Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 17th, 2021

Example of a bad (micro)cultural meme: Scott-Rudinesque behavior

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Peter Marks has an interesting report in the Washington Post, and mentions in passing how a cultural meme is created and then reinforced generation by generation, because “this is how we do it.” The underlying problem is that it’s difficult to do A-B tests of memes, though some do arise.

At any rate, from his report (and read it with an eye out for memes):

. . . The story, in which several people described allegations that have circulated in the entertainment industry for years about Rudin’s bullying and rages, rocked the theater world. In one anecdote, he allegedly smashed a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand over an unsuccessful flight booking, sending the employee to the emergency room. He’s also accused of throwing objects at workers, including a stapler and a baked potato.

Rudin declined to elaborate on the statement, or on what exactly retreating from “active participation” entails. He has spoken to confidants about beginning a program of anger management or some manner of coaching. Whether his actions will in some way quell the calls for punitive action to be taken against him is unclear. Producers who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the allegations have spoken of some sanction by the Broadway League, whose members are Broadway producers and theater owners. But the league exists primarily as a trade organization and overseer of the Tony Awards with the American Theatre Wing. Every commercial Broadway production is, in essence, its own private enterprise.

“All change is theoretical,” said Olivo, in response to Rudin’s statement, “Action and time are needed before we can name it transformation. . . . Rudin is but one dragon to slay. There are more.”

Some members of the Broadway community say Rudin is just one of many abusive people — directors, choreographers, actors, business executives — whose behavior has been tolerated. His stepping back from “active participation” will probably not change the environment, they say.

“It’s a first step. Is it enough? No,” said one Broadway producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of negative consequences. “There are people at every point in the business that have been taught that this is how you get the results you need. So the behavior gets replicated.”

“We have been taught that we have to sacrifice for our art,” this producer said about why bad behavior remains prevalent. “But you can do great work without creating a toxic environment.”

Actors’ Equity, the national labor union, called for Rudin to release his staff from any nondisclosure agreements that they may have had to sign, saying it would be “an important first step in creating truly safe and harassment-free theatrical workplaces on Broadway and beyond.”

“Since news reports emerged about Scott Rudin, we have had many private conversations with our sibling unions and the Broadway League. We have heard from hundreds of members that these allegations are inexcusable, and everyone deserves a safe workplace whether they are a union member or not,” president Kate Shindle and executive director Mary McColl said in a joint statement.

An exit by Rudin has potentially immense consequences for an industry that is short on visionary leaders. The Internet Broadway Database lists 77 plays and musicals produced by Rudin since the early 1990s. They run the gamut from . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2021 at 5:29 pm

A compendium of bridges, explained by an engineer

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2021 at 12:26 pm

Effective Altruism Is Not Effective

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Thomas R. Wells writes in The Philosopher’s Beard:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. (Peter Singer)

It is almost universally agreed that the persistence of extreme poverty in many parts of the world is a bad thing. It is less well-agreed, even among philosophers, what should be done about it and by who. An influential movement founded by the philosopher Peter Singer argues that we should each try to do the best we can by donating our surplus income to charities that help those in greatest need. This ‘effective altruism’ movement has two components: i) encouraging individuals in the rich world to donate more; and ii) encouraging us to donate more rationally, to the organisations most efficient at translating those donations into gains in human well-being.

Unfortunately both components of effective altruism focus on what makes giving good rather than on achieving valuable goals. Effective altruism therefore does not actually aim at the elimination of global poverty as is often supposed. Indeed, its distinctive commitment to the logic of individualist consumerism makes it constitutionally incapable of achieving such a large scale project. Effective altruism is designed to fail.

I. The No-Sacrifice Principle of Giving

In his best-selling defense of effective altruism The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (2009, p.15) Singer provides this outline of his argument.

First premise: Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

Second premise: If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so.

Third premise: By donating to aid agencies, you can prevent suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care, without sacrificing anything nearly as important.

Conclusion: Therefore, if you do not donate to aid agencies, you are doing something wrong.

Singer famously supports his second premise by reference to his ‘shallow pond’ thought experiment, in which nearly everyone agrees that we would have an obligation to rescue a drowning child even at some personal inconvenience. He argues that since we already seem to accept that principle, the moral challenge is to integrate it better into how we live by donating some of our ‘surplus’ income to charities. Effective altruism is thereby identified as a way of living better in accordance with reason and right, the correct answer to Socrates’ challenge ‘How ought we to live?’

What I want to bring out here is that Singer’s main concern is the question of how good to be in terms of how much we should be giving, i.e. the internal moral economy of the subject. The ‘bads’ of suffering and death identified in premise 1 are peripheral to this analysis. They may motivate our interest in altruism but their remediation is not the measure of our altruistic success.

On the face of it, premise 2 is a very demanding principle because it links our subjective moral economy to the prevention of significant objective harms. However, the way that Singer uses the principle severs that relation. Singer is concerned to help us calculate our personal budget for good works: how much we each can spare from our other interests and commitments. As Singer makes clear, altruism on this conception should not feel like a sacrifice because it is merely the harmonious integration of our moral with our other preferences. This generates a rather generic analysis of how much it is reasonable to expect people of different levels of affluence to contribute to good causes without having to make any real sacrifices, i.e. calculations of how much money we could easily do without. (Singer suggests a progressive rate of voluntary self-taxation starting at 5% of income for those earning more than $100,000.)

Such calculations are generic because they are fundamentally concerned with how to be an altruist, not with how to fix the world’s problems, and so they are unrelated to the significance of the specific problems our donations are supposed to address, nor with what would be needed to successfully solve them. For consider, even if global poverty were eliminated entirely, there will still always be causes you could contribute to that would be more valuable than pursuing your own interests (such as generating benefits to future generations). This is the paradoxical overdemandingness of utilitarianism identified by various philosophers (Bernard Williams; Susan Wolf; etc): that a world of utilitarians would be a world incapable of happiness. What I think Singer’s ‘no sacrifice’ principle actually offers is a (not especially convincing) way to reconcile our moral duty to doing good with our right to live a life of our own.  We are effectively asked to calculate our own voluntary moral tax-rate that delineates when we have done enough for others and can turn away, morally free to pursue our private projects and commitments. How much good this amount of giving will achieve in the world is irrelevant to what that tax rate should be.

II. Efficiency is Not the Same Thing as Effectiveness

Effective altruists ….. know that saving a life is better than making a wish come true and that saving three lives is better than saving one. So they don’t give to whatever cause tugs strongest at their heartstrings. They give to the cause that will do the most good, given the abilities, time, and money they have. (Peter Singer)

The problem with the first component of effective altruism was that it focuses on the internal moral economy of the giver rather than on the real world problems our giving is supposed to address. The second component of effective altruism might not seem to have that problem because it is explicitly concerned with maximising the amount of good that each unit of resources achieves. (This is also the component that has received more emphasis in the last 10 years as the movement gained traction among a younger generation of philosophers such as Toby Ord and William MacAskill.) However, this concern is better understood as efficiency than as effectiveness (the general idea of getting things done). This might seem an innocuous distinction since efficiency is about how we ought to get things done, i.e. a way of being effective. However, there are significant consequences for practical reasoning in the kind of cases effective altruism is concerned with.

If one takes the efficiency view promoted by the effective altruism movement then one assumes a fixed set of resources and the choice of which goal to aim for follows from a calculation of how to maximise the expected value those resources can generate; i.e. the means justifies the end. For example, in the context of global poverty, you would use evidence and careful reasoning to decide in which cause or organisation to invest your chosen amount on the basis of which generates  the most QALYS per dollar. This should ensure that your donation will achieve the most good, which is to say that you have done the best possible job of giving. However, despite doing so well at the task effective altruism has set you, if you step back you will notice that very little has actually been achieved. The total amount of good we can achieve with our donations is limited to the partial alleviation of some of the symptoms of extreme poverty, symptoms that will recur so long as poverty persists. But effective altruism supplies no plan for the elimination of poverty itself, and there is no way for a feasible plan for that goal to be developed and implemented by this method of reasoning at the margin.

The underlying problem is that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and in my view he annihilates Singer’s argument and position.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2021 at 9:43 am

Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave counteracts drying soaps

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A reader commented yesterday that he had found l’Occitane Cade shaving soap to be quite drying. I did not experience that in yesterday’s shave, and I wondered whether my use of Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave might account for it.

So today I chose a soap that is definitely drying for me — Martin de Candre’s shaving soap — and used it with the moisturiizing pre-shave. I easily got a very nice lather — Martin de Candre is good at that — and I enjoyed the feel (and performance) of the Rooney Victorian brush, though the relatively short loft definitely changes the feel (and my own preference in general is for a longer loft, but I’ve learned it works best for me to accept my brushes as they are, on their own terms).

Three passes of the 1940’s Gillette Aristocrat did a decent job, a splash of Cavendish aftershave completed the shave and started the weekend.

Sitting here after the shave, I do not detect the dryness that generally has followed a Martin de Candre shave. I think Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave did indeed work to combat that drying effect.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2021 at 9:07 am

Posted in Shaving

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