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On not getting a job as an option

36 Post author: diegocaleiro 11 March 2014 02:44AM

This was originally a comment to VipulNaik's recent indagations about the academic lifestyle versus the job lifestyle. Instead of calling it lifestyle he called them career options, but I'm taking a different emphasis here on purpose.

Due to information hazards risks, I recommend that Effective Altruists who are still wavering back and forth do not read this. Spoiler EA alert. 

I'd just like to provide a cultural difference information that I have consistently noted between Americans and Brazilians which seems relevant here. 

To have a job and work in the US is taken as a *de facto* biological need. It is as abnormal for an American, in my experience, to consider not working, as it is to consider not breathing, or not eating.  It just doesn't cross people's minds. 

If anyone has insight above and beyond "Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism" let me know about it, I've been waiting for the "why?" for years. 

So yeah, let me remind people that you can spend years and years not working. that not getting a job isn't going to kill you or make you less healthy, that ultravagabonding is possible and feasible and many do it for over six months a year, that I have a friend who lives as the boyfriend of his sponsor's wife in a triad and somehow never worked a day in his life (the husband of the triad pays it all, both men are straight). That I've hosted an Argentinian who left graduate economics for two years to randomly travel the world, ended up in Rome and passed by here in his way back, through couchsurfing.  That Puneet Sahani has been well over two years travelling the world with no money and an Indian passport now. I've also hosted a lovely estonian gentleman who works on computers 4 months a year in London to earn pounds, and spends eight months a year getting to know countries while learning their culture etc... Brazil was his third country. 

Oh, and never forget the Uruguay couple I just met at a dance festival who have been travelling as hippies around and around South America for 5 years now, and showed no sign of owning more than 500 dollars worth of stuff. 

Also in case you'd like to live in a paradise valley taking Santo Daime (a religious ritual with DMT) about twice a week, you can do it with a salary of aproximatelly 500 dollars per month in Vale do Gamarra, where I just spent carnival, that is what the guy who drove us back did.  Given Brazilian or Turkish returns on investment, that would cost you 50 000 bucks in case you refused to work within the land itself for the 500. 

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that though it certainly makes you unable to do expensive stuff, thus removing the paradox of choice and part of your existential angst from you (uhuu less choices!), there is nearly no detraction in status from not having a job. In fact, during these years in which I was either being an EA and directing an NGO, or studying on my own, or doing a Masters (which, let's agree is not very time consuming) my status has increased steadily, and many opportunities would have been lost if I had a job that wouldn't let me move freely. Things like being invited as Visiting Scholar to Singularity Institute, like giving a TED talk, like directing IERFH, and like spending a month working at FHI with Bostrom, Sandberg, and the classic Lesswrong poster Stuart Armstrong. 

So when thinking about what to do with you future my dear fellow Americans, please, at least consider not getting a job. At least admit what everyone knows from the bottom of their hearts, that jobs are abundant for high IQ people (specially you my programmer lurker readers.... I know you are there...and you native English speakers, I can see you there, unnecessarily worrying about your earning potential). 

A job is truly an instrumental goal, and your terminal goals certainly do have chains of causation leading to them that do not contain a job for 330 days a year.  Unless you are a workaholic who experiences flow in virtue of pursuing instrumental goals. Then please, work all day long, donate as much as you can, and may your life be awesome! 


Comments (189)

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 11 March 2014 02:29:48PM *  13 points [-]

I have been thinking about the following question a lot.

The western world is very productive, due to the industrial and information revolutions. But we still work a lot (a lot of it "abstract white collar work"). Now the question is, how much of this work is just "paying people to dig holes in the ground" as Keynes puts it, and how much of it is solving genuine coordination problems (which we know is hard, and hence requires manpower, and in addition it is hard to coordinate to solve coordination problems..)

Economists like Hanson would say that it would be silly for firms to pay people to dig holes in the ground, but firms are often systematically crazy in various ways.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 03:51:18PM *  5 points [-]

As you probably noticed, it's complicated :-)

On top of the technology layer ("the industrial and information revolutions") there is the sociopolitical layer which is rather important for determining how well and how efficiently does a society run. The Soviet communism/socialism is a good example of a society which screwed up the sociopolitical layer with well-known consequences.

This means that the question "how much of this work really needs to be done" is complicated and is not reducible to issues of technological efficiency. There are power structures. There are value distribution and redistribution arrangements. There are webs of incentives, often conflicting.

Basically, if you try to eliminate "unproductive" work on purely technological/economical grounds, the sociopolitical layer will react and compensate -- and that gets you firmly into the Land of Unintended Consequences...

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 11 March 2014 05:49:12PM *  6 points [-]

To sharpen my question a bit:

Back during the heyday of the industrial revolution, people have been predicting that people will work less and less due to vastly increased productivity. This did not happen, which is interesting, because it seemed like a reasonable prediction at the time and still seems that way to me today. People are making similar predictions now. I am curious if these predictions will similarly not pan out, and if so why. Coordination being hard would be a "good reason," digging holes would be a "bad reason." If we are really digging holes, it just seems better to implement a minimum income instead.

Comment author: Salemicus 11 March 2014 06:14:13PM 8 points [-]

But we are working less and less due to vastly increased productivity, and it's very clear in any graph of hours worked over time. And the effect is even bigger than the statistics show, because of the big shift from non-market to market labour - don't tell me that doing the laundry by hand, or being a subsistence farmer, isn't work, just because it's hard for government statisticians to measure! People today have far more leisure than at any time since the dawn of agriculture.

What is true is that hours worked haven't fallen as much as some people predicted (e.g. Keynes in "Economic Possiblities for our Grandchildren"). The reason for that seems pretty obvious - innovation doesn't just make us better at making the same old things, it also creates new things we want, and people have a pronounced tendency to underestimate the latter.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 06:24:10PM *  6 points [-]

People today have far more leisure than at any time since the dawn of agriculture.

This is commonly asserted, but I have my doubts.

Consider, for example, that agriculture is a very seasonal activity (in most places). You have a few high-intensity periods during the year, but the rest of the year is low-intensity and provides enough opportunity for leisure time.

Some arguments can be found here and here.

Comment author: CronoDAS 12 March 2014 01:39:13AM 2 points [-]

I've heard that modern hunter-gatherers do about twenty hours of "work" per week...

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 12 March 2014 01:46:42PM *  3 points [-]

But we are working less and less due to vastly increased productivity, and it's very clear in any graph of hours worked over time.

Do you have any references for this claim? One thing I have read is this paper:

http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~vramey/research/Century_Published.pdf


To sharpen my question a bit further still: how much is the length of our workday shaped by necessity and how much by custom and culture.

Comment author: Salemicus 12 March 2014 04:42:28PM *  0 points [-]

I had not seen that paper; it is interesting and I will look over it more fully at another time. I should note that

  • They aren't measuring work, they are measuring leisure. For example, they count the big increase in time spent in education as eating into our leisure, which is true, but irrelevant to the question of whether we are working more.
  • Even those authors agree that per capita leisure increased by 4 hours per week over the past century in the USA.
  • Some of their claims are hard to believe. For example, they claim

Home-production time averaged over the population ages 14 and older decreased by only half an hour per week from 1900 to 2005.

Really? Despite the gas oven, the washing machine, the dishwasher, etc? They claim that the typical 25-54-aged woman worked 50.4 hours per week in home production in 1900, and 31.1 hours per week in 2005. This change is way too small to be plausible. I think, frankly, that all kinds of activities are now being classified as home production work that would not have been so classified in 1990, and that their broad categories ("childcare", etc) are unable to measure this.

You can see a general overview of the subject for the US here:

http://eh.net/encyclopedia/hours-of-work-in-u-s-history/

A nice blogger put together a graph over hours worked over time in US history here:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_9kFluQyx4tM/TIcLhFVzVNI/AAAAAAAAAG8/hwfkDvU14-Y/s1600/Avg+Hours+Week.jpg

Data from various developed countries here:

http://phe.rockefeller.edu/work_less/

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 September 2014 05:28:00AM 2 points [-]

More Work for Mother argues that the most of the physical labor was taken out of housework, but the amount of time required stayed high because standards went up.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 September 2014 05:29:32AM 1 point [-]

It seems to me that there's a tremendous amount more fiction available in various media, and people are finding time to consume quite a lot of it.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 06:10:55PM *  1 point [-]

people have been predicting that people will work less and less due to vastly increased productivity. This did not happen, which is interesting, because it seemed like a reasonable prediction at the time and still seems that way to me today.

Well, let's think about it. When people work they produce value (I'll handwave the concept of "value" into existence skipping the fiddly parts like the definition, constraints, caveats, etc.). That value either gets consumed or gets added to the accumulated wealth which we can also call capital.

So what happens when productivity rises? People can work less but that means that consumption and capital accumulation remain constant. Or people can work similar amounts of time which means that the consumption and/or the capital accumulation will go up.

In other words, people can work less time at higher productivity if they are willing to accept that their consumption (=standard of living, more or less) will not rise.

Essentially you have a trade-off between leisure time and consumption (mostly of material goods, but not only). Given historical evidence, it's pretty clear that since the heyday of industrial revolution people prefer more consumption to more leisure time. Of course leisure time increased as well (e.g. we have a five-day 8-hour standard workweek now) but consumption increased MUCH more.

Now that trade-off is not constant and depends on how much leisure time and how much consumption is on offer. I think we see leisure time valued more and more as our consumption gets saturated, but that's purely a guesstimate as I haven't seen any data (I haven't looked, I'm sure it exists).

Of course there is also a lot of individual variation. Some people prefer more leisure time (part-timers & vagabonds), some people prefer more money (A-types).

As to digging holes, I don't think that in reality this is mostly a function of mistakes in planning and allocation. I think that in reality this is mostly a way of redistributing value towards entities (such as social groups and companies) which have sufficient power to make it happen. A construction company gets paid for the bridge to nowhere and from its point of view it is a highly successful thing.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 March 2014 06:31:22PM *  4 points [-]

Of course leisure time increased as well (e.g. we have a five-day 8-hour standard workweek now) but consumption increased MUCH more.

There was once a movement for a six-hour week. I haven't read the book I just linked, but clearly, the movement failed. I don't know if that was because of Evil Bosses wanting to stop the working classes from having the leisure to think (although that was explicitly said by some of them), or Greedy Kulaks grasping for as much work as they could get.

ETA: Here's a book from 1919 whose first section deals with the six hour week. Some interesting quotes:

Every year the workers become more intelligent and more acute reasoners. Think of the intelligence required in the workers to produce a modern locomotive or a greyhound of the Atlantic, or to work and operate the same, and to make and operate all the thousands of different types of machines now producing and working for the good of man. And each succeeding year demands still higher intelligence to produce still higher, better, and more complex mechanical utilities.

The requirements of our ancestors were few, but as civilization advances, not only do the wants of the body for variety in food, raiment, and shelter increase, but as the mind and soul expand, the intellectual horizon widens and the higher plane of living demands more and more leisure to feed its hunger for better conditions of life.

...

We are all agreed that the industrial situation has become the most pressing after-war problem to be solved, and that the solution will not be easy, not because there is more poverty in the United Kingdom to-day than ever -- as a matter of fact there is less poverty than ever before in our history -- but because there is a wholesome Labour unrest and national craving for vastly better conditions of life. The poor are not growing poorer, and the workman of to-day is better off than his employer was two centuries ago. But because -- and I rejoice that it is so -- the workman is each day becoming more ambitious, his mind and soul are expanding at a greater rate than, under existing conditions -- even with higher wages -- his leisure time permits him to keep pace with. Each year the workman is becoming a better educated man, with better social outlook. Whilst his social outlook is expanding, the workman in the twentieth century finds himself simply a seller of service, and that he has gradually become a cipher in a most complex industrial system, and has his life absorbed and controlled as a mere unit in a great factory or workshop that leaves him no scope for the exercise of the higher intellectual developments of modem life.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 06:56:21PM *  3 points [-]

There was once a movement for a six-hour week.

There were lots of movements like that -- see e.g. this from 1993. France at the moment has the legal 35-hour week.

However these movements, at least historically, were mostly aimed at fighting high unemployment (and probably low demand, too). I think VW workers in Germany had effectively a four-day week during the few years of high unemployment, but when unemployment went down the four-day week ended.

Comment author: Metus 11 March 2014 03:33:09AM *  12 points [-]

Now that would be an interesting topic: The rationalist hobo.

I am actually considering something similar. There is the extremely early retirement community where the general suggestion is to earn much money in very short amount of time, to live below means in that time, to invest as much of it as possible and to then live from the interest gathered. Driven to extremes the necessary base capital can be quite low, such as in the low hundreds of thousands.

As interest is mobile and I can relocate to a country that almost does not tax capital interest I am free to roam the world. Additional income can come from local work or donations as I intend to still work some amount of time in theoretical research which essentially is just time consuming without need for capital expenditure.

For some time at least this would be very interesting.

Edit: The availability of so much free learning material online makes this even more viable. The only issue will be maintaining a good exercise regimen and good eating habits.

Edit 2: If you can learn remotely, you can work remotely. Being on the road does not preclude doing analysis or similar stuff to stil learn an income.

Comment author: ESRogs 11 March 2014 10:15:29PM 4 points [-]

I can relocate to a country that almost does not tax capital interest

Just wanted to note for any fellow Americans that this is unfortunately not an option for us. The US taxes even when you're living abroad.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 08:30:21PM 5 points [-]

Three comments.

Investments are risky. Your future "interest gathered" is uncertain and you're subject to a variety of risks including things like inflation. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that your investments will return you, say, 7% each year forever and that the amount of dollars sufficient to live on now will still be sufficient in ten years.

Time and money are fungible to a certain extent. By retiring early you're buying time with money (which you are not going to earn). Make sure the exchange rate is good and that you won't spend most of your newly acquired time trying to compensate for lack of money.

Humans, being what they are, don't do well in the absence of external pressure. To put it crudely, a life of leisure makes a man soft, dumb, and lazy. There are, of course, exceptions, but when people don't have to do much, they usually do not do much.

Comment author: ESRogs 11 March 2014 10:27:29PM 2 points [-]

Investments are risky.

Yeah, but not that risky. If you start with a sum in the "low hundreds of thousands" like Metus describes, and are frugal, you could easily live for a decade without having to earn any positive return whatsoever. And on the scale of decades, a diversified portfolio of stock-based index funds, hedged with other asset classes, is very unlikely to do worse than inflation.

See this chart.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 March 2014 12:48:23AM *  5 points [-]

If you start with a sum in the "low hundreds of thousands" like Metus describes, and are frugal, you could easily live for a decade without having to earn any positive return whatsoever.

That is true, of course. On the other hand after that decade you'll be without money, without a job, and probably having issues integrating back into working for a living.

And on the scale of decades, a diversified portfolio of stock-based index funds, hedged with other asset classes, is very unlikely to do worse than inflation.

I disagree. The problem is that you're looking specifically at the US stock market and there is the issue of survivorship bias.

On the scale of decades, what tended to happen to diversified portfolios of European stocks during the XX century? Or do you know when did the main Japanese stock index, the Nikkei 225 reach its top? It was in 1989 and all downhill since then.

Comment author: ESRogs 12 March 2014 01:20:38AM 1 point [-]

On the other hand after that decade you'll be without money, without a job

Yes, true. It would probably not be a good idea to attempt to retire with only one decade's worth of funds and plan never to work again. On the other hand, you could see how things go for the first 5 years and then go back to work if needed.

The problem is that you're looking specifically at the US stock market

So would you expect a US + international market cap-weighted index fund like Vanguard's Total World Stock Index Fund (bonus: available as an ETF) to have more variance or do worse than the US stock market by itself? That would surprise me.

Or were you just saying you think the US was exceptional during the 20th century, and investors should not expect similar returns (either by diversifying across nations, or reliably picking a winning nation) in the 21st? Hmm, now I am curious what stock market returns looked like for the whole world in the 20th C.

there is the issue of survivorship bias

Unfortunately I wasn't able to determine whether that particular chart took into account survivorship bias, but I did find this blog post written by the author of the book the chart was taken from, suggesting that he's at least familiar with the issue.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 March 2014 01:30:06AM 4 points [-]

Or were you just saying you think the US was exceptional during the 20th century, and investors should not expect similar returns

Yes, that is what I am saying.

whether that particular chart took into account survivorship bias

I meant survivorship bias in the country sense. What's the return of a German stock portfolio over the last century? It is zero -- the portfolio went to zero in WW2 and without additional money invested it stays at zero.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 12:54:46PM 3 points [-]

I meant survivorship bias in the country sense.

On the one hand, this is an important issue and shouldn't be ignored if you're planning for your retirement.

On the other hand... Let's think about a scenario where you've worked hard and saved hard until (say) the age of 40, and then 10 years later there's a national catastrophe on the level of losing a major war which wipes out all your savings. You are, indeed, going to be in trouble. But so is someone who's been working for pay all that time: they've lost all their savings too, and probably their job. Either position's going to be pretty terrible.

Comment author: Salemicus 12 March 2014 05:22:38PM 2 points [-]

But if your retirement portfolio is internationally diversified (and it should be!) then you aren't just vulnerable to war and revolution in your home country, you are vulnerable to war and revolution in any of the countries where you are invested. Survivorship bias is definitely relevant.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 11:37:58PM 1 point [-]

Sure. But now I remark that there are lots of countries and such total wipeouts are really quite rare. So, e.g., if your portfolio is something like equally divided among 10 major countries, and each of them has a total wipeout once per 30 years (of course these are both really crude approximations), then what happens is that once per 30 years you lose 10% of your investments, which is kinda like losing 0.3% per year, which is about what most index funds charge in management fees. (Of course it's worse really because it's "lumpier".)

So, again, it's an important issue but I remain to be convinced that it's that important an issue.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 March 2014 01:37:40AM 3 points [-]

if your portfolio is something like equally divided among 10 major countries, and each of them has a total wipeout once per 30 years

Why don't you look at reality instead of going for abstract approximations? You are assuming that a "major country" being wiped out by a war would not affect other countries. Really? The 2008 crisis didn't even come close to being a wipeout and how correlated were the stock markets of the major countries during the crisis? Or, if you want to go back to WW2, which stock markets remained unscathed while Germany was wiped out?

Comment author: Lumifer 12 March 2014 03:28:42PM 2 points [-]

Let's think about a scenario where you've worked hard and saved hard until (say) the age of 40, and then 10 years later there's a national catastrophe on the level of losing a major war

These are different issues.

This subthread is basically about estimating future returns from diversified stock portfolios and whether S&P returns for the last few decades provide a good baseline for that.

You are talking about the stability of life and about whether saving money is useful if there's a chance your country will be smashed into little bits.

By the way, a much more likely scenario for a Western country is not losing a major war but having a hyperinflation episode. In this case the guy with the savings loses all, while the guy with a job is much better off.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 11:50:16PM 1 point [-]

These are different issues.

You raised the issue of survivorship bias at the country level and gave the example of a country wiped out by a major war. So I explained why, if you're adjusting the expectations of a retiree to account for what that sort of event could do to their investments, you also need to adjust the expectations of a non-retiree, who will also be hit hard by it.

Hyperinflation is indeed a good example of something that could hurt the retiree a lot worse than someone still working, but it seems to me that it depends a lot on (1) what form the retiree's savings take and (2) what causes and consequences the hyperinflation has. For instance, if investments in the stock market lose a lot of their (real) value in a hyperinflationary episode, I'd expect that to be accompanied by a lot of job losses -- so the worst case for a retiree with a lot of stock-market investments is also bad for someone still working.

Comment author: ESRogs 12 March 2014 01:37:46AM 1 point [-]

Hmm, interesting points. I had not seriously taken into account survivorship bias in this national sense before. I will have to think more about that.

Comment author: quanticle 12 March 2014 08:31:54AM 3 points [-]

On the other hand, you could see how things go for the first 5 years and then go back to work if needed.

Will you be allowed back into the labor force? Many employers, especially in the IT industry, will almost certainly turn you away if you have an unexplained hole in your resume that's 5 years wide. Basically the only reason that can cover a 5-year gap is education of some kind (usually something like graduate education). If you say, "Oh, I just retired for 5 years, but now I'm looking for a job again," that's not going to help your chances of landing a job.

Comment author: Antiochus 12 March 2014 01:33:21PM 1 point [-]

This might not be as much of a problem in IT as you might worry, especially if you have personal projects or open source contributions to show for it. It's difficult enough finding skilled developers that if your skill is in demand, a good recruiter will still go to bat for you. I'd say it harms your chances, but it won't kill a career.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 01 February 2018 02:50:20AM 1 point [-]

Eric Weinstein argues strongly against returns being 20century level, and says they are now vector fields, not scalars. I concur (not that I matter)

Comment author: mare-of-night 12 March 2014 08:40:46AM 2 points [-]

Mr. Money Moustache does/did something like this, though with a slightly different approach.

Comment author: ThrustVectoring 11 March 2014 07:30:59PM 0 points [-]

There is a huge amount of risk involved in retiring early. You're essentially betting that you aren't going to find any fun, useful, enjoyable, or otherwise worthwhile uses of money. You're betting that whatever resources you have at retirement are going to be enough, at a ratio of whatever your current earning power is to your expected earning power after the retirement decision.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 12:58:44PM 7 points [-]

You're essentially betting that you aren't going to find any fun, useful, enjoyable, or otherwise worthwhile uses of money.

No, you're betting that you aren't going to find enough such uses for enough money to outweigh the benefit of having hugely more leisure time.

I can think of pretty good uses for a near-unbounded amount of money (more than I am ever likely to have, alas). I can think of pretty good uses for a near-unbounded amount of time (more than I am ever likely to have, alas). Working full-time, working part-time, and not working at all (note: by "working" here I mean working for pay) make different trade-offs between time and money; none of them implies not having any use at all for time or not having any use at all for money.

Comment author: Alicorn 11 March 2014 03:26:41AM *  28 points [-]

Not getting a job is a psychologically realistic and socially acceptable option for Americans who are female, are partnered with employed men, enjoy at least one facet of homemaking, and aren't optimizing for certain specific forms of feminist cred.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 March 2014 01:45:12PM 8 points [-]

On the other hand, you are tied to a man, and indirectly to his job, so that still rules out the globehopping, couchsurfing lifestyle.

Comment author: WhySpace 28 February 2017 04:28:13PM 0 points [-]

that still rules out the globehopping, couchsurfing lifestyle.

Not necessarily. I'd be fine with it if my girlfriend decided to hitchhike around Europe for a month or two, and I'm pretty sure she'd be fine with me doing the same. There's no reason the one with the job couldn't take a vacation in the middle, too.

If the unemployed partner did this twice a year, for 2 months at a time, that'd be 1/3 of their time spent globetrotting. If they did this 3x a year, (2 months home, then 2 months exploring, then 2 months home again) that'd be pushing it, but might be stable long term if they could find ways to make sure the working party didn't feel used or left out.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 05:39:19PM 0 points [-]

Well, in terms of a guess, that is what, 12% of the population?

You forgot to mention not getting a job is acceptable for children, college students and elders. Probably also the handicapped.

Even then, maybe that sums up to two thirds or something. That's still a hundred million people who could benefit from considering the option, if only to give up on it a few days later.

I find the gender asymmetry in this case to be perplexing. Just like I think polyamory should be equal for both sides. it seems to me the opportunity not to work and be fine with it should be equal for both sides. In both cases one could make arguments of tradition, or from biology (naturallistic fallacy etc...) trying to explain the asymmetry, and in both cases I think it is unjustified.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 13 March 2014 12:21:44PM *  1 point [-]

You can't completely exclude the biological part, at least if the couple wants to have children. There will be at least a year per every child, when the woman can't go to work, and this can't be avoided for many people (in some cases the woman can work from home, but that's not an option for everyone). So there is some real assymetry, although it may be less important than it seems.

Tradition, prejudice, etc... that's like advertising. It may be completely irrational, but it is still a force that exists and moves the market balance. You can model the past and the culture as an enormous advertising budget, and the advertisement says that men who don't have a decent income are losers, and indirectly the women with such partners are also losers (because they had to choose losers as their partners). We can disagree with this, but there is this huge advertising budget against us, and it skews the relationship market balance.

Comment author: RobertLumley 13 March 2014 05:03:08PM 2 points [-]

There will be at least a year per every child

This seems to be wildly off based on my experiences. Women I know (with working husbands) having children are taking 2-3 months off.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 14 March 2014 09:28:51AM 3 points [-]

My first reaction: Checking whether you are from USA.

Yeah, I know this is not an argument, but the cultural difference is huge here.

I would like to know if there is a scientific research about whether separating 2 months old children from their mothers for half of day has an impact on the child, and what is the impact specifically.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 17 March 2014 07:21:37AM 1 point [-]

Viliam, as far as I recall from memory alone, there is very little effect on what a tiny infant does for half a day in their future lives.

It matters more which of the attachment kinds the baby will acquire when the mom is present, not when she is absent.

People are 50% genes 50% question mark, if you summarize psychological science super ultra violently. Not the best strategy for science, but good enough for a cached thought.

Comment author: RobertLumley 20 March 2014 01:09:36AM *  0 points [-]

I am from the US, and work in manufacturing, which is even more culturally conservative. But this isn't out of line with any other experiences I've had.

Comment author: Neotenic 11 March 2014 11:57:15AM 0 points [-]

Well, that at least part of the way into freedom.

Comment author: dhoe 11 March 2014 08:36:09AM 29 points [-]

As someone spending a pretty solid part of my earnings on maintaining my aging former hippie parents, I'd like to point out that it's a radically egoistic choice to make, even if it doesn't appear at the time.

They dropped off the grid and managed many years with very little money, just living and appreciating nature and stuff. Great, right? But you don't accumulate any pension benefits in those years, and even if you move back to a more conventional life later, your earning potential is severely impacted.

Comment author: Neotenic 11 March 2014 11:28:26AM 1 point [-]

That depends on your stance on many things: First of all having children or not. Second of all population ethics. Third of all if you think it is worth it to have a child whose life is better than neutral, or even than average, but not better than your own. Existentialism and First Mover Advantage are also related concepts.

I feel your pain though, and my life would have been much worse if my Father had not been an instrumental Flower for part of his life.

But if you consider your life worth living, there are several philosophical paths that do not consider your parent's actions to be unworthy of moral appreciation. Check Toby Ord on population ethics for deeper insight.

Comment author: dhoe 11 March 2014 02:11:57PM 4 points [-]

I'm sure there are moral systems where living off your children is an acceptable moral choice, but I can't say I'm very motivated to check them out.

Their actions were rational from their point of view, however. They just radically overestimated the probabilities of total societal collapse. If that's what you expect, moving out of the city and trying to live from your garden and some goats might not be the worst course of action.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 27 March 2015 09:35:27PM 0 points [-]

And how much the state will offer to retirees...

Comment author: quanticle 11 March 2014 07:13:02AM 18 points [-]

It depends on what you mean by "job". It seems like you're saying that not having a job is equivalent to not working. I'd argue otherwise. You still do a lot of work. It's just that the work that you're doing doesn't fit into the traditional capitalist view of working for an employer, so you don't see it as a "job".

You bring up a number of examples: the Argentinian who left graduate economics to travel the world. Puneet Sahani. The Uruguayan couple. They don't have jobs in the traditional American sense of working for an employer for money. But I'd argue that their lifestyle is no less arduous than someone who does have a job. They still have to make arrangements for food, clothing, shelter and travel, and presumably they're doing something of value to earn those resources. That's work, even if it isn't a job, as traditionally defined.

Moreover, such a lifestyle requires a certain type of personality. It requires a personality that is willing to accept extreme levels of uncertainty, in some cases to the point of not knowing where one is going to sleep the next night. For that reason, I'd argue that getting a job is the rational decision for most people. It makes sense to trade a certain amount of freedom for the certainty of knowing that when you go home, you'll have a home to go to, with food in the fridge and clothes in the closet. The fact that some people are able to be happy without having that certainty doesn't mean that everyone will be happy in such a lifestyle, or even that you will be happy in such a lifestyle.

A job is truly an instrumental goal, and your terminal goals certainly do have chains of causation leading to them that do not contain a job for 330 days a year.

This is true, but the uncertainty around those other chains of causation is considerably higher than the chains of causation that do involve having a job. Sure, I can scrape by without a job, hitchhiking my way along to where-ever I'm trying to go. Or I can travel with relative certainty in a train or a jetliner with tickets that I purchased with money from my job. Which route you choose depends on your tolerance for uncertainty and risk. I, for one, am glad for my job. It provides me the resources by which I carve out a tiny bubble of relative certainty in an uncertain world.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 07:12:22AM *  5 points [-]

They don't have jobs in the traditional American sense of working for an employer for money. But I'd argue that their lifestyle is no less arduous than someone who does have a job. They still have to make arrangements for food, clothing, shelter and travel, and presumably they're doing something of value to earn those resources. That's work, even if it isn't a job, as traditionally defined.

I disagree with "presumably they're doing something of value to earn those resources". All that we know is that they are acquiring the resources somehow. They could be doing so in various clearly-unethical ways, like theft, con artistry, or what have you.

Of course, the more likely scenario is that these people simply are good at convincing people to hand them things basically for free, or in any case in exchange for substantially less value than they're receiving. There are some people who have this talent.

As far as the lifestyles being arduous, well, I'll let the author of this Leftover Soup comic handle that one:

Cheryl could very well put in 110% effort and learn how to cook expertly, and very well might still be immediately fired, in much the same way that working hard in school and getting straight As does not entitle one to a six figure job. One earns paychecks in exchange for the provision of value, not the expenditure of effort.

(emphasis mine)

In other words: their lifestyle is arduous? So what? That doesn't ethically entitle them to a damn thing.

I, for one, am glad for my job. It provides me the resources by which I carve out a tiny bubble of relative certainty in an uncertain world.

Wholeheartedly agreed.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 September 2014 04:50:20AM 4 points [-]

One earns paychecks in exchange for the provision of value, not the expenditure of effort.

Actually, one gets paychecks for the perception of the provision of value.

The boss (whether business, government, or non-profit) may be wrong about who's providing what, even though there are some pressures on bosses to get things right.

Also, the organization may be going under even if some of the people in it are providing value.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 March 2015 08:37:51PM 6 points [-]

Personally, I've done a version of this. I've had jobs, but never a career, choosing to travel and have fun instead. I didn't need anyone to persuade me that this was an acceptable option, but I'm curious if anyone could persuade me that it's not. Redline mentioned giving the least possible effort and receiving maximum utility in return; this is the story of my life, only my "utility" has been fun.

First, I went to Guatemala and taught SAT prep 12 hours/week with 3 day weekends. This gave me the status of having a job, personal fulfillment of making a positive impact on students' lives, and paid far more than what I needed to cover living expenses. I spent my days reading suspense/fantasy novels, trail running, bike riding, volcano climbing, hanging out with friends, exploring, and seeking new experiences. Life was like a full time vacation!

Now, I'm here in California, "working" as a nanny (still have 3 day weekends), and my job consists of taking care of 2 fun, hilarious, well-behaved boys, playing marco polo, having nerf gun wars, buying and cooking whatever I want, reading bedtime stories, and it gives me the personal fulfillment of feeling super appreciated. In my free time, I play board games, go hiking, play ultimate frisbee, catch up with friends, and do loads of reading. Life is like a full time vacation!

I love my life, but every now and then, people will look down on me for "wasting my potential" and I'm tempted to agree with them. I'm not the best at anything (or I would probably feel more guilty about my decision), but I am very good at a lot of things (high school valedictorian, top 1% standardized test scores), and I'm genuinely curious:

Can a good argument be made in favor of ambition over hedonism, or does it all just boil down to intrinsic motivation and feelings of personal satisfaction?

Comment author: adamzerner 04 April 2015 01:06:43AM *  1 point [-]

First, I went to Guatemala and taught SAT prep 12 hours/week with 3 day weekends. This gave me the status of having a job, personal fulfillment of making a positive impact on students' lives, and paid far more than what I needed to cover living expenses. I spent my days reading suspense/fantasy novels, trail running, bike riding, volcano climbing, hanging out with friends, exploring, and seeking new experiences. Life was like a full time vacation!

Now, I'm here in California, "working" as a nanny (still have 3 day weekends), and my job consists of taking care of 2 fun, hilarious, well-behaved boys, playing marco polo, having nerf gun wars, buying and cooking whatever I want, reading bedtime stories, and it gives me the personal fulfillment of feeling super appreciated. In my free time, I play board games, go hiking, play ultimate frisbee, catch up with friends, and do loads of reading. Life is like a full time vacation!

That sounds completely awesome! I've always imagined that sort of lifestyle, but it always felt too abstract. Reading your description has helped my understanding become more concrete and vivid. Thanks you.

Can a good argument be made in favor of ambition over hedonism, or does it all just boil down to intrinsic motivation and feelings of personal satisfaction?

Ok, so the following is the state of my beliefs and understanding. In a way, I feel rather confident in it, because I've done a good amount of reading into other arguments, and after doing so I still think my reasoning makes more sense. But on the other hand, I definitely notice confusion, enough such that I wouldn't describe myself as "very confident". I wrote about it a bit more in depth here and here, which you might be interested in. It's about as well as I could articulate it without spending weeks writing and researching.

Summary - Morality is sort of a question asking about what you should do. Someone might say, "you should do X" or "you shouldn't do Y". My response - "should requires an axiom". You can only say, "you should do X... in order to achieve this end". Or "you shouldn't do Y... in order to achieve this end". The way people use the word, they're usually referring to an end implicitly.

Then there's the question of "well, what should the end be?". Which is circular. Consider two things though:

1) Preferences

2) Goals

Your Preferences are what produce the most desirable "mind-states". Imagine a thought experiment where you take a person, stimulate his brain to produce a bunch of different mind-states and have him rank them according to how preferable they are. This is what I'm mean by Preferences.

Goals are what you choose to strive towards. For example, you may choose to strive towards being a good mother, even if it doesn't maximize your Preferences.

You could choose whatever Goals you want. Preferences are pretty fixed though (seemingly).

Anyway, I don't think there's really an answer to "what Goals should you choose?". You have to say, "what Goals should you choose... in order to achieve this end". Goals are arbitrary. Rationality is about doing the best job you could at achieving the Goals you choose, but it doesn't help you actually choose them (because they're completely arbitrary). I've heard attempts to side-step this, and I've never been convinced. But like I said, there might be something I'm missing (I really hope there is).

Ambition vs. hedonism

Some people frown on a lack of ambition.

  • If pleasing these people is part of your Goals, then being ambitious will help you to achieve that Goal.
  • If not being ambitious causes you some sort of guilt or other form of unhappiness, then in order to achieve the Goal of maximizing your Preferences, it'd make sense to either a) change that fact, or b) become more ambitious.

To be practical:

  • Altruistic acts tend to make people happy, and are one of the biggest correlates of overall happiness. The opportunity cost of zero ambition is that happiness you could have gotten by pursuing an attempt to help people. For most people, to maximize happiness, I think it's worth spending a good amount of time trying to do good. (Of course, then there's the question of how to do good, and what to do when you're faced with the choice between warm fuzzies and things that produce more a lot of good, but don't produce as much warm fuzzies.)
  • Humans tend to care about how others view them. How much you care seems rather unchanging to me, although I don't know what the true determinants of "the elasticity of caring" are. I think that for most people a good rule of thumb is to consider how much you currently care about how other people view you and take that into account when trying to achieve your Preferences.

Also, Ambition can be poison (one of my favorite posts). I think it's a very slippery slope. Personally, I've fell pretty far down the slope and am trying to climb back up a bit.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 April 2015 09:44:41PM 1 point [-]

Thanks so much for sharing! Sorry for the late reply, just got back from vacation.

I think my preference ratios are probably a good deal more altruistic than average. But in practice, the reason why people think I’m a good person is because I perform way more cost-benefit analyses than is typical. Ie. if someone else had the same preference ratios as me, they probably wouldn’t act as altruistically because they wouldn’t perform as many cost-benefit analyses.

I have had the exact same thought so many times! But I perform cost-benefit analyses only for small decisions, like your ticket example, with pretty clear cut preference ratios. When it comes to the option of pursuing a life goal, everything gets really fuzzy. I think it's that fuzziness that's keeping me from seriously considering giving up my fun-filled life to do something more ambitious.

I guess my life goals right now are pretty simple: maximizing happiness and avoiding feeling guilty for being so happy. I maximize happiness by having fun and doing nice things for people on the individual level, and I manage to discharge most of my guilt through effective altruism. Despite my natural resource consumption, I think I contribute enough happiness to the world for it to be better off than it would have been without me.

As for caring about what other people think, this actually doesn't come up often in real life. Almost everyone I associate with is also pretty into fun-centric activities, and think my life is cool, even if they appreciate the status and high income from more prestigious jobs. I think it's from perusing Less Wrong that I finally started to feel self-conscious about my choices. I see such a high percentage of rational people with high intelligence doing ambitious stuff, so I was curious whether there was an objective reason for it. So if being on LW is contributing to a slight increase in guilt, but not enough to make me want to become more ambitious, I should consider deleting my account and reading more fiction instead, haha. Pretty sure the cost-benefit ratio will keep me here though.

People might say that they care about other things independently of their happiness (other people, the world, science, progress). I’m not sure how to say this exactly but… they don’t.

I think I agree with you here. But if goals are arbitrary, I might as well continue delighting in my career-less life for now. Maybe when I'm older, I'll have more ambition... It seems like some people do, but my dad is very smart and perfectly content working 10 hours/week as a lawyer and spending his free time reading, disc golfing, and winning poker tournaments/fantasy sports contests.

So personally, with a title like "Morality Doesn't Exist" would you be willing to describe your views as moral relativism? That there's no compelling reason (outside of yourself, depending on your personal preferences) to put yourself behind a veil of ignorance and put societal goals above personal happiness? The title of the website, Less Wrong, almost implies an objective morality, and it seems like many LWers shy away from the term relativism. Although I don't like it either, I still don't totally understand why they do, assuming they're rational enough to have a reason other than discomfort with the idea.

Depending on how far up the slippery slope of ambition you want to climb, I just heard my old boss in Guatemala is looking for a new SAT teacher for the next year, starting this summer, if you happen to be interested. But beware, the slope is slippery in both directions!

Comment author: adamzerner 09 April 2015 02:08:46AM *  1 point [-]

When it comes to the option of pursuing a life goal, everything gets really fuzzy.

Very understandable. It makes sense that things that are more clear have a bigger influence on your motivation than things that are less clear.

I think it's that fuzziness that's keeping me from seriously considering giving up my fun-filled life to do something more ambitious.

I think it's a really good sign that you a) know this and b) acknowledge it. Given that it's such an important topic, it seems worth putting proportional thought into it though. And it seems like you are trying to do that. Check out Ugh fields if you haven't already. It's been one of the most practical articles I've found here.

and think my life is cool

Count me among them! In some not so far away alternate universe, I'm doing the same things you are. Which is why your situation is interesting to me.

I think it's a pretty hard question that most people don't seem to actually take seriously. For the record, my impression is that most people here aren't really too ambitious. Two big reasons seem to be a) "it's too difficult/unlikely that I succeed" and b) akrasia. Perhaps you'd like to investigate this further and more formally. If you do, please let me know what you find. If you don't, I probably will, but it'd be at the end of my current to-do list.

But anyway, you seem to be trying to take the question pretty seriously, and seem to be a pretty self-aware and reasonable person. I shall try to say something useful.

  • Question: What are your terminal goals. The ends that you seek. Obviously an incredibly difficult question. It may be possible to proceed without a perfect answer to it though if you have a rough idea of what your preference ratios are.

  • Question: How strong an impulse do you feel to do something ambitious? How manageable is this impulse? How do you expect this impulse to change over time? Personally, I have an incredibly strong impulse to do some ambitious things, and I've taken it into account that I expect that this impulse would remain strong and would make my life unpleasant if I ignored it.

  • Question: How happy would you be if you weren't to pursue an ambitious life? Seems like you have done a pretty good job so far. It seems that you'll continue to be pretty happy, although you seem to be in your early 20s and I'm not sure how much you could extrapolate from your current experiences.

  • Question: How big a positive impact would you have on the world if you pursued a non-ambitious path?

  • Question: What is the probability that you succeed in your ambitious endeavors? My thoughts about this are unconventional. I think that a truly smart and dedicated person would have very very good chances of success. I see a lot of big problems as puzzles that can be solved.

Very very rough calculations on startup success:

Say that I get 10 tries to start a startup in the next 20 years (I know that some take longer than 2 years to fail, but 2 years is the average, and it often takes shorter than 2 years to fail). At a 50% chance of success, that's a >99.9% chance that at least one of them succeeds (1-.5^10). I know 50% might seem high, but I think that my rationality skills, domain knowledge (eventually) and experience (eventually) give me an edge. Even at a 10% chance of success, I have about a 65% (1-.9^10) chance at succeeding in one of those 10 tries, and I think that 10% chance of success is very conservative. (from here)

Some thoughts on where I see opportunity if I had the resources.

  • Question: How altruistic are you really? How much do you really care about the billions of people who you never have and probably never will meet? What about the bajillions of people who haven't been born yet? To what extent are you willing to make sacrifices for these people? (I know this is implicitly addressed in some other bullet points, but I thought it'd be worth mentioning explicitly) EDIT: See here for thoughts on EV and ambitiousness.

  • Question: What are the selfish reasons to be ambitious? How happy would you be if you succeeded in your ambitions? (note Ambition can Be Poison and it's easy to never be satisfied, so I don't think it'd be as happy as one would think) Could you possibly contribute/build a better world for yourself?

    • Some thoughts of mine. I don't think I'm nearly as well read as most people here, am lacking information and thus am of limited confidence, but I plan on reading up in due time. Anyway, it seems to be that we live in a truly special time. Kurzweil's LOAR makes sense to me (the gist of it anyway). Compared to previous generations, we have an unprecedented opportunity to do big things. AI, cryonics, anti-aging, the internet, joint-consumption economies, etc. I really do think there's a reasonable chance that you could contribute/build a better world for yourself.

    • I know that ambition can be poison. I know there's a reasonable chance I do some "slipping down the slope", but long term I think I'll be able to get over this (to a reasonable extent). Nevertheless, I take it into account in my calculations. However, I think that it'd feel really really really good to have had some big positive impact on the world. It seems like something that really would boost that happiness setpoint up a bit.

    • Finally, the money/fame/power that result from successfully achieving any ambitions definitely have their value, although I think it's nothing compared to the personal satisfaction.

  • Confessions: I think the clarity of these thoughts are about 40% more clear than the previous best analysis I had done. I personally don't think I've thought nearly hard enough about these things given there importance, although part of the reason is intentional - I have a tendency to overthink things which is stressful and I've sort of reached a point of diminishing returns... idk. And I unfortunately do fear that this analysis suffers a bit from confirmation bias (ie. biased in favor of ambition). So please take all of this into account.

So personally, with a title like "Morality Doesn't Exist" would you be willing to describe your views as moral relativism?

I'm not particularly well read in philosophy. Probably way moreso than the average person, but below average for someone here. I don't know what moral relativism is, but I'll look it up...

It seems to be saying that goals are arbitrary, and if so, then yes - I do think my views could be described that way. Thanks for introducing me to the official viewpoint. You seem to know a bit about it - do you know anything about it that seems inconsistent with what I appear to believe?

After brief reading, it seems that I may not agree with what seems to be the less strict interpretations of moral relativism. It seems that people use it as an excuse to say "don't judge others for what they believe". It seems to me that a lot of viewpoints really do have a terminal goal of something along the lines of utilitarian, but these other viewpoints try to invent rules of thumb that promote this end, but they don't admit that the end is actually what they're after.

The title of the website, Less Wrong, almost implies an objective morality

I wouldn't say so. The way I think of it is "less bad at achieving your ends". If you read HPMOR I would say "Quirrel is (at times) quite rational, even if his goals are sometimes selfish".

it seems like many LWers shy away from the term relativism. Although I don't like it either, I still don't totally understand why they do, assuming they're rational enough to have a reason other than discomfort with the idea.

My impression is that the community does have some "soft spots", and not wanting to believe in moral relativism sort of seems like it's one of them (based on what I remember when I read through the metaethics stuff. Not wanting to seem naive appears to be another "soft spot" of the community to me.

And I think that "anti-religion" is a bias here too. I had gotten slammed for asking about the possibility of an afterlife here. Regardless of whether I was right or wrong, I don't think I was uncivil or anything and I think it's a topic worth discussion, at the very least (from their perspective) to help me better understand it. But I sense that it hit a soft spot, hence the downvoting and mild incivility. And I've seen similar things happen elsewhere here also. I figure you should know this given your background. For the record, I'd probably call myself a confused agnostic. I definitely don't believe in the teachings of religion or god in the traditional sense, but I don't pretend to understand the true workings of consciousness or the universe and I remain open to possibilities that atheist wouldn't. And on some level, I think Louis CK makes a good point (plus it's funny).

Anyway, my point here is that humans are quite flawed. I love LW but people here are far from perfect. And so am I. And even EY is far from perfect (although I think he's astonishingly smart).

Depending on how far up the slippery slope of ambition you want to climb, I just heard my old boss in Guatemala is looking for a new SAT teacher for the next year, starting this summer, if you happen to be interested. But beware, the slope is slippery in both directions!

No thanks (see above). But I appreciate the thought :)

Comment author: [deleted] 09 April 2015 08:40:48PM 2 points [-]

Actively look out for the flinch, preferably when you are in a motivationally "high" state. Better still, do this when you are both motivationally high, not under time pressure, and when you are undertaking an overview of your life.

Thanks for the link. You're right about this being an "ugh field" for me, something I usually flinch from even thinking about. I think my doubts about Christianity used to be an "ugh field" too, but I feel a lot better for having confronted them.

Two big reasons seem to be a) "it's too difficult/unlikely that I succeed" and b) akrasia.

Those seem to apply to me too. I'd never heard of akrasia before, what a great word. If I investigate this further among the LW community, I'll let you know.

Thanks so much for your thorough reply. I really, really appreciate it! Answers to your questions:

  • You're right. This is an incredibly difficult question. Based on the sample human terminal goals given, I think the biggest for me are health, joy, and curiosity. Can environmentalism be a terminal goal? What about efficiency in general?

  • My impulse to do ambitious things is about a 2 out of 10, so not very strong at all, and very manageable, currently. It used to be more like a 1 though, so the current trend seems to be that the older I get, the more attractive a life of accomplishment looks.

  • How happy would I be not pursuing ambition? You're right; I'm super happy right now. I have absolutely no idea if this happiness with a leisurely lifestyle is something I can maintain or not. My dad and his best friend are both super smart and not very ambitious, and seem to be quite happy even as they approach their 50's, which makes me think I could stay very happy. Then again, I might be different. Maybe my lack of ambition was just from the way I was raised (in my family, we all bragged about acing tests with no outside study, about never having homework, about never doing assigned readings, about skipping class to hang out in the rec room, etc.. kinda pathetic, in hindsight).

  • How big an impact would I have? If I knew this, things would be lots less fuzzy! One goal that I'd love to pursue would be promoting hitchhiking/slugging. This has to do with my other values of environmentalism and efficiency. I also think it would be wonderful if people were less fearful of strangers. I'm not sure how exactly I'd work toward this goal, so it's really hard to gauge potential impact. If it were successful though, traffic would be decongested, carbon emissions would be decreased, and people would save money on transportation and have more opportunities to interact with new people... so yeah, it could potentially have a significant impact.

  • Probability of success? Good question. No idea, again this is very fuzzy since I don't even know where I would start; it's just not something I've thought about much. I'd probably have to find someone to team up with who has more concrete skills. All I have is a general idea and a pretty logical mind, no relevant experience or education. I am usually pretty confident and anything I think I can do, I can do, but I normally don't set my sights too high.

  • How altruistic am I, really? I don't know. I'm still going through the repercussions of my deconversion. Right now, the amount of caring I have for people in the world is relative to the amount I used to have as a Christian. Now that eternity/an afterlife is out of the picture for me, I'm a little less frantic about saving the world and more content doing my own thing. Still, I think I care enough that if I were pursue a big goal or career, altruism would be my chief motivation.

  • The selfish reasons to be ambitious are significant too, I guess. Currently, I'm so happy with my leisurely life, it's hard to remember back to times when I had accomplishments, like academic awards and track and field records. Money I don't care about so much, but accomplishments feel really great, whether it's because of the personal satisfaction or the praise, it's hard to tell. I'm fairly confident that ambition would never be poison for me. The accomplishments I've had in life felt great, but they were really just side benefits of me pursuing other terminal goals, and as great as they were, they didn't give rise to any ambition.

    This was a good analysis; thank you! You're right that I really should put proportional thought into this.

Hmm, I'm not particularly well read in philosophy either, but I hear the term "moral relativism" thrown around a lot; mostly as a result of sharing my deconversion story actually, as a lot of people have commented that atheists almost have no choice but to be moral relativists. I think "moral relativism" is pretty simple and just means there is no "right" or "wrong" outside of an individual, and I think it's consistent with your views, but I'm not totally sure.

I wouldn't say so. The way I think of it is "less bad at achieving your ends".

Haha, okay, I hear you. Actually as soon as I typed that sentence, I realized this would be your response. It's just a different definition of "wrong" than I'm used to, but it makes sense.

My impression is that the community does have some "soft spots", and not wanting to believe in moral relativism sort of seems like it's one of them (based on what I remember when I read through the metaethics stuff.

Yeah. I think this is another topic that probably deserves more discussion among the community than it currently gets. If our society gets to be extremely rational (which I think most people here strongly desire), it will be really hard to draw the line between individual freedom and what's best for the future of humanity, and I think this is something worth serious thought.

Yeah, I get the same feeling about an anti-religion bias here. Your post about an afterlife is interesting. We really have no reason to believe in one, but without data, I definitely don't think people should assign near-certain probability to the non-existence of an afterlife, either. I guess I'm more of an agnostic, too. I don't believe in the Christian God, but like I said in my very first post, I can't be sure there isn't a good god or gods struggling against an evil god out there somewhere. It is possible, I just have no reason to believe it's true, so I don't really think about it.

Maybe there's a subconscious tendency to go along with the mainstream views on LW just because almost everyone here is so good at thinking and rational people usually tend to agree with other rational people. Personally, I discovered this site and thought, wow! So many people who think SO similarly to me, only they've been thinking much harder and for much longer... the general ideas around here must represent the most rational and least biased opinions on any topic. It's tempting to just trust that the ideas around here are all things I can agree with and understand, just because I've agreed with almost everything I've read so far.... I guess I just have to be cautious, keep putting in the effort of thinking for myself, and remember that LW is a (wonderful) resource, not a bible.

Comment author: adamzerner 10 April 2015 12:49:09AM 2 points [-]

A big part of the reason why I'm ambitious is because I try really hard to not fall victim to scope insensitivity. And regarding ambition, there's some really really big magnitudes at play. Ex.

  • Even a small increase in the chance that I don't die and get to live another bajillion years has a huge expected value(EV).
  • Same with altruism - even a small chance that I help billions of people has a huge EV.
  • Regarding my happiness, I think I may be lying to myself though. I think I rationalize that the same logic applies, that if I achieve some huge ambition there'd be a proportional increase in happiness. Because my brain likes to think achieving ambition -> goodness and I care about how much goodness gets achieved. But if I'm to be honest, that probably isn't true.

Another reason why I'm ambitious is more practical - I want to retire early, really ASAP. Starting a startup, making a lot of money and being able to retire would be great.

Comment author: hairyfigment 11 April 2015 06:59:18PM 1 point [-]

Re: afterlives - we have tons of data. Brain damage can cause loss of function in a way which varies depending on what part of the brain is damaged. Everything points towards total brain damage causing total lack of function. We also have evidence that stimulating one part of the brain can turn off consciousness, and some evidence that conscious experience requires many parts of the brain working together.

I posted about the first part of that somewhere, though apparently not in response to the linked post. Probably I did not respond to that one because I'd already made this point, and it gets tiring to see people ignoring it again.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 April 2015 05:29:16PM 2 points [-]

Oh, interesting, thanks for sharing! Data is good; that's cool that we know that, and I think I agree that it makes any afterlife extremely improbable. Sorry, I wasn't ignoring your point, I just noticed this now as a result of having just realized I can click on the little orange envelop and see replies and private messages.

Comment author: adamzerner 10 April 2015 12:35:59AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks so much for your thorough reply. I really, really appreciate it!

Glad to help (if I am actually helping)! I find this fun.

Can environmentalism be a terminal goal? What about efficiency in general?

Of course, anything can be a terminal goal :). But consider how strong a statement it is to say that something is a terminal goal. That it has intrinsic value. As for environmentalism, would the environment matter if there was no one on earth to experience it? If not, it makes me think that environmentalism matters to the extent that it makes peoples lives better, and thus would be an instrumental goal.

Some people would respond to what I just said by saying something along the lines of "Of course it wouldn't matter if no one was on earth, but don't be ridiculous - be practical." My response to that is that in discussing things like this, it's important to be very precise with what you say. Because a lot of disagreement comes from arguing over semantics, which comes from bad communication.

I have absolutely no idea if this happiness with a leisurely lifestyle is something I can maintain or not.

The good thing is that a) this is a testable question that you'll get more and more evidence for as time progresses, and b) you can easily adjust the extent to which you pursue ambitions. It's not like you have to decide once and for all now (not to imply you don't know that, just saying).

My guess is that you will be able to maintain your happiness.

a) The happiness set point theory seems rather accurate (my reason for thinking this is mostly based on anecdotal evidence, not on reading much into the research).

b) Anecdotally, it also seems to me that the "need to be ambitious" is also pretty set in stone. Ie. You know if you're one of those people, and you know somewhat early in life. I don't know of many 40 year olds who suddenly develop an irresistible urge to do something ambitious. Note: in HPMOR the distinction between having ambition and being ambitious is made.

Maybe my lack of ambition was just from the way I was raised (in my family, we all bragged about acing tests with no outside study, about never having homework, about never doing assigned readings, about skipping class to hang out in the rec room, etc.. kinda pathetic, in hindsight).

That's amazing! I hated school and did a lot of rebellious things out of spite. Back to that alternate universe again... I wish my family was like that. One of my favorite rebellious things was that I refused to do some AP Micro project at the end of the year because I was already in college, getting a zero would only bring my grade from an A to a B, and economics is all about incentives, so it just felt too right to boycott the project on those grounds.

Probability of success? Good question. No idea, again this is very fuzzy since I don't even know where I would start; it's just not something I've thought about much.

With respect, this seems like an ugh field (a more specific instance of what you said was a broader ugh field). P(success) seems like it plays a big role in whether or not you decide to be ambitious. I'm not sure though - if you thought you had a, say >50% chance of having a big impact on the world, would you then want to be ambitious?

If P(success) does indeed play a big role, I think it'd be a good idea to take an idea and give a real honest effort at seeing if you could "solve the puzzle". Try to break it down into it's components. What would have to happen in order for you to succeed? Break those components down further and ask the same question, etc. Honestly, try doing this for 5-10 ideas.

After doing this, you should have a much better sense of what P(success) is. Which has two benefits: 1) increases the chances you make the right decision as to whether or not to be ambitious, 2) will make you feel more confident in your decision, and perhaps more "at peace"/less likely to feel any sort of guilt.

How altruistic am I, really? I don't know. I'm still going through the repercussions of my deconversion. Right now, the amount of caring I have for people in the world is relative to the amount I used to have as a Christian.

Very understandable.

Now that eternity/an afterlife is out of the picture for me

WOAH!!! Slow down there :)

I really don't want to die and am really hoping that I won't have to. And I plan on doing what I can to avoid it. A lot of people here think similarly, and there seems to be reason to hope.

A lot of people are hopeful that we might not have to die. There's the possibility of cryonics working out, anti-aging research, AI (<- a very clear introduction to AI if you don't know much about it). And there's even the possibility that we have no clue how consciousness really works and that there is indeed an afterlife. Note that I used the word possible. I don't know how probable these things are. This talks a bit about it.

Maybe there's a subconscious tendency to go along with the mainstream views on LW just because almost everyone here is so good at thinking and rational people usually tend to agree with other rational people.

I think there is. But note the distinctions between types of conformity. Part of it is sensible. The fact that other smart people believe something to be true is evidence that it's true (in that it increases the likelihood that it's true). And so it makes sense to adjust your beliefs accordingly. The real question is "how much should you adjust your beliefs".

As for the bad types of conformity, I think it exists here too. My judgement is that it's moderately less than average.

It's tempting to just trust that the ideas around here are all things I can agree with and understand, just because I've agreed with almost everything I've read so far

I can definitely empathize with that. Discovering LW was one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I had that same sense of agreeing with almost everything I was reading, and it was really really nice to hear the thoughts articulated so well.

I guess I just have to be cautious, keep putting in the effort of thinking for myself, and remember that LW is a (wonderful) resource, not a bible.

Always :)

Comment author: [deleted] 13 April 2015 07:53:21PM 0 points [-]

You know it's funny, I've never thought about this before, but I actually would like for the earth to stay beautiful, even if there are no humans around to enjoy it. Feeling such a strong attachment to the earth makes me think that I empathize a bit too much with Kaczynski... which got me thinking about psychopathic tendencies, and after looking them up, I realized I borderline have many of them. I'm not really too worried about myself, but this got me back to morality again. Psychopaths are probably quite rational about pursuing their own personal terminal goals. You can't say they're doing anything wrong, can you? Is there anything you can really say to convince a rational psychopath who is smart enough to get away unpunished for his actions to act in a way that is better for society?

Anyway, yeah, I think you're right that I could maintain my happiness. I'll probably continue in this "phase" of life another 2-3 years at least, enjoy my free time, do a lot of reading, and start thinking harder about what to do with the rest of my life. My back-up plan is to become a cop/detective in the Bay Area, which would be somewhat physically and mentally engaging, offer great hours and benefits, allow me to retire on pension after 25 years, and pay enough that I would probably end up donating more than 10%... a fun, comfortable, guilt-free life, but definitely not something that would change the world or leave me filling immensely fulfilled. So, I'll take your suggestion and try to work out the pieces to the puzzle for a few more ambitious ideas.

A distinction between being ambitious and having ambition? Wow, I think I'm going to love that book.

One of my favorite rebellious things was that I refused to do some AP Micro project at the end of the year because I was already in college, getting a zero would only bring my grade from an A to a B, and economics is all about incentives

Yes!! Haha I did the same thing, when it came to final exams, some people would calculate the score they needed to bump their grades up one notch, but for me, every year, every class, even in college, my question was "What's the lowest score I can get and still get an A in the class?" If I knew I would get a C without studying, or I could do a quick 15 minute review and get an A, I wouldn't even do it. The effort I put into classes also correlated with how harsh a grader the teacher was. I actually had one teacher who believed in grading students according to their effort rather than according to their ability/final product compared to the rest of the class. I hated it, but in hindsight, I would have gotten a lot more out of school if all teachers had done that.

You're right about the probability of success being an ugh field. I like your idea about solving puzzles and high probabilities of success. I'll try breaking some ideas down, someday. Obviously higher P(success) correlates with a stronger desire to do something ambitious, but even if it were >50%, I would still be selfish enough to consider doing my own thing.

2) will make you feel more confident in your decision, and perhaps more "at peace"/less likely to feel any sort of guilt.

Either that or...well, you know. Maybe this is why it's an ugh field. I'm too happy living my leisurely life and subconsciously fear that if I find a high probability of success, I won't change anything, but will feel a more substantial amount of guilt.

Anyway, I found Scott's post about comparative advantage interesting and relevant. It was the first SSC post I read, which made me read tons of the archived posts, which eventually led me here. I know my strengths and weaknesses, but I really wish I knew my comparative advantage. Even if I did know, though, what if it wasn't nearly as fun as nannying? The post ends:

If everyone is legitimately a different person with a different brain and different talents and abilities, then all God gets to ask me is whether or not I was Scott Alexander.

God is definitely convenient here.

I really don't want to die and am really hoping that I won't have to. And I plan on doing what I can to avoid it. A lot of people here think similarly, and there seems to be reason to hope.

Oh, yeah! Not dying would be cool! I haven't read much about it yet, but I'm encouraged by the fact that people here are so hopeful. Right now, when I think about people dying and turning to dust, I think it sounds great, but really that's only relative to thinking about people dying and going to hell. Edit: I read the AI article you linked, and the part 2 afterwards, and it made the whole AI idea seem a lot more concrete/probable/exciting. Thanks! It makes me wonder, though, is it selfish to work on AI? The people working on it will die if they don't succeed, so personally they have nothing to lose even if they accidentally cause an early extinction of the human race. Then again, if we assume our eventual extinction is inevitable without AI, the overall risk-reward ratio favors research. Maybe I should consider giving some/all of my donations to MIRI. Thanks for bringing this all to my attention. Figuring out what I consider to be the probability of immortality should probably be more urgent than figuring out the probability of success in pursuing ambition, and like you mention, there will probably be some relation between the two.

The fact that other smart people believe something to be true is evidence that it's true (in that it increases the likelihood that it's true)

Yeah, this is intuitive. But I think we should be careful here not to look at an idea and ask, "What % of people who believe this are smart?" because the real question is, "Out of all the smart people who have seriously considered this idea, what % believe it?" It may be that some ideas are considered mainly by smart people, which would explain why a high percentage of people believing them are smart.

Comment author: adamzerner 13 April 2015 09:48:09PM *  1 point [-]

Psychopaths are probably quite rational about pursuing their own personal terminal goals.

I doubt it. In my experience, the average person is quite stupid. My thought is that the fact that they're a sociopath means that they have different goals, but not necessarily that they're more instrumentally rational (better at achieving your goals, whatever they are).

You can't say they're doing anything wrong, can you?

No, but I can say that I don't like them :)

Is there anything you can really say to convince a rational psychopath who is smart enough to get away unpunished for his actions to act in a way that is better for society?

Interesting question. If they genuinely prefer to cause harm to people, and if they really are instrumentally rational enough to only do things that help them achieve their goals, then no. But altruistic acts are one of the biggest correlates of happiness in normal people, so perhaps their psychopathy isn't set in stone and they could be convinced that there's a way to achieve more happiness.

allow me to retire on pension after 25 years

You may need a lot less money to retire than you'd think. Depending on how much you spend. The author argues (throughout the site) that a lot of spending is on essentially status-related goods, and that spending money on free time (indirectly) and security is more likely to lead to happiness (if you're the right type of person, but I sense that you are).

Anyway, I found Scott's post about comparative advantage interesting and relevant.

My thoughts on this are a bit unconventional. Most people use the term intelligence to refer to things like aptitude, working memory size and ability to remember things. I think that those things are overrated and that the ability to break things down like a reductionist is underrated. I started to write about it here, but am having trouble. I welcome any feedback (if you have any thoughts, please use Medium's side comments, it's really useful)

People used to ask me for writing advice. And I, in all earnestness, would say “Just transcribe your thoughts onto paper exactly like they sound in your head.” (from article)

Yes! Well, I think it's an oversimplification, but I very much agree with the direction of the advice. I hate formality. In school they give you all of these rules about how to write, and these rules seem to take you further and further away from how you actually speak. I always thought that these rules were bad, and I rebelled and got only average grades in writing even though I think I'm an amazing writer :)

Specifically, it’s whether I can say “No, I’m really not cut out to be Elon Musk” and go do something else I’m better at without worrying that I’m killing everyone in Canada.

That seems to be the central point the article is about, and also sort of what we're talking about. I actually don't even think there's that much to say. When I dissolve the topic, all I see is:

  1. Innate ability is a determinant of the EV of you pursuing an ambition. (How much so is a different topic)
  2. Different paths have different EV's of how much good they'll do. The paths you choose reflect your preference ratios.
  3. When I dissolve things like morality, all I see are preference ratios. And so once you know what your path choice says about your preference ratios, I don't feel like there's a leftover question of "but is it moral?".

I could add a lot of qualifiers to 1, 2 and 3, but I think you get what I'm saying so I won't.

Re: comparative advantage

It seems to me that people don't apply EV when calculating comparative advantages. Ie. they think about how much output they could generate right now rather than how much output they could be expected to generate over a period of time.

I'm a big believer that the ceiling of peoples' abilities is much higher than they think, and so taking this into account, my calculations of EV tend to be higher. Like, to people who say that they can't contribute to existential risk reduction, I'd say "How much do you think you could contribute if you studied really hard for 20 years?". And in calculating EV's for things like existential risk reduction, I think people fall victim to scope insensitivity. Even if you don't have a great chance at contributing, the magnitude of impact that a contribution would have is soooo great that it probably still leads to a high overall EV. Depending on preference ratios of course.

but really that's only relative to thinking about people dying and going to hell

I'm sorry you thought that. I can't imagine how horrifying that must be.

Edit: I read the AI article you linked, and the part 2 afterwards, and it made the whole AI idea seem a lot more concrete/probable/exciting

:) It was somewhat life changing for me. I actually understood it. Before reading that I just read a few things on LW, and didn't really understand it.

It makes me wonder, though, is it selfish to work on AI?

Yes! I think that selfishness is a huge component of the benefit of working on AI. After all you are one of the people who would benefit, and you have a lot to gain/lose. People don't seem to acknowledge this. But you would also be helping billions of currently living people, and bajillions of yet-to-be-born people, so for those reasons it's an incomprehensibly altruistic thing to do.

The people working on it will die if they don't succeed, so personally they have nothing to lose even if they accidentally cause an early extinction of the human race. Then again, if we assume our eventual extinction is inevitable without AI, the overall risk-reward ratio favors research.

I'm confused. If you assume that dying is bad, you have a lot to lose (proportional to the badness of dying). Are you considering death to be a neutral event?

Maybe I should consider giving some/all of my donations to MIRI.

To me that seems like a great option. Others seem to think so as well. Personally I don't know nearly enough about AI or the other options to be able to say with even moderate confidence.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 April 2015 05:14:46AM *  0 points [-]

I doubt it. In my experience, the average person is quite stupid.

Okay, yeah, I should have added the word some. Kaczynski is the only psychopath I've really read much about, so maybe I really did extrapolate his seeming rationality onto other psychopaths, even though we probably never hear about 99% of them. That would have to be some kind of bias; out of curiosity how would you label it? Maybe survivorship bias? Or availability heuristic? Anchoring? Or maybe even all of the above?

You may need a lot less money to retire than you'd think.

Believe me, I know. Even without trying to save money, I actually end up spending less on myself (excluding having paid for college) than on charity. Free hobbies are great. I didn't mean a pension was a reason to become a detective; it would just be a nice perk. Thanks for the link, though. Lots of good articles on that site!

Most people use the term intelligence to refer to things like aptitude, working memory size and ability to remember things. I think that those things are overrated and that the ability to break things down like a reductionist is underrated.

Well, I'm biased in favor of this idea, since I have an awful memory, but a pretty good ability (sometimes too good for my own good) to break things down like a reductionist and dissolve topics. I'll check out your post tomorrow and try to give some feedback.

even though I think I'm an amazing writer :)

I think so too!

I actually don't even think there's that much to say.

Nope, there's really not, but another thing I've realized from reading SSC is that a major component of great writing (and teaching) is the sharing of relevant, interesting, relatable examples to help an idea. If you skillfully parse through an idea, the audience will probably understand it at the time. But if you want the idea to actually sink in and stick with them, great examples are key. This is one reason I like Scott's posts so much; they actually affect my life. Personally, I was borderline cocky when I was younger (but followed social norms and concealed it). Then, I got older and started to read more and more, moved to the Bay Area, and met loads of smart people. Because of this, my self-esteem began to plummet, but I read that article just in time to stabilize it at a healthy, realistic level.

Anyway, Scott allows people to go easy on themselves for contributing less to the world than they might like, relative to their innate ability. Can we also go easy on ourselves relative to innate conscientiousness?

people fall victim to scope insensitivity

Yeah, this is sooo real. On a logical level, it's easy to recognize my scope insensitivity. On a "feeling" level, I still don't feel like I have to go out and do something about it. But I don't want to admit my preference ratios are that far out of whack; I don't want to be that selfish. Ugh. Now I feel like I should do something ambitious again, I'm so waffley about this. Thanks for all the help thinking through everything. This is BY FAR the best guidance anyone has ever given me in my life.

I'm confused. If you assume that dying is bad, you have a lot to lose (proportional to the badness of dying). Are you considering death to be a neutral event?

No... sorry, I was just working through my first thoughts about the idea, not making a meaningful point. Continuing on the selfishness idea, all I meant was that the researchers themselves would surely die eventually without AI, so even if AI made the world end a few years earlier for them, they personally have nothing to lose relative to what they could gain (dying a few years earlier vs. living forever). My first thought was "that's selfish, in a bad way, since they care less than the bajillions of still unborn people would about whether humans go extinct" but then I extrapolated the idea that the researcher would die without AI to the idea that humanity would eventually go extinct without AI and decided it was selfish in a good way.

Anyway, another question for you. You know how you said we care only about our own happiness? Have you read the part of the sequences/rationality book where Eliezer brings up someone being willing to die for someone else? If so, what did you make of it? If not, I'll go back and find exactly where it was.

Comment author: adamzerner 15 April 2015 02:40:26PM *  1 point [-]

Kaczynski is the only psychopath I've really read much about, so maybe I really did extrapolate his seeming rationality onto other psychopaths

I don't know too much about him other than the basics ("he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization").

I think that his concerns are valid, but I don't see how the bombings help him achieve the goal of bumping humanity off that path. Perhaps he knew he'd get caught and his manifesto would get attention, but a) there's still a better way to achieve his goals, and b) he should have realized that people have a strong bias against serial killers.

The reason I think his concerns are valid is because capitalism tries to optimize for wanting, which is sometimes quite different from liking. And anecdotally, this seems to be a big problem.

That would have to be some kind of bias; out of curiosity how would you label it? Maybe survivorship bias? Or availability heuristic? Anchoring? Or maybe even all of the above?

I'm not sure what the bias is called :/. I know it exists and there's a formal name though. I know because I remember someone calling me out on it LWSH :)

Nope, there's really not, but another thing I've realized from reading SSC is that a major component of great writing (and teaching) is the sharing of relevant, interesting, relatable examples to help an idea.

Yes, I very much agree. At times I think the articles on LW fail to do this. Humans need to have their System 1's massaged in order to understand things intuitively.

Anyway, Scott allows people to go easy on themselves for contributing less to the world than they might like, relative to their innate ability. Can we also go easy on ourselves relative to innate conscientiousness?

Idk. This seems to be a question involving terminal goals. Ie. if you're asking whether our innate conscientiousness makes us "good" or "bad".

When I think of morality this is the/one question I think of: "What are the rules we'd ask people to follow in order to promote the happiest society possible?". I'm sure you could nitpick at that, but it should be sufficient for this conversation. Example: the law against killing is good because if we didn't have it, society would be worse off. Similarly, there are norms of certain preference ratios that lead to society being better off.

I don't think we'd be better off if the norm was to have, say equal preference ratios for everyone in the world. Doing so is very unnatural would be very difficult, if not impossible. You have to weigh the costs of going against our impulses against the benefits that marginal conscientiousness would bring.

I'm not sure where the "equilibrium" points are. Honestly, I think I'd be lying to myself if I said that a preference ratio of 1,000,000,000:1 for you over another human would be overall beneficial to society. I suspect that subsequent generations will realize this and look at us in a similar way we look at Nazis (maybe not that bad, but still pretty bad). Morality seems to "evolve" from generation to generation.

Personally, my preference ratios are pretty bad. Not as bad as the average person because I'm less scope insensitive, but still bad. Ex. I eat out once in a while. You might say "oh well that's reasonable". But I could eat brown rice and frozen vegetables for very cheap and be like 70% as satisfied, and pay for x meals for people that are quite literally starving.

But I continue to eat out once in a while, and honestly, I don't feel (that) bad about it. Because I accept that my preference ratios are where they are (pretty much), and I think it makes sense for me to pursue the goal of achieving my preferences. To be less precise and more blunt, "I accept that I'm selfish".

And so to answer your question:

Can we also go easy on ourselves relative to innate conscientiousness?

I think that the answer is yes. Main reason: because it's unreasonable to expect that you change your ratios much.

Yeah, this is sooo real. On a logical level, it's easy to recognize my scope insensitivity. On a "feeling" level, I still don't feel like I have to go out and do something about it.

It's great that you understand it on a logical level. No one has made much progress on the feeling level. As long as you're aware of the bias and make an effort to massage your "feeling level" towards being more accurate, you should be fine.

But I don't want to admit my preference ratios are that far out of whack; I don't want to be that selfish.

Why?

I think that answering that exploring and answering that question will be helpful.

Try thinking about it in two ways:

1) A rational analysis of what you genuinely think makes sense. Note that rational does not mean completely logically.

2) An emotional analysis of what you feel, why you feel it, and in the event that your feelings aren't accurate, how can you nudge them to be more accurate.

This is BY FAR the best guidance anyone has ever given me in my life.

Wow! Thanks for letting me know. I'm really happy to help. I've been really impressed with your ability to pursue things, even when it's uncomfortable. It's a really important ability and most people don't have it.

I think that not having that ability is often a bottleneck that prevents progress. Ex. an average person with that ability can probably make much more progress than a high IQ person without it (in some ways). It's nice to have a conversation that actually progresses along nicely.

Anyway, another question for you. You know how you said we care only about our own happiness? Have you read the part of the sequences/rationality book where Eliezer brings up someone being willing to die for someone else? If so, what did you make of it? If not, I'll go back and find exactly where it was.

I think I have. I remember it being one of the few instances where it seemed to me that Eliezer was misguided. Although:

1) I remember going through it quickly and not giving it nearly as much thought as I would like. I'm content enough with my current understanding, and busy enough with other stuff that I chose to put it off until later. Although I do notice confusion - I very well may just be procrastinating.

2) I have tremendous respect for Eliezer. And so I definitely take note of his conclusions. The following thoughts are a bit dark and I hesitate to mention them... but:

a) Consider the possibility that he does actually agree with me, but he thinks that what he wrote will have a more positive impact on humanity (by influencing readers)

b) In the case that he really does believe what he writes, consider that it may not be best to convince him otherwise. Ie. he seems to be a very influential person in the field of FAI, and it's very much in humanities interest for that person to be unselfish.

I haven't thought this through enough to make these points public, so please take note of that. Also, if you wouldn't mind summarizing/linking to where and why he disagrees with me, I'd very much appreciate it.

Edit: Relevant excerpt from HPMOR

They both laughed, then Harry turned serious again. "The Sorting Hat did seem to think I was going to end up as a Dark Lord unless I went to Hufflepuff," Harry said. "But I don't want to be one."

"Mr. Potter..." said Professor Quirrell. "Don't take this the wrong way. I promise you will not be graded on the answer. I only want to know your own, honest reply. Why not?"

Harry had that helpless feeling again. Thou shalt not become a Dark Lord was such an obvious theorem in his moral system that it was hard to describe the actual proof steps. "Um, people would get hurt?"

"Surely you've wanted to hurt people," said Professor Quirrell. "You wanted to hurt those bullies today. Being a Dark Lord means that people you want to hurt get hurt."

Sorry, I feel like I'm linking to too many things which probably feels overwhelming. Don't feel like you have to read anything. Just thought I'd give you the option.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 April 2015 10:16:00PM 0 points [-]

Also, I thought your posts were well-written, so if you recommend any others, I will read them :)

Comment author: adamzerner 08 April 2015 10:46:02PM *  0 points [-]

Interesting, thanks for the feedback. I hope you're being honest. I have a bit of a hard time judging the quality of my own writing.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 11 March 2014 06:32:36AM 6 points [-]

Every time the topic of blind people seeking employment comes up in relevant fora, the Brits express similar sentiments to diegocaleiro: "soul-sucking work for money/status you won't ever have time to spend? Why?"

In the US, SSI for a disabled individual living alone is a little over $700, but one is not allowed to possess more than $2000 in resources at any given time (residence and a single vehicle for transportation are not counted as resources). All of that is the best case, of course; fail to properly report anything, wind up with $2k in your bank account(s) at any point (this even happened once when my SSI had stopped for a couple months, then they tried to backpay it all at once when it restarted), or try to cheat the system (and fail), and the social security administration will require you pay for it (they can withhold up to 10% of SSI to pay on these bills).

For me, I went to an expensive college before shattering my naive idealistic overly optimistic worldview, and the only real way to defer my loan payments to the point where SSI is anything but a parachute into oblivion is to go back to school, or wind up with a job that pays at least $15k/year (one or two loans can be reduced based on income (or lack there of), but it takes either continuing education or a job to get out of the negative in my case).

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 03:17:28PM *  16 points [-]

It is as abnormal for an American, in my experience, to consider not working, as it is to consider not breathing, or not eating.

Note that you seem to have a huge and invisible to you gender assumption :-)

Have you also thought about the possible connection between your observation and the fact that the US is a very wealthy country?

let me remind people that you can spend years and years not working.

You certainly can. There are a whole bunch of people in the US who do precisely that. Unfortunately for your argument they don't look to be ultrahip vagabonds who travel the world in between TED talks. On the contrary, they look to be poor, severely constrained in what they can do, unhealthy, stuck in bad neighborhoods with high crime rates, etc. etc.

Life is a series of choices. You can make a choice to drop out and I know people who've done that, both recently and back in the 70s. But there is a price, of course, and for some people the price is worth paying and for some it is not.

There are intermediate stages, too. For example I've met a guy who works for one month per year on an offshore platform and that gives him enough money to travel low-budget in Asia for the rest of the year. He doesn't have a house or an apartment, he is either on the platform or traveling. He stores his stuff at his mom's.

If I may make a generalization, dropping out works much better for people who are young, single, healthy, adaptable, and can quickly find a reasonable job if they need to (aka have sufficiently high IQ and some marketable skills). That's not an iron-clad rule, of course. One somewhat popular way of dropping out is to buy a cruising yacht and go off into the oceans of the world -- and that is occasionally done by full families with kids.

One other point is the uncertainty of the future. Because of it you want to both retain some flexibility and have resources to deal with whatever it throws at you. A vagabond style of life tends to be very flexible but very low on resources.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 07:19:45AM 4 points [-]

Have you also thought about the possible connection between your observation and the fact that the US is a very wealthy country?

Seconded. It's almost a cliche for Americans to visit (various parts of) Europe and Latin America, observe the less stringent work ethics, the far poorer standards of customer service, etc., and shake their heads, noting the ostensible causal link to lower levels of wealth... but that link does seem to exist.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 12 March 2014 11:56:34AM *  5 points [-]

The existing link is a correlation, not necessarily causality.

For example, imagine a country where the government can (and once in a while does) decide to take away your savings. In such country it wouldn't make sense to try getting more money than you need to survive this month, unless you are ready to use it now (e.g. you are building a house). Imagine that you are smart enough and you could make more money than you need, but the money would probably be taken away, so you don't want to do this. So instead of higher salary you will optimize e.g. for less work. If enough people do this, work ethics goes down.

Or imagine a country with such strong egalitarian ethics, than even if you do 10× more work than your colleagues, your employer just wouldn't give you even 2× higher salary, because in their opinion, no one deserves twice as much as the market rate. Again, the usual response is to slow down to the level of average (sometimes even more, because the average people usually consider themselves to be above-average, so they slow down too).

There are countries where stronger work ethics would be a lost purpose; it would not improve the life of the given individual, on average. Sure, some people are strategic enough to find a way to do it, but most people are not. (For example, if you are 8× faster than your colleagues, but your employer insists on paying you exactly the same amount of money, you could try convincing them to let you work from home, then do in 1 hour what your colleagues would do in 8 hours, and spend the rest of the time working on your own projects or just having fun.)

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 12:28:06PM 2 points [-]

And of course it's equally a cliche for Europeans to observe the US's wealth, long hours, short holidays, low taxes, extreme inequality, etc., and shake their heads, noting the ostensible causal link to various forms of societal dysfunction (see, e.g., http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.pdf which is ostensibly about correlations between religion and societal health, but a lot of the clearest correlations are driven by the fact that the US is both very religious and badly messed-up).

Whether the US's unusually severe work habits have anything to do with this is anyone's guess. Quite likely they don't. If they do, they might be effect rather than cause. But I don't think the connection between those work habits and the US's great wealth is at all obvious, either.

Comment author: Error 11 March 2014 08:49:04PM 2 points [-]

For example I've met a guy who works for one month per year on an offshore platform and that gives him enough money to travel low-budget in Asia for the rest of the year.

I am curious just what sort of job he's doing out there, and how he got it, and what kind of real money he's making. That's not a bad way to live.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 09:02:04PM *  4 points [-]

As far as I remember, he was an engineer, not just a grunt. He also was in his late 30s or early 40s and spent time working (normally) in the industry. I assume that allowed him to build a network of friends and acquaintances who are willing to offer him month-long jobs. It also helps that offshore platforms work on the shift method -- people are flown in for a period of time, they live on the platform for a few weeks working, basically, without weekends, and then they are flown back and have a mini-vacation until the next shift.

I agree, it's not a bad way to live. But there are downsides as well. You literally have no home, for example. Having a long-term partner is problematic, having kids is out of the question. If you are a self-sufficient loner it's a good life. If you want a community to live in, well...

Comment author: leplen 11 March 2014 01:14:48PM 15 points [-]

But a job is so easy! I'm fully aware that I don't need a job. I'm certainly capable of wandering into the woods and finding a cave and scrounging for roots and setting snares and surviving. but that's really inefficient. Apartments are cheap. Food is cheap. For someone with a high earning capacity, the benefits of modern society outweigh the costs by a factor of at least 10 to 1.

Having an income is awesome, and not hard to come by. I literally get paid to attend school. I'm given an office, a computer, access to a fast internet connection, and more than twice as much money as I need to support myself. I totally agree that employment is overrated in our society and that very few people make the history books just because they showed up for work everyday, but having a boring predictable income I don't have to think about is precisely what gives me the freedom and energy to actually think about and pursue more interesting problems.

Comment author: jkadlubo 11 March 2014 06:05:18PM *  5 points [-]

I was raised to have a job and a career. It was not a matter of religion or capitalism, it was just "all people work" and "you'll go to the best high school, best university and then have a career". My parents worked. My grandparents worked. I was raised more by nurseries, kindergartens and schools than by my family, so "everybody earns money at a job" is the default for me.

Yet, partly by chance, partly by laziness, partly through feeling of insecurity I never got a job. I studied, got married, had a kid, studied some more, had another kid. More or less then I decided to create a real family, one I never had as a child. I decided to consciously raise the children, and realized that this requires more time and effort than I could afford if I had any kind of steady job. So, even though I was getting "unemployable" by approaching 30 and never working a single day in my life, I ditched the one offer I had.

It's relatively easy to be a homemaker with a husband who earns more money, but for me it's difficult psychologically. After all, my childhood and adolescence were about learning enough to get a great job and not about housekeeping (when I moved out at 20 I couldn't turn the washing machine on). I get that, in a way, I am doing the most stereotypical thing a woman can do, but for me it's the other way round.

So maybe this is one more reason why people think they have to have a job - they were raised to think so.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 16 April 2014 08:56:23AM 2 points [-]

I studied, got married, had a kid, studied some more, had another kid.

That is about what my wife did. The difference being that we planned it that way from the beginning. Esp. if you have more than two children, a large extended family and a house one being the 'family manager' and one the high income provider is much more efficient than two work half and half due to the concave income per effort curves (same as with physics: a mix of air of two different temperatures cannot hold the same amount of water as the air prior to mixing: mist/fog). I don't know why people don't get this. Must be some misunderstanding of the principle of equality. Sure it is important to make sure that no dependency arrises from the power of income. But with children the primary child care giver at least has a legal or moral lever - but see http://marriedmansexlife.com/2012/01/sahms-and-moral-hazard/

Comment author: jkadlubo 16 April 2014 04:45:21PM 2 points [-]

My experience was two parents as high income providers and state facilities as children carers. The same plan was my default. This made me easily realize the lack of parents-related memories and how I did not want the same for my kids. If I was faced with a default "both parents are healf-heartedly working and raising children", full time homemaking would have been a much more difficult choice.

From a more philosophical point of view, I blame second wave of feminism for this situation and hope the third one will help women sort carrier and family balance out. FYI: grossly simplyfying things, the second wave of feminism, in the '60s and '70s, promoted the image of women being able to do (and work) the same things as men did, depreciating in fact stereotypical (natural?) female roles. The third wave (since the '90s) is supposed to bring the message that women can do whatever they choose - be it manly work or womanly homemaking and caring for their appearance - unlike tomboyish stereotypical feminists.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 16 April 2014 06:40:12PM 1 point [-]

The third wave (since the '90s) is supposed to bring the message that women can do whatever they choose - be it manly work or womanly homemaking and caring for their appearance - unlike tomboyish stereotypical feminists.

This third wave (which I don't see be really there at least here in Germany) will not be complete before the tasks associated with traditional females roles will be valued as highly as they should. Raising, parenting and educating children for modern society is demanding. Only some countries honor the traditional occupations of child care worker, nursery-school teacher and elementary school teacher as high as they should (Japan for example). Same for the caregiver occupations.

I once proposed a quota of the number of men in these occupations. To reach these quotas the salary might be raised to incentivise more men to enter into these professions (which in many cases benefits the cared for people by providing more social variaty). Once the quota is reached these jobs should be valued sufficiently highly to drop the quota.

Comment author: jkadlubo 16 April 2014 08:04:08PM *  1 point [-]

This quota idea is a really interesting one. I like how it uses side effects (more men lured by higher pay) to get to the real goal (higher status of job). This should be done more often!

Right now know only 2 men working as kindergarten teachers (or, more specifially, one of them is working and I lost contact with the other one when he entered the job market), and it makes even me uneasy to see the first one at my son's kindergarten. On one hand I feel "yay for equality" but on the other hand I can't stop thinking "what's wrong with this guy?"

Comment author: CronoDAS 12 March 2014 01:44:41AM 4 points [-]

I've lived off my parents ever since I graduated from college back in 2006...

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 03:16:10PM 1 point [-]

This is mostly common in european countries and in the rich parts of poor countries, since the earning potential of people younger than 30 is usually way below the cost of rent and living, and the awesome, fantastic, brilliant tradition of moving away from your city to go to college, like americans do, is much less present.

Comment author: gothgirl420666 11 March 2014 07:58:57PM *  3 points [-]

This has been one of my dreams for forever. I remember playing Okami and encountering a "wandering artist " character who travels the world and interprets what he sees in the form of art, and thinking to myself "wow, that is exactly what I want to do".

But it seems like more of a thing to do for a few years and then go back into the workforce than something to do for the rest of your life. For starters, it would probably get tiring. Secondly, it would be a lot easier and less terrifying if you saved up a bunch of money in preparation for this adventure, to use when absolutely necessary, rather than literally have no means of income and be surviving on a day-to-day basis.

I wonder what the impractical or risky aspects of this are. It seems like if you have living relatives available to bail you out if you get in too deep then there aren't too much, but there are probably some that I am forgetting. Healthcare? Do employers care if you have a five-year gap in your resume? What else? Is there a reason why I shouldn't do this a few years after I graduate college?

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 02:42:50PM *  0 points [-]

My main idea was to show this can be done for years. I don't consider it to be a good option for life. Generally, I don't consider the universe is predictable enough at this point for any decision for life to be taken. Thus I'm against christian forever marriage and having children as rational ideas for instance, since there is no turning back (also commiting murder and some other things. Even learning musical theory at this point sounds risky to me, since some claim there is no turning back)

Back to work. So I commented on my lastest few years in which I was not working (or getting a masters). Now I do want to work in the East SF bay area, either an academic job, or helping Leverage or MIRI or CFAR would be the best options. Then some teaching related non academic job. Then writing long-footage movies (which I did back in 2005). and finally, you know, just getting a job, like some people do. Just merely finding a place that says, yes, we are in Berkeley, yes we will get your visa approved for working status, thus you'll be able to live here. Welcome, here is your normal vanilla job and your regular low paying salary, we don't care you wrote a book, speak five languages or gave a TED talk, just arrange these books there, serve coffe from 4 to 8 and check the cashier at the end of the day.

I've got some difficulty making my skills sellable, even though I have the two hardest to fake properties that people claim make a difference in the workforce: Social skills and high IQ.

On your wandering artist dream though, there are several ways to turn your wanderer-ness into some (small) money. Writing books or blogs on travelling like the very author of ultravagabonding. Giving lectures like Puneet Sahani. Proving theorems like Paul Erdos. I'd say more, but you get the gist.

Comment author: bramflakes 11 March 2014 09:13:07PM 8 points [-]

you're only encountering the people for whom vagabonding worked

the ones you don't see are dead or destitute

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 02:50:34PM 3 points [-]

I've sleep on the streets before during days in my travels in which it would be too complicated or expensive to get a hotel room, so I have met some people who live in the streets and made their acquantance.

Given that I think your counterfactual is witty, but wrong.

Within the reference class of Lesswrongers, veterans and lurkers alike, the failure case of ultravagabonding is to stop ultravagabonding and work (either teaching english to foreigners or in a menial job, or back to one's regular job).

So yes, I'm meeting the surivivors in the survivor bias sense. But the price is not as high as you are claiming for those who fail this mode of life.

I myself can't, for finantial reasons, personal security and emotional reasons, and specially due to visa status reasons, afford this lifesltyle anymore. So let's see in 5 months where I'll be, if I'm dead or destitute, I withdraw my contestation.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 07:24:57AM *  6 points [-]

Some of your examples seem to boil down to "it's possible to convince other people to support you, while providing nothing much in return". If rejecting such lifestyle options is a "Protestant ethic", then color me Protestant.

Other examples you provide are more like "if you aren't picky about the lifestyle you want, or where to live, then you can support yourself on less". Fair enough. Most people are more picky than that. For example, I like indoor plumbing, and can think of very little that I would be interesting in spending much time seeing in other countries. (Note: I have been to a total of 10 countries in my life.)

The reason Americans consider working a de facto biological need is that things people want and need cost money, and jobs are how you get money. There are exceptions to both of those rules, but to imply that the rules are thereby false in the general case is quite silly.

not getting a job isn't going to kill you or make you less healthy

This, especially the latter part, is ridiculous.

This is also a repost of my response to diegocaleiro in another thread.

Comment author: notsonewuser 11 March 2014 06:49:26PM *  4 points [-]

I want to have a job because I want to know that I'll have access to (healthy) food and (pleasant) shelter, and I don't want to live with my parents for the rest of their life.

How can I be reasonably confident that I'll have those two things without having a job?

Edit: To the person who downvoted this comment, why? It was a completely serious comment, which responded to a question Diego asked in the post.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 11 March 2014 06:58:36PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: moridinamael 11 March 2014 07:09:05PM 5 points [-]

The most basic rudiments of childcare cost two orders of magnitude more than the amounts that you're talking about living on, and having a stable family life that the children will actually enjoy is going to cost another order of magnitude.

But, if you don't plan on having kids, knock yourself out.

Comment author: Ixiel 11 March 2014 10:12:30PM 3 points [-]

I surprised (pleasantly) nobody has raised ethical concerns, debt to the world or what not. I worked a nothing bank job for five years despite being very financially secure (which I did nothing to earn) and am quitting in a month or so. (32yo) I was almost completely motivated to work out of guilt, and am just now over it. Thanks for the post; I wish I read it four years ago.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 12:18:18PM 2 points [-]

In fairness, that's a pretty unusual situation to be in. For most people, much the most reliable route to becoming "very financially secure" involves working, for someone else, for money. (How reliable a route that is to becoming VFS is, of course, very variable.)

Comment author: JTHM 11 March 2014 05:13:26AM 1 point [-]

Do you consider food, shelter, and clothing to be optional? You know those things cost money, right?

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 March 2014 11:37:56AM 4 points [-]

Money is a resource to get those things but not the only one.

If you have good social skills and a reputation as someone who's company is highly valuable you can get shelter by staying at friends places.

A modern city provides plenty of pigeons to eat. Dumpster diving is another way used by many people to get food.

Clothing still costs a bit of money but a lot less if you buy second hand stuff.

Comment author: roland 12 March 2014 05:29:21PM 4 points [-]

If you have good social skills and a reputation as someone who's company is highly valuable you can get shelter by staying at friends places.

Yes, you can. But guess what, someone is still paying for it, even if it is your "friend".

Comment author: ChristianKl 14 March 2014 01:17:30PM 0 points [-]

It also possible that the friend owns his place and is not paying rent for it.

At the moment I'm living in a one room 25 m^2 meter flat and I don't have good space to host people. A while ago I was living in an arrangement where I had enough space to comfortable host guests but a renting contract didn't really allow for renting out a room for money.

Having cool friends stay over wasn't costing me anything.

There are plenty of rich people with who own flats in multiple cities and don't have any problem with having a trustworthy stay some time in one of their flats while they aren't using the flat.

People go on vacation and profit from someone being in the flat who feeds the cat and waters plants while they are away.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 15 March 2014 07:28:33AM 1 point [-]

Even if they own place, someone still needs to pay for the maintenance, electricity, etc.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 March 2014 04:31:12PM 0 points [-]

There are a bunch of home maintenance tasks where you care hire someone to do it but you can also just do it yourself or get help from friends to do it. Thinking of money as the only way to get things done is limiting.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 March 2014 03:14:57PM *  0 points [-]

Hmm, are there parts of the world where this is commonly an option? In Finland, "owning an apartment" generally means "owning a share of a housing cooperative", and shareholders are required to pay their share of the cost of maintaining the building.

I guess that it would be possible for someone to avoid paying anything if they contributed their work instead, and managed to persuade the rest of the co-op to permit it, but I've never heard of anyone doing that.

Comment author: ChristianKl 18 March 2014 10:45:44PM 3 points [-]

In Finland, "owning an apartment" generally means "owning a share of a housing cooperative", and shareholders are required to pay their share of the cost of maintaining the building.

It might come to a surprise but there are people who live in standalone buildings that don't contain multiple apartments.

A task like watering plants is home maintenance. Clearing someone's computer from viruses is also more or less home maintenance. Building an IKEA cupboard is home maintenance.

I would guess most people on Lesswrong have fixed the computer of a friend without getting payed for it. We engage in a lot of activities that produce value for someone but which aren't payed for with money.

I once read in a role playing handbook that while bribing a diplomat with money might produce heavy resistance, giving the diplomat a good contact that's useful for the diplomat might make him owe you a valuable favor.

If you are a nerd who's too shy to approach woman and you go to a bar with a friend who has very high social skills and that friend does the opening of conversations and tells a girl what a great guy you are and you end up in a relationship with the girl, that's a favor that very valuable but not easy to buy with money.

I'm no communist who opposes money in principle, but want to stress the point that money is not the only way to exchange value. Simply being aware of your environment and creating value for other people can often create relationships where they are also happy to do something for you but no money exchanges hands.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 March 2014 03:39:28AM 0 points [-]

It might come to a surprise but there are people who live in standalone buildings that don't contain multiple apartments.

No need to get snarky. I'm obviously aware of that, but I was commenting in the context of your earlier comment, which talked specifically about "flats". So a more exact phrasing of my comment would have been "Are there parts of the world where this is commonly an option [for flat-owners]".

And I never made the claim that money is the only way to exchange value. I just got curious about how flat-ownership works in other countries, that's all.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 09:06:50AM 1 point [-]

If you have good social skills and a reputation as someone who's company is highly valuable you can get shelter by staying at friends places.

Do you advocate doing this? Or are you just making the point that it's possible?

a reputation as someone who's company is highly valuable

If you're not doing any of the things that are traditionally held to be worthwhile (working, teaching, studying, creating art, etc.)... then you are legitimately unlikely to be an interesting person, someone whose company is valuable.

A modern city provides plenty of pigeons to eat.

Are you serious with this?

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 March 2014 10:30:54AM *  2 points [-]

Do you advocate doing this? Or are you just making the point that it's possible?

I know people who more or less do this. Do I advocate it as the solution for everyone or even for myself? No. On the other hand it's a valid choice for some people.

More importantly it's limiting to think of money as the only way to acquire stuff.

I personally can't work as effectively on a notebook as I can when I work at my own setup with a monitor, a separate keyboard and a mouse. I have no problem being 12 hours per day in front of my computer setup but if I spent 2 hours in front of a notebook my back gets tense.

If you're not doing any of the things that are traditionally held to be worthwhile (working, teaching, studying, creating art, etc.)... then you are legitimately unlikely to be an interesting person, someone whose company is valuable.

Looking for a way to get payed can constrain the work that you are doing. Einstein did most of his important work in 1905 in his free time and not at his formal job as a patent clerk.

Julian Assange would be someone who did very important work at Wikileaks which didn't pay and who never had a formal residence but just went from sleeping at one person place to sleeping at the place of the next.

As far as education goes Steve Jobs is a good example. After he dropped out of school he crashed at friends places to have shelter and he went to those lectures that interested him.

In my experience autodidacts are often more interesting people than people who are formally educated.

Are you serious with this [eating pigeons]?

Tim Ferriss wrote a guide on how to catch pigeons for eating. I think it's somewhere in the 4 hour Chef. I see no real reason against the practice. Being the kind of person who can cook a good self caught pigeon meal also helps with being an interesting person.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 02:57:39PM *  0 points [-]

What city do you live in? If I'm ever around, we are throwing the biggest and best Less Wrong Pigeon Barbeque party in the World's history. We are doing this.

(We can totally donate some 30 dollars to vegan outreach on the side, or [edit< sarcasm sign] ]spread the vegetarian allergenic mexican beetles in some urban area later to make up for the poor birds)

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 March 2014 03:29:15PM 0 points [-]

What city do you live in? If I'm ever around, we are throwing the biggest and best Less Wrong Pigeon Barbeque party in the World's history. We are doing this.

Berlin. Hosting a Pigeon Barbeque party sounds like a great idea.

I think as far as the legalities go you have to have a hunting permit to do it, but I have a survivalist friend who has it and probably if he oversees it.

spread the vegetarian allergenic mexican beetles

That phrase doesn't show up on google, what do you mean with it?

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 03:42:49PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: ChristianKl 12 March 2014 03:57:07PM 0 points [-]

Okay. On that point I have to say bioterrorism isn't cool.

Last week I read a bit about Osho and my first reaction would be: "What are those people thinking?" But I do understand the kind of thinking that lead to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_Rajneeshee_bioterror_attack .

It's wrong, don't do it, it isn't cool.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 04:34:32PM 0 points [-]

Yes, that is why my post begins with the sarcasm sign. I don't really want people to spread those insects around either.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 March 2014 05:07:54PM 0 points [-]

The post you link does, but your in this thread doesn't.

Do to information hazards and schelling fences you just don't joke about commiting bioterrorism on a public forum where you don't know whether someone is reading who won't get the joke.

Especially when shut up and calculate utilitarians are around.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 05:21:27PM 1 point [-]

Point well taken.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 11 March 2014 06:24:47AM 2 points [-]

Unemployment/disability benefits can help pay for these, provided one isn't trying to live alone in a high-end neighborhood, but a social safety net and a lack of debt are pretty much requirements.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 11 March 2014 02:12:38PM 1 point [-]

Money can be used to get them and thats the most common way in the developed world these days. But money is a system of tokens that people use to keep track of transactions. Other tokens can be used. Like trust or social status. Or one could bypass a token economy all together.

Comment author: redline 21 March 2014 12:37:04AM *  0 points [-]

Utility : Expression of subjective preference between two or more ways to acquire well-being.

Money : Measure of utility. Exchange means with the highest probability of acceptance.

Wage labor : contractual exchange of a portion of one's freedom to use a part of his life time against money. Each party seeks to secure its supply over time of convenience being exchanged . (subordination vs money) .

We learned early on that we could do more and better bearing our needs and desires by using mutual and exchange . By specializing in specific tasks and allocating tasks across multiple individuals, we make better performance. The value created is then redistributed between individuals via exchange.

Tasks and utility distribution result from negotiations between individuals in which each asserts his skills but also his power.

Generally rational individuals seeking to maximize their individual well-being would :

  • give the least possible effort

  • give the least possible of the non renewable, non extensible (yet) life time ressource

  • receive the maximum utiliy in return.

Economic actors develop strategies more or less sophisticated to achieve their goals.

The more an individual has power the more he will attempt to set rules for sharing tasks with minimal negotiation, while maintaining others in terms of motivation that maximizes his utility . He will also seek a redistribution of utility produced that maximizes his individual utility . Again maintaining a certain level of motivation in others is sought.

The supply security of utility is itself a utility (or meta-utility if you wish) commonly sought.

One way to acquire this security is to compel a supplier either by violence or by obtaining commitment. A contract of paid employment is a way for two players to get a utility supply security by binding to a contractual commitment. The employer seeks to secure its supply of subordinate labor and the employee to secure its supply of money. In return each make commitments that limit their freedom. This is a tradeoff between two opposing utilities: freedom vis a vis others against security and support provided by others.

For many people security of supply is an important meta-utility that allows better enjoy multiple sources of value and achieve well-being . The absence of this security greatly reduces their welfare even in the presence of multiple sources of utility.

Individuals with greater power are aware of that and put this information to good use when sharing negotiations . Individuals with lesser power often accept unfavorable bargains. For example an employer has less strain on his freedom of movement . He smoothes his commitment to provide a steady income using his right to cancel his involvement in certain economic conditions ( market losses ... ) . By contrast, an employee has a more limited freedom of movement. The security of a fixed income over time deprives him of all or part of the increased wealth produced due to the reinvestment of a portion of the profits .

In addition to securing his supply of subordinate employment by contractual agreement , an employer multiplies his utility by making several simultaneous exchanges . He sells the work of many people, then distributes them some of the harvested utility. His own utility is a direct function of the number of employees.

The simultaneous exchange with several people is a convenient way to get great utility against a minimum life time spent and, often, effort .

A musician can perform at a concert a simultaneous exchange with dozens of people at once . Spectators are very happy to have spent $ 25 each and feel they have made a good deal . The musician is happy to have won $ 200 in two hours. It is a mutually beneficial exchange that poses few ethical problems , while wage labor is accepted mainly because of the imbalance of power and offers little real income security, even though many people make rationalizations about it.

From a "utility versus time & effort" yield point of view giving piano concerts is a lucrative business . Activities may have a high yield without necessarily require simultaneous exchanges . A rare and sought after talent can be redeemed against a lot of utility with little expense in time and effort. Executive coaching for example . If simultaneity is possible, this will further increase performance.

Beyond a certain return , an individual can consider that the expected income offsets the insecurity generated by the renunciation of paid employment . He became an entrepreneur.

For some people with a certain type of personality , the threshold is lower than for others. They are more likely to be entrepreneurs ( by choice) .

Some other people find that freedom by its own brings them enough welfare to offset much of the loss of security due to the renunciation of wage labor . If they had some way to meet their basic subsistence needs they would make the leap.

If these individuals are talented , it will be even easier to acquire high utility without the inconvenience of wage labor .

There are however more flexible work organizations where greater freedom is left to the workers in the management of their time and how to achieve the objectives without sacrificing the (seeming) stability of income contractually guaranteed . For some people this would be a good compromise.

Translated from french mainly by Google Translate (narraow) AI and some modifications of mine. This is still poor english. Sorry for that.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 March 2014 11:27:22AM *  0 points [-]

I have yet to see a plan, that would actually work for me. I would really love to quit my job, unfortunately I don't see a course of action that would give me enough confidence about my future to actually do it.

Also in case you'd like to live in a paradise valley taking Santo Daime (a religious ritual with DMT) about twice a week, you can do it with a salary of aproximatelly 500 dollars per month in Vale do Gamarra, where I just spent carnival, that is what the guy who drove us back did. Given Brazilian or Turkish returns on investment, that would cost you 50 000 bucks in case you refused to work within the land itself for the 500.

Can you elaborate on this? How would I actually do this and what would my future life be like?

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 03:11:54PM 1 point [-]

Look, there are plenty of good looking places where you need little money to live.

The best practice would be to earn or inherit some money before you go. like the 50000 I suggested. You know, for cancer safety and similar risks.

Vale do gamarra is a territory where religious christian communities that take DMT while saying new age jesus stuff exist, and some people live there, in the middle of nowhere but well connected with nature, since there are small huts which are part of a kind of hotel, you get normal urban people visiting every now and then. You can work for whoever owns the land doing things like taking people places, lighting the fire which makes the sustainable hot tub work, helping with events etc.... maybe you can grow some crops. I don't think it is the only one, there are more in the amazon forest and north of brazil. I'll bet also in Peru there are similar things. You can also go to buddhist temples and monasteries, specially in the phillipines and southeast asia, and live for a few months there.

Again, none of those options sound to me like a "for the rest of your life" kind of option. Basically because nothing sounds like that to me. I look around and I see no reason to believe people do the same thing their entire lives. I know almost none who kept only one profession, lived in only one city, or one romantic partner for life. Even fewer kept the same job. Same job in the sabe company. Wow, we are getting to the low millionths here. etc.... Why would I be different? I don't want the half EA, quarter ultravagabond, quarter Academic lifestyle I've had for 6 years any longer. I want a job, and that, as Americans have known for centuries. Is totally Ok as well. The hard part is that I want it to lead to saving the world in the long run and not through earning to give, given relative advantages and disadvantages of being me. But anyway, I wrote on not getting job. I want a job, and I'm completely fine with that.

Comment author: Brillyant 11 March 2014 08:41:52PM 0 points [-]

It's a bit overrated, in my estimation. I left to live in tropical destination. I rented a car a spent a week scoping the place out. I slept in a youth hostel but basically lived out of my rented car. I brought only a backpack with me.

I was back home in less than two weeks. I saw some of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen (beaches, etc.) and it was quite literally like a dream come true. But it got boring quick.

I missed being close to my family and I was dating someone at the time who I also missed a great deal—both played a big part in my discontentment. Ultimately however, I think the novelty of vagabonding wears off very quick for certain types of people, like me.

Plus, as some have pointed out, "working a job" is kind of a loose notion. Figure out a balance where you can find time to engage in things you enjoy and meet your needs for resources. Everyone "works".

Comment author: diegocaleiro 12 March 2014 03:18:57PM 0 points [-]

Maybe you didn't go through the tourist traveller transistion, which precedes the travelller nomad transition.

The transition is made when the setting matters much less than the people and personalities you meet, and you start travelling to meet people, and arranging your travel plans according to the types of people, and activities you intend to do, not the places you want to go.

The nomad transition I never experienced myself, there was always a place to call "home".

Comment author: Brillyant 12 March 2014 03:38:41PM *  0 points [-]

I think you are right about my failure to truly become nomadic. I therefore likely never found out if I could be happier as a roaming adventurer.

Though, to the point of your post, I'd argue a non-nomadic existent with consistent work seems to be the happy equilibrium for most personality types.

I think novelty wears off quick when I travel. And adding additional novelty only serves to remind me of the fact that while every new experience is novel, it also similar to other novel experiences, and therefore not that novel at all.

My current conclusion is, for my personality type, travel ends up to be a grass-is-greener sort of exercise where I am itching to go somewhere new, only to miss home—and all that home offers—soon after I leave. I'd posit most people are like this. That is why people have "jobs" and travel on 3-15 day vacations.

Comment author: pianoforte611 11 March 2014 01:52:47PM -1 points [-]

It's not so much protestant work ethic as the market revolution work ethic. Going to a building for a specified number of hours per week then getting a fixed salary is a fairly modern invention, and it has become normalized as the proper way to live in the US (unless you are exceptional).

Directing an NGO, giving free talks as an intellectual and couch surfing the world (which requires a fair bit of effort to do cheaply - the average person would rack up a huge bill) are not what I think about when I think about being "unemployed". Of course I would love to high status enough enough to do those things, and have something to fall back on when I'm done but I can't. Maybe when I'm done with my education and have been working for a few years I'll consider this.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 March 2014 03:55:20PM 2 points [-]

Going to a building for a specified number of hours per week then getting a fixed salary is a fairly modern invention

Eighteenth century, more or less? Plus, the dominant alternative is being a peasant or a small craftsman which is even further away from living as a member of couch-surfing intelligentsia :-)

Comment author: pewpewlasergun 11 March 2014 07:05:02AM 0 points [-]

Its expensive to get health insurance when you aren't buying with a group.

Comment author: chaosmage 11 March 2014 10:46:32AM 3 points [-]

In the US, yes. Part of the poster's point is that you don't need to stay in the US.

I won't make his choice, mostly because I like being around employed people more than I like being around unemployed people, but international mobility is clearly a point in favour of the lifestyle he's suggesting.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2014 11:52:47AM 3 points [-]

How hard is it to become a benefits-receiving citizen of another country?

Comment author: chaosmage 11 March 2014 12:03:37PM *  2 points [-]

Depends on the country, obviously. I do not know of any country where you don't have to go through a complex administrative procedure that takes months or years. In places where social services are very good (say Switzerland) it is much harder to get citizenship than where they aren't. If you're planning to receive benefits for the rest of your life, researching the prerequisites for various countries should be well worth your time.

The easiest way is always the same, however: Convince a citizen of that country to marry you. Many countries have discrimination policies where it is harder to acquire citizenship by marriage if you're from, say, Nigeria, but coming from the US it'll be easy in most places.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 07:28:35AM 2 points [-]

I like being around employed people more than I like being around unemployed people

Indeed. Is there such a thing as an unemployed person, providing little of value but receiving enough support (in whatever form) to live on, who is nonetheless working with passion, skill, and knowledge in some interesting domain? Is there, in other words, such a thing as a person who does not support himself by providing value... yet is interesting?

I have not met anyone like that.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 March 2014 10:15:28AM 1 point [-]

I have. One of them is composing classical music, another is writing a PhD on medieval history, a third is an occasional guest lecturer at university (for a symbolic fee). All use their relatively abundant time to achieve excellence in what they do.

Of course they are all over age 65 and have worked all their life, so that's the demographic where to look for such people.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 10:20:48AM 1 point [-]

Yes, fair enough. It's a good point, and one I should've thought of; a lifetime of doing interesting and useful things plausibly entitles one to freedom from continued active provision of value.

However, I don't actually think that "living in retirement, benefiting from the fruits of one's past labors" counts as "unemployed"; the literal meaning may be there, but the connotation definitely doesn't match. In any case, I hope the thrust of my comment is now clarified.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 12:48:28PM 2 points [-]

It seems to me that there's an intermediate path between conventional retirement and outright vagabondage, which is probably more common than the latter: if you live frugally, save wisely, and happen to have sufficiently marketable skills, you have a good chance of being able to retire much earlier than is usual and live modestly off your savings. SaidAchmiz, do you (1) think people who do this are failing to do their social duty, and (2) have any opinion on whether they are likely to be interesting?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 12 March 2014 07:41:16PM 2 points [-]

I don't think "social duty" is a real thing, beyond being shorthand for the sum total of various ethical duties to various individuals, so my answer to (1) is no.

As for (2), well, to be honest, I don't think I've met any such people. I haven't even heard of any of my friends ever meeting such people. So can I have no opinion on the matter that's based on any kind of experience.

I think I'd have to, at very least, hear about some actual cases of what you describe, before I could even speculate. Questions abound: what did the person do when they did work? What are they doing now that they've retired? Just engaging in passive leisure activities? Or working on some nontrivial personal projects? Do they have family? Do they engage in volunteering or charity? etc.

So yeah, if you know such a person, I'd love to hear a description of an actual case.

Comment author: gjm 12 March 2014 11:29:40PM *  0 points [-]

I don't think "social duty" is a real thing, beyond [...]

Please take it as a shorthand for 'whatever "plausibly entitles one to freedom from continued active provision of value"', as you put it.

I don't think I personally know any such people. There are a few internet-famous examples (who claim that Anyone Can Do It, rather optimistically if you ask me because the basis of their argument is that "all you need to do is save half your income for N years" and saving half your income is much easier for well-paid people); maybe the best known is the one who calls himself Mr Money Mustache. A more extreme example is Early Retirement Extreme. Both these people show every sign of being actual real people who actually believe what they say (which is not always true for personal-finance gurus).

Of course famous examples are generally atypical, but to answer your questions: I think MMM was a software engineer or something of the kind, and ERE was [EDITED: used to say "in finance" but I checked and that was completely wrong] a physicist in academia. I haven't read enough of ERE's stuff to know how he spends his life now. MMM writes a blog promoting frugal early retirement (I think his real interest is more in "sustainability" than in personal finance as such), works intermittently as a builder -- both of these bring in money, so you can debate whether he should really be called "retired"; I think he would answer that he is retired because he now only works on things he wants to work on for reasons other than getting paid -- and doubtless does other things but I don't know what. I don't know anything much about what either does for charity.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 13 March 2014 02:09:04AM 2 points [-]

The reason I asked about people you personally know is that anyone can write a blog claiming any old thing. With these sorts of claims in particular, it's hard to know how much of what's claimed is just bullshit. Some of it could be outright lies, some of it could be selective reporting, some of it could be certain unemphasized atypical aspects of their personality / mental make-up / life situation / who the hell knows what. On the other end of the issue, how am I to judge whether these people are interesting?

As far as social duty (suitably expanded from the shorthand) goes... I think that what "entitles" you to freedom from provision of value (to the extent that the notion of entitlement is even ethically meaningful, which is an extent of which I am unsure) is, very roughly, not having to sponge off other people.

You see, it's not that I think expending effort is inherently morally praiseworthy. I don't think "working" is a virtue in itself. I think it may well be wonderful (modulo various fun-theoretic considerations) if people didn't have to work for a living and also didn't have to depend on other people to provide for them. When we come to live in a world where such universal leisure is possible, we can revisit that conversation.

But we don't live in that world now. When you live in your friend's apartment, sleeping on their couch, using their facilities, and so forth, your lack of having to work for a living is dependent entirely on your friend's income and wealth. You are not entitled to that freedom from provision of value; you happen to have it, by the leave and the grace of your friend; but if your friend tires of your leeching one day and kicks you out onto the street, you have, it seems to me, no moral case against them.

If you work, save up, and retire, it's different. You are dependent on no one but your past self. (Well, no more than the average citizen is dependent on, collectively, his fellow citizens, for taxes and all the rest of it.)

So to sum up, I don't think "not working" is an ethically valid choice (generally) if it means that you'll be living off the work of other people, receiving benefits but providing nothing. If all "not working" means is that you've found some mechanism of converting provision of value into resources to live on, that is to some degree different from the usual mechanisms of such, then I see nothing wrong with that. I am a graduate student myself, after all. (I also work, though only for relatively small amounts of supplemental income.)

Comment author: gjm 13 March 2014 09:40:10AM 2 points [-]

That all sounds very reasonable. Thanks.