Part 2: A bipartisan list of people who argue in good faith

In Part 1, I posted a bipartisan list of people who are bad for America. Those people present news stories that cherry pick the worst actions from the other side so that they can get higher TV ratings and more social media points.

In Part 2, I want to post a list of people who don’t do that, at least for the most part. This isn’t a list of centrists. If anything, it is a more politically diverse list than the list in Part 1. This is a list of people who usually make good-faith attempts to persuade others about their point of view.

  • Megan McArdle (Twitter, Bloomberg) – Moderately libertarian ideas presented to a diverse audience
  • Noah Smith (Twitter, Bloomberg) – Center-left economics
  • Ross Douthat (Twitter, NYT) – Social conservatism presented to a left-of-center audience
  • Noam Chomsky (Website)
  • Conor Friedersdorf (The Atlantic)
  • Ben Sasse — Has the third-most conservative voting record in the Senate but never caricatures the other side and is very concerned about filter bubbles.
  • Julia Galef (Twitter) – Has some great advice for understanding the other side
  • Nicky Case (Twitter)
  • Fareed Zakaria (Washington Post) – Center-left foreign policy
  • Eli Lake (Twitter, Bloomberg) – Hawkish foreign policy
  • Kevin Drum (Mother Jones) – Center-left blogger who writes in good faith
  • John Carl Baker (Twitter) – One of the few modern socialists I have found who avoids in-group snark.
  • Michael Dougherty (Twitter, The Week)
  • Reihan Salam (Twitter, NRO)
  • Avik Roy (Twitter, NRO) – Conservative health care
  • Ezra Klein (Vox, early days at the American Prospect) – While at the American Prospect, Ezra did an amazing job trying to persuade people about the benefits of Obamacare. Vox, the explainer site that he started, sometimes slips into red meat clickbait. But to its credit, Vox has managed to reach a wide audience with mostly explainer content.

Reading the people on this list with an open mind will broaden your worldview.

   

Part 1: A bipartisan list of people who are bad for America

Imagine that alien researchers visited America to learn about our political culture. If they wrote a report to send back to their planet, I imagine it would look something like this:

Earthlings in this nation have split themselves up into two opposing political “parties”. Most of the Earthlings who associate with these groups are well-intentioned, but occasionally some members of a party do something bad or say something dumb. Whenever this happens, members of the opposite side feel good about themselves.

Certain writers and media personalities have learned to exploit this fact for personal gain. They have found that they can maximize their TV ratings and social media points by writing news stories that either cherry pick the worst actions of the other side or which interpret the other side’s actions in the least charitable way possible. As a result, Earthling news readers have developed increasingly distorted beliefs about their political opponents. Craving a pleasant feeling of righteous outrage, Earthlings seek ever more biased media, leading to even more distorted beliefs. The two sides do not understand each other. The civic culture of the society is broken.

Below is a bipartisan list of people who are stoking partisan outrage for personal gain. Some of them do it for retweets, some of them do it for TV ratings, and some of them – still culpable – do it because they have entered a filter bubble themselves, fueling their own distorted and harmful sense of mission.

  • Sean Davis (The Federalist) His Twitter account is deliberately uncharitable.
  • Sopan Deb (New York Times) During the presidential campaign, his Twitter feed was nonstop, “look what this stupid Trump supporter said”.
  • Stephen Miller (The Wilderness, ex-NRO)
  • Chris Cillizza (The Washington Post)
  • Sean Hannity (Fox News)
  • Tucker Carlson (Fox News)
  • Samantha Bee I know, she’s a comedian. I like jokes. But given how many people get their news from selectively edited comedy shows, it’s fair to say that comedians bear some responsibility.
  • John Oliver (HBO) It pains me to include him on this list, since he is funny and since his show also includes some constructive policy explainers. But much of the content is selectively edited clips that paint a very distorted picture of the other side.
  • Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)
  • Shaun King (Facebook personality)
  • Greg Gutfeld (Fox News comedian)

It doesn’t matter if some of the people on this list do accurate reporting. What matters is that their reporting is selective. It doesn’t matter if some of the people on this list support some good policy ideas. What matters is that listening to them will destroy your brain’s ability to understand where the other side is coming from. And it doesn’t matter if one side is more filter-bubbled than the other. Both sides are badly filter-bubbled. Avoiding the people in this list is a good place to start.

In Part 2, I’ll post a bipartisan list of people who argue in good faith.

   

Three questions for social scientists: Internet virtue edition

This isn’t news to anybody, but the internet is changing our culture. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how it has changed our moral culture, and I realized that most of our beliefs on this topic are weirdly in tension with one another. Below are three questions that I feel are very much unresolved. I don’t have any good answers to them, and so I think they might be good topics for social science research.

1. Moral Substitution and Moral Licensing versus Moral Contagion

When people do the Ice Bucket Challenge or put a Pride symbol on their profile avatar, they are sometimes accused of virtue signalling, a derogatory term akin to moral grandstanding. Virtue signallers are said to care more about showcasing their virtue than about creating real change.

Virtue signalling is bad, allegedly, for two reasons: First, instead of performing truly impactful moral acts, virtue signallers spend more time performing easy and symbolic acts. This could be called moral substitution. Second, after doing something good, people often feel like they’ve earned enough virtue points that they can get away with doing something bad. This well-studied phenomenon is called moral licensing.

While there are some clear ways that virtue signalling can be bad, there is another way in which it is good. Doing good things makes other people more likely to do good things. This process, known as moral contagion, was famously demonstrated in the Milgram experiments. Participants in those experiments who saw other participants behave morally were dramatically more likely to behave morally as well.

If the social science research is right, then we can conclude that putting a Pride symbol on your avatar make you behave worse (via moral licensing and moral substitution), but it makes other people behave better (via moral contagion). This leaves a couple of open questions:

First, how do the pros and cons balance out? Perhaps your Pride avatar is net positive if you have a large audience on Facebook, but net negative if you have a small audience. And second, how does moral contagion work with symbolic acts? Does the Pride avatar just make other people add Pride symbols to their avatars? Or does it make them behave more ethically in real and impactful ways?

We are beginning to get some quantitative answers to these questions. Clever research from Linda Skitka and others has shown that committing a moral act makes you about 40% less likely to commit another moral act later in the day, whereas hearing about someone else’s moral act makes you about 25% more likely to commit a moral act later in the day, although the latter finding fell short of statistical significance. More research is needed though, particularly when it comes to social media and symbolic virtue signalling.

2. Slacktivism versus Violent Revolution

This question is more for political scientists.

Many people are concerned that the internet encourages slacktivism, a phenomenon closely related to moral substitution. It’s easier to slap a Pride symbol on your Facebook than to engage in real activism. In this way, the internet is really a tool of the already powerful.

On the other hand, some people are concerned that the internet cultivates violent radicalism. Online filter bubbles create anger and online networks create alliances, ultimately leading to violent rhetoric and homegrown terrorism. Many observers already sense the undercurrents of violent revolution.

How can we be worried that the internet is causing both slacktivism and violent radicalism? One possibility is that we only need to worry about slacktivism, and that the violent rhetoric isn’t actually violent – it’s just rhetoric. But the other possibility is that the internet has made slacktivists out of people who otherwise wouldn’t be doing anything at all, and it has made violent radicals out of people who would otherwise be mere activists. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it would be useful to understand this more.

3. Political Correctness: Overton Windows versus Wolf Crying

Perhaps because of filter bubbles on both sides of the political spectrum, the term “political correctness” is back with a vengeance. Leaving aside the question of whether political correctness is good or bad, it would be interesting to understand whether it is effective. On the one hand, political correctness may help define an Overton Window, setting useful bounds around opinions that can be aired in polite company. But on the other hand, if the enforcers squeeze the boundaries too much, imposing stricter and stricter controls on the range of acceptable discourse, they risk undermining their own credibility by “crying wolf”. For what it’s worth, many internet trolls credit their success to a perception that so-called social justice warriors overplayed their cards. I’m not sure how much to believe them, but it seems possible.

Just in terms of effectiveness, is there a point at which political correctness starts to backfire? And more broadly, what is the optimal level of political correctness for a society? Neither of these questions seems easy to answer, but I would love to learn more.

   

Keyboard shortcuts I couldn't live without

Keyboard shortcuts are interesting. Even though I know they are almost always worth learning, I often find myself shying away from the uncomfortable task of actually learning them. But after years of clumsily reaching for the mouse while my colleagues looked at me with a kindly sense of pity, I have slowly accumulated enough keyboard tricks that I’d like to share them. This set is probably far from optimal, and different people have their own solutions, but it has worked well for me. Before jumping in, here’s a reference table of key symbols and their common names:

Key Symbol Key Name
Command
Shift
Control
Alt/Option
Enter
Table 1. Key symbol map.

Sublime Text

Sublime has lots of great shortcuts. My favorites is ⌘D, which allows you to sequentially select exact matches of highlighted text. Once the matches are selected, you can simultaneously edit them with a multi-cursor. If you want to select all matches simultaneously, rather than sequentially, you can use ⌃⌘G.

Figure 1. Demonstration of ⌘D, ⌘←, ⌘→, ⌘A and ⌘KU in Sublime Text.


Chrome

With the exception of scrolling and link clicking, everything you do in Chrome should be done with keyboard only. If you’re new to this, I’d recommend starting with ⌘L, ⌘T, ⌘W and then expanding from there. Special bonus: if you ever accidentally close a tab, you can reopen it with ⌘⇧T.

Figure 2. The "No Touching" Chrome Zone. Your mouse should never come anywhere near here.

Mac OS X

On Mac OS X, ⌘ Tab switches between applications, and ⌘` switches between windows of the same application. The ⌘+ and ⌘- shortcuts change the display size of text and other items. You can jump to the beginning of a line with ⌘← or ⌃A, and to the end of a line with ⌘→ or ⌃E. In Terminal, you can delete to the beginning of a line with ⌃U.

For easy window snapping, use the Spectacle app. Because Spectacle’s default mappings conflict with Chrome’s tab switching shortcuts, I’d recommend setting the four main screen position shortcuts to ⌘⌃←, ⌘⌃→, ⌘⌃↑, ⌘⌃↓, and eliminating all the other shortcuts, except the full screen shortcut, which should be set to ⌘⌃F.

Figure 3. Arranging windows with custom shortcuts in Spectacle.

Gmail

If you’re using a mouse on Gmail, you’re doing it wrong. With the exception of a few word processing operations, literally everything you do in Gmail should be done with keyboard only. Compose, Reply, Reply All, Forward, Send, Search, Navigate, Open, Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Archive. All of these should be done with the keyboard. To enable these shortcuts, you must go into your Settings and navigate to the General tab. Once shortcuts have been enabled, you can see a list of all them by typing ?.

Figure 4. A small sample of things you can do on Gmail without ever touching your mouse.

Twitter

With shortcuts similar to Gmail’s, you can jump to different pages using only the keyboard: gh brings you to the Home Timeline and gu lets you jump to another user’s profile. The most useful shortcut is probably ., which loads any new tweets that are waiting for you at the top of the Timeline. You can see a list of all shortcuts by typing ?.

JetBrains

JetBrains products like DataGrip, PyCharm, and IntelliJ offer plenty of keyboard shortcuts. My favorites are ⌃G, for sequential highlighting, and ⌥⌥↓ and ⌥⌥↑ for multi-line cursors.

Jupyter

Jupyter has tons of essential keyboard shortcuts that can be found by typing ? while in command mode. In addition, it’s possible to get Sublime-style text editing by following the instructions described here.

Figure 5. Common Jupyter workflow done entirely with the keyboard, with help from some Sublime-style editing: c and v to copy and paste a cell, ⌘D for multiple selection, ⌘→ to jump to the end of line, dd to delete a cell.


   

Learning by flip-flopping

I recently came across Artir’s Pyramid of Economic Insight and Virtue. It’s not actually a pyramid, but is instead a riff on the Expanding Brain meme. Check it out:

What’s interesting about Artir’s Pyramid is that at every step, the position flip-flops from the previous step. This isn’t just a dialogue between two sides. It is a description of the belief sequence that people traverse as they learn more about an issue. We might call this learning by flip-flopping.

This got me thinking: In what other issues do people go through a sequence of flip-flops as they learn more about it? In this blog post, I’d like to suggest a few.

Let me stress that in presenting these I don’t necessarily think that the “highest” levels in these examples are correct, nor do I think I have a strong understanding on many of these issues. It’s just something that’s fun to think about.

Increasing the minimum wage

This is arguably a special case of Artir’s Pyramid and is probably the canonical example of learning by flip-flopping.

I see this a lot. Memorably, I sometimes see a Stage 2 person talking to someone they believe is at Stage 1 but who is in fact at Stage 3.

Life lesson: When debating someone, don’t make strong claims until you know what stage they are on.

Further reading on the minimum wage: Card and Krueger, criticism of Card and Krueger’s data, another case against Card and Krueger, two better studies.

How to deal with a recession

Recession flip-flopping is less related to Artir’s Pyramid, but is still quite common. I may be bungling some of the later stages here, as my macro knowledge is mostly cobbled together from parody rap videos, so I welcome any suggestions for additional further reading.

Further reading on recessions: The government is not a household, Keynesian economics, boom and bust cycles, and a wonderful book by Tim Harford.

Twitter’s 140 character limit

I’d like to keep this blog post as value-judgment free as possible, but I’ll make a special exception for this one. The 140 character limit is no longer a good idea, and Stage 3 is the correct stage.

The meaning of life

David Chapman writes about how STEM-trained people should think about meaning. Extending Robert Kegen’s theory of human development, he believes that most STEM-trained people can find meaning in ideological rationalism (Stage 4) but, upon finding that rationality does not provide any meaning, they become in danger of falling into the Nihilism trap (Stage 4.5). Chapman claims that there is a Stage 5, sometimes called meta-rationality or fluidity, in which meaning can once again be found. You can read more about it on his blog.

What other examples of learning by flip-flopping are out there?

UPDATE: John McDonnell points me towards Hegelian Dialectic.