Posts Tagged ‘Robin Hanson’

Lying Parents

May 26, 2008

All of them are.   Paul Graham considers some of the lies, why parents tell them, and their benefits/costs.  Here is an excerpt:

Some parents feel a strong adherence to an ethnic or religious group and want their kids to feel it too. This usually requires two different kinds of lying: the first is to tell the child that he or she is an X, and the second is whatever specific lies Xes differentiate themselves by believing…One reason this works so well is the second kind of lie involved. The truth is common property. You can’t distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by “outsiders” on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren’t an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? If they aren’t an X, why do all the non-Xes call them one?

The Turks I have known are always careful to add “Mashallah” or “Thank god” after giving a compliment to the old or young.  The idea is to prevent accidentally giving the object of the compliment the “evil eye”.  Americans take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts when they hear their national anthem.  Many Christians make a point of saying grace before every meal.  Taiwanese Buddhists refuse to eat garlic.  These are just some arbitrary customs, false beliefs give even stronger examples.

It seems plausible that if you have spent a minute saying grace before every meal for your entire life (or childhood), for you to renounce Christianity you would need to admit that you wasted all those minutes doing something useless and silly.  Therefore, it is likely that you will continue to be consider yourself Christian and keep saying grace.  Moreover, the longer one continues doing something, the higher the costs of admitting it is a silly behavior.  Have you ever noticed that the elderly can be set in their ways, even if there is an obvious way of doing things better?
The Graham article is interesting throughout, recommended reading.

Hat tip: Robin Hanson

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Witty Robin Hanson Blog

April 15, 2008

Hanson writes that people ask for advice on relatively unimportant decisions, but not on big decisions:

For example, we like HowTo books, but not WhatTo books. How to manage your computer, not what machine to manage. How to please your partner, not what partner to please. How to fix your house, not where to live. How to drive fast, not what speed to drive. How to get promoted, not what job to work at. How to raise your kids, not how many kids to raise. And so on.

Well put, but I disagree with his main point. I remember getting a mountain of “big decision” advice books upon graduating from high school. The Career Center at Carleton College also had a room filled with them.