RT Wolf

Jan 142013

Jordan Peterson is one of three life changing profs at UofT as rated by the students. He’s very unconventional. For example he tells students not to take notes and just listen. If he did everything like other profs do, then he obviously wouldn’t change anyone’s life. Because of this, students have a tough time figuring out how to do well in his class because it’s different from other classes they’ve taken. In particular, the Straight-A Method (LINK) doesn’t work as well for him. So, how does one do well in his class?

First, you have to understand that most classes are oriented towards cramming knowledge into your brains, a few are oriented towards helping you develop the skills of manipulating that knowledge and very few are oriented towards changing the very way you look at the world. The first would be memorizing arguments from past scholars, the second would be learning to form your own arguments and reason from past arguments, and the third is learning to see the arguments presented by people around you all the time and critically evaluate them. These could be arguments presented by scholars, marketers, or even the guy walking down the street asking for a signature. Even most humanities courses are little better than the first category.
Jordan Peterson falls into the third category. He doesn’t really care too much if you know specific facts. In fact, his tests and essays are fairly leniently graded and I got over 80% on his multiple choice tests just by skimming the readings a day or two before, and by attending the lectures.

He’s more interested in giving you that moment of insight that changes the way you understand and interact with the world. The moment you realize dominance hierarchy behaviour isn’t just things chimps do and that status rules human behaviour and motivation. The moment you realize that order and chaos shows up quite literally everywhere, across disciplines and across our understanding of the world. His readings aren’t setup to teach you knowledge or memorize information about past ideas but to help you change your life.

That’s why I have returned to his classes again and again. That’s why I have sat in three times for one course, two times for another and watched his videos countless times. I want to learn the many different lenses on the world Jordan Peterson uses to understand the world. The lenses are so complex that I have returned again and again and had new moments of insight with the same information. That might because I am slightly different now than I was when I first heard the information, or different events are happening around me that bring forth the relevance of his words, or just random, dumb luck.

Sure, you can get good grades by taking close notes and memorizing the arguments, but you may miss out on the life-changing insights that can help you to understand yourself, the people around you and the world much better. You’re much better off recording the lectures and listening to them until they click. And, you’ll probably get good grades, too.

Pick a topic that looks interesting to you and prepare to have your mind blown! I particularly like his talk on the nature of evil.
Aug 022012

The Spirit Level argues that the income inequality in a society, country or state screws everyone over. A lot. Income inequality is how many times richer the top 20% are from the bottom 20%, not absolute levels of poverty. And there’s abundant data showing that income inequality makes anything you care about worse, such as: social trust. Or Levels of mental illness especially depressoin and anxiety disorders. How about worse educational performance? Lemme throw drug addiction levels in there too. In fact, it’s a wonder anything isn’t affected by it.

People in countries with more inequality die younger than in other countries. One reason why the Japanese (very low inequality) have such a long life expectancy compared to say the new generation of Americans (highest income inequality in the world) who’s life expectancy is actually lower than their parents. And it’s not just the poor that suffer–these issues affect the rich as well and the entire society, meaning the rich die younger than the rich in more equal countries.

Short talk by my hero:

I decided to apply my new found knowledge of stats to look at the data. It may be incorrect, but here goes: I calculated the r-squared values, which tell you the percentage of variation that is accounted for by income inequality. That sounds wordy but you don’t need to know what that means.

Say you’re trying to figure out why a particular fake person is obese while another fake person isn’t. The percentage below for obesity is 32%. Imagine that they each represent the average obesity level for their countries and one person’s from Japan and other from the US. About 1/3rd of the reason the US person is fatter is cause of high inequality in that country.

Since percentages need to add up to 100%, what about the rest of the variation? Well, that could be due to diet difference, exercize differences, genetics or just lots of random chance/noise. Science!

Here’s another kicker: usually the things that are made worse in a country because of high income inequality have a social gradient. Basically, as you go down income levels in society, you’ll find people getting fatter, less trustworthy, more likely to be in prison, to smoke and they’ll die younger.

As always correlation does not equal causation. However, this evidence is incredibly strong and income inequality is the most likely predictor of all this very varied data. It’s way less likely that there’s a 3rd factor that affects income inequality and everything else on this list. Either way, this is the best information we as a society have and it’s enough to make some decisions around to reduce income inequality and well…stop killing people through our inaction.

Indicator International data
% explained  Proportion explained
Trust 43.56%  Almost 1/2 (half)
Life   expectancy 19.36%  Around a fifth
Infant   mortality 17.64%  Almost a fifth
Obesity 32.49%  A third
Mental   illness 53.29%  Over half
Education   score 20.25%  A fifth
Teenage   birth rate 53.29%  Over half
Homicides 22.09%  Over a fifth
Imprisonment 56.25%  Over half
Social   mobility 86.49%  Almost entirely – rest is likely random chance
Index of   Health & Social Problems – Total of above 75.69%  Ridiculously high
Overweight   children 34.81%  A third – is A major reason American kids are fat
Drugs   index 39.69%  Over a third
Calorie   intake 21.16%  About a fifth
Public   expenditure on health care 47.61%  Almost a half
Child   well-being 39.69%  Over a third
Triple   education score 19.36%  A fifth
Child   conflict 38.44%
Spending   on foreign aid 37.21%
Recycling 67.24%
Peace   index – is nation war like? 20.25%  A fifth
Paid   maternity leave 30.25%
Advertising 36.00%
Police 27.04%
Social   expenditure 20.25%
Women’s   status 25.00%