Monday, July 13, 2015

Me Being Unclear On The Importance Of Clarity

I’m mostly convinced, and this article supports me regarding architects, that opacity in communication is inversely correlated with the quality of the content. - Daniel Miessler, Stop Being Proud of Complexity

I wish that your rule was true! Then we could safely skip over any opaque writing and be utterly confident that we weren't overlooking an Easter Egg!

But think about a layman trying to read some programming code. It would be the epitome of Greek to him. This doesn't necessarily mean that the code is not conveying something important.

Check this doozy out...

Recall the strong path dependence of individual connectionist learning. The use of external memory systems helps ameliorate some of the effects of this path dependence by allowing achieved innovations ("redescriptions") to be transmitted between individuals. This allows the collective construction of representational trajectories that crisscross individual cognizers and hence increase the chance of a good idea finding a viable niche for further development. This is, of course, an old idea. But it is one whose value cannot be fully appreciated except in the context of our increasing understanding of the boundedness and extreme path dependence of individual reason. - Andy Clark, Economic Reason: The Interplay of Individual Learning and External Structure

Hah... what? I don't grasp everything that's going on here... but I like what I do grasp! It's definitely a good idea to increase the chances of good ideas finding fertile places to germinate, grow and benefit humanity. Honestly though I only really skimmed the paper. I'd like to read through it more carefully... someday.

The issue is that communicating and understanding are two entirely different skill sets. Some people have one skill but not the other... while some lucky bastards have both skills!

Personally, I'm a lot better at understanding than I am at communicating. Words fail me more often than not! There's always room for improvement though. But, on the other hand, a jack of all trades is a master of none. More breadth means less depth. Everybody learning to read/write programming language would shift their limited time away from other uses. However, everybody learning programming language would increase the rate at which programming languages were improved... which would decrease the time required to learn programming languages. Eh? Does English's rate of improvement depend on the number of speakers? But English doesn't seem like it's gotten easier to learn over time. I have no idea if that's true or not.

Anyways, regarding the distinct skills... one metaphor that comes to mind is playing volleyball... one person "sets" the ball... and another person "spikes" it.  It's a division of labor.  One person finds an Easter Egg... and another person clearly communicates why it's an Easter Egg. This clear communication increases the chances that other people will be able to perceive different and potentially beneficial uses of the Easter Egg.

Except, when there are a lot of balls being "set"... what are the chances that a clear communicator will "spike" the most valuable one?

Right now we use citations to determine a paper's importance. More citations means more importance. This is a defective system because, in the real world, importance is a function of sacrifice. And a citation isn't much of a sacrifice. Just like a vote isn't much of a sacrifice. Same thing with links. Here's a link to the most widely cited defense of government. The fact that I linked to this paper doesn't really clarify my demand for this paper. Well... I actually linked to the search results for this paper... the order of which was determined by links.

Eventually we'll switch over to putting our money where our citations, links, votes and likes are. When we quantify our interests then, and only then, will it be readily apparent which discoveries should be clearly communicated sooner rather than later. Personally, I'd spend a lot more money on this link...

Under most real-world taxing institutions, the tax price per unit at which collective goods are made available to the individual will depend, at least to some degree, on his own behavior. This element is not, however, important under the major tax institutions such as the personal income tax, the general sales tax, or the real property tax. With such structures, the individual may, by changing his private behavior, modify the tax base (and thus the tax price per unit of collective goods he utilizes), but he need not have any incentive to conceal his "true" preferences for public goods. - James Buchanan, The Economics of Earmarked Taxes

I'm certain that this passage is opaque to most people... but, based on my understanding of public finance, the content is very high quality. The content gets to the heart of the matter of government.

Samuelson said that we need taxes because, without them, people will lie about their valuations of public goods in order to save a buck...

Gov: How much do you value national defense?
Citizen: Does my payment depend on my answer?
Gov: Yes
Citizen: Then not very much

Buchanan pointed out that, if taxes were a foregone conclusion, then there's no point in lying...

Gov: How much do you value national defense?
Citizen: Does my tax obligation depend on my answer?
Gov: Nope, just your allocation
Citizen: Then, allocate 100% of my taxes to defense

The free-rider problem means taxation... it really doesn't mean allowing 500 congresspeople to allocate everybody's taxes. In other words, the free-rider problem really doesn't mean socialism.

Socialism would work if our valuations do not matter. However, our valuations do matter... which is why socialism does not work.

Clearly communicating with words is important... but words can never communicate as clearly as actions.  How we spend our money reflects our priorities... which reflect our preferences as well as our circumstances... which are constantly changing. So when we spend our money... we effectively communicate our preferences and changing circumstances to the rest of society... and limited resources freely flow in the most valuable directions.

So if you care about clear communication... then you should care about the fact that actions (spending) speak louder than words (votes, likes, links, citations, etc). Giving more weight to words results in a garbage in, garbage out situation.

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