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Old Folks See Culture Change

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the rapid cultural changes that older people have witnessed in their lifetimes, and the challenges this poses to standard decision theory. It explores the reluctance of individuals and communities to change deep-rooted values, beliefs, and practices, yet the surprising ease with which cultural values and behaviors are copied from prestigious associates. The article raises questions about whether we truly hold the values we profess, and whether a sudden shift in deep values could be explained as "scanning behavior" in anticipation of societal collapse or diminishing returns.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] Old Folks See Culture Change

1. What are some of the cultural changes the author has witnessed in their lifetime?

  • Increase in expected parental attention to kids
  • Switch from cornerstone to capstone marriage norms
  • Lengthening of expected career preparation durations
  • Great declines in religion, patriotism and militarism
  • Far more acceptance of homo- and trans-sexuality
  • Stronger norms against sexist or racist language
  • Merging of national cultures into a global culture, especially among elites

2. Why are these cultural changes shocking to the author?

  • The system we rely on for our values is changing very fast, with no one in charge of picking or evaluating these changes.
  • The new values being promoted are ones that were previously rejected, with no clear justification provided.
  • It challenges the standard decision theory assumption that one never changes their values, only their beliefs.

3. What options does the author consider for how to respond to these cultural changes?

  • Pretend to go along while secretly keeping old values
  • Abandon both the old and new values
  • Give the new values the benefit of the doubt and assume there are good reasons for them, even if not apparent

4. What is the author's view on the deeper values that might underlie these cultural shifts?

  • The author suggests one possibility is that we each just want to be respected by our associates, and are willing to adopt any behaviors or priorities that achieve this end.
  • However, the author notes this can't be a guide to collective action and suspects few would be willing to simply embrace this stance.

[02] Challenges to Standard Decision Theory

1. How does the author view the relationship between beliefs/values and decision theory?

  • The author suggests the assumption that our "values and beliefs" correspond to the decision theory concepts may be flawed.
  • We could be modeled as having values that highly prize signaling that we aren't "weird or divergent" from our community, rather than truly holding the beliefs we profess.

2. What examples does the author provide to illustrate the disconnect between professed beliefs and actual behavior?

  • Under extreme torture, people can be made to say things they don't actually believe, just to make the immediate pain stop.
  • What people profess to believe about life after death in religious contexts doesn't actually impact their behavior as one might assume.

3. How does the author characterize the nature of beliefs and values?

  • Beliefs and values are not real things "out there in the world", but rather heuristic idealizations used to predict behavior within certain parameters.
  • If you "cut open a person or computer", you don't find beliefs or values, just algorithms for behavior.

4. What alternative explanation does the author suggest for a sudden shift in deep values?

  • The author wonders if it could be explained as "scanning behavior" - where new, even risky beliefs, become more attractive if one anticipates some sort of collapse or diminishing returns on investment in old beliefs.
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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