we have met the enemy

Statistic of the day: “Something like a million Americans die annually
from behaviors (over-eating, alcohol abuse, etc.) that they ought to
be able to avoid.”

That’s from Dan Akst’s book, “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in
an Age of Excess”

Here’s an article in Slate by the same author:
http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/01/the_odysseus_option.single.html


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com

Have you read the book? If so, how do you think it compares to any of
lukeprog’s favorite self help books (
http://lesswrong.com/lw/7k6/my_favorite_popular_scientific_selfhelp_books/)

I thought both Succeed and the Procrastination Equation were quite good,
would you be able to compare the Slate authors book to them?

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 2:59 PM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.com wrote:

Statistic of the day: “Something like a million Americans die annually
from behaviors (over-eating, alcohol abuse, etc.) that they ought to
be able to avoid.”

That’s from Dan Akst’s book, “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in
an Age of Excess”

Here’s an article in Slate by the same author:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/01/the_odysseus_option.single.html


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com

I read some reviews and summaries of it and it seems to be very much
along the lines of my Messy Matters article
[http://messymatters.com/akrasia]. That it all boils down to time
inconsistency (aka hyperbolic discounting) and thus precommitment (aka
commitment devices aka self-binding) is the answer.

I haven’t looked at any of the books cited on that LessWrong page. I’d
love to learn how they differ from the what perhaps could be called
the orthodox view [1] of akrasia. I confess I’m biased against them
for sounding so self-helpy! :slight_smile: That’s probably the wrong thing to say
on a list called “akratics anonymous”.

Apparently this –
http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/ – is a
reasonable summary of the The Procrastination Equation. I should, uh,
probably read that sometime. But, skimming it, to me it seems full of
banal or vacuous things like “focus on doing what you love” and
“increase your expectancy of success”. Then right before the
conclusion it gets to what I think really matters: commitment devices
and setting goals that are measurable, realistic, and time-anchored
(so-called SMART goals).

Btw, I would say that StickK does commitment devices better than
Beeminder but everything else about goal setting and goal tracking
(per the SMART criteria [2]) worse. And more and more I feel that
getting the commitment contracts perfect doesn’t matter. If you’re the
type to cheat and weasel then self-binding websites will have no
appeal to you in the first place, since, as a cheating weasel, you’re
unbindable!

[1] Not to be confused with the even more orthodox view that akrasia
doesn’t exist at all! That’s the doctrine of Revealed Preferences from
economics. Namely, what you’re doing is what you must really want and
protestations to the contrary are self-delusion.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 17:29, Andrew Summitt dr.eldritch@gmail.com wrote:

Have you read the book? If so, how do you think it compares to any of
lukeprog’s favorite self help books
(http://lesswrong.com/lw/7k6/my_favorite_popular_scientific_selfhelp_books/)

I thought both Succeed and the Procrastination Equation were quite good,
would you be able to compare the Slate authors book to them?

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 2:59 PM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.com wrote:

Statistic of the day: “Something like a million Americans die annually
from behaviors (over-eating, alcohol abuse, etc.) that they ought to
be able to avoid.”

That’s from Dan Akst’s book, “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in
an Age of Excess”

Here’s an article in Slate by the same author:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/01/the_odysseus_option.single.html


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com

I’m interested to hear more examination of the quote you started this
thread out with. Perhaps because I’m reading it out of context, it
seems to me to be ignoring the change in environment that may be
playing a large role in the change of health of Americans.
I’m thinking in particular of obesity. It’s not just the “age of
excess.” This implies that if you just ate less of the bad, rich,
foods you’d be fine. We don’t simply have too much of everything, we
have disproportionately too much of foods that do not meet our
nutritional needs. Fiber and calcium for example. Eating fast food is
not just excess, it replaces other healthy foods that can offer you
more nutrients you need. It’s an impoverished food environment.
Children drinking mostly soda isn’t just a problem of too many
calories, it’s also a loss of nutrients they could be getting from
more nutrient dense foods.

I’m skeptical that pre-commitment devices and self-binding techniques
are the answer to broad problems referenced in the article, like
obesity and addiction. To me it suggests a great misunderstanding that
the changed food environment hasn’t already rigged the game against so
many people, and actually committed them to patterns of eating that
are unhealthy.

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history? Failure of such techniques didn’t lead to
the problem of obesity, and we don’t really know if these kinds of
techniques would work on a large scale. Even the causes of the obesity
epidemic are still debated and researched in the fields of public
health nutrition and medicine.

On Dec 2, 7:49 pm, Daniel Reeves dree...@beeminder.com wrote:

I read some reviews and summaries of it and it seems to be very much
along the lines of my Messy Matters article
[http://messymatters.com/akrasia]. That it all boils down to time
inconsistency (aka hyperbolic discounting) and thus precommitment (aka
commitment devices aka self-binding) is the answer.

I haven’t looked at any of the books cited on that LessWrong page. I’d
love to learn how they differ from the what perhaps could be called
the orthodox view [1] of akrasia. I confess I’m biased against them
for sounding so self-helpy! :slight_smile: That’s probably the wrong thing to say
on a list called “akratics anonymous”.

Apparently this –http://lesswrong.com/lw/3w3/how_to_beat_procrastination/-- is a
reasonable summary of the The Procrastination Equation. I should, uh,
probably read that sometime. But, skimming it, to me it seems full of
banal or vacuous things like “focus on doing what you love” and
“increase your expectancy of success”. Then right before the
conclusion it gets to what I think really matters: commitment devices
and setting goals that are measurable, realistic, and time-anchored
(so-called SMART goals).

Btw, I would say that StickK does commitment devices better than
Beeminder but everything else about goal setting and goal tracking
(per the SMART criteria [2]) worse. And more and more I feel that
getting the commitment contracts perfect doesn’t matter. If you’re the
type to cheat and weasel then self-binding websites will have no
appeal to you in the first place, since, as a cheating weasel, you’re
unbindable!

[1] Not to be confused with the even more orthodox view that akrasia
doesn’t exist at all! That’s the doctrine of Revealed Preferences from
economics. Namely, what you’re doing is what you must really want and
protestations to the contrary are self-delusion.

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 17:29, Andrew Summitt dr.eldri...@gmail.com wrote:

Have you read the book? If so, how do you think it compares to any of
lukeprog’s favorite self help books
(http://lesswrong.com/lw/7k6/my_favorite_popular_scientific_selfhelp_b…)

I thought both Succeed and the Procrastination Equation were quite good,
would you be able to compare the Slate authors book to them?

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 2:59 PM, Daniel Reeves dree...@beeminder.com wrote:

Statistic of the day: “Something like a million Americans die annually
from behaviors (over-eating, alcohol abuse, etc.) that they ought to
be able to avoid.”

That’s from Dan Akst’s book, “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in
an Age of Excess”

Here’s an article in Slate by the same author:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/01/the_odysseus_


http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road –http://beeminder.com

http://dreev.es – search://“Daniel Reeves”
Follow the Yellow Brick Road –http://beeminder.com

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

I’m suggesting exactly that! It’s not that we have a dearth of healthy
food – we have more of it than ever. We just have an even bigger
excess of unhealthy food.

So, yes, the most obvious solution is to go back to the way things
were a hundred years ago. But that solutions sucks. A better solution
is to temper our indulgence in all this excess so we don’t literally
kill ourselves.

I think everything else but commitment devices is a bandaid solution,
like consumer education or legislation.

I really do believe that there’s fundamentally no other solution, and
not just with respect to food. Like Paul Graham argues, [1] everything
is getting more addictive and this is fundamental to technological
progress.

Actually Graham argues that there’s another solution, namely social
customs, but that they take way too long to catch up to technology.
Like how smoking is finally, gradually being taken care of by social
customs [2] but that solution takes on the order of 100 years.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

[2] Don’t imagine the anti-smoking laws had anything to do with it –
those are just a reaction to the social shift.


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com

On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 11:23 AM, A.J. chickahominy@gmail.com wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

Um, what do you suggest? Taxation? Other varieties of regulation?
Those ARE precommitment devices; the consumer citizens choose
to set up an artificial, separate, entity, empowered and enjoined to
forbid them things that they otherwise would collectively choose.

Johnicholas

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) is working to end farm
subsidies for the traditional corn,soy,wheat, rice and such, most of which
goes either towards feeding cattle or making junk food. Instead, if we are to
subsidize at all, we should subsidize fruits and vegetables. I think that
making healthy food more affordable and junk food more expensive should help
quite a bit.
See:


and
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/dont-end-agricultural-
subsidies-fix-them/

The farm bill is up for renewal next summer. We should all tell our
representatives we want to change it.

Rob
On Saturday, December 03, 2011 10:15:06 am Daniel Reeves wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

I’m suggesting exactly that! It’s not that we have a dearth of healthy
food – we have more of it than ever. We just have an even bigger
excess of unhealthy food.

So, yes, the most obvious solution is to go back to the way things
were a hundred years ago. But that solutions sucks. A better solution
is to temper our indulgence in all this excess so we don’t literally
kill ourselves.

I think everything else but commitment devices is a bandaid solution,
like consumer education or legislation.

I really do believe that there’s fundamentally no other solution, and
not just with respect to food. Like Paul Graham argues, [1] everything
is getting more addictive and this is fundamental to technological
progress.

Actually Graham argues that there’s another solution, namely social
customs, but that they take way too long to catch up to technology.
Like how smoking is finally, gradually being taken care of by social
customs [2] but that solution takes on the order of 100 years.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

[2] Don’t imagine the anti-smoking laws had anything to do with it –
those are just a reaction to the social shift.

Just wanted to chime in, but first give my “credentials” (or lack thereof). 17 years old, living in NYC. My economics teacher is included in the conferences of the likes of Mankiw and other college economics professors.

She and Mankiw, both believe that subsidies should be abolished. They create a surplus of what’s subsidized that the government is forced to buy with our money. Granted, corn is not bad on its own, but in abundance its turned to sugars and other nasty things that penetrate our food industry.

The subsidies are economically unjustifiable, but economics does not create law. At least there are those of us who remember that eating healthily is the best option. It is upon us to share our knowledge and fight for our right to colorful, delicious (and chemical-free) foods.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert Felty robfelty@gmail.com
Sender: akratics@googlegroups.com
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 14:40:39
To: akratics@googlegroups.com
Reply-To: akratics@googlegroups.com
Cc: Daniel Reevesdreeves@beeminder.com
Subject: Re: we have met the enemy

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) is working to end farm
subsidies for the traditional corn,soy,wheat, rice and such, most of which
goes either towards feeding cattle or making junk food. Instead, if we are to
subsidize at all, we should subsidize fruits and vegetables. I think that
making healthy food more affordable and junk food more expensive should help
quite a bit.
See:


and
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/dont-end-agricultural-
subsidies-fix-them/

The farm bill is up for renewal next summer. We should all tell our
representatives we want to change it.

Rob
On Saturday, December 03, 2011 10:15:06 am Daniel Reeves wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

I’m suggesting exactly that! It’s not that we have a dearth of healthy
food – we have more of it than ever. We just have an even bigger
excess of unhealthy food.

So, yes, the most obvious solution is to go back to the way things
were a hundred years ago. But that solutions sucks. A better solution
is to temper our indulgence in all this excess so we don’t literally
kill ourselves.

I think everything else but commitment devices is a bandaid solution,
like consumer education or legislation.

I really do believe that there’s fundamentally no other solution, and
not just with respect to food. Like Paul Graham argues, [1] everything
is getting more addictive and this is fundamental to technological
progress.

Actually Graham argues that there’s another solution, namely social
customs, but that they take way too long to catch up to technology.
Like how smoking is finally, gradually being taken care of by social
customs [2] but that solution takes on the order of 100 years.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

[2] Don’t imagine the anti-smoking laws had anything to do with it –
those are just a reaction to the social shift.

Wow! Thanks Robert! I didn’t know COPIRG was trying to do that, and I live in CO and work in the grocery industry (Whole Foods). Its something I’ve thought has needed to change for a very long time now so I’m excited to see something (anything) really happening in that space.

Aaron

On Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 2:47 PM, ijn10@aol.com wrote:

Just wanted to chime in, but first give my “credentials” (or lack thereof). 17 years old, living in NYC. My economics teacher is included in the conferences of the likes of Mankiw and other college economics professors.

She and Mankiw, both believe that subsidies should be abolished. They create a surplus of what’s subsidized that the government is forced to buy with our money. Granted, corn is not bad on its own, but in abundance its turned to sugars and other nasty things that penetrate our food industry.

The subsidies are economically unjustifiable, but economics does not create law. At least there are those of us who remember that eating healthily is the best option. It is upon us to share our knowledge and fight for our right to colorful, delicious (and chemical-free) foods.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Robert Felty <robfelty@gmail.com (mailto:robfelty@gmail.com)>
Sender: akratics@googlegroups.com (mailto:akratics@googlegroups.com)
Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2011 14:40:39
To: <akratics@googlegroups.com (mailto:akratics@googlegroups.com)>
Reply-To: akratics@googlegroups.com (mailto:akratics@googlegroups.com)
Cc: Daniel Reeves<dreeves@beeminder.com (mailto:dreeves@beeminder.com)>
Subject: Re: we have met the enemy

The Colorado Public Interest Research Group (COPIRG) is working to end farm
subsidies for the traditional corn,soy,wheat, rice and such, most of which
goes either towards feeding cattle or making junk food. Instead, if we are to
subsidize at all, we should subsidize fruits and vegetables. I think that
making healthy food more affordable and junk food more expensive should help
quite a bit.
See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agricultural_subsidy#United_States
and
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/dont-end-agricultural-
subsidies-fix-them/

The farm bill is up for renewal next summer. We should all tell our
representatives we want to change it.

Rob
On Saturday, December 03, 2011 10:15:06 am Daniel Reeves wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

I’m suggesting exactly that! It’s not that we have a dearth of healthy
food – we have more of it than ever. We just have an even bigger
excess of unhealthy food.

So, yes, the most obvious solution is to go back to the way things
were a hundred years ago. But that solutions sucks. A better solution
is to temper our indulgence in all this excess so we don’t literally
kill ourselves.

I think everything else but commitment devices is a bandaid solution,
like consumer education or legislation.

I really do believe that there’s fundamentally no other solution, and
not just with respect to food. Like Paul Graham argues, [1] everything
is getting more addictive and this is fundamental to technological
progress.

Actually Graham argues that there’s another solution, namely social
customs, but that they take way too long to catch up to technology.
Like how smoking is finally, gradually being taken care of by social
customs [2] but that solution takes on the order of 100 years.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

[2] Don’t imagine the anti-smoking laws had anything to do with it –
those are just a reaction to the social shift.

Less subsidies that flood the market with cheap, unhealthy food? Income and
proximity to fast-food restaurants are the greatest predictors of food
choice, suggesting that we do need more cheap, healthy food options. Right
now we do have an artificial, separate entity that makes it far less
rational to eat healthy on a low income.

Calling government regulation a precommitment device is an interesting
thought exercise but, to state the obvious, there’s an enormous difference
between laws that apply to everyone and rules that are applied
individually. I mean, I’m not exactly for food taxation, but at least it’s
a systemic solution to a systemic problem.

On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 10:19 AM, Johnicholas Hines <
johnicholas.hines@gmail.com> wrote:

On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 11:23 AM, A.J. chickahominy@gmail.com wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

Um, what do you suggest? Taxation? Other varieties of regulation?
Those ARE precommitment devices; the consumer citizens choose
to set up an artificial, separate, entity, empowered and enjoined to
forbid them things that they otherwise would collectively choose.

Johnicholas

The super vague nature of this statistic also rubs me the wrong way. What
exactly are behaviors people “ought to avoid”? People ought not to crash
their cars, but a “don’t die in a car crash” precommitment goal is likely
to have limited utility.

I would like precommitment devices a lot more if they weren’t accompanied
by this sweeping rhetoric applying it to every problem in the world. The
"it worked for me in an extremely specific situation, it should work for
everyone!" thought process demonstrates a lack of imagination that makes me
cranky.

On Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 12:59 PM, Daniel Reeves dreeves@beeminder.comwrote:

Statistic of the day: “Something like a million Americans die annually
from behaviors (over-eating, alcohol abuse, etc.) that they ought to
be able to avoid.”

That’s from Dan Akst’s book, “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in
an Age of Excess”

Here’s an article in Slate by the same author:

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2011/01/the_odysseus_option.single.html


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com

Agreed on the last point. But then you have “defenders of the people” who claim that those who are given food stamps should be able to buy as much sugar-filled soda as they want.

If the problem keeps coming back to what’s available and government regulation, why do we leave it up to the politicians instead of people that are capable of being rational?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Isaac Schankler eyesack@gmail.com
Sender: akratics@googlegroups.com
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2011 10:33:11
To: akratics@googlegroups.com
Reply-To: akratics@googlegroups.com
Subject: Re: we have met the enemy

Less subsidies that flood the market with cheap, unhealthy food? Income and
proximity to fast-food restaurants are the greatest predictors of food
choice, suggesting that we do need more cheap, healthy food options. Right
now we do have an artificial, separate entity that makes it far less
rational to eat healthy on a low income.

Calling government regulation a precommitment device is an interesting
thought exercise but, to state the obvious, there’s an enormous difference
between laws that apply to everyone and rules that are applied
individually. I mean, I’m not exactly for food taxation, but at least it’s
a systemic solution to a systemic problem.

On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 10:19 AM, Johnicholas Hines <
johnicholas.hines@gmail.com> wrote:

On Sat, Dec 3, 2011 at 11:23 AM, A.J. chickahominy@gmail.com wrote:

Can we really suggest that pre-commitment devices are going to solve
obesity problems when these techniques are not what kept us healthy
for so long over history?

Um, what do you suggest? Taxation? Other varieties of regulation?
Those ARE precommitment devices; the consumer citizens choose
to set up an artificial, separate, entity, empowered and enjoined to
forbid them things that they otherwise would collectively choose.

Johnicholas

What
exactly are behaviors people “ought to avoid”? People ought not to crash
their cars, but a “don’t die in a car crash” precommitment goal is likely to
have limited utility.

I guess driving under the influence or texting while driving or if a
seatbelt would’ve saved your life.
Any death that the dead person could’ve and should’ve prevented (and
would’ve agreed to as much – so suicides don’t count, nor do freak
accidents, even if you can identify a precaution you think they
should’ve taken that would’ve prevented it).

The statistic is suspicious though, you’re right, without seeing what
deaths were counted. Like if they counted helmetless motorcycle
deaths, that’s probably bogus since that’s a risk (I imagine) people
take on purpose.

But whatever the number, it does happen a lot. Commitment devices have
the potential to save lives.
I’d love to get a better handle on what the real number might be, if
people have ideas.

PS: We should probably resist the urge to get political unless it
stays tightly related to commitment devices and akrasia. I love the
discussion though!


http://dreev.es – search://"Daniel Reeves"
Follow the Yellow Brick Road – http://beeminder.com