Universal basic income

Andrew Flowers of Five Thirty Eight on universal basic income:

The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.


Basic income has attracted a motley crew of supporters, spanning the ideological spectrum. Efficiency-minded libertarians like the idea of streamlining the bureaucracy of the welfare state. Silicon Valley techies hope a guaranteed income would cushion the blow as automation replaces human jobs. Those with a more utopian bent, such as the organizers of the Swiss referendum, want to open up more options, to let people create art and free the world of … “bullshit jobs.”

Via Matt.

Self-censorship and social media

Everyone has an experience of not saying what’s on their mind. We censor ourselves when we praise a friend’s terrible cooking, and also when we remain silent on matters of social injustice. Some people believe self-censorship to be in itself roughly neutral, having both positive and negative uses. On the other hand, I think it’s usually quite negative and should be exercised sparingly, only where telling the truth would have a harmful consequence, and where the underlying issue is trivial.

A couple of recent studies1 examined how self-censorship manifests itself in social media. The results aren’t very surprising: About 70% of Facebook users censor themselves. (We might imagine that the study’s methods are insufficiently precise to register the remaining users’ tendencies.)

Self-censorship appears most prevalent in cases where the user’s audience is broad or vague. For example, a person may be less likely to share radical political beliefs if they fear that their conservative uncle will stumble upon the post. The studies advocate relieving such worries by allowing users to more precisely target their speech.

It seems a very strange tack, if the goal is to alleviate harmful self-censorship. If self-censorship involves crafting some persona for social approval, this approach only seems to encourage people to construct ever more elaborate personae for the praise of ever narrower circles.

There is an alternative. The studies seem to assume the existence of the audience as a salient fact. When you compose a post, it’s assumed that you’re considering that it will be read by someone or some audience. This assumption seems harmless enough, and it’s probably fair in an environment so saturated by likes, comments, and pictures of your friends. However, there are kinds of social media where the existence of an audience is not very salient.

As I write this, I’m only reminded of an audience by consciously and deliberately thinking of that audience. Their faces aren’t plastered all over the place, and if I’m not preoccupied with my site’s stats, I could plausibly deny to myself that I have any audience at all.

Even if I accept that I have some audience, my audience here would seem to demonstrate some interest in what I have to say, as they must be somewhat more deliberate about finding these words at all. If I wrote this on Facebook, my audience would practically be forced to read what I say. As such, I can feel a bit more comfortable about sharing my actual self here, as it seems something my entirely hypothetical audience (you understand) just might want.

And here lies, as far as I’m concerned, the beauty of weblogs and blogging. The weblog carries with it hardly any more assumptions than paper. You’re completely free to turn it into what you like: A socially aware Facebook analogue, or a plausibly private and only incidentally public notebook. Or anything in between.

It’s part of social and antisocial media alike, and Facebook could learn a thing or two from this.

Front porches of a digital age

Kathryn McCullough on front porches and blogging:

Originally important as cool, shaded spaces for families to gather, front porches became common-place by the middle of the 19th-century, peaking in popularity into the earlier 20th. Only after World War II and the movement of American families to the suburbs did back yards replace front porches as a primary outdoor place for children to play and parents to socialize. Slightly more removed from the public eye than the front porch, back yards insulated families from their neighbors, as, in recent years, television and the internet, in moving America almost entirely indoors, have reinvented the notion of neighborhood altogether. […]

Blogs, like porches, transition us from private to public space and back again. They link us to something larger, something outside ourselves, something more meaningful than counting planes, or page hits, for that matter. Blogs are open doors. They create a shared space, become a place where friendships form and lives change. Blogs encourage dialogue, deepen connections, create an experience that is richer than any single post in and of itself.

A vast chaos of medicines

Robert Burton on treating depression, from The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621):

I find a vast chaos of medicines, a confusion of receipts and magistrals, amongst writers, appropriated to this disease… To be seasick first is very good at seasonable times… Quercetan prefers a syrup of hellebore… Rulandus’ admirable water for melancholy, which he names Spiritum vitae aureum, Panaceam, what not, and his absolute medicine of 50 eggs to be taken three in a morning with a powder of his. Faventinus doubles this number of eggs, and will have 101 to be taken by three and three in like sort, which Sallust Salvian approves with some of the same powder, till all be spent, a most excellent remedy for all melancholy and mad men…

All these yet are nothing to those chemical preparatives of aqua chalidonia, quintessence of hellebore, salts, extracts, distillations, oils, Aurum potabile, &c.

A recent study revealed biological markers that may help physicians determine which treatments are most likely to be effective, and “help us avoid the current ‘trial and error’ way of prescribing antidepressant medication.”