At least we don’t know anything for certain

Economic models are always huge oversimplifications of the global economy. They have to be: how else can we hope to say something about the unthinkable complexity that results from billions of individual decisions made by human beings, whose brains are likewise incredibly complicated. When economists form models, they inevitably emphasize certain aspects of the picture over other aspects. No one model can represent the full story.

It seems to me that something similar is going on with all the narratives I’ve seen attempting to explain this moment in our nation’s political history. This last election was the result of millions and millions of individual human decisions, any one of which involves a complicated human brain interacting with a unique set of life circumstances. Any narrative that we read – that the election was the result of widespread misogyny, racism, class struggles, voter suppression, the effect of social media, the electoral college – is just like a single economic model. It has chosen to emphasize certain data over other data, and it can at best tell a slice of the story.

The reality of our political present is so complicated, with all these strands colliding and interacting with one another. With this in mind, I find it useful to consider all of these narratives and their implications, but at the same time to keep in mind that, however astute and well considered they are, they are just single-dimensional snapshots of a near infinite-dimensional situation.

In a way, this is kind of comforting to me; or at least, it’s more comforting than a sense of certainty that we’re going to destroy the planet and each other. 🙂

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A vote for Stein / Johnson is a vote for…

As a pretty staunch Clinton supporter, let me just say: I don’t think that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Trump. First of all, it’s at most half a vote for Trump, and that assumes that the person voting for a third party candidate would vote for Clinton in a head-to-head election.

More importantly, though, I think it’s probably a counterproductive thing to say. People want to feel like they have choices, and when you tell them they have no choice, you’re inviting defiance. Remember that infamous Milgram experiment from Intro to Psychology where the participants were asked to send electric shocks to people? Well, Milgram actually tested many variations of how they were asked, and when it was presented as something they had no choice about, the participants rebelled.

This is why I would put the choice to vote third party the following way:

A vote for a third party is a statement that you care more about supporting an alternative viewpoint than about being part of the decision of who the next president will be.

Either Clinton or Trump will be president. That is irrefutable. So you can use your vote pragmatically to affect who wins, or you can vote third party and use your vote for a different purpose.

Personally, I think that this is a very, very high stakes election. Clinton can do the job of being president; Trump can’t. Clinton understands the complexity of the world and of our nation’s problems; Trump can barely form a coherent sentence. Clinton acknowledges and has plans to combat climate change; Trump says it’s a hoax made up by the Chinese. Clinton is thoughtful and measured; Trump is dangerously impulsive. Clinton is a woman, and electing a woman would be an amazing step towards gender equality; Trump is a person who denigrates women and exemplifies every problem with sexism in this country.

Of course I would vote for Clinton regardless, but even if I preferred Johnson or Stein, I would still vote for Clinton because the result of this election would be much more important to me (for the above reasons) than the desire to express an alternative viewpoint. I’d definitely want to express that viewpoint in other ways – maybe volunteer for third party candidates in local elections, discuss their ideas with friends and family, etc. – but I would use my vote pragmatically to influence the outcome of the election.

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In Defense of (some) Fear-Based Voting

Perhaps you too have heard people say that they don’t want to vote for Hillary just out of fear of Donald Trump. There’s too much fear-mongering in politics already, they say, and they don’t want to feed into that.

There’s no question that fear-mongering is a powerfully destructive force in American politics. However, not all fears are created equal, and I think this line of reasoning dangerously conflates appropriate and inappropriate fear.

I first came across the idea of these two types of fear in a talk by Gil Fronsdal. The basic idea is this:

If you’re walking along a path and a deadly venomous snake slithers out right in front of you, you get afraid (at least, I hope you do). This fear is a good thing. You may have been daydreaming as you wandered along, but fear snapped you back into the present, ready to act. This is appropriate fear: it is useful, it is proportional to the actual danger that faces you, and it brings clarity and focus.

By contrast, I know that some people are deathly afraid of air travel. Sometimes, this fear is strong enough that they will opt to take a 40-hour drive rather than a 5-hour flight. In this case, they are actually increasing their risk of death or injury significantly because of an inordinate response to a perceived danger. This is inappropriate fear: it is counterproductive, disproportionate, and muddies the thought process.

I don’t mean to single out people who are scared of flying, by the way. It’s certainly understandable to be afraid of being 40,000 feet up in the air. But the point is that we should try not to act on such fears. When inappropriate fear guides our actions, we may actually be making ourselves less safe, not to mention missing out on positive experiences. On the other hand, appropriate fear ought to be acted upon: it is a vital protective response.

So the real question we should be asking is: is fear of Trump blown out of proportion, or is he a snake in the grass?

Personally, I feel a lot of clarity on this one.

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Fucking words

I’ve been musing a little about how we talk about sex.


Consider the difference between “I fucked him” and “We fucked”. The former uses the verb “fuck” transitively, making the other person into someone that you’re doing something to, whereas the later uses “fuck” intransitively, treating the other person as a co-collaborator.

This feels like a relevant linguistic distinction given recently news stories about rape and consent. One of these phrasings implies consent and the other doesn’t necessarily.

Interestingly, in thinking up examples, I found it kind of hard to rephrase certain sentences collaboratively, especially sentences expressing a desire. For instance, how might you rephrase “I’d like to bone her” collaboratively? “I’d like for us to bone” sounds kind of awkward. I personally like “I’d like to bone with her”, though no one uses the verb “bone” that way. Except me, from now on.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that using a transitive verb is the same as not caring about the other persons consent. And some people probably don’t mind being objectified from time to time. But I do think that the way we talk about sex influences the way we think about sex, and, all other things being equal, the transitive phrasing tends to downplay the collaborative nature of the activity.

So next time I see someone super attractive, I’ll definitely be expressing my willingness for us to tap each other.

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Inappropriate New Yorker Cartoon Caption #3


“Don’t be discouraged – not all women care about that.”

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Inappropriate New Yorker Cartoon Caption #2


“He gets like this on LSD.”

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Underappreciated New Yorker Cartoon Caption #234


“Your training is almost complete.”

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