if you have an audio recording or chat log available later (and how often do you go back through the details of your chats?). Real time conversations pressure people to respond quickly without enough thought, while people are emotional and facing social pressure. And it's easier to treat a fictional movie as something separate from your life to analyze. It's hard to do that with your friends, family, or even someone you just met.
The point of the opening scene is the narrator is telling you what to think. The topic isn't very important (his mythical village, dragon racing), but the issue of thinking for yourself is important. And the narrator isn't doing it honestly, directly or clearly. Instead he's following certain cultural game rules for how to pull people's puppet strings.
You may think that if you didn't see what was going on, it just wasn't affecting you. I'm overanalyzing and you don't analyze it like that. If you missed what was going on, how could it control you when you were unaware of it? The answer for a person with that reaction is: you do understand what he's saying, just not in a clear, conscious way. The script is highly understandable to virtually everyone in our culture. People know what it means. They just don't realize how much it's telling them what to think, and using intellectual trickery, instead of giving them information that they can use to think for themselves. People interpret it as simple, straightforward information when it's not.
This stuff is in a popular movie because it works on so many people. And if you don't know exactly what's going on – if you couldn't be writing this blog post yourself – then you are in danger.
Poker players say that if you can’t see who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. If you can't see who is being taken advantage of, and how, then you aren't skilled enough to play poker with those players, and you are being taken advantage of without realizing it. That's how life is too. If you can't see who are the puppet masters, and who are the puppets/suckers, and what the manipulations are, then you're one of the puppets/suckers.
This movie isn't notable. These clips aren't special. This stuff is everywhere. The movie is evil, but it isn't more evil than other popular stuff. I'm using these clips as examples, but my goal is to point out things which apply broadly. A person who is blind to the flaws in these clips would also be blind to the flaws in most of our culture.
Clip 1 Analysis
You may have noticed the narration is formulaic and unoriginal. I want to begin by pointing out just how cliche it is. Cliches are in alternating italics and bold:
This is Berk. The best kept secretthis side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
It's all standard, but 48% of it is actually recognizable cliches. There are six cliches in five sentences. That's an amazing density of cliches. Why? This is a big budget movie with talented script writers. This is intentional. It's not incompetence. They do it because people already know what cliches mean. They take an especially small amount of thought to understand because thinking about them was already done in the past. People like cliches because they're familiar and easy to deal with. Also things became cliches in the first place because they worked well in some way, e.g. did a good job of pulling people's strings.
Audiences like the cliches but aren't honest about what's going on. They aren't consciously aware of how cliche it is, and they don't recognize how much the movie is designed for them not to think. The cliches feel familiar and natural to people, in a good way. (Many adults would prefer something more subtle. But did you catch all six cliches in your analysis?) After the movie, many people would admit it had some cliches, but they wouldn't know how much, and they wouldn't be honest about how much they liked them. Another movie with fewer cliches wouldn't sell so many millions of tickets.
Cliches pull people's "they speak my language, we have stuff in common" string to create rapport and communicate being part of the same group. Pulling people's puppet strings manipulates them. Pulling a lot of strings, in the right ways, can get big results.
Note that your puppet strings are complex. When I talk about what strings are pulled, I'm approximating. Each thing actually pulls dozens of different strings, and pulls each with a different amount of strength. The strings aren't defined in English and no one knows every detail about them.
This is Berk.
This pulls people's "introduction" string. They don't think about whether the clip really is an introduction to Berk. It's not. It's not a tour. It doesn't give you an overview of Berk. It doesn't tell you about Berk. There are only 5 words to convey significant information out of 65 words (8%): "dragon racing", "wet", "rock" and "Berk".
But it's worse than that. "Wet" isn't really providing information. It doesn't say whether the water comes from rain, snow, fog, the ocean, or what – you have to learn that by looking at the visuals. The word "wet" is there to sound negative, as I'll discuss later, not to give you useful information about Berk.
The word "rock" is also there to sound bad, not to help you understand that Berk isn't a swamp (which you can see at a glance, anyway). And "rock" is misleading given all the grass and trees.
"Berk" doesn't tell you about Berk, it's just the name. Except, not even that. Watching the clip, I thought that Berk was the name of the town. It's not. Berk is the island and the town is "Hooligan Village". I learned that from the wiki. (All my information comes from the clips unless I specifically mention otherwise.)
“Dragon racing" is misleading. It's a sheep-catching competition involving riding dragons. The winner is determined by points, not by racing across a finish line first. Don't feel bad if you didn't catch that, I found that out from the wiki, not the clip.
The narration doesn't really introduce Berk. If you muted it and just watched the visuals, you wouldn't miss anything but a name that doesn't actually specify what it's naming. But people accept that they were introduced to Berk because the formulaic wording ("This is [name]") framed it as an introduction in ways they respond to (are manipulated by, have their strings pulled by). People are gullible and they don't actually think about it, they just believe what they're told (when told in the right way with standard puppet string pulling, and nothing they're told triggers doubts, e.g. by being offensive, taboo, unconventional, weird, etc.).
And the visuals aren't representative of Berk, either. The visuals let you see the town some and then focus on scared sheep. They aren't meant to give much information, they're meant to impress you with the landscape, let you see the setting is medieval, and then look at sheep (for reasons discussed later). Based on the initial visuals, you'd expect Hooligan Village to be a tiny town – there aren't many houses. But then there's a huge crowd cheering for the dragon races. Why? Because a larger and louder crowd raises the social status of the racers more. It presents them as more popular and signals that dragon racing itself is popular. This pulls your "like what other people like" or "popularity contest" string, which is a major string even in people who deny having it. For second-handed viewers to want to be dragon racers, or to like dragon racers, they need to see dragon racers gaining the approval of others. Most people don’t want to be involved with weird, niche hobbies, and they don't know how to judge things other than by looking at what others approve of.
The movie producers don't care about making a logically-consistent setting and getting factual details right, they just jump straight from pulling one string to pulling the next, and they do it in a way that's convenient at that moment. And that's what their audience wants – string pulling, not consistency. String pulling is what people find meaningful and enjoyable. People want symbols, cliches and other things they understand. If the movie didn't pull people's strings, they wouldn't know what to do. They're used to being passive and having their strings pulled, rather than taking the initiative to think about things for themselves.
The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere.
This is dishonest. Berk isn't a secret. No one is keeping the secret. "Secret" is pulling a string to mean good. It's one of many ways the narrator says one thing while meaning another.
Even if it were a secret, it wouldn't be the best kept one. That's a lie, too. That’d be false even if it was claimed about a small region rather than about the entire universe.
If you say "Berk is good", people won't trust you. It pulls their "bragging" string, which is bad. So people brag in other ways that pull other strings. People seem to (unreasonably) assume that if you show you’re a normal person who fits in to society – by knowing you’re not supposed to openly brag, and knowing what to say instead – then you wouldn't lie to them. Except it's not really that logical and people don't really have reasons, that's just how their strings work. This makes people easy to manipulate.
"Well" pulls a string indicating the speaker is being honest. How? It indicates he's pausing to think about what's true instead of thoughtlessly reciting a script or boasting. (Can't a boaster stop to think about the best way to continue his boast? Logically, yes. Don't blame me for people's puppet strings not making sense.) But the narrator is not actually being thoughtful. Savvy people insert stuff like this, on purpose, when they aren't stopping to think, in order to manipulate others. (It's common in scripted acts by comedians.)
The "this side of [location]" cliche is poorly used. The script writers couldn't think of a location to name or didn't want to name one, but used that cliche anyway. But it doesn't matter because people interpret that cliche to mean "a lot". The point is to claim something is big or good in a large region. People don't pay much attention to what region is named.
So the text means, "It's good, a lot, and I'm saying this thoughtfully." And people understand that and hear it that way. Even if they don't do analysis, it still communicates that message to them. And it follows the communication rules of our culture so that it sounds good to people instead of setting off their "bragging" or "liar" triggers.
And the next sentence helps defend against accusations of bragging:
Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises.
To try to sound honest, the narrator tells you the good and bad about Berk, not just the good. This pulls people's "people saying negative things are telling the truth, because no one would admit to anything bad if they didn't have to" string. Except the narrator is lying because the movie wants everyone to love Berk and isn't willing to say anything actually bad about it. Puppet masters give fake negatives in order to sound honest without the risk of a real negative turning someone away.
"Granted" sounds defensive, like the narrator knows you aren't impressed by Berk and he has to answer your accusations that Berk sucks. This tries to sound reasonable and like he's giving real information to address the issues. It's not. Berk looks like a lot. The opening of a high-budget movie is visuals of Berk. It's impressive and picturesque!
And saying Berk doesn't look like much is like saying the cover of a book isn't impressive, but the inside is. That isn't a real downside. A book doesn't need an impressive cover to be a great book. Everyone knows that. Actually, by invoking the "don't judge a book by its cover" string, the narrator is basically (unfairly) accusing you of irrationally judging Berk overly negatively based on appearances, and he's telling you to correct your judgment to be more positive. That's manipulation.
Saying Berk is "wet", a "heap", and "rock" is meant to sound bad, like he's admitting what isn't great about Berk. But those aren’t what people care about, they aren’t about social interaction. They're just in the background. It's like saying my city is good because it's amazing, but bad because it has concrete, and trying to make that sound like a two-sided analysis instead of a one-sided analysis. Also, lots of people like mountains, islands and oceans, which are the actual things being talked about with a biased, negative framing.
"Surprises" pulls people's "surprises are good, fun and exciting" string. It's another disguised brag. And it's nonsense. Surprises make it harder to plan your life well. Surprises mean not knowing what's going to happen, being ignorant, being caught off guard. Surprises were dangerous in the past, but now our civilization is advanced enough that we're less scared since we're able to deal with lots of problems ... but Berk has medieval technology so surprise often would mean death.
Surprises appeal to the kind of people who like dance parties, beer, drugs and casual sex, not reason, technology or freedom. Surprises aren't intellectual stimulation. They're for people who are bored at school or work and want something to disrupt the drudgery of their lives – and they want the disruption to come from the external world because they aren't going to take the initiative to change their own life. People with good lives don't want disruptions.
And I doubt Berk has a lot of surprises. I don't think Hiccup (the person doing the introduction to Berk) is giving much thought to what he's saying or whether it's true. I don't think he means what he's saying: he's not paying attention to the meaning of what he's talking about because his focus is on pulling people's strings so that they think Berk is good. Each time he chooses words, he thinks about what will pull a string (how to manipulate people), not about reality and how to make his words correspond to reality.
The script writers didn't want a whole sentence of fake negativity, so they went back to being positive at the end of the sentence. They couldn't wait for the next sentence to turn it around. What if someone worried the movie would be bad before hearing the next words?
Saying Berk has surprises reinforces the "don't judge a book by its cover" theme. It's saying a book with a boring cover can have surprises inside. It's saying anyone who isn't a bigot will recognize how amazing Berk is, right now, immediately, whether Berk looks amazing or not. Judging stuff by outward appearances is like racism, in the sense of judging human beings by skin color. This is manipulative pressure to pull people's strings.
Throughout, the narration doesn't give people room to think for themselves or form their own opinions. It's constantly pulling strings to tell them what to think. It doesn't give information about Berk for you to evaluate, it gives conclusions about Berk without any information to allow you to evaluate. If you had any information, you might use it to reach a different conclusion than the script writers want you to. They want you to be their puppet.
This is an example of pseudo-persuasion. It's not rational arguments. It's not giving you evidence for you to evaluate with your own judgment. But it's getting people to believe and accept stuff anyway, and not to feel irrational or gullible. The string pulling takes the place of reasoning. Our culture has a bunch of rules for how this works, the rules of pseudo-logic and social manipulation, which are an alternative to the rules of truth-seeking. They specify how much you can brag, when to equivocate or be humble, how to be charismatic, how to be perceived as honest, etc. The movie follows standard rules for what people want to hear, what they are gullible about, and they eat it up. That’s what they want – manipulation according to irrational social status game rules – instead of actual reasons and information for them to think through. Being told what to think is preferred to thinking. Having your strings pulled so that you know what conclusion to reach is preferred than judging for yourself. That's what our culture is like.
Also, by switching from negative to positive, I think some people feel like that's learning because they are following along and changing their mind (from negative to positive) while listening. So it feels like engagement and thinking to them. And they don't consider that the narrator knew his conclusion in advance, he's not actually figuring it out as he goes along. So when his tone changes back and forth, that's intentional, dishonest manipulation, not uncertainty about what he's going to say. When he sounded negative about Berk, temporarily, he was lying to pull your strings.
Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart.
This pulls people's "fair and balanced" string. People trust this because it's not fully positive. People think that something which is only good is too good to be true. But if you give pros and cons, then people think it's an objective, unbiased analysis. This is easy to take advantage of. (It also results in lots of negative reactions when I try to explain why my philosophy is thoroughly right, not just two-thirds right. People are hostile to the goal of actually getting things right.)
But the movie wants to be all upsides and no downsides – it wants the opener to energize and excite, not leave people concerned they won't like the bad things – so the downside here is done dishonestly, it's not a real downside. The pros and cons they give don't make a fair comparison.
Saying it's not for the faint of heart means it's not for everyone, there is something bad and limiting. That sounds like a downside of Berk. But that's actually bragging about how exciting it is. It means, "This is too exciting for people who hate fun." That fake downside – not being boring – is what pulls people’s puppet strings to balance out the bragging about how amazing Berk is.
Yes, that's ridiculous. Our culture is ridiculous. But this isn't a joke, it's real life. People are this bad at thinking. And there's something very evil which makes people irrational and gullible enough to be manipulated this way (a big piece of the evil is punishing children and other ways parents use authority instead of reason).
And life isn't amazing in Berk. That falsehood is being said to people who have far more amazing lives, but don't appreciate it. Skyscrapers, iPhones, cars and electric lights are amazing. We have hospitals and science. Living in Berk would mean dying young, never being clean, eating poorly, being tired all the time from doing far more manual labor, and many other things that modern civilization has dramatically improved.
You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.
"You see" is telling you what to see. The phrase signals to people that you're going to explain something now. But then instead of getting an explanation, we get propaganda. So using that introduction was maniuplative instead of accurate.
He's lying about what hobbies most folks prefer. His claim is false. Why? By comparing dragon racing to particularly boring hobbies, it looks extra exciting by comparison. Apparently dragon racing isn't exciting enough, so manipulation is required to hype it up extra.
It pulls people's "comparing things" string. People recognize comparisons as a good intellectual tool, so it makes the narration more credible. In general, people judge claims by how many credibility strings are pulled, not by the reasoning used in arguments (which they don't actually understand).
“We Berkians prefer" is dishonest. He's presenting something he believes everyone prefers. It's meant to have broad, popular appeal. It's not a preference peculiar to Berkians.
“We Berkians prefer" is speaking for a group as if everyone in the group is the same, like diversity and dissent have never entered the narrator's mind as things that exist. It's basically like racism to assume that everyone with one shared trait therefore has a lot in common. And people who aren't aware of dissent, and assume it doesn't exist, are going to be intolerant of dissent. And consider what you'd think if someone said, "We white people prefer" or "We men prefer"! (But you're allowed to do it with people from a particular city, and sometimes with minority groups, because our culture is inconsistent and these things aren't decided by logic.) This shows that the mainstream of our culture is lying about loving diversity and tolerance, and about being intolerant of racist attitudes – otherwise a movie like this wouldn't be so popular. (Also, the many articles from "liberal" activists who thought the movie was pretty good, or complain about the wrong things, indicate they are frauds.)
“Little" is a dishonest way to say "big". Yet it pulls people's "negativity is honest" string, even though everyone knows it means the opposite of what it said. And saying something negative shows confidence (I'm so great that people will see it even if I don't show myself only in the best possible light). And by calling it "little" and relying on the audience to figure out it's not little, it's big, he's tricking people into thinking they are using their own judgment instead of being told what to think. And, at the same time, he's implying it's so obviously big that he knows everyone will figure it out, he isn't concerned anyone would think it's little – so that's more implied bragging.
“We like to call" is a weird phrase. It's not true. They like to dragon race, not to call dragon racing "dragon racing". It's a cultural string for some reason that's hard to pinpoint. I think it's partly saying that it's so great that you can tell its great just from the name, even the name is impressive (contrary to the "don't judge a book by its cover" stuff from earlier).
Visuals and Audio
The voice tones and music communicate that what you're seeing is exciting and good. They emphasize the messages that are in the words. The visuals do this some too, e.g. the opening makes Berk look epic. If you didn't speak English, you could figure out a lot of the meaning just from looking at it and listening to how it sounded. (If this interests you, listen to some music in a foreign language, or watch a foreign film without subtitles, and see what you can understand. It's a way to see how much information is in voice tones, music, body language, visuals, and other non-words.)
Lots of the visuals are about sheep. Why? First, because people mostly only care about people (and these sheep are more like emotional people than like animals). Anything besides social interaction is boring. Even dragon racing needs an approving audience for viewers to care. Being good at an unpopular sport isn't impressive, it's lame. People don't want to see buildings much, even though that's where people live. They also don't want to see the insides of factories or lots of other interesting things. And when they visit nature, they're always bragging to other people about how beautiful it was and posting photos on Instagram – they're just doing what other people approve of and then seeking actual approval for having done it (like kids getting gold stars or high grades from their teacher – that whole school dynamic teaches kids to base their life on doing things to get approval and accepting the judgment of others instead of making their own judgments of what they did). So the movie needs to quickly get away from the landscape and get to some people or an adequate substitute, something that viewers care about. We already saw enough of the landscape for some Instagram photos, now it's time to move on.
What do the sheep do? They're scared of the dragons. Scared sheep is less of a negative thing than scared people, so that allows the movie to present dragons as impressively scary without the negative of scared human beings. Sheep matter less than people so they make a better victim.
And there's a social interaction between the sheep. Four sheep push one sheep into the open to get snatched. That's bullying. Literally this mainstream movie is teaching people to form groups and gang up on individuals or smaller groups and bully them. And the bullying can include physical force like shoving. The movie legitimizes and normalizes bullying, and shows kids how to do it. What about all the anti-bullying propaganda our culture also has? Lies and lip service. Bullying continues to be a problem because our culture likes and accepts it.
While on the subject: the second clip also shows bullying. Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. And it speaks of Ruffnut burying Snotlout alive, which is also bullying. The bullying in the second clip is more like domestic abuse than like a bully on a school playground. Snotlout is being abused by females he is romantically interested in. Most people in our culture do not seriously think a woman can domestically abuse a man, and are scornful of men who aren't strong enough to deal with attacks from women. This movie reinforces that evil, pro-violence attitude and the "men should be strong" and "women are weak" gender roles behind it. What about all the anti-gender-role propaganda, feminism, etc? Lies and lip service. Those activists have other agendas which have nothing to do with having men be treated better or domestically abused less, or freeing men from social pressures to be strong, masculine, etc. Many SJW women say it's fine to be a weak man, but most of them are romantically and sexually interested in strong men, and don't respect weak men.
Clip 2 Analysis
I'm going to go into less detail on this clip since I've already said a lot. I included it because of its attitude to romantic relationships, which are full of pulling each other's strings.
Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. That should be appalling violence but doesn't trigger the anti-violence reactions of most people in our culture. It's telling viewers that hitting people is a good way to express disapproval (as long as it's a female hitting a male, who is unreasonably assumed to be too strong to actually get hurt). Then there's the dialog:
Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!
Snotlout took an action contrary to winning. It doesn't really matter what it was. When people play games and have competitions, usually they care more about social interactions than winning. This is typical.
Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!
“Princess" means romantic interest. Snotlout is dating her or wants to date her. His approach to courtship is to put Ruffnut on a pedestal and be subservient to her. This is blue pill, beta-male behavior. There is a massive propaganda campaign advocating this kind of attitude and rejecting masculinity, but there is no corresponding campaign to change women's sexual preferences (from strong men to weak men), so men who behave this way are unattractive to most women.
Giving people what they want, even though it’s inconvenient for you, shows weakness and desperation – you’re going out of your way to please them. Snotlout does this by giving Ruffnut a gift while sacrificing his own chances to win. As is typical, Ruffnut has been taking advantage of the ongoing power imbalance by mistreating Snotlout (trying to bury him alive). But he continues trying to suck up to her anyway because that’s what our culture currently tells men to do.
Sucking up to women is a very bad plan for Snotlout. He should make his own life good so that she chases after him, instead of him chasing her favor. He's acting like he has low social status, which means he does (people's perception of social status is social status). He acts like she's better than him (he has to do favors to try to be worthwhile to her), which isn't how to win over a woman, because women want to date and marry up not down. Men are more focused on career and changing the world; women are more focused on social interactions and social climbing, including by impressing people with their beauty and behavior. If you want a woman, you need to be able to help her with her life goals, not make it harder for her by looking like a loser. A lot of her proof of social status, beauty, desirability, attractiveness, etc., comes from how high quality of a mate she can attract. For Snotlout to succeed, he needs to be a man she could date to make other women jealous, not a man who would get her teased by her friends.
The social dynamics of dating are a big topic. I can't explain it all here, so I'll instead link you to a great book about it: How to Make Girls Chase by Chase Amante. It presents the law of least effort, which Snotlout is egregiously violating: whoever appears to be putting less effort in (trying less hard) is higher social status. (If you're high status, like a famous actor or a CEO, then more people will want to date you. For most people, who don't have such big accomplishments and are more average, their social status is mostly judged by their behavior, by how they act in social situations.)
Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!
Women being extremely mean to men is not funny and shouldn't be acceptable. Attempts at romantic courtship don't always work out and sometimes people's feelings are going to get hurt accidentally. But this is intentional, extreme cruelty. This movie is part of a widespread attempt to normalize this and generally give women all the power and make men into scared, helpless victims.
It may not be a coincidence that Astrid is putting down a rival young girl suitable for courtship (and she's not doing it in a way Snotlout likes, so it's hard to excuse it by saying she's being helpful). Girls commonly attack and sabotage each other, usually in more subtle ways than rival men compete with each other. I know from the wiki that Astrid is romantically interested in another character (Hiccup, who's also the narrator from the first clip). But women often compete unnecessarily. They want interest from extra males, that they can reject, in order to get attention, gifts, and appear desirable (and to have a backup plan if they get dumped). The wiki says Snotlout was romantically interested in Astrid in the past, and she may not want another girl to have him even though she is rejecting him. I mention these possibilities about Astrid being a passive-aggressive bitch because they're common, they're reasonable guesses from the clips, and they cause a lot of suffering in our society.
Astrid appears to be a hypocrite because she’s suggesting that Ruffnut shouldn’t mistreat Snotlout, and Snotlout shouldn’t pursue someone who mistreats him, but Astrid hit Snotlout earlier in this scene. That was mean and violent. Astrid implies Snotlout should avoid another woman who treats him abusively, which actually helps normalize her own abuse of Snotlout, because it suggests she understands the issue and knows what the correct boundaries are. When you suggest to someone that they shouldn’t accept violent, abusive treatment, and you violently abuse them, the message is that lots of violent abuse is acceptable and somehow doesn’t count, and only the more extreme varieties are objectionable (or, alternatively, the lesson they may take away is that whether abuse is objectionable depends on who has the power and social status to get away with it or object to it).
Snotlout: Only for a few hours!
Snotlout was glad to get any attention at all from a female (listen to his happy, almost condescending, voice tone, as he rejects Astrid's concern). This is teaching viewers the evil lesson that men should be grateful for the slightest bit of attention from a woman, even negative attention. That hurts women who learn to be cruel, and it hurts men who put up with the abuse. And it creates hostilities between the sexes.
Consider also the total rejection of reality. Being buried alive would kill you after a few minutes. A few hours isn't short and doesn't make it OK. I assume the characters are exaggerating or joking in some way (or else they're magical enough to survive such things), but whatever happened they're not talking about it using clear, fact-and-reality-oriented statements. People should try to communicate truthfully. It's hard enough to get things right if you try. The dialog is teaching a callous disregard for the truth and for what reality is like. The meaning is: ignore reality and focus only on social dynamics.
I don't expect you to understand everything I said. I can't fully explain everything in one article. If you think you understand it all, I think you're dishonest. You should have questions, confusions, parts you disagree with, parts you think you can improve, and parts you're curious to learn more about. Post some of these things in the comments below instead of making excuses to try to rationalize why you don't do that but you really do value learning. If you're busy, put it on your calendar and follow up later (this isn't time sensitive on a scale of days or even weeks, but it's bad to spend years being a puppet). If you won't do that, consider why not. If you put it on your calendar and you're busy when it comes up, move it to a later date. If you keep putting it off for months, the issue isn't temporarily being busy, it's e.g. that you're making excuses or you haven't prioritized setting up your life to include time for thinking. (Or do you have other reason-related activities that you think are better and more important? If you found something great, please share it, myself and many other people here would like more of that kinda stuff! Or are you scared of criticism of its value?)
Now look at what you wrote down at the beginning and see how it compares to what I've pointed out. How much did you miss? Then consider: adults are more experienced and knowledgeable about their culture than children. Material aimed at adults is more subtle and expects them to understand more with fewer hints. The string pulling is harder to see and more indirect.
That means that, in your life, your strings are being pulled all the time. Unless you have the skill to be far above the string pulling in these clips, which is literally kid's stuff, then you're getting manipulated many times per day. You need to be skilled enough that this kind of analysis is easy for you, or you don't have much of a chance in the adult world.
Rewatch the clips now and see if you can see them differently. Then try to apply this stuff to the next movie you watch, and the one after that, and the one after that. To learn and improve in a way that matters, you need to not only get better ideas, you also have to use them on a regular basis in your life. You need to learn things well enough that it's natural and intuitive for you. You need to practice to get to that point. Just understanding something once, while trying your best, isn't good enough. You need to be skilled enough to get it right while tired, distracted and rushed – and dealing with something with a bunch of differences from the examples you've thought about before.
If you want to be rational, it's something you have to put work into in order to achieve. It's not automatic. It's not the default. Our culture creates irrational people who dishonestly fool themselves into thinking they're rational. If you want to change, you'll have to do a lot. Go to ElliotTemple.com and start studying the material and discussing it as you go along. Or share what your other, better plan is and listen to criticism and objections.
In the comments below, please post your analysis of the clips (both parts from the beginning), and your further thoughts after reading my analysis. You'll never cut your puppet strings by yourself without help, though you might be able to paint them rose colored and wear rose colored glasses so that you can no longer see them. Take action to change yourself by learning, so that you can stop being a puppet.
Update: Justin Mallone pointed out to me that calling Berk the "best kept secret" is a brag by the narrator, who is claiming to know well-kept secrets. Being privy to secrets is a status symbol, it shows you mingle with high quality people (not the masses – if the masses know something then it's not a secret) and have their trust.
At about 8:20 [in the video] Sandford is quoted as writing that the sun will destroy the Earth in five billion years, but he thinks humans will destroy the world before then.
That humans are "destroying the planet" is quite a popular opinion. Yet Sandford is presented as being a freak, an outcast, a mentally ill person, for having this opinion. How? (BTW I'm just going by the blog post text, not the video.)
Thinking of the sun destroying the earth is weird unless its an astrophysics context, which this isn't. Normal people don't think about the distant future, and certainly not in order to fantasize about a giant explosion killing everyone. Presented in that light, which Alan's summary hints at, it sounds creepy. They purposely choose quotes they can distort or which come off wrong to people.
This sets the stage for falsely making the idea of humans destroying the world sound abnormal instead of normal. And using the word "world" instead of "planet" makes it sound different than the environmentalist slogan and helps people fail to consider how common this view is. Many readers who believe this themselves will view Sandford as a mentally-deranged freak who hates humanity and wants us all to die and is overly prone to loathsome thinking, and so on. They won't stop to think about how his views compare to their own, they will just assume his are bad.
This kind of hypocrisy is typical everywhere, e.g. people text while driving but think it's bad to text while driving and are outraged that other people text while driving. While complaining about others, they're often able to forget (or just not think about) the fact that they do it.
Relevantly, Alan also wrote:
Nor did anyone think it might be a good idea to look critically at environmentalists’ prophecies of the end of the world. The idea that we’re going to destroy the world depends on the assumption that we’re not going to solve problems caused by our actions. Since nobody can know whether or how we’ll solve these problems before we make the relevant choices, such prophecies are irrational. Taking environmentalist prophecies seriously was interpreted as a problem with Michael, not a problem with the prophecies.
Twitter is now borderline unusable. Recently a tiny popup on my iPhone let me know they were no longer showing me the most recent tweets of the people I follow. Instead they would show me tweets of their choice. Twitter has a new algorithm where they control what you see. That sounded awful. Although they defaulted me to using the new algorithm, I was able to change back to reverse chronological. I thought everyone was OK.
But I later noticed I was not getting reverse chronological tweets. It turns out Twitter named the new algorithm "Home" and says you periodically get switched back to "Home" – that is, not only did they default-opt-in the new algorithm, they set everyone back to it every few days(?). The text explaining this is intentionally weird and unclear. It means: you can't opt out of the new see-what-Twitter-wants algorithm for long.
A day or two ago I set my feed back to reverse chronological, again. Today I saw this:
The top tweet is not the kind of thing I want on my feed. I wondered: who do I follow who would retweet that? I might want to unfollow them because we have different tastes. But the answer is: no one.
By happenstance – perhaps this is common with the new algorithm – the other two visible tweets were also ones I didn't want to see. There's another one that wasn't retweeted by anyone I follow. And then there's an ad by Apple (I like their products but I don't like their tweets and don't follow them on Twitter, it says it's a "Promoted" tweet if I scroll down a little past the screenshot).
It's kind of like the people you follow are your Twitter family, and Twitter now shows you tweets from uncles, cousins, and brothers-in-law. But it's not just any tweets from you extended Twitter family you didn't ask for and can't get rid of, it's the ones that biased, left-wing Twitter wants you to see.
What do I do now? I carefully curate who I follow in order to get a decent quality timeline with a high signal-to-noise ratio. Now Twitter has taken that away from me. I can change it back to the "Latest Tweets" setting but Twitter will repeatedly, automatically switch it back again to "Home" aka "show me whatever Twitter prefers I see". It was bad enough when Twitter started showing me an algorithmically-biased selection of tweets that were Liked by someone I follow, but at least that was a choice they made (someone I follow decided to hit a button), even if it wasn't actually the choice to broadcast that tweet. Now maybe I can only follow people who, in addition to tweeting good content, also keep a short, curated follower list which matches my tastes.
I guess I'll get a third party Twitter client even though I don't want any extra features and Twitter has been hostile to alternative clients for years.
David Horowitz has a comments forum for his Black Book of the American Left:
I welcome comments on the Black Book and will reply to as many as I am able. I especially welcome comments from the left which so far has pretended that this critique does not exist. This is a throwback to the Stalinist era, and I hope that there are some leftists with the integrity to attempt to meet an argument rather than stamping it out. I hope all commenters will treat the intellectual issues involved and not resort to name-calling and anti-intellectual rants.
And below, above the fold, one can read his extended, serious reply to a leftist whose insults had included: “crazy,” “delusional,” “waste of energy,” and “nonsense”.
At this “forum” for his book series, Horowitz seeks feedback and discussion, especially if anyone has a reasonable/serious criticism. It’s a Paths Forward page!
I’ve long noticed the best people tend to be particularly open to discussion, even if they’re high status and busy. I already knew Horowitz talked with people on Twitter. Rand, Feynman, Popper and others answered letters in the mail in addition to all the effort they put into having conversations with people in person (e.g. Rand routinely invited over groups of people for many-hour discussions). And now with the internet, I’ve found people like Deutsch and Szasz far more accessible online than other, inferior intellectuals.
The reason for this is that smarter people are less fearful of criticism, and actually have a confident and eager attitude regarding learning new things and correcting their errors. And the better people are more capable of explaining what they mean and communicating well, and also value practice communicating. The best people also are curious in general, and interested in what the world is like and what people think – and they have the capacity to think about that instead of being overloaded just from trying to do the minimum requirements of their career.
This method is not at all an exact method for judging people (which isn't the point, the point is about the importance and value of discussion). But interest in discussion and criticism is a big deal. And anyone who says “I get plenty of great, critical discussion through private channels” is a liar. There is a shortage of quality discussion in the world, and no one has access to a bunch of great private conversations to the extent that it no longer makes sense for them to use any publicly visible resources. There is no hidden reserve of really smart people for the famous people to have secret access to. That is a myth.
Giving people free slippers should be voluntary charity rather than taken from tax payers.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea for voluntary charity either.
Why do non-cash charity? The reasonable reason is there are advantages to distributing used items instead of selling them then distributing the sales profits. But in this case they're buying new slippers.
Charities distribute new items, instead of cash, because they know that if they handed the person cash the person would not buy the items being distributed. It’d be easier to hand out cash than slippers, and then people could buy their own slippers (and make a better, more-personalized choice about the size, style, etc). But most of these people would prefer to buy something else other than slippers.
Giving someone something that he values less, instead of something he values more, is an attempt to control his life. It’s paternalism. It’s saying his preferences are wrong and you want to change his life to be more how you think it should be. And it’s not arguing or debating that point, it’s just using the position of power (as the charity with the wealth) to pressure people.
In general, if you want to most help someone according to their values, you give them cash and they buy what they value most highly. Non-cash charities giving out new items are clearly not aiming to maximize how much they help people according to the values of the person receiving the help. They are instead, to some extent, trying to impose their own value systems on the charity recipients.
Charity for slippers and other similar things also creates perverse incentives. It discourages buying slippers. The government will give you new slippers but it won’t give you a Switch, so it encourages you to buy a Switch instead of slippers. And if the next slipper swap is in 3 months, then the government is encouraging you to use your old slippers for 3 months (the exact thing they claim is dangerous) so that you can get free slippers instead of having to pay.
If the government and private charities give enough kinds of specific aid – clothes, food, housing – then they can really encourage some poor people to spend their money “irresponsibly” to get a nice couch, a big TV, etc. The more they spend on the things the government and charities consider important, the less charity they receive, so they are encouraged to get in the habit of buying cigarettes, alcohol and anything else the government would never give them, rather than spending on food and clothes.
Powerful people make biased decisions all the time. People make rules like “Don’t be influenced by sex, make the decision that is best for the company, e.g. promoting the most qualified person.” These rules are very hard to enforce.
How can you reduce bias? Instead of prohibitions, have people explain their reasoning and have some criteria it should use. And require them to answer a sample of criticisms/counter-arguments, including some chosen randomly and some chosen by adversaries.
This makes it harder to make a decision for sexual reasons. If you do, you still have to write about other reasons. You have to think through the other reasons. And then you have to lie and try to argue a case you know to be false. The more egregious the error (appointing someone really unqualified, say), the harder this lying will be.
Perfect system? Not at all. People will write (or say it in a speech) vague, generic, low-content bullshit about how Lacy exemplifies all the characteristics that official constitute being qualified. So don’t ask him to judge vague things like if someone is smart or hard working, make more of the decision about more measurable factors. Or just suffice it to say that if the audience is gullible then procedures don’t really matter, but if the audience can see through vague bullshitting then the guy is going to struggle with the requirement to address criticism.
If you give someone the leeway to promote anyone whose qualifications round to “qualified” in the eyes of an imprecise, gullible audience then you are not going to get the most qualified candidate promoted very reliably. Too bad. Don’t blame the guy in charge. Give people less leeway for decisions, or make them respond to arguments from more discerning audiences, or stop complaining when they are biased.
There are a million sources of bias. People are wrong to try to tackle the bias problem by focusing on a couple well known sources of bias and trying to suppress those (largely in ways that you can’t judge very objectively, so enforcement ends up being either non-existent or arbitrary/capricious and even more biased than the original problem you were trying to fix, which is especially bad cuz now the stakes are firing people and attacking their reputations, whereas the stakes before were more like someone failing to get a promotion and someone else gets it and the person who gets it is qualified within the error bars of the level of discernment of the audience. The audience is at least like the boss’s boss has to not find the behavior ridiculous, even if none of my proposals are used. And even the CEO is often accountable to the board of directors or investors).
We need anti-bias procedures that have reach/generality, that work on tons of types of bias (even ones we haven’t thought of) at once. Making a rule against sexual favoritism doesn’t do that. Maybe that particular rule is fine and worth having, anyway, given the current cultural situation and history (well, I think maybe that kind of rule was good 50 years ago, but today it’s politicized and being used to ruin a lot of lives that I don’t think merit ruining).
The big picture is we are all alike in our infinite ignorance (as Karl Popper said), we are at the beginning of infinite progress (as David Deutsch said), there are infinitely many ways to make mistakes, and prohibiting a list of known mistakes is a poor tool for addressing this. If you really want to do something about bias, you need procedures that oppose many large categories of bias at the same time. Having people say their reasoning and answer some criticisms makes bias generically more difficult because any bias could be criticized and also it makes it harder for the decision maker to be thoughtless – in order to make a halfway convincing case about why he’s making a good decision (as judged by the publicly desired decision criteria) he has to actually think about what a good decision is supposed to be. People do have some integrity, and lots of people try not to be biased and would change their decision after conscious analysis (and the larger the deviation from the truth, the more people will be unwilling to do it if they’ve actually thought it through and seen that for themselves).
Relying on the critical faculties of the decision maker and the audience may sound like weak enforcement. It is. But there's no way to get strong enforcement or guarantees. If the people involved are too dull to spot blatant errors, then those errors are going to happen. Thinking is always our defense against error. If people shared reasoning and answered criticism, it'd give critical thinking a better opportunity to be effective. It'd improve the status quo where people often hide their reasoning while knowing it'd be difficult for their reasoning to stand up to scrutiny, or don't even think things through since they won't have to share their thought process.
In Can Foundational Physics Be Saved?, Robert Hanson proposes prediction markets to evaluate the future impact and value of scientists and research. This is intended to help address cognitive biases and incentive problems (like overhyping the value of one’s own research, and seeking short term popularity with peers, to get funding and jobs).
Markets strike me as too much of a popularity contest where outlier ideas will have low prices. I don’t think letting people bet on things will do a good job of figuring out which are the few positive outliers out of the many mostly-bad outliers. Designing good, objective ways to resolve the bets and pay out the winners will also be very difficult. And historians are often mistaken (in many ways, even more so than the news, which often gets the facts wrong about what happened yesterday), so judging by what future historians will think of today’s scientists is not ideal and can differ from what’s actually true.
Scientists and research projects should explain what they are doing and why it makes sense, in writing, and anyone in the public should be able to post criticism. Basic standards for discussion tools are listed in footnote .
Most readers are reacting by thinking discussions will be low quality and ineffective. There are many cultural norms, discussed in the linked essays and in books, which can improve discussion quality and rationality. But that’s not enough. People can read about how to have a truth-seeking discussion and then still fail badly. There already exist many low quality online discussions. Why, then, will the ubiquitous use of discussion venues help science?
Because of the expectation of answering every criticism received.
This often won’t be done. What’s the enforcement? First we’ll consider the vast majority of cases where a researcher or research project doesn’t get much attention. A few forums will get too many posts to answer, and we’ll address that later. But suppose some obscure scientist receives one criticism on his forum and ignores it. Now what?
Today, if I find a mistake by a scientist, I can write a blog post explaining the issue and arguing my point. Then I can tweet it out, share it on popular discussion forums, and hopefully draw some attention to it. What will people say? Many will try to debate. They will agree or disagree with my criticism. The Paths Forward approach will transform this situation into a different situation:
I write my criticism and post or link it at the discussion forum for the scientist or research project. They ignore me. Then I say to people: “I wrote X criticism and the relevant scientists did not respond.” And no one then debates with me whether my criticism is correct or not. That doesn’t matter. Everyone can clearly see the scientist has violated truth-seeking norms whether my criticism is correct or not. “He did not answer X argument…” is much more objective and clear-cut than “He is wrong because of X argument…”
Norms of having open discussions, where criticism is expected to be answered, would improve the current situation where hardly any criticism is written or answered, and little discussion takes place. And methodological criticisms – that someone did not respond to a criticism – are much easier to evaluate than scientific criticisms.
What if a scientist gives a low quality answer instead of a non-answer? This gives a critic more to work with. He can write a followup criticism. If he does a good job, then it will get progressively harder for the scientist giving a succession of bad answers to avoid saying anything that is wrong and easy for many people to evaluate. It’s hard to keep responding to criticism, including followups, and do it badly, but avoid anything that would noticeably look bad.
And this leads into the other main issue: What if scientists get too many criticisms to address and trying to keep up with them consumes lots of time? This would be an issue for popular scientists, and it could also be an issue when an obscure project gets even just one highly persistent critic. Someone could write dozens of followup criticisms that don’t make much sense. Methods for dealing with these issues are explained in the Paths Forward articles linked earlier, and I’ll go over some main points:
There’s no need to repeat yourself. The more your response to a criticism addresses general principles, the more you can re-use it in response to future inquiries. If people bring up points repetitively, link existing answers (including answers written by other people, which you are willing to take responsibility for just as if you wrote it yourself).
If there is a pattern of error in the criticisms, respond to that pattern itself instead of to each point individually.
If you get a bunch of unique criticisms you’ve never addressed before, you should be happy, even if you suspect the quality isn’t great. You can’t know if they are true without considering what the answers to those criticisms are. It’s a good use of your time to think through new and different criticisms which don’t fall into any pattern you’re already familiar with. That is a thing you can’t have too much of, and which is hard for critics to provide. The world is not full of too many novel criticisms. The vast majority of criticisms are boring because they fit into known patterns, like fallacies, and pointing that out and linking to a text addressing the issue is cheap and easy (and if people did that regularly, it would help spread knowledge of those common fallacies and other patterns of intellectual error, to the point that eventually people would stop making those errors so much).
It’s important, with suspected bad ideas, to either address them individually or address them by connecting them to some kind of general pattern which is addressed (sometimes we criticize types or categories of ideas, e.g. there are criticisms of all ad hominem arguments as a group). Ignoring a suspected bad idea with no answer - no ability to actually say what’s bad about it – is irrational and allows for bias and ignoring important, good criticisms. There is no way to know which criticisms are correct or high quality other than answering them. Circumstantial evidence, like whether the first words of sentences are capitalized, whether it uses slang, or whether the author has over 10,000 fans, are bad ways to judge ideas. Ideas should be judged by their content, not their source.
If you get tons of attention, you ought to be able to get some of your many admiring fans to help you out by acting as your proxies and answering common criticisms for you (primarily by handing out standard links). You can give an issue personal attention when your proxies don’t know the answer. You can also hire proxies if you’re popular/important enough to have money. Getting lots of interest in your work, and having resources to deal with it, generally happen proportionally. Using proxies to speak for you is fine as long as you take responsibility for what they do – if someone does a bad job, either address the issue yourself or fire him, but don’t just let it continue and then claim to be answering criticism through your proxies.
I’m not attempting to present an exact set of rules for people to follow, nor an exact set of instructions for what people should do. Science is a creative process. It requires flexibility and individuality. These are rough guidelines which would improve the situation, not exact steps to make it perfect. These proposals would increase the quantity of discussion and offer some improved ways for interested parties to engage. It offers mechanisms for identifying and correcting errors which offer better clarity and transparency when they are violated. I think the same proposal would improve every intellectual field – philosophy, psychology, history, economics – not just science.
 Forums should:
allow public access
have permalinks for every comment which are expected to still work in 20 years
don’t moderate or delete content for being disagreeable (only delete things like doxing, shock porn, and spam bots advertising viagra, not mere flaming, ad hominems, rudeness, or profanity)
no restrictive length limits. should be like 100k words, not 10k or 280 characters
no time limits after which additional comments are disabled
allow links to external sites
support nested blockquotes.
These simple standards are egregiously violated by currently popular forums like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. The violations are intentional, not a technical issue.
Note that people don’t need to run their own forums. Each project can add a new sub-forum on a site that hosts many forums. Technologically, creating thousands of mostly-silent forums can be very cheap and easy. And there can easily be tools to monitor many forums at once and be notified of new posts. This technology pretty much already exists.
[1:58 PM] anonymous: i wanna eat but i’m not hungry what should i do?
[1:59 PM] anonymous: what should i do to not want to eat**
[2:01 PM] filthy_inductivist: are you bored?
[2:02 PM] anonymous: no, i’m playing a game and having fun
[2:03 PM] curi: why do you want to eat?
[2:03 PM] anonymous: idk
[2:07 PM] curi: do you want to eat any food or a specific food?
[2:07 PM] anonymous: candy
[2:07 PM] anonymous: cuz it tastes good
[2:08 PM] curi: when you are hungry, do you eat mostly candy or do you eat other things? maybe you should eat less non-candy.
[2:09 PM] anonymous: other things
[2:09 PM] curi: i suggest you make 50% of every meal candy until you don't feel like eating that much candy any more.
[2:09 PM] anonymous: wuhh?
[2:09 PM] curi: just have little portions of the other stuff
[2:09 PM] anonymous: how would that help xD
[2:09 PM] curi: and eat the candy you want
[2:10 PM] curi: you will get tired of candy after a while and not want so much
[2:10 PM] curi: or if you don't, that's ok, you should eat what you want.
[2:10 PM] anonymous: ohh
[2:11 PM] anonymous: ok i’ll try dat for a few days
I think this chat is a good example of a production discussion. It's short and to the point. I didn't need many questions to find out what was going on. I gave actionable advice that I think will actually be useful and used. I made the advice simple enough to be understood, and I also gave a brief explanation of the reasoning. And anonymous did a great job of giving short, clear, direct answers to my questions, which was really helpful. Trying it for a few days is a good idea too – it's worth a try but if they already thought it was a great idea, rather than just something to try, that would be suspicious that they were overestimating how well they understood it.
If none of your discussions look like this, that's a sign something is going wrong. Some can be longer and involve more misunderstandings, but some should be short and successful.