Podcast Blurbs [Amazon, Moral luck, Hero worship]

The James Altucher Show, Ep. #287 (How the Four Most Influential Companies on the Planet Took Over the Market and Changed Humankind)

Scott Galloway

“[The Four] are now going after each other because they’re getting into each others’ swim lanes.  They used to be on each other’s Boards…but, here’s the interesting thing about this.  Wherever the Venn Diagram overlaps, and they’re competing with each other, one company is always winning.  Everywhere Amazon is bumping up against these guys, whether it’s hardware, they’re bumping up against Apple in voice, they’re winning…Alexa has 70% share of home now, which is going to be the new battlefront for reallocation of trillions of dollars in value…

Let’s talk about streaming video.  Amazon was #7 in 2015 in percentage of Primetime viewing via streaming video.  2016, it’s #3 and it’s now the #2 spender at $4.5bn on original TV content.  They’re $2bn behind Netflix only because Netflix increased their budget by $1bn when they heard that Amazon’s footsteps behind them.  But Amazon is now spending more than NBC, ABC, HBO.  Where they’re bumping up against Facebook and Google in digital marketing, Amazon Media Group is a $1.5bn growing faster than Google and will probably grow faster than Facebook next year…

If you’re Proctor & Gamble, Amazon Media Group shows up and says ‘hey, would you like to know when someone puts Huggies, a competitor to Pampers, in their cart and you can advertise Pampers’; that’s pretty awesome banner advertising.  So Amazon now has ad representatives no different than Google and Facebook showing up to the largest advertisers and saying ‘you should advertise on Amazon and by the way, we can give you what almost no one else can give you, we can tell you what every ad contributes to in terms of actual sales.’

Where Amazon bumps up against Google in product search, Amazon had 44% in 2015, by 2016 it had 55% of product search.  Computer hardware.  What’s the most innovative hardware product of 2015 and 2016?  Apple Watch?  Apple pods?  No, it’s Amazon’s Echo.  So if I were going to write a sequel to [The Four], it would be called The One…

Amazon has something that none of these other companies have.  One, it has a fulfillment network, an analog moat which has put warehouses within 20 miles of 45% of the US population and by the way, that’s misleading because it’s probably 75% of discretionary income in the US…by the way, did you see Google and Walmart are working together?  So the most impressive company of the ’90s, Walmart, is working with the most impressive company of the 2000s, to take on the most impressive company of today, Amazon.  And they’re coming together to form a voice and shopping based partnership between Google and Walmart because they realize that Amazon’s running away with it.

Very Bad Wizards, Ep. #127 (Moral Luck)

Tamler Sommers and David Pizarro

“[moral luck] can be defined as when you are morally evaluated, either praised or blamed, for actions, for character traits, that are the result of factors that are ultimately beyond your control.  This is something that happens all the time, but at the same time something that we think might be unjustified…[Emmanuel Kant] believed that the whole idea of moral luck was incoherent, incoherent to blame people for something beyond your control…so he’s saying essentially all that matters is the pure will, your intention, your pure active will, that’s the only thing that can be judged, not what happens because of your intention…

One of the real sources of the richness of [Thomas Nagel’s paper, Moral Luck] is that he doesn’t start with the problem of determinism.  He doesn’t spell out why there’s nothing but matter and motion in the way that people often start off the problem of free will.  He starts with what seems a very local problem, and that local problem is that we have very clear, compelling intuitions for both of these things: one, we should only be blamed for things we can control and that seems obvious…everyone can agree that accidentally doing something, it might be harmful and bad, but not blameworthy bad…but we seem to still blame, even when upon reflection, things are outside of our control.

The truck driver who fails to check his brakes and is driving home, the breaks give out, and a little girl happens to cross the street and he hits the little girl and kills the little girl.  He is going to blame himself terribly for his role in the death of the little girl, we’ll probably blame him for his role…and yet, had he taken the same ride and the breaks also gone out but there had been no little girl that happened to cross the street when he was driving, we would still blame him a little bit for his negligence, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as severe.  And yet he has no control over whether a little girl happens to go out into the street or not, so it seems like really bad moral luck if the girl happens to go out into the street…this is also true of any drunk driving case that doesn’t lead to a serious accident…

It’s not merely that we’re saying that bad outcomes are worse than good outcomes, it is that we really seem to have a different attitude towards the person who took the same exact action through the same exact decisions.

[The second version of moral luck] is the circumstances you find yourself in.  So [Nagel] uses the example of just the ordinary German citizen in Nazi Germany will find himself presented with an opportunity to display extraordinary heroism or become an utterly depraved human being just because he happened to be born at that time and place.  The ones who didn’t resist and who became members of the Third Reich and the Nazi party, we judge very harshly…but they didn’t choose to be born at that time and be presented with that dilemma and yet, we still judge them harshly for their role in the Holocaust.

It’s just as true for praiseworthy acts.  There are cases in which a person is only able to be a moral hero if they are put in a situation where they can act heroically.  There might be tons of moral heroes who have never been able to act in a heroic way because their life just simply didn’t allow for it…Zimbardo says that [whenever heroic acts happen] and you interview the people and you ask why they did it, they’ll say ‘it just happened’, they’ll talk about it as if they didn’t even have agency, and that doesn’t seem to take away from our judgment of praise in any way.

[The third version of moral luck] is constituitive luck, the luck of how you happen to be built, how you’re wired, what kind of character and personality you happen to have…in my psych course, I talk about the early origins of personality differences.  You can look at the reaction of an infant and you can use various measures, you can scare a baby, dangle a novel toy in their face and they will usually react with some amount of distress.  You can measure how much they cry, how much their body moves, how long it takes for them to calm down after they’ve started crying, and this actually turns out to be predictive of adult levels of adult neuroticism and negative affect.  There are these other great examples of little kids who are given the opportunity to engage in a little task, they can jump off a small little structure onto a pillow and it’s fun but it’s kind of tall and you see these little two year olds who climb up on the ledge and they’re just really trepidatious, and there are some who just jump and they love it.  That seems to be predictive or these personality traits in adulthood, where some people just are less afraid of risk, they’re more prone to approach new things and try new activities…”

[The last type of moral luck is free will]

From Nagel’s Moral Luck:

“If one cannot be responsible for consequences of one’s acts due to factors beyond one’s control or for antecedents of one’s acts that are properties of temperament not subject to one’s will or for the circumstances that pose one’s moral choices, then how can one be responsible even for the stripped down acts of the will itself if they are the products of antecedents or circumstances outside the will’s control.  The area of genuine agency and therefore legitimate moral judgment seems to shrink under this scrutiny to an extentionless point.  Everything seems to result from the combined influence of factors, antecedents, posterior to action, that are not within the agent’s control […]

I believe that, in a sense, the problem has no solution because something in the idea of agency is incompatible with actions being events or people being things…

We are unable to view ourselves simply as portions of the world.  From inside, we have a rough idea of the boundary between what is us and what is not, what we do and what happens to us, what is our personality and what is an accidental handicap.  We apply the same essentially internal conception of the self to others.  About ourselves we feel pride, shame, guilt, remorse, and agent regret.  We do not regard our actions and characters merely as fortunate or unfortunate episodes though they may also be that.  We cannot simply take an external evaluative view of ourselves of what we most essentially are or what we do.  And this remains true even when we have seen that we are not responsible for our own existence or our own nature or the choices we have to make or the circumstances that give our acts the consequences they have.  These acts remain ours and we remain ourselves despite the persuasiveness of the reasons that seem to argue us out of existence.”

The Tim Ferriss Show, Ep. #286 (The Man Who Taught Me How to Invest)

Mike Maples, Jr. (Partner at Floodgate)

“My dad also told me ‘don’t have heroes’.  I think what he meant by that is that hero worship is a form of not thinking for yourself.  Because heroes, first of all, a lot of time, they’re kind of a story and you don’t know what they’re really like and what really happened and why they decided to do what they did.  But the other thing is, defining yourself relative to somebody else’s accomplishments or to how somebody else acts, causes you to not spend the time to discover how you can be your best self.  And so, it’s okay to respect the way somebody thinks or it’s okay to respect a talent that somebody has that you can learn from, but that’s different from saying, ‘oh my gosh, Bill Gates is awesome, I want to be like Bill Gates’.  Because Bill Gates is awesome, he’s awesome at being Bill Gates, but you need to be awesome at being you…don’t have that person as a hero.  Figure out what you admire that they do and try to understand that.  But don’t say ‘I want to be like that person’, ever…

Think for yourself, always.  Thinking for yourself doesn’t mean ‘don’t listen’, but it means be willing to have first principles and you are right or wrong not because of how powerful the person is who challenges you; you are right or wrong based on whether the content of your ideas and first principles is right or wrong.  And you should seek out people who challenge your first principles like gold because they’ll make you better.  Ego is about who’s right, truth is about what’s right.  And if you become an authentic truth seeker in life, to me that’s kind of what it means to think for yourself.”