Last modified: 2013-04-21 (finished). Epistemic state: log.

Let’s see…

I did a bunch of stuff I don’t properly understand enough yet to talk about without making an ass of myself, and even though that hasn’t ever stopped me before, I don’t wanna contribute too much to People Being Wrong On The Internet if I can help it…

And all other projects won’t have anything meaningful to show off or talk about for some time to come, and “I read these books; they don’t suck” posts aren’t very interesting (unless I can at least say something about them)…

And this situation isn’t gonna change anytime soon, and this is still primarily a practice log (maybe we should call an ironic purpose a “telol”?), so even though I have a bunch of drafts, I don’t wanna just dump my crazy.txt1 here without at least occasionally balancing it with not_actually_crazy.txt.

So, uh, what am I gonna talk about the next few months? Guess I’ll have to become ultra-productive and cram in some more minor projects.


Yeah ok, volume will probably just go down and I’ll try to mention cool shit and minor projects until stuff gets interesting again. (Lowered the road dial again for a while.)

Hint: someone scanned Westergaard’s Introduction to Tonal Theory and I hear it will also appear on the usual sites in a few days. Just fyi.

On a totally unrelated note, I’ve started reading Westergaard’s book and I’m genuinely impressed. It looks like a proper textbook about a sane theory with lots of examples and a clear, logical structure throughout. Haven’t had much time to work on it yet, but it looks very promising.

Some drug updates.

  • Modafinil: useless as a normal upper, mediocre as a sleep substitute, great for “fuck deadline can’t afford to sleep fuck fuck”. The effect during waking hours is not noticeably better than caffeine for me. If it weren’t so expensive, I’d run a double-blind test to compare side-effects and get a more precise idea, but so it’s just not worth it. Will likely keep a small emergency supply on hand, but otherwise I’ll stick to nicotine and caffeine.

  • Nicotine: started to smoke cigarettes again. Not a lot (i.e. <40/month), and it’s not really about the nicotine either, which is almost anti-addictive for me. Despite clear benefits and wanting to use it regularly, I keep forgetting I have large supplies of lozenges and go days (and sometimes weeks) without any for no good reason, and even when I use them, it’s never more than 4mg/day.2

    So why smoke? Because I want something destructive - a tiny, controlled source of it, yes, but to deliberately do something of no use - no, not enough! - to take an action fully aware that it brings nothing but harm to myself, is to say, no, I cannot be satisfied; to say to optimization itself, nothing you can do will ever make me happy; this is my vote of discord, my dissatisfaction with order - this one is for decay.

I made a Twitter account for drunken confessions. If I can’t say them to the person I mean them for, I can at least say them in general just to have them said, to lower the barrier - a practice round instead of just sadness. Maybe it’s gone tomorrow, maybe not. Don’t read them. I made it for you. Take with a grain of salt, placed on the back of your hand and a slice of lemon; count your shots.

I feel like many arguments could be more easily resolved if people more routinely asked themselves the First Rule of Debugging, i.e. “What are you trying to do with that?”.

I’ve failed to state that enough in the past (and I’ve added “state what this is trying to accomplish” to my list of rules to observe in future writing), so here’s an example for practice.

In Scott’s wrestling with virtue ethics 3, I was reminded how I had always assumed (if not explicitly, then implicitly in how I write) that my specific problems with ethics generalize and then how I was somewhat upset how someone could have the nerve to develop ideas that might work for their problems, maybe, but not mine!, what sacrilege.

In particular, I have no clue what I want (I feel like I may have some preferences in forced decisions (i.e. almost all of them), but that’s far from wanting things for their own sake), so theories about “getting what I want” are of no use to me (regardless of their validity), but I know “the kind of person” I don’t want to be (“apophatic virtue ethics”, you say?), but at the same time (and for good reasons I won’t elaborate on), I don’t trust my own ideas of what “good” is and that many common heuristics - trust your instincts, use empathy, follow your heart - are horrible advice for me because I’m at least potentially a Bad Person(tm) and I will fuck people over if you’re so stupid to make me run on instinct, so I don’t just need (meta-)ethics to resolve conflicts for me, but to even provide (some of?) my values in the first place.

So any theory that requires me to load it with my values first is utterly useless to me because it doesn’t solve any of my actual problems. For example, my motivation for making locality a requirement for any meta-ethical theory is that I don’t want to be held responsible - including by abstract principles - for things I have no possible way of doing right. Or as Kant is commonly (and uncharacteristically) summarized, “ought implies can”. I don’t know what “the Good” is, in terms of a specific outcome or kind of world. There are narratives that shape what I think of as a “good world”, but these are clearly contingent and very non-mainstream (currently, anyway4). A defining feature of any concept is that there are some things it isn’t, some negative examples. But if “the Good” is just whatever these narratives have led me to think of as “Good”, then there is no way for me to be wrong about it.5 The label “Good” is then just an arbitrary placeholder. I don’t know if “Good” outside this usage has any meaning either, but if so, I want to at least cover my ass. Thus, Moral Realism That Doesn’t Do Anything.

Interestingly, I don’t seem to apply this same thinking to the past. Even though Bad Shit happened6, I’m completely unwilling to let it go and still consider Things I Literally Have No Longer Any Causal Control Over7 just as relevant and so a single negative example can devastate me and keep on devastating me.8 I wonder if I should stop doing that…

  1. Actual content of ~/drafts, my crazy.txt:

    • start of a manifesto “Against Compassion”
    • “I didn’t choose to be a wolf”, a meditation on fursonae
    • sketches about “could zombies have saved the Nazi war effort?” until I got bored doing calculations (includes mostly worked-out Nazi Zombie campaign setting, incl. sketch of a metaphysics to make it reasonably coherent)
    • a love poem to cheesecake
    • “why everything sucks and will never ever get better”, a reading of some of Luther’s more obscure writing (on hold until I figure out if everything sucks and will never ever get better or not)
    • an incomplete sketch of “Against Imagination”, which keeps on metastasizing as I add more and more anger to it, but it never really goes anywhere constructive and I wonder if I’m not just rewriting the Futurist Manifesto anyway
    • “I’m the worst person to talk about politics, but I’m drunk and I have a pile of manifestos, try stoppin’ me”, an interdisciplinary attempt of political exploration
    • several sketches and attempts of a new critical method I call Passive-Aggressive Deconstruction

    I think it’s obvious why those drafts never go anywhere.

  2. I’m deliberately ignoring e-cigarettes even though they’re cheaper because I don’t want to accidentally establish a “suck on cigarettes” habit that might transfer to real cigarettes so I can always maintain a behavioral separation between “nicotine so my brain works” and “smoking for emotional reasons”, despite them sharing some drug effects. The nicotine in cigarettes is still welcome and I substitute accordingly, but it’s a bit of a pity I have to smoke strong brands just to remind me of her smell.

    hot ashes for trees

  3. In particular this post how virtue ethics is not useful in practice, and this (highly excerpted) exchange with Vladimir:

    [Vladimir:] If this abstract theory [e.g. utilitarianism] provides answers for the extreme and controversial cases, then it should provide answers for everyday common cases as well. But here we see that these abstract theories are of little use, often providing no useful answer or plainly absurd answers, and requiring tortured rationalizations and special pleading just to get them to clear the bar of ordinary common sense.


    If we actually do start from scratch in our study of ethics and make sure to stick to the reality of what human beings are, not to metaphysical pies in the sky and sophistries useful only for signaling and lawyering, we will end up — or at least have to start with — something resembling virtue ethics.

    [Scott:] Aside from the things I addressed in my new post, we seem to disagree a lot on how bad utilitarian and deontological ethics work. As far as I can tell they work about as well as Newtonian physics – they get the right result in the overwhelming majority of cases, but break down in certain weird edge cases where in fact they might still be salvageable.

    was the thing that made me throw up my hands and say in a moment of amused desperation, surely you can’t be asserting this! I don’t have an issue with saying that virtue ethics isn’t really a theory of anything but more a label of a kind of discourse, a way of doing morality instead of thinking about morality, and that it is, to use Skinner’s terminology, still mostly prescientific. Fair enough.

    But to say that utilitarianism (or even better, deontology! The simplest, most straightforward example of deontological reasoning - don’t deceive - is highly controversial and virtually nobody agrees with it!) works most of the time is.. well, Scott is, to use Moldbug’s amusing phrase, “not a blithering idiot”, so I can’t just say, “clearly he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about”. There must a disagreement not about results (because Scott is neither ignorant nor in denial), but about the problem. With a disparity this huge, we can’t be looking at the same thing.

    One might be tempted to say, “this just proves that some people think inherently like virtue ethicists and some like utilitarians”, but that’s just throwing away all possibility of rational discourse forever, and most importantly, this isn’t even the case. (Even if this were the case, “get out of your weird bubble” would likely be a more appropriate response, but I’m not convinced this even applies to Scott, unlike say Kant.)

    If I were more the person I want to be, I would now be able to write an eloquent reply, but alas, the only answer I am capable of is a stare of incredulity (which I hate) or an incoherent angry rant (which I love). Wanting not to be abusive, I thus experimented with alternatives and came up with Passive-Aggressive Deconstruction, which is probably still trollish, but maybe not hostile. (Or at least amusingly so.)

    Essentially, and this is why I haven’t written more than sketches yet because this is still a lot of work, I just wanted to highlight by mere quotation how Scott himself uses virtue-ethical reasoning frequently on his own blog, and how then, tumblr-style, I could just add his comment pasted on a fitting useless_utilitarian.jpg after each quote and ask, “Why don’t I see a calculation here?” or “Why do you think this is a valid form of argument?”, so that after a sufficiently large number of instances of this, it would at least be more than an assertion of “I can’t believe you’re saying what I think you’re saying, but I don’t see what else you possible could mean to say”.

    But eh, now that I’ve outlined the general approach, I can’t be bothered to do it concretely. (<3)

  4. I don’t know of any way to discuss these things without either moving to a very different audience (which I have no interest in) or attempting an act of bridging a moral divide that is akin to making a lion speak. Regardless - and I don’t know if that is intentional or not - I might eventually have to get there if I ever want to go meta and discuss important figures in Higher Criticism directly and not just their ideas how to read the NT. But I’ve failed to tell Lutherans that they don’t understand Luther, so I’m not optimistic about that ever succeeding.

  5. To be a bit more accurate, the problem is how the concept is learned and it basically separates moral subjectivists from moral relativists. In the subjectivist view, “Good” is the extension of whatever collection of preferences I happen to hold, while moral relativists conceive of some distributed concept shared by a community, like a language.

    So for example and by analogy, there is a wrong way to speak French (even though there is no Standard Written Into The World Itself that tells us a priori what French “is” and even though boundaries might be fuzzy) and so it makes sense to say someone can learn French (because we can provide positive and negative examples). But under the subjectivist view, that is not the case because only I - or rather, the preferences in my skull - define the concept. As such, I can teach what “Good” means (i.e. others can be wrong about it), but I can’t learn it because I already, by construction, embody it. (This ethical egoism may, as a matter of fact, include the value of “altruism”, of course - values aren’t justifications.)

  6. Look, Internet, I’m sorry but we aren’t that close.

  7. Well yes, Molinists can change the past, but then they have to negotiate with God and that doesn’t sound any easier, if you ask me…

  8. As Baumeister famously argues, “bad is stronger than good”.

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