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purplefern

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· 1y ago · 1m read

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Recently I have been thinking a lot about the impacts of longtermist versus neartermist causes, the relationships between different generations, and the value or (lack there of) in longevity research.

With this mishmash, an interesting analogy occurred to me: When discussing longevity, people often make the distinction between lifespan and healthspan. What if not just humans as individuals, but humanity as a whole had a lifespan and a healthspan? 

I wrote the following as a journal entry: 

I don’t want to think about what happens or will happen to humans in 10,000 years. I want to think about what is happening right now, about things within my control, about securing the next hot meal for me and my family, about keeping a roof over my head. 

I do like to imagine humans in the future, how there lives might be different or better. I want to leave this Earth a little better than I found for future generations, but I don’t think that involves solely focusing on existential risk. Talk of existential risks annoy me. How much does analyzing and researching existential risks actually mitigate them? What else can we actively be doing? What about all the people who are suffering now? Not tomorrow, not in ten thousand years. Right now. 

To “ensure the future of humanity.” That is a losing battle. I’m not saying that I want humanity to have a premature death. I’m not saying that humanity shouldn’t try to live as long as it possibly can. I’m just saying that the end of humanity is not a question, it is a matter of fact, a certainty. One day humanity will die. One day this planet will die, one day this galaxy will die. Everything dies, everything changes. All good things must come to an end.

I see a parallel between discussions of longevity and aging research, and discussions of humanity’s future. In longevity research, people distinguish lifespan from health span. There is also controversy surrounding the idea of an “aging escape velocity.” Blatantly, some silly euphemism for immortality. I do believe that we should increase both our healthspans and lifespans,  primarily healthspans though. A larger number of good quality years is preferable to a smaller number of  good quality years. Although maybe not, depending on the total years. 

Can individuals or can humanity ever fully escape aging or extinguishment? Intuitively, I don’t believe so. Assuming that humanity will end, the argument for longtermism is akin to the argument for increasing someone’s lifepsan, with less regard for healthspan (but in EA style longtermism, it seems there is a prerequisite belief in an “escape” of some kind). The argument for neartermism is akin to the argument for increasing someone’s healthspan, with also some small to moderate life extension as an unintended consequence. This analogy leads me to lean more towards near term causes.

However, underneath this analogy, there still exists an unanswered question. What is a healthy or thriving humanity? This question must be answered and healthspan must be defined before any discussion of humanity’s healthspan becomes truly meaningful. 

The issues of ambiguous definitions and imperfect measurements are nothing new. EAs and outsiders have criticized the usage of QALYs and DALYs and called for better measurements of well being to try to perform better cost-benefit analyses of different causes. Healthspan for humanity might be a much trickier thing to measure (though I’m sure economists have all sorts of measurements for financial health of nations and the globe). Should we set out to further define or measure humanity’s health, or accept that we have to grapple with decisions that defy measurement? Both?

I wrote this journal entry while feeling disillusioned with Effective Altruism, longtermism, and rationalism, even though I agree and try to align myself with many of their central tenets. 

I’m not very far into it, but currently reading a book called Recapture the Rapture by Jamie Wheal, which has helped to combat my disillusionment. 

I have returned to this post after reading the entirety of Mothers and Others.

Depending on someone’s interpersonal situation, I now believe that parental contributions ideally comprise the following:

  • Maternal care ~ 30-50%
  • Paternal care ~ 30-50%
  • Other care (mostly grandmothers/aunts/child’s siblings/mother’s friends) ~ 30-50% 

It seems that “other caretakers” (most desirable being maternal grandmothers) are an absolutely essential requirement for children to thrive, even for those who have highly invested fathers and especially for those who have absent fathers. 

My attitude towards absent or apathetic fathers is slightly less negative than it was before reading the book, and subsequently, my belief that successful child rearing requires a strong community of women is slightly up-weighted.

Based on the theory presented in Mothers and Others, I would update my earlier comment…

I know men are very capable, but sometimes get the feeling that they aren’t

…to instead say that men are completely capable as caretakers, but have a bit more of a choice in the matter as to how they contribute their childcare, given societal pressures and competing priorities including mating, hunting, and impressing or protecting others. 

I would still be really interested to read others’ thoughts on how paternal priorities change in modern contexts (i.e. what is the modern equivalent of hunting / is hunting obsolete), or the benefits of patriarchal versus matriarchal societies!

Thank you so much Dr. Miller for all of your responses 

Looks like your last sentence got cut off. I mentioned it briefly in my first comment, but cohousing seems to be growing in popularity as an antidote for the lack of systemic support in the nuclear family and also for people who are just generally interested in living in a more connected and cooperative environment with a chosen family. Here are some interesting links including Atlantic articles (paywalled after reading two for free) and the website for the Foundation for Intentional Community: 

https://www.ic.org 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/ 

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/01/generation-x-women-are-facing-caregiving-crisis/604510/ 

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/millennial-housing-communal-living-middle-ages/501467/

I know men are very capable, I just sometimes get the feeling that they aren’t…  

I sometimes get the sinking feeling that even the most invested male partner… 

I think there are two separate things to parse out here. One is domestic work, and another is child care. 

I think I largely feel this way because I see that men generally don’t have as strong domestic skills, and are not socialized in a way that they either have or highly value these skills. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, stuff like that. I get the sense that most men pick up these skills later in life, whereas a lot of women seem to have (more of) them to begin with (I know that there are plenty of counter examples for this and that it is a generalization). I think men are less likely to care about maintaining a clean household, or “running a household,” or engaging in domestic work largely for the sake of others. In some cultures, it even seems like children themselves contribute more domestic work (and/or childcare) than men do. Maybe domestic work isn’t all that important to creating a good family environment. Maybe it is. 

In terms of childcare, I think men can be great, imaginative caretakers, but that on average first time fathers have much less experience with babies and children than first time mothers (again, I’m sure there are many counter examples out there, but I am talking about averages). I also believe that men tend to be more risk taking than women, and that this can manifest in their child care. In some cases, letting children take more risks might be good developmentally speaking. In other cases, not so much. If women perceive men as both a) less skilled or experienced caretakers and/or b) more risk taking, then they may be disinclined to hand the babies over. (Again, speaking in generalizations, I know there are dads out there who are very nervous / careful / risk averse / protective.)

Some larger things underlying sex differences in domestic skills and/or caretaking skills might be developmental differences or cognitive differences (chemical changes caused by gestation?) or differences in empathy. There seems to be a question of nature and nurture here that is very controversial and hard to address. Are males or females innately better caregivers or domestic workers? Or are socialization and culture fully responsible for any of these differences?

Also, not a question, but a book recommendation for Expecting Better by Emily Oster 

I am a woman in early/mid twenties. I am confident that I want kids, I also hold pronatalist views generally speaking. As a woman, three of my greatest concerns are timing (the whole biological clock thing), paternal investment, and social environment for child rearing. Big shocker I know :)

  1. Someone else already asked about timing, but I think my question is slightly different. Regarding timing, I am keenly aware of the trade-offs between a) being younger and having more physical energy and strength but fewer financial resources accumulated and b) being older and having less physical strength but having greater financial resources. I’ve pretty much accepted the fact that at some point I will have to take a physical hit and a career hit if I want to procreate, but I feel conflicted about when the best time for this is. Physically, earlier seems better. Financially, later seems better. Mentally, I’m not sure. Obviously the prospective partner and his resources play a key role, but assuming full paternal investment in the mother and progeny, when do you think is the best time for a woman to have children in terms of her mental and physical health and in terms of psychological development of the child?  The average age of first time mothers (26 y) and fathers (31 y) in the United States seems to continue creeping upwards
  2. As for paternal investment, I’m not sure where to start, this topic feels like a minefield to me, partially considering that mostly men make up this forum and EA. I sometimes get the sinking feeling that even the most invested male partner I could ever find would not be able to deliver the kind of childcare or domestic skills that women are capable of delivering, which feel essential to the entire enterprise of procreating. The caretaking of both men, children, and the elderly seems to fall on women’s shoulders disproportionately, which is frustrating for any woman who wants to do or be anything other than a caretaker, especially in countries with less governmental support. I’m writing these things based on the structure and gender roles of our society, statistics on gender and families for which I would be happy to make a link post if anyone wants it, and in spite of men’s best efforts (which in turn make me think that successful child rearing is not so much about selecting an invested mate as it is about finding a community of women to help with kids). Not trying to say that men aren’t capable of being great parents or having good domestic skills (a lot of both great and inept dads out there), just sometimes that it feels this way from my perspective. My questions are, what do you think optimal paternal investment looks like or what do you think it should look like? From an anthropological or evolutionary point of view, how much direct involvement in children’s lives should women realistically expect from men? How do you think optimal paternal investment changes in the context of modern times? 
  3. It is clear to me that the nuclear family is not a good structure for child rearing, maternal health, or children’s psychological development. It takes a village as they say. What do you think is the best living arrangement or social environment for families? How valuable do you think intergenerational living is? Have you heard of cohousing and if so, what do you think of it? 

As you said, I would imagine that specific entries probably contain some bias of their original author(s) that is somewhat difficult to spot without background knowledge. But, I am a multilingual person, and one interesting thing that I have noticed is that the same Wikipedia article can have pretty drastically different amounts of information depending on the author’s first language and the nature of the subject. Take for example, the Wikipedia entries for Edith Piaf (a famous French singer). The English Wikipedia entry for Piaf is something like 4000 or 5000 words, whereas the French entry is over 10000 words. The French entry also has more pictures! 

Linguistically (and culturally?) speaking, French and English are pretty similar, so you might expect that this content would be easier to translate or to compare. The effect of language and culture on Wikipedia content is much stronger between languages and cultures that are more dissimilar. Take for example, the Wikipedia entries for Himeji Castle which is a famous historical site from 14th century Japan. The English Wikipedia for Himeji Castle is about 3000 words, whereas the Japanese Wikipedia for Himeji Castle is—so ridiculously long that I barely had the patience to come up with this character count—about 50000 characters. That would probably translate to something like 25000 words in English. (And again, the Japanese entry has way more pictures than the English one.)

I think the broad implications of this might be that English speaking Wikipedia is biased by predominantly Western views and somewhat subject to international politics, in addition to whatever individual biases of the author in that highly specific context. I bet there is someone out there on the internet who has written a pretty interesting criticism about this, although I am not familiar with any content on it in particular. 

My intuition is also that English speaking authors are probably more inclined to be left leaning in terms of their national politics, but I don’t really have a solid justification for this. Just a hunch.

Just came across this post, I can’t understate how great I think this is. I would love to see someone respond to this post with another post including some hardcore QALY and DALY calculations, and/or further considering population ethics and the trade offs between infant mortality and fertility rates. 

This sentiment has already been expressed by others across the forum lately, but in recent times (maybe the past two to three years) it seems that EA has been largely co-opted by longtermism and rationalism, which I think is a big turn off for both new and old EAs that are more aligned with TNIs. I think EA needs to reinstate a healthy balance and carefully reconsider how it is currently going about community-building 

I enjoy looking at Wikipedia’s current events page as a more neutral source of news, or at least a source of news that is not completely optimized for outrage even if the entries do contain some bias. I don’t think that it accounts for scope-sensitivity or any of the other desiderata, except for maybe tone, but I still felt that it was worth sharing. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Current_events 

Also, Metaculus was mentioned in this post briefly as a possible provider of supplemental data, but something to consider might be Metaculus as a good news source in and of itself.