Learn to Think by Downloading Lenses

The great thing about a broad education in the humanities and social sciences is that it lets you see the world from many different “lenses”. Lenses are filters which let you predict certain outcomes and make certain arguments. I am familiar with around 4 lenses: evolutionary psychology, moral foundations theory, philosophy, and economics.

For example, consider the case of revenge porn. Someone sends someone else a nude, the other person takes it, and then later on after breaking up, threatens to share it with the entire world as a method of blackmail. This is illegal under the Criminal Code, by the way:

  • 162.1 (1) Everyone who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty
    • (a) of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or
    • (b) of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Now, if I were to put my economic lenses on, how would I see this? Well, I’d say that this turns someone into a monopolist. One person alone has the right to distribute and sell a product. In this case, the product is his nudes. Thus, he has a monopoly over his nudes that is legally enforced.

But another way an economist could look at nudes is as a “public good” – something that can be consumed by multiple people at the same time, just like English or lighthouses. One person using it doesn’t mean another cannot. One person using it doesn’t mean another cannot. And once a nude is leaked, you can’t enforce your monopoly over it.

An economist could argue then that we should get rid of s. 162.1 of the criminal code for two reasons. One is that it creates a monopoly, and monopolies usually don’t lead to an efficient outcome. Two is that nudes are a “public good” which means that the more people have access to it, the better.

I think this is a pretty logical argument, but it’s also one which is ludicrous. Very few people would be willing to argue that all nudes should be publicized. Furthermore, the argument fails to properly weigh the harm done to the person who is the subject of the nude – it thinks that the harm of one person is worth the rise in utility of thousands of other people (who get to see the nude).

But you see what happened above? I used economics to look at a particular thing. I would call this a certain lens. I can do the same with three other lenses.

Next, I would argue that you should see through the lens that gets you closest to the outcome you desire. If you want to access someone’s nudes, then seeing the criminal code from an economic lens would help you do so. If you want to protect your nudes, you could use a philosophical and evolutionary lens to argue that the leaking of nudes would do immense long term harm, would lead to diminished trust in society, and thus should be avoided at all cost.

But the bottom line is that learning how to see the world from a couple of lenses lets you understand how to pursue certain outcomes and how to expect certain consequences to occur.

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