Wanting is not liking
This is a simple and powerful insight. On some level, I had probably long been aware of it. Drug addicts (at a certain point) don’t enjoy their lives a whole lot. They still crave the drug. I also regularly crave things, but then not enjoy them, or even straight-up regret them afterward. This is where wanting and liking comes apart. Still, this post by Luke Muehlhaeuser drove the point home for me. Now, instead of “Do I want this?” I would often ask myself “Will I like this?” The difference is profound. The hard part is not letting the moment of decision pass.
Increasing your attractiveness (as judged by others) has externalities. People (who perceive themselves as) competing with you for the same mates will be pressured to increase their attractiveness to maintain the same chance of finding one. For egoists, this is a feature, not a bug. For altruists, it’s the other way around. It maybe does not feel like a significant cost, but that’s because it’s distributed across so many people (who are not you), whereas the benefits accrue mainly to just one person (who is you). This can even turn into a wasteful race because it’s the ranking that matters. Does this imply that altruists should wear rags? Luckily, there are positive externalities as well. It’s generally nicer to look at more beautiful people rather than less beautiful people. Does this they outweigh the costs? I don’t know.
 This assumes that mating is zero-sum and that what people find attractive is not randomly distributed. Otherwise, the effects would cancel out in expectation since some people would find you more attractive and some less.
War as a game
I finally finished Storm of Steel, Ernst Jünger’s first-person account of trench warfare during the First World War. Admittedly, this is just one perspective, but what struck me most was the perception he and others seemed to have of the fighting. At one point, he finds himself in a particularly intense close-quarter battle with the British. Some of his men are killed in the fighting. He himself only narrowly escapes death. Finally, the British surrender. They come over and Jünger shakes hands with the officer on the other side and they start chatting: “Good game! Maybe you’ll get us next time.” This is not a literal quote from the book but definitely captures the vibe I got. The famous Christmas Truce points in a similar direction: “Let’s take a break, guys, and get a few beers together. We can continue the fight afterward.” At least at times, they seem to have viewed war as a competition among moral equals and not as an ideological struggle to the death.
This seems to have changed radically in the past 100 years, which is why this perspective was so surprising to me. There are probably a few things that contributed to that shift. Here are some speculations:
- The world has become more ideological. The Second World War was already a struggle between fascism, communism, and democracies. Today, it might be religious ideologies.
- Mass media has become more effective. During the First World War, it was not trivial to whip up a whole nation into a hateful frenzy. They definitely tried, but it became much easier with the wide-spread use of radio, TV, and the internet.
- Death has become a much bigger deal. At the time, people were much more used to other people dying because it happened much more often. This might have made war and casualties less appalling.
There are probably many more factors.
Things I read
- Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People: This book is a classic for a reason. The question becomes: can we deliberately change our personality? In order to authentically behave in the way that Carnegie describes, nothing less is required.
- Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning: Also a classic but I did not find it particularly insightful. For me, it echoed a lot of themes from Junger’s Tribe.
- Wrangham: The Goodness Paradox: This book strikes me as a really important puzzle piece for understanding the evolution and nature of homo sapiens. I expect to write more about this in the future.
- Palaver: René Girard’s Mimetic Theory: As I wrote before, the most thought-provoking book I have read in a while. More to come.
- Tatkin: Wired for Love: Not a particularly insightful book. For understanding the idea of attachment styles, this one is clearly better.
- Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: Some good reminders for how to live a fulfilling life but not eye-opening for me.
- Wokeademia: This is a bit scary.
- Old People Have All the Interesting Jobs in America (related): I agree with this analysis which puts the insanely young age of some of the genius physicists of the 1920s and 1930s into perspective. The obvious follow-up question: Is this only going to get worse? What will we be the niche of young people in 20 to 50 years if not technology? Or will the technology sector constantly reinvent itself such that there is a natural turnover?
- Book Review: Human Compatible: Interesting juxtaposition of Bostrom’s Superintelligence and Russell’s Human Compatible.
- Little Soldiers: Fascinating look inside the Chinese education system (Scott Alexander’s take).
- Growth and the case against randomistas: A really important post on where we should look for solutions if we want to help the global poor: Finding ways to increase economic growth rather than evidence-based public health interventions.
- Animal welfare in Nazi Germany: Just bizarre.
- The Private and External Costs of Germany’s Nuclear Phase-Out: This continues to frustrate me. Substituting nuclear energy with fossil fuels kills people.
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