Assorted Links and Musings

Quick links, cheap shots, bon mots….

Here’s a bit of wisdom from Marginal Revolution:

Spend time with little children and old people. One is innocent, the other is reacquainted with innocence. Their company is a world away from the drone and ruckus of all the furious humanity in between. At the extremes you will find perspective.

Agreed. I’ve spent a lot of time with old people. Probably need to spend more time with little children. Their innocence does provoke thoughts that the jaded adult does not. Also, though I am often touched by little children’s overall cuteness (especially when a baby takes her whole hand and clutches onto my pinkie finger) the cuteness has diminishing returns and disappears entirely on airplanes!

Who cares if finance professors are still teaching theory that’s been proven wrong? Seth Roberts relays this ancecodte:

“What happens when a professor is wrong?” he would ask. “When an engineer is wrong, the bridge falls down. When a doctor is wrong, the patient dies. What happens when an English professor is wrong?” The answer, of course, was “nothing”. Now we will find out what happens when finance professors are wrong.

These are two great paragraphs from n+1 on the writing career, via a review of Roberto Bolano:

Considered simply as a job, writing is erratically paid but with flexible hours: potentially not so bad, especially with the hedge funds laying everybody off. But as a vocation? Look around, and all you see is literature and publishing faltering in tandem. People read less and less; worse yet, they’re right to. It’s clear that, besides the occasional small or large check, most writers—ourselves included—write out of vanity and compulsion. One believes in being a writer more, it seems, than in writing. What is it, again, you once had to say? And who, supposedly, wanted to hear it? Still, Bolaño-like, you can’t conceive any redemption for you and your friends except through the production of masterpieces. Masterpieces, however, are always unlikely, and redemption impossible.

The whole thing’s hopeless and pathetic, not less so for being a reason to live. And this, finally, must be what literary people like so much about Bolaño: his career illustrates for the novel Gramsci’s famous slogan: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Bryan Caplan reminds us about the dubious connection between parenting / child development and brain development. As he says:

There is talk about the brain, followed by some hand waving, followed by advice to parents.

I am not optimistic that the nurture myth will be destroyed anytime soon. The narrative of the parenting industry is just too strong.

Biological age predicts maturity better than intelligence. (Here’s my post a year ago on defining maturity.) There are plenty of examples of a young person who’s smart beyond his years — a fierce intellect emerges at a young age, cultivated by ample books, good schools, and access to the internet / wikipedia. But it’s rarer to find a young person who’s mature beyond his years. To be unusually mature (emotionally, at least) takes among other things regular interaction with people who are emotionally mature at an adult level. That is, people who regulate their emotional state with sophistication, can communicate their feelings and ideas on difficult emotional topics, and less frequently hit the extremes of the joy-misery continuum. And it’s harder to obtain these adult interactions if you’re young and intellectually ambitious than it is to become a bookworm. Hence in general talented youth programs or selective colleges congregate very smart but still immature teenagers.

Fairness. We can’t bear the idea of being taken advantage of no matter how small the money involved. I learned this firsthand when traveling in poor countries. A year ago, my brother and I were in Quito and took a taxi across town. The cab driver proposed a $5 fare or something and, knowing this was too high, we negotiated it down to $4. In the grand scheme, a dollar doesn’t matter, but on principle we didn’t want to be ripped off. Similarly, during three weeks in Costa Rica over the summer, I went to a gym in La Fortuna which is the town at the base of the Arenal volcano. I showed up at the gym and the day rate seemed reasonable, so I committed in my head to paying and working out. Then the guy told me I’d have to pay $3 for a towel to wipe down the equipment. I couldn’t believe he was going to charge $3 for a thin piece-of-shit white towel. I refused to pay, even though it was the only gym in town, my schedule was tight, and I should have just ponied up. (Though I grew wiser overnight — I returned the next day!)

A good review of Susan Sontag’s diaries which have been released, one of many interesting grafs:

The determination she devotes to figuring out who to be, on the most basic and most sophisticated levels, is breathtaking. “Better to know the names of flowers than to confess girlishly that I am ignorant of nature,” Sontag writes. There is, in these pages, no sense of a woman comfortable in the world, a woman at ease. “Don’t smile so much, sit up straight,” she admonishes. “Think about why I bite my nails in the movies.” How is it possible that anyone is this self-conscious? And how is it possible that this degree of self-consciousness could be so fruitful?

Heightened self-consciousness — an on-going monologue inside one’s head about one’s own life — can make a person more reflective and thoughtful but in excess can paralyze and depress.

7 comments on “Assorted Links and Musings
  • i believe that marginal revolution quote is actually originally from by a blogger named roissy. the bolano bit is very interesting to me. i aspire to be a novelist and i can imagine the compulsion and vanity thing–i’ve thought being a writer is the closest thing a human can come to pretending to be god–what could be more vain than wanting to be god, and arguably it’s compulsive to create a world out of sense to control everything! the odd phenomenon here is how the fictional world disobeys the author–you hear about authors saying a character doesn’t do what the author wanted him to. this must be tough for the compulsive types!

  • I have to agree with you whole-heartedly on “smart” vs. “mature.” I’ve always been precocious and thought that I was mature, but as I actually grow older and accumulate experiences, I find that nothing could have been further from the truth.

    The biggest issue is that smart, immature people generally refuse to believe that other people could be right about something they can’t even comprehend! Add to that the fact that more mature people of lesser intelligence often feel too intimidated by the precocious to tell them that they’re full of sh*t. It’s an intractable problem.

  • Assorted responses:

    – If you want innocence, spend time with children under 18 months of age, before they have learned (through trial and error) how to be manipulative. Note that it doesn’t have to be this way – parents teach it to them without realizing it.

    – Much of what finance professors teach is correct under a range of circumstances, but not when liquidity dries up and other extreme situations. Pretty much all of our knowledge about everything is like this (quantum mechanics comes to mind as a fabulous example), and a better lesson to learn is not to apply knowledge beyond its valid circumstances.

    – If people aren’t reading, what are they buying at Amazon and at all those Borders and B&N superstores? It’s not that people aren’t reading – it’s that they aren’t reading the depressing, whiny, self-absorbed product that has enveloped what used to be called “literature.” I love the short story form, but it’s virtually impossible to find any short stories about topics other than death, substance abuse, discrimination, and horribly dysfunctional relationships.

  • Isn¹t ³being manipulative² not all bad? In the big bad adult world
    manipulating people is sometimes necessary.

    On reading, Borders is going out of business. Amazon¹s business is
    diversifying from books. But yes, people are still reading ‹ though I think
    it will be more and more on an electronic product rather than print book.

  • Ben: What I find fascinating about kids under eight or nine is their “take” on reality. They make connections and interpretations that challenge my ways of seeing things–and give me perspectives I’ve missed.

    What happens if an English professor is wrong? A lot—The myths that structure our realities, the lens through which we interpret reality, and the behaviors that we take on as a result of that myth structure can seriously screw up life. The current administration is at least partially the result of screwed up myth structure.

  • >Isn’t being manipulative not all bad?

    That’s a longer discussion, but your claim was that one should spend time with young children because they are “innocent” – I suspect that manipulation does not fit with what you meant by “innocent.”

    I didn’t know Borders was going out of business; Amazon is diversifying but that doesn’t mean book sales are shrinking, just that they’ve tapped out its growth (although I imagine everything is shrinking at the moment).

  • I’ve not read Roberto Bolaño, but that n+1 essay didn’t exactly make me want to rush down to the used book store (I do try to shop locally) and pick up a copy of one of his books.

    The essay is well written, but when a writer tells us that an author “proceeds as if literature were too desperate an enterprise to bother with being well written”, I hardly consider it a commendation, regardless of how laudatory the words that follow.

    But that is not what our diabolical mysterian has in mind.

    Just warming up with that nihilistic bit of ‘criticism’, the essayist goes on to advise us that “people who think he’s [Bolaño] a big deal, including professional critics, mostly can’t say why”.

    Now I begin to think he’s really yanking my chain.


    “Bolaño can write page after page without indulging in a single metaphor, or adding a dab of rhetorical color to the account of a dinner party or a murder.”

    Oh joy.

    “He makes no effort to write convincing scenes or dialogue.”

    Stop, stop.

    But the Mysterian has to twist the knife:

    “There is a virtually Seinfeldian ban on moral growth or learning.”

    God bless you, too, Mysterian.


    “Nothing is so consistent across Bolaño’s work as the suspicion that literature is chiefly bullshit, rationalizing the misery, delusions, and/or narcissism of various careerists, flakes, and losers.”

    Blessed Mysterian, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    But M’s not satisfied. He has to drive the knife home to my very heart:

    “Bolaño’s incoherence— books mean everything and nothing; the writer is hero and jerk— has come to seem one of the few plausible literary attitudes these days.”

    You lie, you lie, Mysterian. I hate you and your postmodern bullshit.

    You are wrong, you sorry excuse for a human being– there is redemption.

    But at last you come clean and confess your utter depravity:

    “The whole thing’s hopeless and pathetic.”

    So true, so true. Thank you, Mysterian.

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