Search Results for: isn't about

Advice Isn’t About Info

Why is cynicism often taken as a sign of low status? One contributing factor is that we tend to get clearer evidence for cynical theories of the world when our status is falling, instead of rising:

I had lunch with a very senior managing partner at a venture capital firm as she was stepping down from the firm to spend more time with her family following a long and successful career in that company. She commented that once she announced her retirement, not only did her colleagues behave differently toward her, no longer inviting her to meetings and seeking her advice as often, but her time was less in demand by colleagues in the high-technology and venture capital communities more generally. Her wisdom and experience hadn’t changed— the only difference was her soon-to-be-diminished control over investment resources and positions in the venture capital firm. (Pfeffer’s book Power)

When you are young and rising in status, you can explain people listening to you more as their learning that you are wise. When you are older and falling in status, that explanation doesn’t work so well for why people listen to you less.

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Science Fiction Isn’t About Understanding The Future

Why do people read (or watch) science fiction? Yes, motives are mixed – they usually are. But what are the main motives?

Perhaps science fiction readers are eager to understand the future. After all, the future is extremely far, in a near-far sense, and science fiction offers a near-experience that can complement abstract far descriptions.

Consider, however, the extremely low demand for abstract analysis of the future. Not only are books devoted to future analysis in far less demand than science fiction books, it is possible to turn science fiction stories into abstract contributions, yet this is almost never done. Let me explain.

The main contribution of a science fiction story to our abstract understanding of the future is its setting – the situation in which its characters enact its plot. What techs are used how, what jobs and liesure activities are common, etc. Yet one could take most any science fiction story, and summarize its setting in a far shorter space, and with far less effort, than the author took for the story.  I’d guess that setting summaries could be read in ~5% of the time it takes to read the story, and written with even less than 5% of the effort.

Yet almost no such summaries are written, presumably because writers and publishers anticipate that almost no one wants to read them. So the fraction of folks who read science fiction primarily to better understand the future must be very small. Alas, because I would love to just read setting summaries, especially with compare and contrast commentary, and educated critiques of their plausibility.

Added 2p: I should also mention that most science fiction settings seem clearly to have compromised realism for story benefits. The fraction that can be considered mostly good faith efforts to forecast a future is quite small.

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Leading Isn’t About Info

The study recruited 150 participants and divided them into groups of three. One person was randomly assigned to be the group’s leader; all were told they could contribute advice, but that the leader was responsible for making the decision. Then they undertook a group task: choosing a job candidate. Of 45 items of information about the candidate, some were given to all three, and some to only one of the participants. … Group members rated the most narcissistic leaders as most effective. But … the groups led by the greatest egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. … “The narcissistic leaders … inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism.” … Good leaders facilitate communication by asking questions and summarizing the conversation—something narcissists are too self-involved to do. (more; HT Karl Mattingly)

I predict that as the above result becomes more widely known, we will not much change our tendency to choose egotists as leaders. Yes the ability to get subordinates to reveal unusual info is valuable to the organization as a whole, but today this ranks pretty low among the many competing considerations in choosing a leader, and that probably won’t change much in the foreseeable future.

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Status Isn’t About Features

Malcom Gladwell complains that US News rankings are arbitrary:

Some years ago … a former chief justice of the Michigan supreme court … sent a questionnaire to a hundred or so of his fellow lawyers, asking them to rank a list of tend laws schools in order of quality. “They included a good sample of the big names. Harvard. Yale. University of Michigan. And some lesser-known schools. John Marshall Thomas Cooley. … They ranked Pen State’s law school right about in the middle of the pack. Maybe fifth among the ten schools listed. Of course, Penn State doesn’t have a law school.” … Reputational ratings are simply inferences from broad, readily observable features of an institution’s identity, such as its history, its prominence in the media, or the elegance of its architecture. …

“Ratings drive reputation.” … When U.S. News asks a university president to perform the impossible task of assessing the relative merits of dozens of institutions he knows nothing about, he relies on the only sources of detailed information at his disposal … U.S. News. The U.S. News ratings are a self-fulfilling prophecy. …

A Web site called the Ranking Game[‘s] …intention is to demonstrate just how subjective rankings are, to show how determinations of “quality” turn on relatively arbitrary judgments about how much different variables should be weighted. … If we don’t understand what thee right proxies for college quality are, let alone how to represent those proxies in a comprehensive heterogenous grading system, then our rankings are inherently arbitrary.

Gladwell talks as if we each have different preferences over component variables, and are being fooled into putting too much weight on arbitrary common rankings that poorly reflect our individual preferences. He doesn’t even consider the possibility that what we really want is status itself, a common perception of quality, and don’t much care what status is made of.  We mainly want to know how to rate others’ status, and how to get more of it for ourselves.

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Tourism Isn’t About Culture

Tyler:

Berlin is evidence that most tourists don’t actually care so much about history, culture, and museums, as it is not for most people a major tourist destination, despite having world-class offerings in each of those areas.  Mostly tourists like large, visually spectacular sites, or family activities, combined with the feeling that they are taking in culture or seeing something important.

I come across way too many signaling examples to post them all, but I should at least post some of them.

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Consulting Isn’t About Advice

An extended anecdote by MIT alum Keith Yost, paid $200,000/yr. straight out of school by Boston Consulting Group to consult in Dubai:

I was regularly advertised to clients as an expert with seemingly years of topical experience relevant to the case. … Even my very first case .. I was the most senior consultant on the team. …

Analytical skills were overrated, for the simple reason that clients usually didn’t know why they had hired us. They sent us vague requests for proposal, we returned vague case proposals, and by the time we were hired, no one was the wiser as to why exactly we were there.  I got the feeling that our clients were simply trying to mimic successful businesses, and that as consultants, our earnings came from having the luck of being included in an elaborate cargo-cult ritual. In any case it fell to us to decide for ourselves what question we had been hired to answer, and as a matter of convenience, we elected to answer questions that we had already answered in the course of previous cases – no sense in doing new work when old work will do.  …

Most of my day was spent thinking up and writing PowerPoint slides. …  What I could not get my head around was having to force-fit analysis to a conclusion. In one case, the question I was tasked with solving had a clear and unambiguous answer: By my estimate, the client’s plan of action had a net present discounted value of negative one billion dollars. … But the client did not want analysis that contradicted their own, and my manager told me plainly that it was not our place to question what the client wanted. … “Change the numbers, but don’t change the conclusion.”

Hat tip to Kevin Burke.

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Left-Right Isn’t About Markets

Matt Yglesias:

In the spectrum debate, a commons is considered a “left-wing” position, while property rights are considered “right-wing.” In contrast, in the carbon debate you find right-wingers advocating a “carbon commons” while left-wingers advocate a property-like regime called cap and trade.

… To borrow an idea from Robin Hanson, I think it’s useful to think about political conflict in terms of valorized figures. On the right, you see a lot of valorization of businessmen. On the left, you see a lot of valorization of pushy activists who want to do something businessmen don’t like. Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se. Consequently, on the left people sometimes fall into the trap of being patsies for rent-seeking mom & pop operators when poor people would benefit more from competition from a corporate bohemoth.

Yup; political ideology, like most ideology, is a lot more about who should get respect than it is about abstract principles of governance.

Added 10a: Pushy activists and businessmen emphasize different features in desirable associates.  Pushy activists seek shared values, passionately and articulately expressed.  Businessmen seek practical competence, and a respect for [contract] law and hierarchy.  So does my push for a focus on robot respect for law flag me as politically right?

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Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift

In the spirit of politics isn’t about policy, Shelby Steele:

The original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America — the world’s oldest and most unequivocal democracy — finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. …

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. … Research … has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. … Continue reading "Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift" »

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Redistribution Isn’t About Sympathy

Many people say they favor redistribution from the rich to the poor because they feel sorry for the poor.  The poor suffer from having too little money, and it doesn’t take much money to help them a lot.  In contrast, the rich won’t miss that money much.

These redistribution advocates usually aren’t very interested in redistributing across the world to poor nations, or across time to poor eras.  So they usually explain that they just don’t feel much sympathy for such distant poor.

Such advocates also usually aren’t very interested in giving money to people who suffer because they are short, ugly, boring, clumsy, unpopular, etc.  Yet a bit of money might go a long way to brighten these lives as well.  Explanations offered for why folks sympathize with the poor but not the short etc. have long left me puzzled.

Garrett Jones has just convinced me that a pretty simple explanation is available: the redistributive urge just doesn’t have much to do with sympathy.   Our ancestors would sometimes notice that some folks in the tribe had a lot more tangible portable stuff than the rest, and those with less would then be tempted to find an excuse to grab a bunch of that stuff.

Would-be-grabbers would look for the most believable excuse they could find.  Sometimes the excuse would be that stuff-holders had violated some tribal norm and needed to be punished.  (Hence our hyper-willingness to believe the rich freely violate treasured norms.)  But lacking a better excuse, they’d fall back on the old favorite, that those with less stuff would sure appreciate each thing more than those with lots.

Our ancestors weren’t in the habit of making up similar excuses to grab stuff from the tall, pretty, witty, coordinated, or popular, for the obvious reason that those people didn’t usually have much stuff to grab.  So our ancestors focused on finding excuses to grab stuff from people with lots of stuff for the same reason folks have given for robbing banks, “Because that’s where the money is.”

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Terror Politics Isn’t About Policy

Bruce Schneier

The "strategic" model of terrorism … posits that people resort to terrorism …  when they believe the political gains of terrorism minus the political costs are greater than if they engaged in some other, more peaceful form of protest. … Max Abrahms … argues that … seven tendencies are seen in terrorist organizations all over the world … [that] directly contradict the theory that terrorists are political maximizers … Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this:  People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.

The evidence supports this.  Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group’s political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can’t describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren’t working prior to joining.

HT to Larry D’anna.

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