Defence Against Conspiracy Theories Undermining All of Our Beliefs

I somewhat recently relearned the importance of a lot of work in epistemology (philosophy of knowledge). Sometimes arguing another round about skepticism can feel divorced from the world. But there are in fact plenty of skeptics running around causing trouble. They pose questions about, well pretty much everything, especially including the sources of our knowledge themselves. Now, as I have mentioned, I am not a skeptic, and I think there are plenty of ways to defeat skepticism, but in this post I’d like to dive directly into the epistemic problems.

Trusting People Who Know Things

One of the most common angles of attack for conspiracy theorists is our sources of knowledge. In particular, who we trust to get information from. We do get most of our knowledge via hearing or reading what someone else said. Most science you learn in school is the teacher and the textbook telling you some facts. You don’t look at it for yourself. Religion, too, is filled with relying on other people to know things and pass them on. And the news is literally just people telling you things that you don’t have the time to go see for yourself.

So we clearly rely on other people telling us things. And if you were to rank the ways you come to know things, via sensing them, remembering them, inferring them, hearing them from others, etc., you probably put hearing them from others low on the list. At least in American culture, trusting your own senses, memory, and conclusion-drawing skills before trusting someone else to know seems to be the norm. So when a conspiracy theorist looking to spread his ways points out how much of what we know is based on taking others’ words for it, the realization can be jarring.

So, sure, if you ask about how we know science stuff, or a lot of other stuff, then sure, 99% of us have to take it on people’s word. Experiments are time-consuming and expensive. However, as you might have noticed, we do manage to do stuff. Veering off the question of knowledge for a second, someone at the store could start throwing stuff instead of shopping. People on roads could ignore the lines. And back on the question of knowledge,  a news reporter could spontaneously just start saying knowing lies. And in fact, on rare occasion, these things do happen. But usually they don’t. That we manage to make stuff work, even if not with 100% certainty, is interesting in itself. Especially given language and knowledge are both themselves socially-created.

One could dive deep into the social sciences asking what it is that makes people honest, but they are. Sure, some people are dishonest or think they know when they don’t know, but sometimes you think you know when you don’t. Your memories can be wrong even if they feel right. Your senses can deceive you. Faulty reasoning is common. Yet the solution is not to throw these out. It’s to recognize that 100% certainty is not the right bar to use. And just as you realize that totally distrusting your senses isn’t going to work, you should realize that totally distrusting other people isn’t going to work. So how do you judge when someone is to be distrusted? Well, more on that in a bit, but basically, you already know how. When someone has a track record of lying or being wrong, you become suspicious. When someone has a track record of being honest and correct, you trust even some of their more unlikely-sounding statements.

Making Sense

Another popular avenue for conspiracy theorists to start asking how things make sense. Money is just pieces of paper or numbers in a machine. Laws are just words on a page. How do all of these clearly human-made symbols have any power in the world at all? Nothing makes sense!

Well, again, a dive into the social sciences, particularly sociology and social psychology, would be rather instructive. But we can get a lot of mileage out of asking what you mean by “make sense”?

First, let’s look at the usual cases of making sense. It’s a way of describing behavior. Someone walks to work, and that makes sense. Someone puts some merchandise on the checkout counter at the store, and that makes sense. You see someone tapping at her phone, and, again, that makes sense.

Now let’s look at what doesn’t make sense. If you’re walking down the sidewalk and see someone rolling on the ground, that doesn’t make sense. What do we mean by “that doesn’t make sense”? We mean that you can’t explain the behavior. When people do stuff we try to tell a story about it. Preferably some sort of story that guides us in our actions. We need to know which way he is rolling so we don’t collide. We might consider that the rolling man is on fire, and if we make sense of the rolling that way, we’ll be looking out for fire hazards. Maybe he’s going downhill and it’s just for fun. Maybe he’s mentally disturbed. Regardless, we try to piece together a picture of the world. This picture enables us to act.

We can look back to science. Given everything falls, we all include gravity in our pictures . We do this to make sense of things falling. Part of trusting people is making sense of their saying things as an attempt to communicate the information that they are saying.

Doubting Doubt

Let us now go on the offensive. If you just doubt everything, then you won’t get very far. I don’t mean this in some abstract sense, but in a very commonsense way. If you doubt your senses all the time, you won’t have much input about the world. If I want to go make myself a bowl of rice right now, I have to trust my senses are right about the floor, door, bowl, rice, and so on. And as I walk away from the rice cooker, I have to trust my memory of turning it on, lest I end up in an endless cycle of checking it. Oh, and my knowledge that the rice cooker cooks rice. And that rice is a food. The list goes on and on. Could my roommate have poisoned my rice supply? I suppose that is a possibility. But it doesn’t make any sense.

But, again, onto the offensive. These theorists all too often fail to doubt whether they should be doubting. If I’m walking and come to a rickety bridge over a deep chasm, sure, I’ll doubt it. This doubt is expressed by testing it. Step on the bridge with one foot on secure ground. Maybe shake it a bit. But a busy sidewalk? I’m not going to doubt whether it will fall out under me. That would be insane. If someone jumped on each sidewalk square three times to be sure it’s safe, we would say they have severe OCD.

There are many, many things we simply don’t doubt. And we don’t doubt them because we have no reason to doubt them. Doubting everything sounds attractive as a slogan, but it’s wildly impractical. Even someone reading this and objecting probably trusted up until this point that I’m writing in English with words meaning what they usually mean. I would implore someone who didn’t to object, but he didn’t understand what I said anyway and won’t get the message.


So, what’s the point of all this knowledge stuff? Conspiracy theorists point to the different and competing claims of science, reason, faith, religion, and maybe some others. Usually this is for the sake of  undermining our understanding of purpose. They are convinced that the people telling us about science or religion or whatever else has an agenda. Those educators want us to do their bidding, and we need to think for ourselves to find the real purpose of action, whatever it may be. So now we can carve up the questions constructed by these theorists into two:

  1. What is a good source of knowledge?
  2. What is a good reason to do something?

And we need both in the most general sense. There’s a worry about falling into traps of outright outlandish and foolish doubts. But at the same time we still have to be wary of believing too easily.

Now a dive into epistemology (philosophy of knowledge). There’s (basically) two very general notions of how to think of knowledge and it is justified, so to speak. One way is like towers. You have some basic, ground-level beliefs or knowledge. You build up from there. And if you pull out the bottom, then the whole thing collapses. This is the idea people seem to commonly have going into this discussion. So a conspiracy theorist comes along and makes you question your ground-level beliefs. You have the problem of not knowing which things are good foundations. Because knowing which things are good is itself knowledge!

The other way is more like a web. There are some more or less important parts, but nothing is truly at the bottom. You throw new stuff at it. Some can fit in. Some will be rejected. If you tell me Nixon was just re-elected president, I’ll have some real reservations because other parts of my web do not fit at all with that. Nixon is dead, and the US doesn’t usually have elections in the middle of a term and overnight. But if you told me the rice I started earlier is done, that seems pretty plausible. The best explanation my web can figure for someone telling me that is that my rice is done.

So, let’s assume that the web is the better model. Epistemological foundationalists are free to object in the comments, and actively encouraged to do so if they can also provide the same defense I do here:

As a person in the middle of life, you already have a web. Your web is working well enough. Sometimes you’re wrong, but you get around being correct often enough to not be put in a psychiatric ward for having crippling hallucinations and delusions. Now think about your good enough web. Sometimes you come across new information. Say, you hear a knock at the door. New info. It comes to the web. Using other stuff you know, you figure the knock probably happened, and it probably means that there’s a person there. So you get up and look. And then you answer the door, whatever. Good web.

Now, let’s say it was the wind. So you answer, and nobody is there. That’s more info. So that goes to the web, and you cut out the previous belief that someone was at the door. Maybe you come up with an explanation, such as that it was the wind. This gives us some idea what it is for you to believe or know something. The something that you believe is part of a web that leads you to create new beliefs and act in ways that are useful to you.

Then we have the question of which sources of knowledge are right or trustworthy. So ask, well, why do you trust your ears? Probably because thus far they usually lead you the right way. And today we have convenient examples of stuff leading the wrong way. Lots of people ignore the feeling of vibration on their leg because the phantom phone vibrations lied enough that they cut out of their webs as a good source of info. So, as in the first section, you can ask this of people, too. As I promised, we are returning to the question of how to know who to trust.

Do you know someone who lies a lot? Do you trust what she says? No. Why? Because you’ve found that the things that she says always ends up having to be cut out of the web. Likewise, what is it to trust someone besides to take the information they present as good enough for inclusion in the web? It doesn’t have to be the most strongly connected to the web. If a close friend tells you something important, you’ll probably be very hesitant to cut it out of your web. But if someone at the store tells you chips are in aisle three and you don’t see them, then you assume the dude was wrong and move along. The fact that people can misremember aisle numbers is part of your well-functioning web.

Doubting Everything

Okay, so individual threats to the web can be handled, but what if you’re worried about your whole web being wrong? What if actually an evil demon is feeding your mind with perceptions that are nothing more than the demon fucking around? What if you’ve been so thoroughly misled, as some of the more extreme conspiracy theorists might contend, that really you need to throw everything out and start over?

First, remember now, what does it mean when you say or think “This is wrong?” It means that the alleged information (“this”) cannot fit into your web. You might not be 100% certain that it shouldn’t, but we’ve established that that’s fine. So something is coming to your web and not sticking because it just doesn’t fit. Then to think “Everything I think is wrong” is to think that your whole web does not fit with your web. This means that the very idea of doubting everything is incoherent. You can check if pieces of the web fit with the rest of the web. You cannot check if the whole web (at once) fits with the rest of the web. There is no “rest of the web” to check against.

Now, of course, the web might still feel a bit loose. But now the way to tighten it and make it feel coherent can be made clearer. Because it’s now clear that each piece can only be tested individually, and that you already have a web, you can look at the more troublesome pieces and explicitly put them to the test. And then like how when you put one foot on a rickety bridge to assure you’re self that it’s safe, you have shaken the belief in question and found that it does hold together.

Putting the Web into Action

There are yet factors that give us good reason to suspect large swaths of web. For instance, your socioeconomic status makes you oblivious to a lot of things. Geography will highlight some things and hide others. And there’s just plain ignorance. I know I don’t know much about botany, so the whole region of my web dealing in plants is kinda shady.

Nonetheless, there are parts of the web that come up because we have to act, and maybe we have to believe. But we don’t have to believe very strongly. So, for example, I’ve been made aware, through various means, that I have obviously white skin and features, and as such, there are important things that I’m just going to miss. I can’t know what it’s like to be black. I know that, though, so that goes in the web. And when something looks like it wants to be part of my web when I know it should not (because it’s something I know that I can’t know), then the web rejects it.

Now, are there probably some deeply wrong parts of the web? That is, parts that will not stand up to scrutiny? Well, maybe. But there are at least two kinds:

  1. Something that will affect my actions in an important way.
  2. Something that will not affect my actions in an important way.

The whole reason for caring about this stuff is because of actions, right? Knowing for knowing’s sake is dandy, but the reason we get really  worried  is because of the beliefs that affect how we act. So toss out category 2.

This leaves category 1. Given the values you have and situations you’re likely to encounter, you can look around the beliefs in the relevant areas of your web and test them. Maybe you know you need more info, so you can find some to help build up that area of the web.  Many situations that some knowledge will be useful for can be foreseen. Of course, sometimes you can’t or won’t, and actions have consequences. That’s a large part of why we care about them. If there’s bad consequences, then that goes to the web, and you can figure out what went wrong. You learn from mistakes and whatnot.
So then maybe a new worry comes up: What if you make a really bad mistake?
Well, you already know what counts as really bad, right? Maybe the kinda bad stuff is fuzzy, but the really bad stuff is clear. And being really bad, you can reasonably make general rules of action that steer you clear of it. Like, killing the wrong person would be really bad, so you make a general rule to not kill anyone.







Another attempt to bring out the two most critical points in the abortion debate

A month or two ago Ireland made a stride towards legal abortion, and the US made a stride in the opposite direction. Abortion is always on the political table though. I imagine a perfect pregnancy-prevention mechanism would cool the flames quite a bit, but even then, people can change their minds, and the question will emerge of whether that should be allowed. But as usual, this most recent flare-up of abortion debates involved a lot of people talking past each other other. I think, though, there is ultimately one argument for the prohibition of abortion that is good if it works. There are plenty of reasons one might want to prohibit abortion, such as controlling women, liking the appearance of pregnancy, and any other number of bad reasons, but they’re all pretty bad. So, here’s the one possibly good argument:

  1. Killing people ought to be illegal.
  2. Unborn humans are people.
  3. So, killing unborn humans ought to be illegal.

This seems to be the most intuitive and defensible argument for making abortion illegal. A lot of people seem to endorse it, sometimes implicitly. There’s a need in the popular discourse, though, to be more explicit about the two premises in play, because oftentimes people will defend 2 against an attack on 1, or vice-versa.

Getting a little more clear on the premises

Neither premise is super clear, as is the cost of making them short. The first, the killing people ought to be illegal, has plenty of exceptions. Asking why killing people ought to be illegal seems a little strange. Being wrong to kill seems like it might just be a feature of being a person rather than some other kind of thing. So wrong, in fact, that any code of law that doesn’t forbid killing people seems fundamentally broken. So, to spare us a lengthy dive into a theory of moral personhood, I will assume that there’s an agreement that in general people’s lives should be protected by law.

The generality rather than universality of the statement is important, though. There are exceptional cases in which we defend the legal killing of persons. Self-defense is the most obvious. If someone is threatening your life, you’re allowed to kill the person threatening your life. There are perhaps other crimes that might make killing someone defensible. If someone is threatening the lives of others, if someone is severely assaulting you, and so on. War and law enforcement create further situations. Sometimes there is no choice but to kill some set of people, and the choice is merely which set. Accidents that aren’t the result of negligence also usually land on the legal side. My point here is just that we ought to have many legal exceptions for killing people. This is of course an opening that someone defending the legality of abortion against this argument can and often does use.

In the phrasing of the second premise I use “people” in a possibly technical way. While we might have been able to dodge questions of moral personhood for the first premise, they are the heart of the second premise. By “person” (and derivatively, “people”), I just mean a being with moral personhood. That still sounds a bit circular, but getting a technical definition down is a whole subsubfield of philosophy on its own. Examples can give us a good enough idea, though! Normal adult humans are the archetype of people. If a theory of personhood excludes them, it’s probably defective. Inanimate objects are not people. You can violate the autonomy of a rock all you want, and nothing wrong is being done. Then there are edge cases. Is C-3PO from Star Wars a person? Maybe. Are higher apes, or maybe dolphins people? Again, maybe. Within the realm of humanity, we can ask the same of fetuses and maybe infants, too. Once we pin down what gives adult humans their moral worth as people, we can turn to the unborn and ask if they are people.

Arguments pointing to the human DNA and beating heart of the unborn are usually along these lines. They are implicitly placing the bar for personhood at humanity. Nobody defending abortion thinks that the unborn humans are not living beings, and nobody denies that they are human beings. They very obviously are. What one might deny is whether they are persons. Often someone backing this sort of argument against abortion takes for free that all humans are morally relevant persons and then goes in to prove the much easier point that unborn humans are human. But this is just the root of much misunderstanding.

The common arguments against each premise and setting up the right questions

With the first premise, that killing people ought to be illegal, usually the premise is not denied outright so much as the line pushed. Almost nobody thinks every case of killing a person ought to be illegal, so the argument here is on where to draw the line. So, let us take up the case of whether the line ought to be before or after abortion. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that personhood begins at conception. Given this, can someone kill a person inside them?

A well-treaded argument asks us to consider waking up in the hospital attached to a famous violinist. He brings a lot of happiness to the world with his playing, but is sick in such a way that he requires using your body for life support for awhile. Let’s say he’ll be hindering you for about nine months. If you pull the plug, he dies. The defender of abortion here draws on the intuition that you ought to have the legal right to pull the plug anyway.

The argument can be strengthened or weakened. Someone not yet convinced might think that the state should totally use someone as life support if they aren’t doing much with their lives but the person in need of support is. This person might also think mandatory blood donations are a good idea. In that case, we can reduce the status of the violinist until he contributes as much to society as the unborn do: nothing.

On the other hand, someone arguing against abortion might not be satisfied yet. Usually the first next objection is that the aborter usually has something to do with the creation of the unborn person, so while normally you have a right to not let someone use you as life support, you do if you willingly engaged in an act with the potential to create that situation. (We might note that this makes the argument against the legality of abortion no longer work against cases of rape.) So let’s alter the example to fit this. How far we want to push it is another question. Perhaps the right analog is someone who you accidentally hit with your car. You weren’t trying to, but a danger of getting behind the wheel is hitting someone. If they require the surrender of your bodily autonomy, ought the law demand it? (Ideally, this case uses you as life support for nine months. If you don’t have enough imagination, maybe ask what the law should demand if they need blood. Or a kidney.) Alternatively, perhaps the right analog is someone who you aimed your car at and hit. You knew the likely consequences of your actions. But the fun of smashing someone with your car seemed worth it. Are you bound to use your body to aid the person you hit?

I’m not sure yet where to move from there, but those seem to be the two questions at hand, in addition to the question of which one pregnancy is more like. For the argument presented for the prohibition of abortion to work, whichever one abortion turns out to be like has to also be answered that, yes, the government should step in and force you to surrender your bodily autonomy. You cannot pull the plug on/deny an organ donation to someone you hit with your car.

Onto the second premise, then. Are unborn humans people? If they’re not, then the door is open to killing them. They might still have some rights. Dogs aren’t people, but you can’t torture them. Nonetheless, their being people is pretty significant to this argument.

Now, we don’t need perfectly refined necessary and sufficient conditions of personhood to answer this question. All we need is something sufficient that unborn humans have or something necessary that they do not. So, someone making the argument against abortion will try to put forward a condition that anything that fulfills the conditions is a person. And someone defending abortion will put forward a condition that is required to qualify as a person.

On the arguing against the legality of abortion side, being alive tends to come up far more than it should. Lots of things are alive. The fly I just swatted was alive, but it was not a person. Next up is human. From here we see all sorts of conditions thrown around, like a beating heart or looking like a human in ultrasounds, or just being alive while having human DNA. Being alive while having human DNA isn’t enough since removed limbs are not people. Okay, so being alive, having human DNA, and either being able to survive independently or on a path of development toward independent survival. That seems to be the stable position, but then the question emerges: Why is that the line for moral personhood? What about having human DNA and either being biologically independent or on the path to such makes someone morally relevant as a person? This is what the person arguing against abortion needs to be more clear about.

Cue the defender of legal abortion. There are some conditions thrown out that turn out to be rather silly. “It’s just a clump of cells” is common, but it doesn’t work. As noted in the previous paragraph, the clump of cells is special in that it can develop. Given the right resources, it will develop into a human. Now if you want to push for the absurdity of allowing speculation into the future with some resources just assumed, you might argue that an egg or sperm will develop into a person given the right resources. But clearly eggs and sperm are not people, so that line cannot work. There’s room to go back and forth on this, but I think looking for a biological answer to personhood is a mistake.

Remember when giving examples of possible persons, beings like C-3PO came up. When we ask why someone is morally relevant as a person, the features that really matter are not a certain biology, but certain capacities or abilities. The ability to enter into interpersonal relationships, intelligence, language or concept use, moral understanding. These are all possible criteria. Unborn humans seem to fail all of them. Of course, each of these also has some dangers. If an adult human is incapable of being in an interpersonal relationship, is she not a person? Is sufficiently low intelligence grounds for denying personhood? Is someone completely amoral not a person? Perhaps. Is any of these things are the things that really matter to personhood and some humans fail to meet the condition(s), then maybe some exceptional humans are not persons.

The other side to this is the developmental disjunct. Maybe an unborn human is unable to enter a relationship, well below whatever an intelligence criterion might be, and amoral. But, the likelihood of developing into such a being is high, given adequate resources. And we can assume some level of resources because if you starve anyone, they will degrade and likely lose these conditions. There might be something question-begging about saying only the present individual counts, unless some further reason is given. One might look to people who are comatose or asleep. They fail the conditions, except maybe being in relationships. Yet going to sleep doesn’t make you not a person. But the defender of abortion can appeal to someone sleeping having a personal history. Though maybe going into a permanent coma does deprive one of personhood. Or dying. Are dead people still people? If they are, then being alive isn’t even a requirement. It doesn’t seem entirely absurd, though, to say that dead people are people. In which case maybe the personal history requirement is just the crucial requirement for personhood that captures all the cases we would otherwise want but excludes the unborn.

The problem here is just that now we’re stuck asking what a personal history is. My working hypothesis for a condition for personhood is something like personal history, and I take the lines to be drawn not by strict logical requirements, but rather by a general understanding of what a story of someone’s life looks like. Now, maybe “I know it when I see it” isn’t all that helpful in figuring out whether unborn humans are people. It may just leave us right where we started. But, as I said, just finding a necessary condition for personhood is enough, even if it’s not the most restrictive true necessary condition. That is, maybe the real bar is higher, but if we find a bar that’s not too high but the unborn still cannot meet, then the case against the second premise is made. So maybe a condition like this: someone is a person only if she is able to engage in interpersonal relationships or can use language or can use concepts or is intelligent or has moral understanding. Surely that’s too low a bar for personhood, but it doesn’t seem too high in any important regard, and unborn humans don’t clear it.

To summarize:

  • The best argument to make abortion illegal has two premises, each of which must be argued separately.
  • The first question  is whether, even if unborn humans are people, abortion is one of the exceptions in which we think killing people ought to be legal. The argument against the legality of abortion demands that abortion is not justifiable.
  • The second question  is whether unborn humans are people. While a complete definition of personhood is not needed, the argument against the legality of abortion demands that unborn humans do fall within the boundaries of personhood.

Even if the Bible is not the law, it is the document a lot of Americans look to for values

In the US, a lot of people are Christian. Christianity is a big enough force in the country that the “Religious Right” is a thing. While not all Republicans are concerned with religion, it’s at least a staple of the party, and any conservative politician will at least pay lip service to it. The Trump administration is no exception, and it has indeed tried to justify itself with the Bible.

In response to this and the absolutely infernal acts the administration is propagating, some others have pointed out that a good reading of the Bible will lead one to find condemnations of categories of things that include treating immigrants and refugees horribly.

In response to this response, some have stepped back and tried to deny any authority to the Bible either way:


In some sense, yes, this is right. Though the second paragraph makes a subtle shift. Most people who are talking about the application of Jesus’s words to tearing kids from their parents are not trying to make a legal argument. I would be very surprised to find someone saying that tearing kids from their parents is illegal. Plenty of people are saying that it’s wrong, or that people should not tear kids from their parents, but that’s not the same as saying it’s illegal.

There are Constitutional provisions in the US restricting how laws can interact with religion. Though there’s an under-appreciated distinction between policies and the reasons behind policies. This comes up when people talk about the political compass too. Someone could be, say, authoritarian-left for a variety of different, even contrary reasons. But if you’re just trying to measure the concrete policies people support, then the motivations are abstracted away.

Likewise, people have all sorts of motivations for voting the way that they do. Many people, citizens and legislators, look to religion for guidance on which ways to vote. And if it’s something like what to set the income tax rates at or whether usury ought to be legal, then that’s a thing people can do. (There is some slippery room with legislators openly voting based on religious beliefs for policies without religious content, but even then, most people will let their values or morality tell them how to vote, and many people get those values from religion. You’re just one step removed.)

So in the sense of whether the Bible is the document that the agents of the state are supposed to consult in governing the country, no, of course not. You look to the laws and the will of the people. However, most of the people behind the laws and will are Christians. You might not like that. I’m not arguing whether that’s a thing worth trying to change, but for now, it is the case, and it will almost certainly be the case for at least several more years. So even if you think a long-term strategy of diminishing Christianity or religion in general is good, short-term solutions to urgent problems are also needed.

Public opinion and outcry does seem to have some effect on what the US government does. (Just yesterday Trump signed an order to keep families together. This may have been the Republican plan all along, but nonetheless, the plan at least had to incorporate public reactions.) So, to get good outcomes, we should include persuading the public to support the right policies. To do this requires appealing to the values people have. (We should also try to instill better values, but, again, that’s a long-term move.) In this case, adherence to the values of Christianity is a value a lot of people already have, and Jesus is pretty clear on this topic. So even if you or I think the Bible is not the document to look at for guidance in organizing society, plenty of people do, and they’re going to act as such. So we may as well point out that Jesus said to be good to people, as well as other things condemning pretty much everything ICE and company do.

Now, one might argue that if the majority religion were some other religion that supported these atrocities, then we would want people to steer away from what it says. Sure. We rarely appeal to every value anyway. In that case we would not look to adherence to religious teachings as a value and pick other values to appeal to. We can see this here, anyway. Most people probably take the obtaining of wealth as a value. Taking in refugees does not clearly serve that end. But for our purposes, that just means we don’t appeal to the value of money on this topic.

Some media is better than other media

This article is excellent. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I think it has two very good and important points:
1. If you give up on things like value judgements and expertise, you lose almost all ground you have to say much with oomph. Some things are better than some other things. Aesthetically as well as politically. Media created with nuance and skill is better than kitsch and propaganda. People who spend a lot of time studying a thing do tend to know better than most about that thing. “Elitism” has become such a bad word that we’ve forgotten that it is better to be better.
2. Texts (and other works, but usually texts) that are difficult and slow, but rewarding, to work through have benefits over fast and easy media. Simple messages are easy to use as rallying cries. For good or bad causes. If something takes no thought to consume, then it usually won’t get much thought in its consumption. This isn’t to say that writing in such a way that is needlessly difficult to understand is a good thing, but works that reward reading slowly and rereading and analysizing are better.

Brick-and-mortar stores are complaining that online stores not having to charge sales taxes is unfair; they’re right, what an occasion to end sales taxes!

Though it’s a state government leading the charge, the good justification for changing the law isn’t the one in the state’s interest. I see two complaints here:

  1. The state government wants more revenue. Online sales generally lower the amount of in-state sales, so the sales tax revenue is reduced.
  2. Physical retailers have to charge more than online retailers because of the sales tax boosting their effective prices. This gives buyers an extra incentive to buy online.

Complaint 2 is pretty reasonable. Unless we’re looking to give online sellers an edge for the sake of stomping out physical sellers, then the current situation is needlessly unfair. But there’s two ways to make it more fair. One is to add sales taxes to online purchases. The other is to destroy sales taxes entirely. Given sales taxes are a regressive, anti-demand tax, that second option is a lot nicer.

This second, better option would aggravate complaint 1 even further, but unlike sellers who only acquire revenue via selling things, state governments have other, better options. They can tax for land use. They can have progressive income or wealth taxes.

One comment in the linked WSJ article made a decent point against 1, as well: sellers without a physical location in the state are consuming less of the state resources. They aren’t taking up space, polluting the air and water, creating garbage, and otherwise creating various negative externalities for the state.

(Of course, the current court case can, officially, only be decided by what the current legal documents say rather than what they should say, and some analysis of the constitution suggests the status quo will be upheld. Though even the linked analysis then suggests that actual legislative changes should be made. The interstate commerce stuff is somewhat interesting, but a bigger hammer seems more appropriate here.)

26 in 34

My 26 mile time is now at 34 hours. (Well, 26.2, if I’m talking about the distance that will matter. But the 34 hour mark isn’t super precise, either. This was the first attempt, and I didn’t even decide until mile 21 that I was going to do it, so I didn’t bother keeping super close track.) Obviously the 26 weren’t all together. It was something like 1/1/.5/1.5/1/13/.5/.5/1/1/5. Now, while I don’t plan on this blog becoming inundated by posts about my fitness, it is nonetheless my web log, so I’m going to note some observations that I will presumably come back to in a few months. For the people who are or have been into running, this is probably all obvious. Maybe. Maybe it’s more idiosyncratic. Regardless.

  • I could probably chip the time down a fair bit if I actually planned ahead. The 13 mile chunk was at the end of a day that already included two full body strength workouts. My legs were already feeling like gelatin.
  • My sense of speed is not very consistent. Near the beginning I was keeping around 10 mph. By the end I was closer to 4 mph. They felt about the same.
  • Which song was playing had a lot to do with my speed. More than local progress, though less than global progress. (I.e. with a faster song, mile 3 is faster than mile 1, but mile 26 is not faster than mile 3. Unless I intentionally take mile 3 really slowly, of course.)
  • Around mile 10 of the 13 mile stretch (15 overall) I felt what may have been the greatest physical sensation I have ever felt.
  • Turns out if you sweat enough, when it dries, there will be visible grains of salt on your face.
  • The hardest mile was the nineteenth. I.e., the first one after sleeping. I assumed I was going to take a rest day because of how much it hurt to move. After three miles the pain subsided.
  • Thirteen in a row probably felt better than the twenty-six over thirty-four hours. I felt done at the end of the thirteen. Writing this at the end of the twenty-six, I feel like I should go run some more.
  • I was wondering why my thighs were okay after the eighteen. Then today when I added the eight I realized yesterday was in athletic pants. I guess now I can justify getting some nice athletic pants.
  • Getting Little Caesars midway through the final five was a nice energy boost, but also acid shooting up my throat was unpleasant.
  • I hadn’t really gone far past feeling like jello before. Apparently somewhere later is feeling like stone.
  • I hate treadmills.
  • While my presumed eventual goal is 26 in 5, as an intermediate step, condensing the chunks into 13 and 13 first might be more feasible. (Or just working up from 13 to 14 to 15 to….Or, combine the two. 14 and 12, 15 and 11, 16 and 10…..)
  • While speed isn’t really a big concern, at least for now, I do wonder what kind of pacing would be most effective. I clearly started fast and slowed down. There were some local peaks and valleys, but the overall trend was significantly downward. I wonder if keeping a more steady rate would be more efficient.
  • Also, while I did not aim for any speed, I did aim for intensity throughout. My primary ongoing goal was to defeat any urge to slow down. That is, my goal was to run at the maximum sustainable speed, with occasional sprints.
  • The sudden bursts of energy to sprint surprised me. They aligned with my music, but in the middle of mile 13 (8 of the 13 mile stretch) I was able to sustain 10 mph for thirty seconds. I had similar, though slower, bursts in miles 18 and 26.
  • I am really surprised at how little wear these shoes from Rue 21 have taken. I assumed this would destroy them.
  • Running far away from home in order to force myself to run the second half remains an effective technique.
  • Riverside has a lot of intersections. Lest I go 130-260 laps around the track in the gym, I need to find some extended area without breaks outside.
  • Riverside at night is a lot less scary while running.
  • Pop punk, power metal, thrash metal, and industrial metal, while normally excellent kinds of music, are also excellent for running. Particularly the speedier songs within. “M&Ms” by blink-182, “Once in a Lifetime” by DragonForce, “All Nightmare Long” by Metallica, and “Never Surrender” by Combichrist are some examples.
  • Pop punk and power metal are good for peppy songs to feel good to. Thrash and industrial metal are good for songs to power through pain to.
  • Part of the trick with training this skill will be that it takes quite a bit of time. And this is an extremely busy quarter for me. I know the 13 mile stretch was done in 2 hours. I imagine the total time was somewhere between 5 and 6 hours, maybe 7 because of how sluggish the end got. Even if it was only 5, that’s a lot of time out of two days. Perhaps weekends will be of some use. Or the summertime.
  • Given I really only started running with any regularity a little over two months ago, I am surprised.