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Solo Book Club

12 Facts about Solo Book Club*
(1) Stats: I tweeted 25 times over the course of a 250 page book. (2) Reading a book “publicly” (via twitter) takes much more time, I would estimate at close to 2X for me.  (3) I found myself constantly asking myself, “is this passage worth tweeting” or “should I tell them about this?”  This really changes the reading experience.  Douthat is right: less immersive. (4) But he’s not right for the reason he gives.  I was not very tempted to use my phone for other purposes, because I saw it as ‘integrated’ into my reading, a tool for reading-recording.  I wasn’t even that tempted to navigate away from the relevant page of twitter to, e.g. refresh my feed or check my mentions, bc it was so annoying to find the relevant tweet (to attach the next book-tweet to) again. (5) It is hard to remember to have your phone near you every. single. time. you pick up your book. (6) “The internet is counting on me to read this book!” is in fact a motivating thought, even if…
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What Should You Do When Someone Breaks Your Heart And It Hurts So Much You Want To Die?

32 answers for those who can't abide good advice while feeling bad.*
(1) Watch this. (2) Anger can be a relief from sadness, so take a break from depression every now and then to think about all the ways in which he** wronged you.  Then go back to being sad.  Think of anger and sadness as pools to dip yourself into, one hot one cold, you alternate between them to regulate your temperature. (3) Concoct a positive conspiracy theory about the circumstances that led to the breakup: your beloved is (e.g.) really a spy of some kind, and was faced with the choice of allowing the whole world to be destroyed, or cutting off contact with you in a way that ensured the salvation of humanity, but required deceiving you into thinking he didn't love you.  The probability that such a story is true may be small, but it is greater than zero.  If you concoct more than one, Bayesianism says you can add the probabilities together.  (4) When you cannot sleep at night: violent mental imagery.  No o…

51 Tips For a Successful Life

(1) Get married.  Then get divorced.  Then get remarried. (2) Every day, ask yourself, do I feel like showering today?  If the answer is, “yes,” shower. (3) Be in environments with the right amount of light. (4) Subtly vary your bedtime and waking times every day, so that you never quite settle into a pattern. Same for mealtimes. (5) Respond to emails immediately, except if they seem important, then trust that you’ll remember them at some indeterminate moment in the future. (6) Be afraid for your children: Will they become good people?  Will bad things happen to them? Will they love me when they grow up? These are good questions to ponder. (8) Floss for the first few days after every dentist appointment. (9) Sometimes, write all day, from morning to night.  Other times, read all day.  Yet other days should be nothing but meetings, as payment for the days of the first two kinds. (10) Make sudden, unexpected changes in your appearance every few years. (11) Allow yourself to admire (som…

What Fake Money Can't Buy

Recently I emailed a friend a question, and he wanted to know what I would pay for an answer.  There was no prospect of actual payment: so long as I put a number on how much the answer was worth to me, he would answer.  His ‘price’ for answering was the knowledge of how much I wanted an answer.  As a matter of fact, I really wanted him to answer, so at first I was relieved to think that I could extract one so easily.  All I needed to do was produce a price, and I’d get my answer. 
I discovered, to my surprise, that I was unable to put a number on the value of the answer.  I couldn’t even fix a range: I was unable to rule out $1 as being too low, or $100,000 as being too high. I went as far as typing a dollar sign into an email, in anticipation that I would just write down whatever number flitted into my head. None did.  This was frustrating.  Why couldn’t I force myself to just write down some number?  
I found myself blankly incapable of proceeding—like those times when someone asks yo…

How Much Longer Till We Get There?

How Much Longer Till We Get There?
What’s the most annoying thing that kids do?  This is a tough contest, but for me, the prize goes to insistent repetitions of my title question on cross-country drives.  What do I hate about it so much?  Is it that it’s an expression of impatience dressed up as something beautiful, a question?  Is it the fact that the demand—I need to be there now!—is one I cannot meet, and the kid knows full well I cannot meet?  Is it the prospect of bottomless possibilities for repetition that stem from its re-askability at every “now”?  Is it, perhaps, that I am wondering the same myself, and grumpy that there is no one can nag?  (When one of my TAs came to my office to cry about having made a student cry, I wondered, “Whose office do I get to cry in?”)
It doesn’t really matter why I hate this so much, the important thing is that I do.  And I have three children, all of whom are genetically related to me, which is to say, none of them is a paragon of patience. …

The American Conversation Problem: Three Proposals

Tonight over dinner, my family was pondering the fact that, like most families, we lie inside an ideological bubble, shut off from understanding the points of view of many Americans.  We have not engaged much with people who live in different parts of the country, or differ from us with respect to ethnicity, socio-economic status, or religion.  Or what about Americans who face (or don’t face) various disabilities that we don’t (or do) face?  And my children were alarmed to learn that conversations of this kind online often do not go well.  
Call this, “the American Conversation problem”: how can we get better at talking civilly to people who are very different from ourselves, and whose points of view we are thereby likely to caricature?   
We came up with three proposals.  
(1)  Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Arguments App
This is an app that would anonymously pair demographically different people for a brief argument about some political issue of their choice.  Think of it: you are waiting for t…

Are Leaders Altruists?

“Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:52)  
Moses doesn’t get to enjoy the happiness he creates for his people.  This is a fact about leaders more generally.  Plato comments that citizens in a good city “would fight in order not to rule”; for they would understand that a ruler “doesn’t by nature seek his own advantage but that of his subject. And everyone, knowing this, would rather be benefited by others than take the trouble to benefit them.” Leaders are altruists.  
In fact, I will defend an even stronger claim—leaders are the only systematic altruists—as well as one I take to follow from it—leaders must be unemotional, detatched, and rational. You might think I mean that leaders must resist or ignore emotion. Instead, I mean that leaders must learn to operate without the emotional bonds that govern most human relationships, because of the asymmetrical and distant—altruistic—nature of …