Measuring Goal Success

A good, generic strategy is to come up with some goals, then come up with some measurable criteria to judge success or failure for each goal. This helps you recognize problems, mistakes and inadequate plans (plans that somewhat work but not enough to reach the goal measurements).

Measurable criteria help with dishonesty and bias. Instead of moving the goalposts when you get there, or rationalizing how great you did, you clearly know in advance what the goal is (and write the goal and criteria down, often where other people can see it).

If your goal is "learn some stuff about physics" then it's hard to judge how well you're doing. It's pretty easy to fool yourself into thinking you succeeded when you didn't learn much. Or you could learn a fair amount but miss an opportunity to learn way more.

If you have measurable criteria, you can check whether you succeed at them. E.g.:

  • spend 3 hours a week minimum on learning physics; miss zero weeks this year. (only solo learning counts for this time, not talking with people)
  • post at least one physics question per week on stack exchange (at least 40 weeks this year).
  • fully read the following physics books this year: X, Y, Z.
  • do all practice problems in books X and W this year.
  • at end of year, be able to get passing scores on the physics tests i found online (A, B and C).

This criteria aren't perfect. They don't measure everything I care about regarding my goal. I could succeed at these criteria and still have missed some opportunities.

But they have major advantages. They give me some clear guidelines. It'll be hard to lie to myself that I did one of these criteria when I didn't. They're easy to evaluate as either success or failure. Did I do it or not? I'm realistically going to be able to give a clear, correct answer, even if I'm pretty dumb and biased.

(What if I stop keeping track of time spent on physics, so I can't say if I succeeded? What if I don't keep track of what sections of what books I've read? You can take it as implied that that's a failure. Part of the goal is to keep track. Or you could write it into the goals that keeping track is a requirement.)

It's hard to measure everything we care about, and some goals are harder to make relevant measurements for than others. But measurements are useful and we can often get some benefit from them.

FYI you can find ideas similar to the above in various business management ideas. Regarding business management in general, I favor Theory of Constraints, from Eli Goldratt, who wrote a book actually titled The Goal.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Mises on Harmony of Interests

Ludwig von Mises in Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition:

Thus, all these modern parties of special interests, no matter how far apart their goals may diverge or how violently they may contend against one another, form a united front in the battle against liberalism. In the eyes of all of them, the principle of liberalism that the rightly understood interests of all men are, in the long run, compatible is like a red cloth waved in front of a bull. As they see it, there are irreconcilable conflicts of interests that can be settled only by the victory of one faction over the others, to the advantage of the former and the disadvantage of the latter. Liberalism, these parties assert, is not what it pretends to be. It too is nothing but a party program seeking to champion the special interests of a particular group, the bourgeoisie, i.e., the capitalists and entrepreneurs, against the interests of all other groups.

The fact that this allegation forms part of the propaganda of Marxism accounts for much of the latter's success. If the doctrine of the irreconcilable conflict between the interests of different classes within a society based on private ownership of the means of production is taken as the essential dogma of Marxism, then all the parties active today on the European continent would have to be considered as Marxist.

The doctrine of class antagonisms and of class conflict is also accepted by the nationalist parties in so far as they share the opinion that these antagonisms do exist in capitalist society and that the conflicts to which they give rise must run their course. What distinguishes them from the Marxist parties is only that they wish to overcome class conflict by reverting to a status society constituted along the lines that they recommend and by shifting the battlefront to the international arena, where they believe it should be. They do not dispute the statement that conflicts of this kind occur in a society based on private ownership of the means of production.

They merely contend that such antagonisms ought not to arise, and in order to eliminate them, they want to guide and regulate private property by acts of government interference; they want interventionism in place of capitalism. But, in the last analysis, this is in no way different from what the Marxists say. They too promise to lead the world to a new social order in which there will be no more classes, class antagonisms, or class conflicts.

In order to grasp the meaning of the doctrine of the class war, one must bear in mind that it is directed against the liberal doctrine of the harmony of the rightly understood interests of all members of a free society founded on the principle of private ownership of the means of production. The liberals maintained that with the elimination of all the artificial distinctions of caste and status, the abolition of all privileges, and the establishment of equality before the law, nothing else stands in the way of the peaceful cooperation of all members of society, because then their rightly understood, long-run interests coincide. All the objections that the champions of feudalism, of special privileges, and of distinctions of caste and status sought to advance against this doctrine soon proved quite unjustified and were unable to gain any notable support. But in Ricardo's system of catallactics one may find the point of departure for a new theory of the conflict of interests within the capitalist system. Ricardo believed that he could show how, in the course of progressive economic development, a shift takes place in the relations among the three forms of income in his system, viz., profit, rent, and wages. It was this that impelled a few English writers in the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century to speak of the three classes of capitalists, landowners, and wage-laborers and to maintain that an irreconcilable antagonism exists among these groups. This line of thought was later taken up by Marx.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx still did not distinguish between caste and class. Only later, when he became acquainted in London with the writings of the forgotten pamphleteers of the twenties and thirties and, under their influence, began the study of Ricardo's system, did he realize that the problem in this case was to show that even in a society without caste distinctions and privileges irreconcilable conflicts still exist. This antagonism of interests he deduced from Ricardo's system by distinguishing among the three classes of capitalists, landowners, and workers.

But he by no means adhered firmly to this distinction. Sometimes he asserts that there are only two classes, the propertied and the propertyless; at other times he distinguishes among more classes than just the two or three great ones. At no time, however, did Marx or any one of his many followers attempt in any way to define the concept and nature of the classes.

A few pages later:

If one rejects this doctrine of liberalism, if one heaps ridicule on the controversial theory of the "harmony of interests of all men," then it is not true, either, as is wrongly assumed by all schools of antiliberal thought, that there could still be a solidarity of interests within narrower circles, as, for instance, among members of the same nation (as against other nations) or among members of the same "class" (as against other classes). In order to demonstrate the existence of such an alleged solidarity, a special line of reasoning would be necessary that no one has followed or has even attempted to follow. For all the arguments that could be employed to prove the existence of a solidarity of interests among the members of any of these groups prove much more besides, viz., the universal solidarity of interests within ecumenical society. How those apparent conflicts of interest that seem at first sight to be irreconcilable are in fact resolved can be shown only by means of a line of reasoning that treats all mankind as an essentially harmonious community and allows no room for the demonstration of any irreconcilable antagonisms among nations, classes, races, and the like.

The antiliberal parties do not, as they believe, prove that there is any solidarity of interests within nations, classes, races, etc. All that they actually do is to recommend to the members of these particular groups alliances for a common struggle against all other groups. When they speak of a solidarity of interests within these groups, they are not so much affirming a fact as stating a postulate. In reality, they are not saying, "The interests are identical," but rather, "The interests ought to be made identical by an alliance for united action."


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Assumptions

What constitutes "skipping steps" or "making assumptions" depends on context and perspective. We can't allocate conscious attention to all of reality – reality is too big, complex and varied.

To interact productively, people need some common ground – some shared knowledge and perspective – which specifies what sorts of assumptions are inappropriate to make. Shared culture is crucial for this.

Existing cultural defaults are adequate for working as a cashier. But our culture doesn't prepare people well for intellectual discussions. It's maybe pretty close to adequate for intellectual discussions, but some adjustments are needed.

As a starting point, for intellectual discussion, people should assume less than they normally do. Don't skip over some things you'd normally assume and then see which ones are or aren't an issue. But people are bad at assuming less, bad at judging which of their assumptions are riskier, and bad at updating their future behavior according to information gathered like this.


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What Is an Impasse?

An impasse is a reason (from the speaker’s pov (point of view)) that the discussion isn’t working.

Impasses take logical priority over continuing the discussion. It doesn’t make sense to keep talking about the original topic when someone thinks that isn’t working.

An impasse chain is an impasse about a discussion of an impasse. The first impasse, about the original topic, is impasse 1. If discussion of impasse 1 reaches an impasse, that’s impasse 2. If discussion of impasse 2 reaches an impasse, that’s impasse 3. And so on.

A chain of impasses is different than multiple separate impasses. In a chain, each link is attached to the previous link. By contrast, multiple separate impasses would be if someone gives several reasons that the original discussion isn’t working. Each of those impasses is about the original discussion, rather than being linked to each other.

When there is a chain of impasses, the most recent (highest number) impasse takes priority over the previous impasses. Impasse 2 is a reason, from the speaker’s pov, that discussion of impasse 1 isn’t working. Responding about impasse 1 at that point doesn’t make sense from his pov. It comes off as trying to ignore him and his pov.

Sometimes people try to solve a problem without saying what they’re doing. Instead of discussing an impasse, they try to continue the prior discussion but make changes to fix the problem. But they don’t acknowledge the problem existed, say what they’re doing to fix it, ask if that is acceptable from the other person’s pov, etc. From the pov of the person who brought up the impasse, this looks like being ignored because the person doesn’t communicate about the impasse and tries to continue the original topic. The behavior looks very similar to a person who thinks the impasse is stupid and wants to ignore it for that reason. And usually when people try to silently solve the problem, they don’t actually know enough about it (since they asked no clarifying questions) in order to get it right on the first try (even if they weren’t confusing the other person by not explaining what they were doing, usually their first guess at a solution to the impasse won’t work).

This non-communicated problem-solving attempt problem is visible when people respond at the wrong level of discussion. Call the original topic level 0, the first impasse level 1, the second impasse level 2, the third impasse level 3, and so on. If level 3 has been reached and then someone responds to level 2, 1 or 0, then they’re not addressing the current impasse. They either are ignoring the problem or trying to solve it without explaining what they’re doing. Similarly, if the current level is 1, and someone responds at level 0, they’re making this error.

The above is already explained, in different words with more explanation, in my article Debates and Impasse Chains.


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Learning From Discussion Is Hard

It's very hard for people to learn by interacting with other people directly. Two major reasons:

  1. Interaction triggers people to behave and interpret socially. They put most of their effort into social hierarchy stuff instead of learning.
  2. People are complex and flawed. It's a lot to deal with in addition to the subject itself (the subject is e.g. philosophy or physics concepts). People have to deal with miscommunication, scheduling, mutual benefit, different background knowledge, being able to think about other points of view, etc.

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Don't Judge People by How They Did in School

School success does not imply being smart, wise or knowledgeable.

Failing your school classes or hating school does not imply lacking brainpower or lacking learning capacity.

Hating school doesn't mean you hate learning.

Enjoying school of getting A's does not mean you like learning or understand the topics covered in your classes.

These things aren't significant hints or clues. There isn't a strong correlation. You can't judge people by their relationship to school.

On the high end, if you're really great, that clashes with the conformity and obedience that school asks for. But being great can make up for it. If learning the material is easy for you, that advantage can lead to school success even if, e.g., you don't respect your teachers. It doesn't have to lead to good grades but it can; the result can go either way.

On the low end, if you're bad at thinking, that can lead to pretty good grades if you just do as you're told, make a visible effort, and have low starting points to improve from (teachers often give good grades for improvement instead of just for actual results).

If you fail a bunch of classes, it could be because you disliked them (with cause) and skipped classes or didn't pay attention. This can happen if you're smart or dumb or in the middle. There's stuff to dislike about class for everyone.

If you get bad grades, it could be because you saw how pointless it was to memorize things for a test and still not understand them. Maybe you didn't learn the material but at least you knew you didn't understand. Most people who pass don't understand the topics either, they're just e.g. more willing to pretend their confusions are successful learning.

If you get pretty good grades, you could be a stupid, obedient conformist. Or you could have seen lots of flaws in the system but been under extreme pressure from your parents to find a way to get pretty good grades anyway. Or many other things.

Don't judge people by how they did in school.

And especially don't judge yourself by how you did in school.


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Projects Aren't Just For Business

Project management is important for projects you do alone. Some people maybe think it's just for team projects. But by yourself it's still useful to have some idea of what tasks go into a project, estimate how long they'll take, estimate resource costs per task (e.g. how much money you'll have to spend), etc. Then you can look at your schedule and budget and see how long it'll take to get the project finished. And then you can consider: is it worth it compared to alternative projects?

A project merely means doing multiple activities/tasks over time which are meant to work together to achieve one or more goals. That's something people do alone or in informal, non-business settings. And it's something that can go wrong. There are plenty of ways to be disorganized and screw it up. So people have developed ways to better plan, evaluate and organize projects. But most people aren't taught them in school and don't go find out for themselves either, which makes their projects unnecessarily difficult and risky.

(In my opinion, the best project management author is Eliyahu Goldratt.)


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School Doesn't Educate

Needing prerequisites for projects doesn't usually mean more school.

Schools broadly fail to teach much. They don't work anyway. And they teach a lot of the wrong things.

Let's take an example. You want to write a novel. What are some of the prerequisites?

You'll need to be literate and able to type (already done, no worries). You should be better at grammar. You also need to know about plotting, character development, and what existing novels are like (what are some good things that your novel should have? what are some flaws in prior novels that you want to improve on?). You'll also need some project management skills. You're going to spend maybe a year writing the novel (or maybe five years while working a day job?). How do you schedule and budget your time? How do you organize your efforts over many different days and months, so it all comes together into a completed project? How do you finish the project instead of stopping in the middle? How can you know in advance what projects you'll still want to do six months from now? I suggest you start with smaller projects and shorter writing before a whole novel.

So anyway, do you need school to learn grammar? You already went to school and still get lots of commas wrong! Lots of schools don't even bother trying to teach grammar. When they do teach it, it's often a bunch of memorizing arbitrary-seeming rules and teaching to the test (just like how they screw up teaching math).

It is important for a novelist to know how commas work. But the default, standard approach to learning that should be using books and the internet. Look there first before looking for a course let alone going back to school. Try to educate yourself and consider getting education from others (which usually doesn't work well at all) as a second option if self-education isn't working. (BTW, if you can't educate yourself, I don't know why you think some teacher is going to fix your problem for you and somehow make your learning work well.)

Also, schools pretty much don't even teach novel writing skills or project management skills until college. 13 years of K-12 education isn't enough to fit it in, apparently. Novel writing isn't a skill everyone needs so it makes sense not to teach it to everyone, but do people really need to wait until age 18 to start learning it?

And with project management the assumption seems to be that you don't need to know it because there will be a boss who knows it and you'll just follow orders. That's the life they are preparing you for by only even trying to teach project management at business school for people preparing to be bosses. And keep all your hobby projects small and short since you never learned how to manage a larger project! Project management is something pretty much everyone should know a bit about, but it's left out of general education at schools!


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Thinking Before Discussion

Learning to think rationally precedes learning to have rational discussions.

Discussion basically uses two skills: thinking and dealing with other people.

Language is part of thinking well. It'd be useful even if you were stuck on a desert island alone for the rest of your life. You should have practice and success using language in your thinking before trying to use language in discussions.

Looking at many sides of an issue is part of thinking well. You should be doing that alone. So discussion shouldn't be a big change where things go from one-sided to two-sided (or more). Discussion should involve people doing the many-sided thinking they would have done alone.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Message (1)

Figuring Out Prerequisites

How can you figure out prerequisites you need? Look at your project plan. What steps are you planning to do? For each step, consider what skills and resources you need to accomplish it. Don't rely on getting lucky. Be reasonable.

For example, if a step is to build a log cabin, you should know how to do that. That means e.g. knowing cabin design and some woodworking skills. You'll also want a chainsaw and nearby trees. If a step is to trap wild animals and sell the furs, you should know what sort of traps to use, what animals are in the area, how to set the traps up, how often to check them, etc. If your plan is to spread ideas, you should know what the ideas say and why, why the ideas are superior to alternative ideas, and the answers to attempted criticisms of the ideas you're spreading.

What if you plan to learn as you go along? Knowing how to set a trap is a prerequisite for setting a trap. But you could do it in an earlier project step instead of before the project starts. That's often unwise because learning doesn't always go smoothly and it's hard to plan projects based around skills you don't yet understand (will you even like doing it?). Anyway, putting prerequisites earlier in the same project doesn't invalidate the concept of prerequisites.

It's also possible to divide a step into sub-steps and mix in learning prerequisites. You can split building a cabin into 20 steps, then watch a YouTube tutorial about the first of those steps, then do it, then watch a YouTube tutorial about the second of those steps, then do it, and so on. This is generally only a good idea with pretty simple, easy projects where success isn't very hard to come by and delays aren't a big deal (it especially works well with practice projects where learning is the main goal).


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Riots Aren't Popular

The protestors/rioters are less popular and mainstream than they think they are.

It's partly because, just like most people, they tend to interact with people similar to themselves.

But it's more than that. They scare people into not voicing dissent. The left in general suppresses disagreement enough that some people won't speak openly to pollsters, let alone to lefty coworkers/friends/party-goers/social-circle-members, let alone to the sort of lefties who'd join a BLM protest/riot. We saw this with Trump losing in the polls but winning the election. We also see it in China where most people say they support the CCP but if they had safe, secret ballots they'd vote the CCP out.


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Discussions Have Prerequisites

As Karl Popper taught us, there's more than one way to approach the truth.

This doesn't prevent topics from having prerequisites (you need to learn X before Z – Z builds on X). It sometimes gives you options about prerequisites (you could use X or Y as a prerequisite for Z, there are two known approaches to Z, one using X and one using Y.)

Prerequisites relate to different ways to organize knowledge. There are options for that but for many issues only a small number of known options are good, effective and efficient. One day we might learn some new, good approaches to a topic. At that point you could perhaps use W as a prerequisite for Z instead of X or Y. But today people don't know about that option.

Look at currently existing approaches to a topic, look at their prerequisites, choose one of the approaches, and learn the prerequisites for it. Don't try to skip prerequisites on the basis that there's more than one valid approach to a topic.

What some people do is basically say "There is an approach where X isn't needed, so I won't learn X, and there is also an approach where Y isn't needed, so I won't learn Y." You need to pick some particular approach, see what knowledge is needed for it, and get the knowledge.

People often refuse on the basis that some alleged prerequisites are unnecessary. That people sometimes make mistakes in identifying prerequisites doesn't invalidate the whole concept. If you like, give specific arguments about why something is or isn't a prerequisite to a specific topic using a specific approach to that topic.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (5)

Reform Requires Reason

The protestors/rioters broadly seem to assume if they demand stuff vigorously enough then it'll happen. What's the premise? That people are just being bad on purpose. That they could do better and refuse and just need to be pressured.

The protestors/rioters are broadly ignorant of how hard it is to run a police department or government better. They have no idea how to do better and haven't really thought about it. They assume that good policies are easy to come by and the issue are motivation, bias, tribalism, etc., not facts, logic, paperwork, etc.

They are looking at this as a social issue about a clash between different social groups each pursuing own agenda (the agenda is thought of as greed and self-interest for their opponents, but disinterested altruism and kindness for themselves). They aren't looking at it as problems of logistics, scheduling, budget management, writing good training curriculums, communicating better with the public about what laws and policies make sense, and so on.

They think the reason things aren't better is the people with high social status and power don't care about the people with low social status. So they just have to circumvent regular social climbing by forming a mob and exerting strong pressure to get their demands heard. They just have to be pushy so they can't be snubbed anymore.

They have no idea that organizing a society is hard to do as well as we're currently doing it, let alone better. They are contributing ~nothing to rational reforms and aren't trying to and have no idea that better ideas are needed. They aren't trying to read books like Bureaucracy. They aren't trying to study statistics to better understand crime rates and their correlations to e.g. race or income. They aren't trying to consider downsides of proposed new policing policies and how to figure out new policies that will actually work without breaking a bunch of stuff that works now. They don't understand the difficulties police face and don't care to. And they certainly aren't studying unions as a major force that blocks reforms.

It's hard to do great but we could do somewhat better pretty easily if so many of the protestors themselves, and their (partials) fans/allies, would stop voting in bad people over and over. They have no idea what the sources of problems actually are, nor which of the problems they see in the world are real (some are!) or imaginary (some are this too!). They just blame capitalism and racism.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (6)

We Can't Outlaw the Mainstream

Suppose hypothetically that approximately all parents are child abusers. And you're a political leader. You can't just arrest the all the child abusers or take all their kids away because who is gonna raise the kids instead? The foster parents or social workers or orphanages are no better – they too are part of the same culture that mistreats children. You can only realistically target the bottom couple percent of bad parents, that way if you get those kids to be raised by even 20th percentile quality parents it's a significant upgrade.

In principle, you think child abuse is unacceptable. Parents must not e.g. hit their children. Physical violence violates the children's right and is abuse. But if 99% of parents hit their children, there isn't much you can do about it besides trying to educate people. You can share better ideas with books, articles, lectures, etc.

So although something is unacceptable in principle, if too many people are doing it wrong, it's hard to take direct action to fix or change it. For lots of practical purposes, you can't have standards for society that 99% of people (or even 30% of people) can't meet. You can't arrest 99% of 30% of the population or sue them all into oblivion or whatever. You can only do that to small outlier groups, not to the mainstream, or you're just creating a civil war.

It's similar with the rioters/protestors today. There are too many. It's too popular. Yes they are crossing lines into initiation of force. In a better world they'd be stopped so that I could safely walk along any public street in the country with a MAGA hat and speak my mind. But arresting or otherwise forcibly controlling so many misbehaving people is unrealistic in this world.

One potential solution is to arrest and punish a small fraction of them as examples. If you have really draconian punishments for a few of them at random, maybe you can scare the rest into stopping. This is kinda like how armies used to hang a few deserters to discourage other people from deserting. There were armies where over 50% of the soldiers would like to go home and stop fighting, but harsh enforcement against a few people was scary enough to keep the rest in line. I don't like this strategy with suing a few people for sharing music and movies online, and I don't like it with the protestors/rioters either. It's harsh and unfair to some unlucky people who get made examples of. It's mean and it alienates the people it intimidates into obedience. It doesn't seek to actually get them on our team/side.

Another potential solution is to only punish the much smaller group of leaders and true believers, not the masses of mostly-ignorant (but not totally innocent) dupes and fools. This seems to me like roughly what should happen. And punish people who cross major lines (that not many people cross) like severely beating someone up.

But if we mostly aren't punishing the rioters/protestors, then what do we do when they are causing trouble? How do we get them to stop? Maybe they'd listen to reason more if we had better explainers and teachers as political and cultural leaders, but we don't. The good guys here aren't all that wise and are contributing to the problem too.

So that's hard. The protests/riots are too mainstream and widespread, they're too big a part of society. And to make things harder, the opposition is wrong and flawed in lots of ways (but the opposition is more civilized and better at not being a puppet of uncivilized causes).

Are there things wrong with police policies? Yes. Does racism exist? Yes. But the protestors don't know what the flaws with police policy are or what changes should be made. And it isn't being explained to them very well either. They don't even know who is in charge of the police. It's the leftists they voted for who are behind lots of the problems. They're yelling at the wrong people. But not many are trying to share key info and talk about e.g. the role of unions in not firing bad cops. And the mainstream media puppet masters are sharing misinformation and they have so much control over communication channels that it's hard to speak to the protestors/rioters and give them better info.


Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (4)

Discussions Need Goals

To have a productive discussion, you need a goal. What outcomes would qualify as success? If you don't know what you're aiming for, achieving success is unrealistic.

And you ought to have some idea of the other person's goals so you can aim for mutual success.

Part of having a goal is recognizing what outcomes would not be success. You have to specify what would be a failure and risk having a failure happen that you acutally recognize/acknowledge/admit.

And part of achieving goals is having some idea about how to achieve them – a plan.


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