Quotes from Moral Mazes

Reading and actually paying attention to Moral Mazes is hard. Writing carefully about it is even harder. I effectively spent several months forcing my way through the book, because it seemed important to do that. I then spent a month trying to write about the book, but that’s going super slow as well. The repetition, the saying the same thing from multiple angles, the detailed examples, seem necessary to get the points across, because one has the very strong instinct to avoid understanding it, to read without seeing, to hear without listening. At least, I know I did, despite these things also not only not feeling new, but resonating with my direct experiences.

So in the interest of getting something out there, and hoping that I’ll be able to address things in more detail later, here are all the 168 (!) quotes I highlighted from the book, roughly organized into categories. Locations listed are how to find the quote in the Kindle edition, and the quotes are numbered for ease of search and reference.

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Laws of John Wick

Spoiler Alert: This spoils central plot points of John Wick, John Wick 2 and John Wick 3. 

Should You See Those Movies: Yes. They’re awesome. Unless you do not like violence, especially gun violence, in which case they’re not for you.

John Wick exists in a special universe. Its criminal world has a unique economy and set of norms, laws and actions. Come for the stylized violence. Stay for the world building.

John Wick 2 presents one version of this universe. John Wick 3 takes place directly after, and engages directly with the events of John Wick 2, but presents an importantly different version of that universe. I want to explore that difference.

Beyond this point, the post will assume you’ve seen all three movies, and spoilers will be both massive and unmarked.

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More Notes on Simple Rules


Original Post by Robin: Simple Rules

Previously: Simple Rules of Law

Sarah Constantin on Twitter (if you are doomed to be on social media at all, you should follow her) offers a commentary thread of alternate explanations for the pattern pointed out in Robin’s post. It contains some ideas that I didn’t cover and deserve to be addressed, so this post will do that, and capture her arguments in an easier-to-find-in-the-future location. Quotes are from the thread.

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Simple Rules of Law

Response To: Who Likes Simple Rules?

Epistemic Status: Working through examples with varying degrees of confidence, to help us be concrete and eventually generalize.

Robin Hanson has, in his words, “some puzzles” that I will be analyzing. I’ve added letters for reference.

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Tales from the Highway

Epistemic Status: Concrete data on how something works with curiosity as to the gears behind the decisions, and a desire to record exactly what happened for posterity so we have detailed accurate records and perhaps an example of some things. But no reason to think any of it is important, or you should feel any great need to read it.

“You don’t know what you have until you go to New Jersey” – My wife Laura, when this was almost over.

This happened on Saturday night, as I attempted to transport myself, my wife and our two children home from their in-laws.

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Tales From the American Medical System

Epistemic Status: Overheard in New York

I am walking and talking with my friend, a Type I Diabetic, when he receives a phone call from his doctor’s office.

As a Type I Diabetic, my friend needs insulin. The effects of not having insulin are very bad, and include death.

He has run out of refills on his prescription, and will run out of insulin on Saturday. He called about a week ago to attempt to remedy this situation and get refills.

That’s for background. This isn’t about the order of magnitude higher my friend’s copay is in America, compared to the entire retail price in Canada.

This is about my friend’s attempt to get legal permission to continue buying life-saving medication for a lifelong condition with no known cure.

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Dishonest Update Reporting

Related to: Asymmetric JusticePrivacyBlackmail

Previously (Paul Christiano): Epistemic Incentives and Sluggish Updating

The starting context here is the problem of what Paul calls sluggish updating. Bob is asked to predict the probability of a recession this summer. He said 75% in January, and how believes 50% in February. What to do? Paul sees Bob as thinking roughly this:

If I stick to my guns with 75%, then I still have a 50-50 chance of looking smarter than Alice when a recession occurs. If I waffle and say 50%, then I won’t get any credit even if my initial prediction was good. Of course if I stick with 75% now and only go down to 50% later then I’ll get dinged for making a bad prediction right now—but that’s little worse than what people will think of me immediately if I waffle.

Paul concludes that this is likely:

Bob’s optimal strategy depends on exactly how people are evaluating him. If they care exclusively about evaluating his performance in January then he should always stick with his original guess of 75%. If they care exclusively about evaluating his performance in February then he should go straight to 50%. In the more realistic case where they care about both, his optimal strategy is somewhere in between. He might update to 70% this week.

This results in a pattern of “sluggish” updating in a predictable direction: once I see Bob adjust his probability from 75% down to 70%, I expect that his “real” estimate is lower still. In expectation, his probability is going to keep going down in subsequent months. (Though it’s not a sure thing—the whole point of Bob’s behavior is to hold out hope that his original estimate will turn out to be reasonable and he can save face.)

This isn’t ‘sluggish’ updating, of the type we talk about when we discuss the Aumann Agreement Theorem and its claim that rational parties can’t agree to disagree. It’s dishonest update reporting. As Paul says, explicitly.

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