23 February 2012

Job Requirements

Atomic Nerds | LabRat | Show Me Your Moves

So I think it’s obvious I’m not going to get anything even remotely resembling what I want in a presidential candidate this year, but I thought it would be interesting to think about what sorts of skills or traits or displays I’d genuinely want to see in a candidate as opposed to what they all seem to think will appeal to voters. [...]

So what, besides the obvious agreement with my various political positions, would actually appeal to me and turn my head even if I disagreed with some or most of theirs? (Which, let’s face it, is going to happen anyway, given my positions.) What would actually demonstrate some form of respectable competency and, dare I say it, character?

1. The ability to teach a horse or dog at least one thing, without losing their temper. “Sit” or the equine equivalent would be too simple. How to walk nicely on a leash or long line would do well- convincing another critter that you’re worth following seems germane. Key point here is actually accomplishing the goal set out, with the critter’s full cooperation, without losing the temper and blaming the “student” or making excuses.

2. The ability to accurately and fairly describe the beliefs and structure of at least five faiths the candidate does not share.

3. The ability to accurately and fairly describe the logic and structure of at least five political positions the candidate is in direct opposition to.
These last two are essentially passing Caplan's "Ideological Turing Test," which I think is quite a good idea. LabRat goes on to list several more good qualifications, and then calls for further suggestions. Here are some of mine:

(1) Can you put together a moderately complicated piece of Ikea furniture (like a desk or dresser, not a coffee table)? This tells me you can follow directions, you have some spatial reasoning skills, and you can work within the very real limitations imposed by geometry and physics. There's no talking you way out of those. Like being able to train a dog without blaming it, can you put the furniture together without cursing at the stick people in the pamphlet or throwing a hex wrench across the room in disgust? This tells me about your temperament.

(2) On a similar vein, could you offer a credible entry for the types of hands-on projects that high school physics students do, like an egg drop or popsicle-stick bridge? I'm not looking for award winners here, just a basic competency understanding the physical world and some intuition for artifice.

(3) Can you walk into an art gallery or museum and carry on a 15 minute conversation about some of the pieces displayed there? The topic of this conversation should in no way relate to politics; no credit if you look at Guernica and then go off about invading Iraq and Afganistan. I'm looking for some evidence of aesthetic judgement and indication you have thought before about the more refined things in civilization and have developed your own personal taste to a level that you can articulate it.

(4) Can you show competency in a simple strategic game? Something you can learn in a few minutes, like Warlight or Dice Wars. I'm not looking for grandmaster skills, just the ability to put up average results against the game's standard AI. This demonstrates you can understand the arbitrary structure of the game and tailor your response to it (the way you citizens will be tailoring their responses to the rules you create), that you can think several steps ahead, and that you have sufficient Theory of Mind that you can anticipate your enemies' thought processes by mentally placing yourself in their position.

(5) Can you cook a basic meal for four? Nothing fancy. I just want a hot meal, with protein and side dishes, all coming to the table at roughly the same time. This is mostly a test of temperment as well. Everyone must eat. If you've gone through your life for forty or fifty years without learning this very, very basic survival skill and instead relied on parents, spouses and professionals to tend to your needs three times a day every day there is something I don't trust about you.

(6) Can you do any of these things or the ones on LabRat's list, or even simply behave like a decent, civilized, courteous human being, without sleeping the previous night? I think lack of sleep brings out the worst in everybody. Can you keep your base instincts in check even when tired? Do you have enough self-control to refrain from becoming grumpy or crabby or petulant even when your body desperately wants you to?

(7) Given 48 hours notice, can you prepare a 30-minute presentation, at an introductory level, about a topic of my choosing? (Something like "the history of the automobile" or "how the cell phone network works" or "recent trends in menswear.") Of course, you'd have to do this without the aid of a research staff. If you're going to be asked to make very important decisions about things you're not an expert in you better be able to learn about them quickly and synthesize some understanding.

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