Standing desk

I’ve had a standing desk at home for a few years now, and I can safely say I’m still a fan. My friend Zak switched to one at home recently and he mentioned that the first initial benefit is that it gets you away from the computer. I think this is still one of the primary benefits for me; instead of having the status quo of slouching in front of a screen as a desirable option, it forces you to reconsider and often choose reading a book on the couch. I feel it also has a tendency to increase energy levels.

If you spend all day at work sitting in front of a computer and then do the same at home, I would strongly recommend switching one of the environments to standing. I did mine with a cheap old IKEA desk with adjustable height shelves. Another key component has been one of those standing mats that cashiers sometimes have. A nice one is relatively expensive (more than the desk actually, like $200) but the few times I’ve stood without one my heels were feeling it pretty quickly, and not in a good way.

Habit training

I wonder how much of people’s frustrations with aspects of their life are due to a lack of understanding of habit. It’s a concept that any self-conscious being is probably familiar with but the depth tends to stop there. How many people take time (or read books!) to understand how habits have shaped their lives, or the more difficult task of how to break undesirable habits as well as form good ones. It is a bit of a meta-cognitive task but not outside of the reach of the majority of people, I would imagine. To the extent that willpower is a useful concept, making and breaking habits certainly requires some of it. But the key is, having the skills to do so more efficiently allows for less expenditure of energy/willpower/whatever in order to accomplish the same task. This seems powerful yet we don’t see habit management skills being explicitly sought out by most people.

Affecting the conversation

Tyler Cowen’s comment on recent Republican strategy does a good job summarizing my thoughts that mostly went unelaborated in the previous post. This is a well understood bargaining technique and works particularly well when the opponents have no choice but to address the belligerents in a formal and public setting. The right wing never expected to not raise the debt ceiling or to repeal ACA, but they did expect to have an impact on future conversations and certainly moved the Schelling point in their favor for many issues. This also appear similar, albeit executed more successfully, to U.S. foreign policy during the Vietnam War.

Far right politics

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for 99% of the people that will read this post (and frankly, of all people that I associate with), they will not have read any intelligently composed defense or rationale for the behavior of the right wing (particularly Tea Party) recently. Have you considered that such things exist and they have some basis in fact? Do you really think that they are simply crazy, stupid, or ignorant? To me that’s not even the main issue. Is anyone else worried by the fact that such an us vs. them mentality has overtaken the public (and you only see it in congress because they reflect that public opinion)? What are the precedents for this, the Vietnam war and slavery?

Communication dopamine spikes

When you check on your phone and you see a new message/email/tweet or whatever, or better yet it checks on you with a short vibration in your pocket, note the feeling. I think most of that can be isolated to a dopamine spike; assuming it’s a message that you wanted to get, your brain is rewarding itself. It’s probably fair to compare this to the sensation people used to get when receiving a call from a friend (before caller id), or before that a letter. Due to the lower frequency, and probably greater content, of those communication forms I wonder how much more the pleasure was amplified. Nevertheless, the frequency that many of us experience it now is much higher. And the impact is large enough that many develop an involuntary urge to check their device; this is the addiction mechanism at work obviously.

I don’t know if it’s fair to classify this as truly an addiction or whether all addictions can be considered Bad. I do conjecture that the described state of mind is likely not a desirable one, when you step back and consider it objectively. The benefits one receives from having the device handy are likely overshadowed by the side effects on the rest of their life, which may not be obvious until cutting out the behavior. Not everyone is equally susceptible to the effect but for those that are particularly sensitive, for whatever reason (I am included I believe), they should consider cutting out such devices from their lives.

Aging as disease

In Utopia it appears Thomas More alludes to his views on aging; specifically that it could be considered a disease. Seems like a pretty novel viewpoint for the time (16th century), I wonder if there are notable earlier mentions of similar ideas.

None are suffered to put away their wives against their wills, from any great calamity that may have fallen on their persons; for they look on it as the height of cruelty and treachery to abandon either of the married persons when they need most the tender care of their comfort, and that chiefly in the case of old age, which as it carries many diseases along with it, so it is a disease of itself.

The idea of old age as a disease has not taken on mainstream acceptance yet, and in all fairness it remains to be seen whether this is a correct frame, but the concept is quite powerful and has already captured many of today’s thinkers (especially some wealthy ones).

Ultimate punishment

I find it tough to accept modern views that truly severe crimes can potentially be punishable by death, but certainly not by slavery. In all fairness the death penalty is primarily an American institution at this point (other countries have moved on), but I’m willing to go as far as to say severe incarceration (like solitary confinement) is still morally worse than enslaving someone — forcing them to labor for the public good under reasonable living conditions. It seems like the idea of slavery, at least in comparison to an out-of-sight imposition of mentally ravaging solitary confinement, would be far more publicly noticeable and likely trigger some form of repugnance. Thomas More appears to agree (from Utopia), although back then the repugnance was sought out:

For the most part, slavery is the punishment even of the greatest crimes; for as that is no less terrible to the criminals themselves than death, so they think the preserving them in a state of servitude is more for the interest of the commonwealth than killing them; since as their labor is a greater benefit to the public than their death could be, so the sight of their misery is a more lasting terror to other men that that which would be given by their death.