What I'm Reading this Week

The POG #6 - Your weekly list of the most thought provoking writing on the internet.

Commenting vs. making

A short essay about the skin in the game required to *make something*. Responsibility forges you into a different sort of creature, and the world of those who don’t have to shoulder it loses its shine. Pontificating is cheap.

I gained a lot of appreciation for people who make things, and lost a lot of tolerance for people who only pontificate.1 I found myself especially frustrated with my past self, whose default was to complain and/or comment, then wonder why things didn’t magically get better.2

It is, of course, much easier to complain about how things are bad rather than do anything about it, which is why people prefer to complain. 1/100th the satisfaction, but 1/1000000000000th3 the effort. Plus, when someone eventually fixes the problem you can pat yourself on the back for having brought attention to it. You can even complain about multiple things in the time it would’ve taken to fix one thing.

Learning by doing is a cliche, but understanding by taking responsibility for something is still way underrated.

I’ve come to believe that working through something is the only way to explore the idea maze. Everything else is commentary.

This piece is focused on building things in an entrepreneurial context, but I believe it applies to every aspect of life. Taking responsibility for things that may seem trivial, like your body, or things that may seem scary, like a family, is in large part what life is about.

Why more men are suffering from infertility than ever before

This is just one article in a long line of pieces about a still very underreported issue.

Sperm counts and testosterone levels are plummeting, even more so than female fertility, which isn’t in great shape either. There are factors in our lifestyle, environment and potentially even psychosomatic issues like continuous stress that affect hormone levels and are leading to ever more barren generations.

Sperm counts in Western countries have dropped by more than 50 percent since the 1970s. At the same time, men’s problems with conceiving are going up: Erectile dysfunction is increasing and testosterone levels are declining by 1 percent each year. 

“The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” warns Mount Sinai fertility scientist Dr. Shanna Swan in her book, “Count Down” out Tuesday. “It’s a global existential crisis.” 

Dr. Swan should know — she’s been researching fertility for thirty years. She studied a miscarriage boom in Santa Clara, Calif., in the 1980s, which she eventually linked to toxic waste dumped into the drinking water by a local semiconductor plant. She moved on to sperm rates in 1997 and they’ve been her “canary in a coal mine scenario” since. In 2017, she sounded the alarm with a meta-analysis of 40,000 men that showed that sperm count fell a whopping 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. 

The issue is even more insidious because it’s probably caused by multiple factors, potentially even by the confluence of multiple individually subtle factors. The recommendations at the end of the article (after the author lists a laundry list of ubiquitous chemicals that cause infertility) is to ride bikes less and get on a Mediterranean diet. Gives me the same vibes as instructing people to shelter under desks in the case of a nuclear explosion.

Nick Kristoff at the NYT has an article on this as well, but, well, it’s the NYT. I don’t think they deserve more links.

Also, when Alex Jones said “they’re turning the frogs gay”, he was probably on to something.

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is about as teachable as humor and hinges on someone’s familiarity with different ways in which thinking goes wrong. That doesn’t come from reading a list of common fallacies (one that probably includes references to ridiculous things like “the slippery slope” - now at iron rule status), but by thinking badly and getting burned.

Unfortunately, critical thinking is not a skill that can be improved through practice—like a golf swing—nor is it a “general” capability. Instead, it is an abstract description of what humans can do as a result amassing a wealth of underpinning knowledge and skills relevant to the particular context in which thinking is to be deployed.

Attempting to teach young people critical thinking as a general skill that can be developed through practice is a little like corralling a group of teenagers and running them through a series of experiences where they give someone an injection, talk to a patient, participate in surgery, change a hospital bed, and inspect the stomach contents of a corpse with the aim of developing “medical thinking.” In fact, where this analogy falls down is that “medical thinking” would be a far more restricted field than critical thinking.

The problem I see is that there are so many layers of disinformation and information hazards (see thread below) that critical thinking is either a full time job or not critical enough.

The Discourse

A few of my favorite things.

A great thread by Zero (who I’ve just had on the podcast) on information hazards.

A very simple summation of our current situation. First, you’re a crackpot, then you’re a prophet, then your news of doom is already gospel. The idea that power grows and then is given back voluntarily is not born out by history. This would be a first, and after a year, well, it isn’t looking likely.

The commoditization of internal states for status-enhancement hit a new high with the FKA Twigs trauma-fashion spread.

In other news, I’ll be putting out a series of podcasts early on my Patreon this week:

  • Today I’ve published my chat with YeerkP.

  • Tomorrow it’s David Reaboi’s turn.

  • Tuesday I’m publishing the Patrick Deneen podcast.

  • Wednesday I’ll post my latest one with Zero HP Lovecraft.

I’ll be posting one episode a week on Youtube & all podcast platforms, but as I record the episodes on my Patreon. If you’d like to listen to the episodes as soon as they’re recorded, please sign up.

Listen to episodes