Miserable Wage Slaves, Liars, and Solving Climate Change
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More Confused by Chinese Pop Culture
Vladislav Ivanov is a simple 27 year old Russian man. But after getting caught in a cruel nightmare, he's become a national obsession in China.
He initially joined Product Camp 2021, a reality show about building a boy band, as a Mandarin teacher. On the show, a number of contestants danced, sung, rapped, and created Youtube videos in order to get votes from viewers. The winners would be assembled into a boy band and get to go on tour.
The producers noticed Vladislav's good looks and asked him to join the show as a contestant. Vladislav thought it would be fun. He was wrong.
Almost immediately, he realised he didn't want to be in a boy band. He was 27! But he couldn't just quit the show without breaching his contract and paying massive fines, so he tried to get voted off the show.
At first, he simply sang half-heartedly. When that didn't work, he stopped pretending he cared at all. And when that didn't work, he explicitly begged the audience to vote him off the show, saying he was miserable.
But the more he begged to be let off, the more the public rallied to keep him on.
The public dubbed him "the most miserable wage slave" and he became an icon to the millions of Chinese viewers who delighted in his misery.
"Sisters, vote for him! Let him 996!" said one fan, referring to the 9am-9pm, six days a week work schedule required at many Chinese tech startups. The public took delight in his dismay.
The entire ordeal is an example of "Sang culture", a sub-culture in China with a defeatist attitude towards everyday life (the equivilant of Doomers in the West). Vladislav remained on the show because the viewers saw his as emblematic of their own lives - forced to do work they didn't want to do for reasons they didn't understand.
Vladislav ended up making it to the final episode, where he finally failed to earn enough votes to win. He couldn't have been happier to finally be let go.
More Likely to Catch a Liar
You, like me, might consider yourself a human lie detector.
Unfortunately, all of the things we typically think mean someone was lying - an averted gaze, fidgeting, stuttering, etc - don't reliably mean anything.
Psychologist Charles Bond reviewed 206 studies about lying that involved nearly 25,000 observers trying to judge whether someone was lying or not. Neither law-enforcement experts nor student volunteers were able to pick true from false statements better than 54% of the time.
In other words, people are nearly as likely to incorrectly think someone is lying as to actually detect a liar accurately.
The problem is that we all rely on "nonverbal cues", even though they have been debunked in study after study after study. The core reason, according to psychologist Samantha Mann, is that "nonverbal behavior is so idiosyncratic." Some people get nervous when they lie and start to sweat, but some don't. It's hard to tell which camp someone falls into without knowing them really well.
So how do you catch a liar? According to Maria Hartwig, a deception researcher, the key is let the potential liar speak freely and wait for them to contradict themselves. The more you let them talk, the more likely they are to get tripped up.
My new way to catch liars: smile, nod, and wait to pounce.
More Suspicious of Carbon Credits
Carbon credits are the world's most agreed-upon answer to solving climate change. In 2020, it was a $44 billion industry.
Unfortunately, the evidence shows they don't work very well.
The concept is simple: if your company is contributing to climate change, pay some money for a "carbon credit" (also called an "offset"). That money then goes to (for example) a Brazilian farmer who is considering cutting down some trees for lumber. Instead of cutting the trees down, you pay the farmer to keep his trees standing. Having more trees in the Amazon helps remove the carbon dioxide your company is emitting, thus making your business activities carbon-neutral.
It was meant to be a win-win - companies could spend the profits they got from doing not-so-good things to do some actually good things for the planet.
But in reality, there are three problems with carbon credit programs:
- Leakage: where the Brazilian farmer will just cut down another patch of trees instead of the one you paid him to let live. The result: no carbon offsetting happens at all.
- Gaming the System: where the organization who determines the value of the credit for the Brazilian farmer pretends the trees you are protecting are more valuable than they are. The organization gets to take a larger fee, and the farmer gets to keep more money. The result: your offset isn't nearly as effective as you think.
- People Cut the Trees Down Anyway: where the Brazilian farmer waits for a few months/years and then cuts down the trees anyway. Apparently, this happens all the time. ProPublica examined 13 sites in Cambodia that had been paid to be protected: only 46% of the original trees remained as of 2017. The result: your offset isn't making a long term difference.
If you care about climate change - and you should! - this should really bother you. The #1 solution that governments and companies seeking to fulfill ESG goals are using isn't actually very effective.
Instead of carbon credits, we as a society need to embrace nuclear energy - it's cheap, scalable, and the technology works today. This TED talk is a good primer to the subject (20 minutes) if you're still on the fence.
“How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?”
― Seth Godin
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