Charity for Society’s Canaries

After Robin Williams's suicide, SlateStarCodex wrote a thoughtful meditation, and I'd like to highlight one of the points he wound up making.  Scott works in mental health, and he wound up discussing the idea of "being a burden" and pointing out that this isn't an intrinsic fact about a person, but the result of who they are and how their society relates to them. Society got where it is by systematically destroying everything that could have supported him [a patient] and replacing it with t … [Read more...]

Purity, Anxiety, and Effective Altruism

During the past weekend, I got into a conversation with some folks about the knock-on effects of getting involved with effective altruism (and outlets like GiveWell).  Effective Altruism, at core, is the attempt to make sure your charity dollars are spent effectively.  For a long time, people tried to just use "overhead" as a proxy for effectiveness, since a group that mostly spends your money on its own salaries and office spaces isn't doing a very good job.GiveWell takes a much more d … [Read more...]

Parallel Meltdowns at Burger King

There's been a (possibly apocryphal) story flying around the interblags about a confrontation between a man and a child.  In the anecdote, the man is waiting in a long line at a Burger King and becomes more and more frustrated with the tantrum-throwing child in line behind him, who kept shrieking for an apple pie.So, when he finally got to the front of the line, the man bought all of the apple pie snacks in stock, and lingered to watch the meltdown when the mother and kid found out that t … [Read more...]

What’s the Difference between Forgiveness and Self-Deception?

An atheist friend of mine recently posted the following question to Facebook (and gave me permission to reprint it here):I don't think I grok forgiveness in the absence of Catholicism. I keep trying to imagine what I might mean if I asked someone to forgive me. I certainly wouldn't ask anybody that they purposefully have poorly calibrated beliefs about me, or that they have emotions poorly calibrated to their beliefs. The best I've got at the moment is "please keep in mind that decision … [Read more...]

The Ethicist Endorses Omertà

The NYT's Ethicist has taken a very strange approach to wrongdoing in this weekend's column.  A student wrote in to say that ze saw a friend take someone's car keys and throw them into a lake.  The friend offered the letterwriter $50 as an implicit bribe in order to stay quiet.  The bribe worked.  Later, someone came by looking for his keys, and the letterwriter kept mum.  But ze felt queasy about zer choice, and asked the Ethicist for his advice.  Here's an excerpt from his reply:It was wron … [Read more...]

Must We Reclaim Lydia Bennett?

Greta Christina thinks Lydia Bennett has been given short shrift.  Although Lizzie Bennett has a certain amount of fire and spunk within the constraints of her life in Pride and Prejudice, Greta admires Lydia for daring to transgress completely and act autonomously, come what may.She is a woman who thinks of her body, and her life, as hers. She’s a woman who — in defiance of the powerful social pressures of 19th century England — decides that who she marries, and when, and when they do or do … [Read more...]

Compassion for Child Abandonment

I've been rooting for the cops to not catch the mother who abandoned her baby in a NYC subway station.  Turns out they did, and she's facing a felony charge for abandonment of a child.The reason I'm feeling queasy about the trial is the poor incentives it creates for desperate parents.  Given her limited options, the woman picked a pretty good place to leave a child.  I can see the logic in picking a busily trafficked subway platform where there would be a slew of witnesses to see you push a … [Read more...]