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Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell

I have heard the following from a bunch of people, one of whom was me six months ago: “I keep on reading all these posts by really smart people who identify as Reactionaries, and I don’t have any idea what’s going on. They seem to be saying things that are either morally repugnant or utterly ridiculous. And when I ask them to explain, they say it’s complicated and there’s no one summary of their ideas. Why don’t they just write one?”

Part of me secretly thinks part of the answer is that a lot of these beliefs are not argument but poetry. Try to give a quick summary of Shelley’s Adonais: “Well there’s this guy, and he’s dead, and now this other guy is really sad.” One worries something has been lost. And just as well try to give a quick summary of the sweeping elegaic paeans to a bygone age of high culture and noble virtues that is Reaction.

But there is some content, and some of it is disconcerting. I started reading a little about Reaction after incessantly being sent links to various Mencius Moldbug posts, and then started hanging out in an IRC channel with a few Reactionaries (including the infamous Konkvistador) whom I could question about it. Obviously this makes me the world expert who is completely qualified to embark on the hitherto unattempted project of explaining it to everyone else.

Okay, maybe not. But the fact is, I’ve been itching to prsent an argument against Reactionary thought for a long time, but have been faced with the dual problem of not really having a solid target and worrying that everyone not a Reactionary would think I was wasting my time even talking to them. Trying to sum up their ideas seems like a good way to first of all get a reference point for what their ideas are, and second of all to make it clearer why I think they deserve a rebuttal.

We’ll start with the meta-level question of how confident we should be that our society is better than its predecessors in important ways. Then we’ll look on the object level about how we compare to past societies along dimensions we might care about. We’ll make a lengthy digression into social justice issues, showing how some traditional societies were actually more enlightened than our own in this area. Having judged past societies positively, we’ll then look at what aspects of their cultures, governments, and religions made them so successful, and whether we could adopt those to modern life.

Much of this will be highly politically incorrect and offensive, because that’s what Reactionaries do. I have tried to be charitable towards these ideas, which means this post will be pushing politically incorrect and offensive positions. If you do not want to read it, especially the middle parts which are about race, I would totally understand that. But if you do read it and accuse me of holding these ideas myself and get really angry, then you fail at reading comprehension forever.

I originally planned to follow this up tomorrow with the post containing my arguments against these positions, but this argument took longer than I thought to write and I expect the counterargument will as well. Expect a post critiquing reactionary ideas sometime in the next…week? month?

In any case, this is not that post. This is the post where I argue that modern society is rotten to the core, and that the only reasonable solution is to dig up King James II, clone him, and give the clone absolute control over everything.

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No One Expects The Spanish Inquisition, Especially Not In 21st Century America

People in ancient societies thought their societies were obviously great. The imperial Chinese thought nothing could beat imperial China, the medieval Spaniards thought medieval Spain was a singularly impressive example of perfection, and Communist Soviets were pretty big on Soviet Communism. Meanwhile, we think 21st-century Western civilization, with its democracy, secularism, and ethnic tolerance is pretty neat. Since the first three examples now seem laughably wrong, we should be suspicious of the hypothesis that we finally live in the one era whose claim to have gotten political philosophy right is totally justified.

But it seems like we have an advantage they don’t. Speak out against the Chinese Empire and you lose your head. Speak out against the King of Spain and you face the Inquisition. Speak out against Comrade Stalin and you get sent to Siberia. The great thing about western liberal democracy is that it has a free marketplace of ideas. Everybody criticizes some aspect of our society. Noam Chomsky made a career of criticizing our society and became rich and famous and got a cushy professorship. So our advantage is that we admit our society’s imperfections, reward those who point them out, and so keep inching closer and closer to this ideal of perfect government.

Okay, back up. Suppose you went back to Stalinist Russia and you said “You know, people just don’t respect Comrade Stalin enough. There isn’t enough Stalinism in this country! I say we need two Stalins! No, fifty Stalins!”

Congratulations. You have found a way to criticize the government in Stalinist Russia and totally get away with it. Who knows, you might even get that cushy professorship.

If you “criticize” society by telling it to keep doing exactly what it’s doing only much much more so, society recognizes you as an ally and rewards you for being a “bold iconoclast” or “having brave and revolutionary new ideas” or whatever. It’s only when you tell them something they actually don’t want to hear that you get in trouble.

Western society has been moving gradually further to the left for the past several hundred years at least. It went from divine right of kings to constutitional monarchy to libertarian democracy to federal democracy to New Deal democracy through the civil rights movement to social democracy to ???. If you catch up to society as it’s pushing leftward and say “Hey guys, I think we should go leftward even faster! Two times faster! No, fifty times faster!”, society will call you a bold revolutionary iconoclast and give you a professorship.

If you start suggesting maybe it should switch directions and move the direction opposite the one the engine is pointed, then you might have a bad time.

Try it. Mention that you think we should undo something that’s been done over the past century or two. Maybe reverse women’s right to vote. Go back to sterilizing the disabled and feeble-minded. If you really need convincing, suggest re-implementing segregation, or how about slavery? See how far freedom of speech gets you.

In America, it will get you fired from your job and ostracized by nearly everyone. Depending on how loudly you do it, people may picket your house, or throw things at you, or commit violence against you which is then excused by the judiciary because obviously they were provoked. Despite the iconic image of the dissident sent to Siberia, this is how the Soviets dealt with most of their iconoclasts too.

If you absolutely insist on imprisonment, you can always go to Europe, where there are more than enough “hate speech” laws on the book to satisfy your wishes. But a system of repression that doesn’t involve obvious state violence is little different in effect than one that does. It’s simply more efficient and harder to overthrow.

Reaction isn’t a conspiracy theory; it’s not suggesting there’s a secret campaign for organized repression. To steal an example from the other side of the aisle, it’s positing something more like patriarchy. Patriarchy doesn’t have an actual Patriarch coordinating men in their efforts to keep down women. It’s just that when lots of people share some really strong cultural norms, they manage to self-organize into a kind of immune system for rejecting new ideas. And Western society just happens to have a really strong progressivist immune system ready to gobble you up if you say anything insufficiently progressive.

And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.

The good Catholic in medieval Spain doesn’t feel repressed, even when the Inquisition drags away her neighbor. She feels like decent people have total freedom to worship whichever saint they want, total freedom to go to whatever cathedral they choose, total freedom to debate who the next bishop should be – oh, and thank goodness someone’s around to deal with those crazy people who are trying to damn the rest of us to Hell. We medieval Spaniards are way too smart to fall for the balance fallacy!

Wait, You Mean The Invisible Multi-Tentacled Monster That Has Taken Over All Our Information Sources Might Be Trying To Mislead Us?

Since you are a citizen of a repressive society, you should be extremely skeptical of all the information you get from schools, the media, and popular books on any topic related to the areas where active repression is occurring. That means at least politics, history, economics, race, and gender. You should be especially skeptical of any book that’s praised as “a breath of fresh air” or “a good counter to the prevailing bias”, as books that garner praise in the media are probably of the “We need fifty Stalins!” variety.

This is not nearly as paranoid as it sounds. Since race is the most taboo subject in our culture, it will also be the simplest example. Almost all of our hard data on race comes from sociology programs in universities – ie the most liberal departments in the most liberal institutions in the country. Most of these sociology departments have an explicit mission statement of existing to fight racism. Many sociologists studying race will tell you quite openly that they went into the field – which is not especially high-paying or prestigious – in order to help crusade against the evil of racism.

Imagine a Pfizer laboratory whose mission statement was to prove Pfizer drugs had no side effects, and whose staff all went into pharmacology specifically to help crusade against the evil of believing Pfizer’s drugs have side effects. Imagine that this laboratory hands you their study showing that the latest Pfizer drug has zero side effects, c’mon, trust us! Is there any way you’re taking that drug?

We know that a lot of medical research, especially medical research by drug companies, turns up the wrong answer simply through the file-drawer effect. That is, studies that turn up an exciting result everyone wants to hear get published, and studies that turn up a disappointing result don’t – either because the scientist never submits it to the journals, or because the journal doesn’t want to publish it. If this happens all the time in medical research despite growing safeguards to prevent it, how often do you think it happens in sociological research?

Do you think the average sociologist selects the study design most likely to turn up evidence of racist beliefs being correct, or the study design most likely to turn up the opposite? If despite her best efforts a study does turn up evidence of racist beliefs being correct, do you think she’s going to submit it to a major journal with her name on it for everyone to see? And if by some bizarre chance she does submit it, do you think the International Journal Of We Hate Racism So We Publish Studies Proving How Dumb Racists Are is going to cheerfully include it in their next edition?

And so when people triumphantly say “Modern science has completely disproven racism, there’s not a shred of evidence in support of it”, we should consider that exactly the same level of proof as the guy from 1900 who said “Modern science has completely proven racism, there’s not a shred of evidence against it”. The field is still just made of people pushing their own dogmatic opinions and calling them science; only the dogma has changed.

And although Reactionaries love to talk about race, in the end race is nothing more than a particularly strong and obvious taboo. There are taboos in history, too, and in economics, and in political science, and although they’re less obvious and interesting they still mean you need this same skepticism when parsing results from these fields. “But every legitimate scientist disagrees with this particular Reactionary belief!” should be said with the same intonation as “But every legitimate archbishop disagrees with this particular heresy.”

This is not intended as a proof that racism is correct, or even as the slightest shred of evidence for that hypothesis (although a lot of Reactionaries are, in fact, racist as heck). No doubt the Spanish Inquisition found a couple of real Satanists, and probably some genuine murderers and rapists got sent to Siberia. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, a government will even censor an idea that happens to be false. But it’s still useful to know when something is being censored, so you don’t actually think the absence of evidence for one side of the story is evidence of anything other than people on that side being smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

The Past Is A First World Country

Even so, isn’t the evidence that modern society beats past societies kiiiind of overwhelming? We’re richer, safer, healthier, better educated, freer, happier, more equal, more peaceful, and more humane. Reactionary responses to these claims might get grouped into three categories.

The first category is “Yes, obviously”. Most countries do seem to have gotten about 100x wealthier since the year 1700. Disease rates have plummeted, and life expectancy has gone way up – albeit mostly due to changes in infant mortality. But this stands entirely explained by technology. So we’re a hundred times wealthier than in 1700. In what? Gold and diamonds? Maybe that has something to do with the fact that today we’re digging our gold mines with one of these:

…and in 1700 they had to dig their gold mines with one of these:

Likewise, populations are healthier today because they can get computers to calculate precisely targeted radiation bursts that zap cancer while sparing healthy tissue, whereas in 1700 the pinnacle of medical technology was leeches.

This technology dividend appears even in unexpected places. The world is more peaceful today, but how much of that is the existence of global trade networks that make war unprofitable, video reporting of every casualty that makes war unpopular, and nuclear and other weapons that make war unwinnable?

The second category is “oh really?”. Let’s take safety. This is one of Mencius Moldbug’s pet issues, and he likes to quote the following from an 1876 century text on criminology:

Meanwhile, it may with little fear of contradiction be asserted that there never was, in any nation of which we have a history, a time in which life and property were so secure as they are at present in England. The sense of security is almost everywhere diffused, in town and country alike, and it is in marked contrast to the sense of insecurity which prevailed even at the beginning of the present century. There are, of course, in most great cities, some quarters of evil repute in which assault and robbery are now and again committed. There is perhaps to be found a lingering and flickering tradition of the old sanctuaries and similar resorts. But any man of average stature and strength may wander about on foot and alone, at any hour of the day or the night, through the greatest of all cities and its suburbs, along the high roads, and through unfrequented country lanes, and never have so much as the thought of danger thrust upon him, unless he goes out of his way to court it.

Moldbug then usually contrasts this with whatever recent news article has struck his fancy about entire inner-city neighborhoods where the police are terrified to go, teenagers being mowed down in crossfire among gangs, random daylight murders, and the all the other joys of life in a 21st century British ghetto.

Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data, but the British crime statistics seem to bear him out:

(recorded offenses per 100,000 people, from source)

If this is true, it is true despite technology. If crime rates have in fact multiplied by a factor of…well, it looks like at least 100x…this is true even though the country as a whole has gotten vastly richer, even though there are now CCTVs, DNA testing, police databases, heck, even fingerprinting hadn’t been figured out yet in 1876.

This suggests that there was something inherent about Victorian society, politics, or government that made their Britain a safer place to live than modern progressive Britain.

Education is another example of something we’re pretty sure we do better in. Now take a look at the 1899 entrance exam for Harvard. Remember, no calculators – they haven’t been invented yet.

I got an SAT score well above that of the average Harvard student today (I still didn’t get into Harvard, because I was a slacker in high school). But I couldn’t even begin to take much of that test.

Okay, fine. Argue “Well, of course we don’t value Latin and Greek and arithmetic and geometry and geography today, we value different things.” So fine. Tell me what the heck you think our high school students are learning that’s just as difficult and impressive as the stuff on that test that you don’t expect the 19th century Harvard students who aced that exam knew two hundred times better (and don’t say “the history of post-World War II Europe”).

Do you honestly think the student body for whom that exam was a fair ability test would be befuddled by the reading comprehension questions that pass for entrance exams today? Or would it be more like “Excuse me, teacher, I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. My exam paper is in English.”

As a fun exercise, read through Wikipedia’s list of multilingual presidents of the United States. We start with entries like this one:

Thomas Jefferson read a number of different languages. In a letter to Philadelphia publisher Joseph Delaplaine on April 12, 1817, Jefferson claimed to read and write six languages: Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English. After his death, a number of other books, dictionaries, and grammar manuals in various languages were found in Jefferson’s library, suggesting that he studied additional languages beyond those he spoke and wrote well. Among these were books in Arabic, Gaelic, and Welsh.

and this one:

John Quincy Adams went to school in both France and the Netherlands, and spoke fluent French and conversational Dutch. Adams strove to improve his abilities in Dutch throughout his life, and at times translated a page of Dutch a day to help improve his mastery of the language. Official documents that he translated were sent to the Secretary of State of the United States, so that Adams’ studies would serve a useful purpose as well. When his father appointed him United States Ambassador to Prussia, Adams dedicated himself to becoming proficient in German in order to give him the tools to strengthen relations between the two countries. He improved his skills by translating articles from German to English, and his studies made his diplomatic efforts more successful. In addition to the two languages he spoke fluently, he also studied Italian, though he admitted to making little progress in it since he had no one with whom to practice speaking and hearing the language. Adams also read Latin very well, translated a page a day of Latin text, and studied classical Greek in his spare time.

eventually proceeding to entries more like this one:

George W. Bush speaks some amount of Spanish, and has delivered speeches in the language. His speeches in Spanish have been imperfect, with English dispersed throughout. Some pundits, like Molly Ivins, have pointedly questioned the extent to which he could speak the language, noting that he kept to similar phrasing in numerous appearances.

and this one:

Barack Obama himself claims to speak no foreign languages. However, according to the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, during a telephone conversation Obama was able to deliver a basic four-word question in “fluent Indonesian”, as well as mention the names for a few Indonesian food items. He also knows some Spanish, but admits to only knowing “15 words” and having a poor knowledge of the language.

A real Reactionary would no doubt point out that even old-timey US Presidents aren’t old-timey enough, and that we really should be looking at the British aristocracy, but this is left as an exercise for the reader.

It may be argued that yes, maybe their aristocracy was more educated than our upper-class, but we compensate for the imbalance by having education spread much more widely among the lower-classes. I endorse this position, as do, I’m sure, the hundreds of inner-city minority youth who are no doubt reading this blog post because of the massive interest in abstract political philosophy their schooling has successfully inspired in them.

Once again, today we have Wikipedia, the Internet, and as many cheap books as Amazon can supply us. Back in the old days they had to make do with whatever they could get from their local library. Even more troubling, today we start with a huge advantage – the Flynn Effect has made our average IQ 10 to 20 points higher than in 1900. Yet once again, even with our huge technological and biological head start, we are still doing worse than the Old Days, which suggest that here, too, the Old Days may have had some kind of social/political advantage.

So several of our claims of present superiority – wealth, health, peace, et cetera – have been found to be artifacts of higher technology levels. Several other claims – safety and education – have been found to be just plain wrong. That just leaves a few political advantages – namely, that we are freer, less racist, less sexist, less jingoistic and more humane. And the introduction has already started poking holes in the whole “freedom” thing.

That leaves our progress in tolerance, equality, and humaneness. Are these victories as impressive as we think?

Every Time I Hear The Word “Revolver”, I Reach For My Culture

[TRIGGER WARNING: This is the part with the racism]

One of the most solid results from social science has been large and persistent differences in outcomes across groups. Of note, these differences are highly correlated by goodness: some groups have what we would consider “good outcomes” in many different areas, and others have what we would consider “bad outcomes” in many different areas. Crime rate, drug use, teenage pregnancy, IQ, education level, median income, health, mental health, and whatever else you want to measure.

The best presentation of this result is The Spirit Level, even though the book thinks it’s proving something completely different. But pretty much any study even vaguely in this field will show the same effect. This also seems to be the intuition behind our division of countries into “First World” and “Third World”, and behind our division of races into “privileged” and “oppressed” (rather than “well, some races have good outcomes in some areas, but others have good outcomes in other areas, so it basically all balances out”) I don’t think this part should be very controversial. Let’s call this mysterious quality “luck”, in order to remain as agnostic as possible about the cause.

Three very broad categories of hypothesis have been proposed to explain luck differences among groups: the external, the cultural, and the biological.

The externalists claim that groups differ only because of the situations they find themselves in. Sometimes these situations are natural. Jared Diamond makes a cogent case for the naturalist externalist hypothesis in Guns, Germs, and Steel. The Chinese found themselves on fertile agricultural land with lots of animals and plants to domesticate and lots of trade routes to learn new ideas from. The New Guinea natives found themselves in a dense jungle without many good plants or animals and totally cut off from foreign contact. Therefore, the Chinese developed a powerful civilization and the New Guineans became a footnote to history.

But in modern times, externalists tend to focus more on external human conditions like colonialism and oppression. White people are lucky not because of any inherent virtue, but because they had a head start and numerical advantage and used this to give themselves privileges which they deny to other social groups. Black people are unlucky not because of any inherent flaw, but because they happened to be stuck around white people who are doing everything they can to oppress them and keep them down. This is true both within societies, where unlucky races are disprivileged by racism, and across societies, where unlucky countries suffer the ravages of colonialism.

The culturalists claim that luck is based on the set of implicit traditions and beliefs held by different groups. The Chinese excelled not only because of their fertile landscape, but because their civilization valued scholarship, wealth accumulation, and nonviolence. The New Guineans must have had less useful values, maybe ones that demanded strict conformity with ancient tradition, or promoted violence, or discouraged cooperation.

Like the externalists, they trace this forward to the present, saying that the values that served the Chinese so well in building Chinese civilization are the same ones that keep China strong today and the ones that make Chinese immigrants successful in countries like Malaysia and the USA. On the other hand, New Guinea continues to be impoverished and although I’ve never heard of any New Guinean immigrants I would not expect them to do very well.

The biologicalists, for whom I cannot think of a less awkward term, are probably the most notorious and require the least explanation. They are most famous for attributing between-group luck differences to genetic factors, but there are certainly more subtle theories. One of the most interesting is parasite load, the idea that areas with greater parasites make people’s bodies spend more energy fighting them off, leading to less energy for full neurological development. It’s hard to extend this to deal with group differences in a single area (for example between-race differences in the USA) but some people have certainly made valiant attempts. Nevertheless, it’s probably fair enough to just think of the biologicalists as “more or less racists”.

So who is right?

A decent amount of political wrangling over the years seems to involve a conflict between the conservatives – who are some vague mix of the culturalist and biologicalist position – and the liberals, who have embraced the externalist position with gusto.

But the externalist position is deeply flawed. This blog has already cited this graph to make a different point, but now that we have our Reactionary Hat on, let’s try it again:

Here’s the black-white income gap over time from 1974 to (almost) the present. Over those years, white oppression of black people has decreased drastically. It is not gone. But it has decreased. Yet the income gap stays exactly the same. Compare this to another example of an oppressed group suddenly becoming less oppressed:

Over the same period, the decrease in male oppression of women has resulted in an obvious and continuing rise in women’s incomes. This suggests that the externalist hypothesis of women’s poor incomes was at least partly correct. But an apparent corollary is that it casts doubt on the externalist hypothesis of racial income gaps.

And, in fact, not all races have a racial income gap, and not all those who do have it in the direction an externalist theory would predict. Jews and Asians faced astounding levels of discrimination when they first came to the United States, but both groups recovered quickly and both now do significantly better than average white Americans. Although the idea of a “Jewish conspiracy” is rightly mocked as anti-Semitic and stupid, it is only bringing the externalist hypothesis – that differences in the success of different races must always be due to oppression – to their natural conclusion.

In fact, Jews and Chinese are interesting in that both groups are widely scattered, both groups often find themselves in very hostile countries, and yet both groups are usually more successful than the native population wherever they go (income and education statistics available upon request). Whether it is Chinese in Malaysia or Jews in France, they seem to do unusually well for themselves despite the constant discrimination. If this is an experiment to distinguish between culturalist and externalist positions, it is a very well replicated one.

This difference in the success of immigrant groups is often closely correlated with the success of the countries they come from. Japan is very rich and advanced, Europe quite rich and advanced, Latin America not so rich or advanced, and Africa least rich and advanced of all. And in fact we find that Japanese-Americans do better than European-Americans do better than Latin-Americans do better than African-Americans. It is pretty amazing that white people manage to modulate their oppression in quite this precise a way, especially when it includes oppressing themselves.

And much of the difference between groups is in areas one would expect to be resistant to oppression. Unlucky groups tend to have higher teenage pregnancy rates, more drug use, and greater intra-group violence, even when comparing similar economic strata. That is, if we focus on Chinese-Americans who earn $60,000/year and African-Americans who earn $60,000/year, the Chinese will have markedly better outcomes (I’ve seen this study done in education, but I expect it would transfer). Sampling from the same economic stratum screens off effects from impoverished starting conditions or living in bad neighborhoods, and it’s hard (though of course not impossible) to figure out other ways an oppressive majority could create differential school attendance in these groups.

So luck differences are sometimes in favor of oppressed minorities, do not decrease when a minority becomes less oppressed, correlate closely across societies with widely varying amounts of oppression, and operate in areas where oppression doesn’t provide a plausible mechanism. The externalist hypothesis as a collection of natural factors a la Jared Diamond may have merit, but as an oppression-based explanation for modern-day group differences, it fails miserably.

I don’t want to dwell on the biological hypothesis too much, because it sort of creeps me out even in a “let me clearly explain a hypothesis I disagree with” way. I will mention that it leaves a lot unexplained, in that many of the “groups” that have such glaring luck differences are not biological groups at all, but rather religious groups such as the Mormons and the Sikhs, both of whom have strikingly different outcomes than the populations they originated from. Even many groups that are biologically different just aren’t different enough – the English and Irish have strikingly different luck, but attributing that to differences between which exact tiny little branch of the Indo-European tree they came from seems like a terrible explanation (although Konkvistador disagrees with me on this one).

Nevertheless, the people who dismiss the biological hypothesis as obviously stupid and totally discredited (by which I mean everyone) are doing it a disservice. For a sympathetic and extraordinarily impressive defense of the biological hypothesis I recommend this unpublished (and unpublishable) review article. I will add that I am extremely interested in comprehensive takedowns of that article (preferably a full fisking) and that if you have any counterevidence to it at all you should post it in the comments and I will be eternally grateful.

But for now I’m just going to say let’s assume by fiat that the biologicalist hypothesis is false, because even with my Reactionary Hat on I find the culturalist hypothesis much more interesting.

The culturalist hypothesis avoids the pitfalls of both the externalist and biological explanations. Unlike the externalists, it can explain why some minority groups are so successful and why group success correlates across societies and immigrant populations. And unlike the biologicalists, it can explain the striking differences between biologically similar groups like the Mormons and the non-Mormon Americans, or the Sikhs and the non-Sikh Indians.

It can also explain some other lingering mysteries, like why a country that’s put so much work into keeping black people down would then turn around and elect a black president. Obama was born to an African father and a white mother, raised in Indonesia, and then grew up in Hawaii. At no point did he have much contact with African-American culture, and so a culturalist wouldn’t expect his life outcomes to be correlated with those of other African-Americans.

Best of all, despite what the average progressive would tell you the culturalist position isn’t really that racist. It’s a bit like the externalist position in attributing groups’ luck to initial conditions, except instead of those initial conditions being how fertile their land is or who’s oppressing them, it’s what memeplexes they happened to end out with. Change the memeplexes and you can make a New Guinean population achieve Chinese-level outcomes – or vice versa.

The Other Chinese Room Experiment

Assuming we tentatively accept the culturalist hypothesis, what policies does it suggest?

Well, the plan mentioned in the last paragraph of the last section – throw Chinese memes at the people of New Guinea until they achieve Chinese-style outcomes – higher income, less teenage pregnancy, lower crime rates. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea. You could try exposing them to Chinese people and the Chinese way of life until some of it stuck. This seems like a good strategy for China, a country whose many problems definitely do not include “a shortage of Chinese people”.

On the other hand, in somewhere more like America, one could be forgiven for immediately rounding this off to some kind of dictatorial brainwashing policy of stealing New Guinean infants away from their homes and locking them in some horrible orphanage run by Chinese people who beat them every time they try to identify with their family or native culture until eventually they absorb Chinese culture through osmosis. This sounds bad.

Luckily, although we don’t have quite as many Chinese people as China, we still have a majority culture whose outcomes are almost as good as China’s and which, as has been mentioned before, permeates every facet of life and every information source like a giant metastasizing thousand-tentacled monster. So in theory, all we need to do is wait for the unstoppable monster to get them.

This strategy, with the octopoid abomination metaphor replaced with a melting pot metaphor for better branding, has been America’s strategy for most of the past few centuries – assimilation. It worked for the Irish, who were once viewed with as much racism as any Hispanic or Arab is today. It worked for the Italians, who were once thought of as creepy Papist semi-retarded mafia goons until everyone decided no, they were indistinguishable from everyone else. It worked for the fourth and fifth generation Asians, at least here in suburban California, where they’re considered about as “exotic” as the average Irishman. It certainly worked for the Jews, where there are some people of Jewish descent who aren’t even aware of it until they trace their family history back. And it should be able to work for everyone else. Why isn’t it?

The Reactionary’s answer to this is the same as the Reactionary’s answer to almost everything: because of those darned progressives!

Sometime in the latter half of this century, it became a point of political pride to help minorities resist “cultural imperialism” and the Eurocentric norms that they should feel any pressure to assimilate. Moved by this ideology, the government did everything it could to help minorities avoid assimilation and to shame and thwart anyone trying to get them to assimilate.

There’s a story – I’ve lost the original, but it might have been in Moldbug – about a state noticing that black children were getting lower test scores. It decided, as progressivists do, that the problem was that many of the classes were taught by white teachers, and that probably this meant the black children couldn’t relate to them and were feeling oppressed. So they sent the white teachers off to whiter areas and hiring only black teachers for the black schools, and – sure enough – test scores plummeted further.

California had a sort of similar problem when I was growing up. Most schools were required to teach our large Hispanic immigrant population using bilingual education – that is, teaching them in their native Spanish until they were ready to learn English. The “ready to learn English” tended not to happen, and some people proposed that bilingual education be scrapped. There was a huge ruckus where the people in favor of this change were accused of being vile racists who hated Mexicans and wanted to destroy Mexican culture. Thanks to California’s colorful proposition system, it passed anyway. And sure enough, as soon as the Hispanics started getting integrated with everyone else and taught in English, test scores went way up.

But this is a rare victory, and we are still very much in “try to prevent assimilation mode”. I went to elementary school just as the “melting pot” metaphor was being phased out in favor of the more politically correct “salad bowl” one – in a melting pot, everyone comes together and becomes alike, but in a salad bowl, everything comes together but stays different, and that’s fine.

One externalist argument why minorities sometimes do poorly in school is the fear of “acting white” – that their peers tell them that academic achievement is a form of “acting white” by which they betray their cultural heritage. Unfortunately, we seem to be promoting this on a social level, telling people that assimilating and picking up the best features of majority culture are “acting white”. If the majority culture has useful memes that help protect people against school dropout, crime, and other bad life outcomes, that is a really bad thing to do.

So let’s go back to the nightmare scenario with which we started this section – of children being seized from their homes and locked in a room with Chinese people. Is this sort of dystopia the inevitable result of trying to use culturalist theories to equalize group outcomes?

No. There is a proverb beloved of many Reactionaries: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” We could make great strides in solving inequality merely by ceasing to exert deliberate effort to make things worse. The progressive campaign to demonize assimilation and make it taboo to even talk about some cultures being better adapted than others prevents the natural solution to inequality which worked for the Irish and the Asians and the Jews from working for the minorities of today. If we would just stop digging the hole deeper in order to make ourselves feel superior to our ancestors, we’d have gone a lot of the way – maybe not all of the way, but a lot of it – toward solving the problem.

On Second Thought, Keep Your Tired And Poor To Yourself

Immigration doesn’t have to be a problem. In a healthy society, immigrants will be encouraged to assimilate to the majority culture, and after a brief period of disorientation will be just as successful and well-adapted as everyone else.

But in an unhealthy society like ours that makes assimilation impossible, a culturalist will be very worried about immigration.

Let’s imagine an idyllic socialist utopia with a population of 100,000. In Utopia, everyone eats healthy organic food, respects the environment and one another, lives in harmony with people of other races, and is completely non-violent. One day, the Prime Minister decides to open up immigration to Americans and discourage them from assimilating.

50,000 Americans come in and move into a part of Utopia that quickly becomes known as Americatown. They bring their guns, their McDonalds, their megachurches, and their racism.

Soon, some Utopians find their family members dying in the crossfire between American street gangs. The megachurches convert a large portion of the Utopians to evangelical Christianity, and it becomes very difficult to get abortions without being harassed and belittled. Black and homosexual Utopians find themselves the target of American hatred, and worse, some young Utopians begin to get affected by American ideas and treat them the same way. American litter fills the previously pristine streets, and Americans find some loopholes in the water quality laws and start dumping industrial waste into the rivers.

By the time society has settled down, we have a society which is maybe partway between Utopia and America. The Americans are probably influenced by Utopian ideas and not quite as bad as their cousins who reminded behind in the States, but the Utopians are no longer as idyllic as their Utopian forefathers, and have inherited some of America’s problems.

Would it be racist for a Utopian to say “Man, I wish we had never let the Americans in?” Would it be hateful to suggest that the borders be closed before even more Americans can enter?

If you are a culturalist, no. Utopian culture is better, at least by Utopian standards, than American culture. Although other cultures can often contribute to enrich your own, there is no law of nature saying that only the good parts of other cultures will transfer over and that no other culture can be worse than yours in any way. The Americans were clearly worse than the Utopians, and it was dumb of the Utopians to let so many Americans in without any safeguards.

Likewise, there are countries that are worse than America. Tribal Afghanistan seems like a pretty good example. Pretty much everything about tribal Afghanistan is horrible. Their culture treats women as property, enforces sharia law, and contains honor killings as a fact of life. They tend to kill apostate Muslims and non-Muslims a lot. Not all members of Afghan tribes endorse these things, but the average Afghan tribesperson is much more likely to endorse them than the average American. If we import a bunch of Afghan tribesmen, their culture is likely to make America a worse place in the same way that American culture makes Utopia a worse place.

But it’s actually much worse than this. We are a democracy. Anyone who moves here and gains citizenship eventually gets the right to vote. People with values different from ours vote for people and laws different from those we would vote for. Progressives have traditionally viewed any opposition to this as anti-immigrant and racist – and, by total coincidence, most other countries, and therefore most immigrants, are progressive.

Imagine a country called Conservia, a sprawling empire of a billion people that has a fifth-dimensional hyperborder with America. The Conservians are all evangelical Christians who hate abortion, hate gays, hate evolution, and believe all government programs should be cut.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Conservians hop the hyperborder fence and enter America, and sympathetic presidents then pass amnesty laws granting them citizenship. As a result, the area you live – or let’s use Berkeley, the area I live – gradually becomes more conservative. First the abortion clinics disappear, as Conservian protesters start harassing them out of business and a government that must increasingly pander to Conservians doesn’t stop them. Then gay people stop coming out of the closet, as Conservian restaurants and businesses refuse to serve them and angry Conservian writers and journalists create an anti-gay climate. Conservians vote 90% Republican in elections, so between them and the area’s native-born conservatives the Republicans easily get a majority and begin defunding public parks, libraries, and schools. Also, Conservians have one pet issue which they promote even more intently than the destruction of secular science – that all Conservians illegally in the United States must be granted voting rights, and that no one should ever block more Conservians from coming to the US.

Is this fair to the native Berkeleyans? It doesn’t seem that way to me. And what if 10 million Conservians move into America? That’s not an outrageous number – there are more Mexican immigrants than that. But it would be enough to have thrown every single Presidential election of the past fifty years to the Republicans – there has never been a Democratic candidate since LBJ who has won the native population by enough of a margin to outweight the votes of ten million Conservians.

But isn’t this incredibly racist and unrealistic? An entire nation of people whose votes skew 90% Republican? No. African-Americans’ votes have historically been around 90% Democratic (93% in the last election). Latinos went over 70% Democratic in the last election. For comparison, white people were about 60% Republicans. If there had been no Mexican immigration to the United States over the past few decades, Romney would probaby have won the last election.

Is it wrong for a liberal citizen of Berkeley in 2013 to want to close the hyperborder with Conservia so that California doesn’t become part of the Bible Belt and Republicans don’t get guaranteed presidencies forever? Would that citizen be racist for even considering this? If not, then pity the poor conservative, who is actually in this exact situation right now.

(a real Reactionary would hasten to add this is more proof that progressives control everything. Because immigration favors progressivism, any opposition to it is racist, but the second we discover the hyperborder with Conservia, the establishment will figure out some reason why allowing immigration is racist. Maybe they can call it “inverse colonialism” or something.)

None of this is an argument against immigration. It’s an argument against immigration by groups with bad Luck and with noticeably different values than the average American. Let any Japanese person who wants move over. Same with the Russians, and the Jews, and the Indians. Heck, it’s not even like it’s saying no Afghans – if they swear on a stack of Korans that they’re going to try to learn English and not do any honor killings, they could qualify as well.

The United States used to have a policy sort of like this. It was called the Immigration Act of 1924. Its actual specifics were dumb, because it banned for example Asians and Jews, but the principle behind it – groups with good outcomes and who are a good match for our values can immigrate as much as they want, everyone else has a slightly harder time – seems broadly wise. So of course progressives attacked it as racist and Worse Than Hitler and it got repealed in favor of the current policy: everyone has a really hard time immigrating but if anyone sneaks over the border under cover of darkness we grant them citizenship anyway because not doing that would be mean.

Once again, coming up with a fair and rational immigration policy wouldn’t require some incredibly interventionist act of state control. It would just require that we notice the hole we’ve been deliberately sticking ourselves in and stop digging.

Imperialism Strikes Back

In an externalist/progressive worldview, the best way to help disadvantaged minorities is to eliminate the influence of more privileged majority groups. In a culturalist/Reactionary worldview, the best way to help disadvantaged minorities is to try to maximize the influence of more privileged majority groups. This suggests re-examining colonialism. But first, a thought experiment.

Suppose you are going to be reincarnated as a black person (if you are already black, as a different black person). You may choose which country you will be born in; the rest is up to Fate. What country do you choose?

The top of my list would be Britain, with similar countries like Canada and America close behind. But what if you could only choose among majority-black African countries?

Several come to my mind as comparatively liveable. Kenya. Tanzania. Botswana. South Africa. Namibia (is your list similar?) And one thing these places all have in common was being heavily, heavily colonized by the British.

We compare the sole African country that was never colonized, Ethiopia. Ethiopia has become a byword for senseless suffering thanks to its coups, wars, genocides, and especially famines. This seems like counter-evidence to the “colonialism is the root of all evil” hypothesis.

Yes, colonization had some horrible episodes. Anyone who tries to say King Leopold II was anything less than one of the worst people who ever lived has zero right to be taken seriously. On the other hand, eventually the Belgian people got outraged enough to take it away from Leopold, after which there follows a fifty year period that was the only time in history when the Congo was actually a kind of nice place. Mencius Moldbug likes to link to a Time magazine article from the 1950s praising the peace and prosperity of the Congo as a model colony. Then in 1960 it became independent, and I don’t know what happens next because the series of civil wars and genocides and corrupt warlords after that are so horrible that I can’t even read all the way through the articles about them. Seriously, not necessarily in numbers but in sheer graphic brutality it is worse than the Holocaust, the Inquisition, and Mao combined and you do not want to know what makes me say this.

So yes, Leopold II is one of history’s great villains, but once he was taken off the scene colonial Congo improved markedly. And any attempt to attribute the nightmare that is the modern Congo to colonialism has to cope with the historical fact that the post-Leopold colonial Congo was actually pretty nice until it was decolonized at which point it immediately went to hell.

So the theory that colonialism is the source of all problems has to contend with the observation that heavily colonized countries are the most liveable, the sole never-colonized country is among the least liveable, and countries’ liveability plummeted drastically as soon as colonialism stopped.

But let’s stop picking on Africans. Suppose you are going to be reincarnated as a person of Middle Eastern descent (I would have said “Arab”, but then we would get into the whole ‘most Middle Easterners are not Arabs’ debate). Once again, you can choose your country. Where do you go?

Once again, Britain, US, or somewhere of that ilk sound like your best choices.

Okay, once again we’re ruling that out. You’ve got to go somewhere in the Middle East.

Your best choice is one of those tiny emirates where everyone is a relative of the emir and gets lots of oil money and is super-rich: I would go with Qatar. Let’s rule them out too.

Your next-best choice is Israel.

Yes, Israel. Note that I am not saying the Occupied Palestinian Territories; that would be just as bad a choice as you expect. I’m saying Israel, where 20% of the population is Arab, and about 16% Muslim.

Israeli Arabs earn on average about $6750 per year. Compare this to conditions in Israel’s Arab neighbors. In Egypt, average earnings are $6200; in Jordan, $5900; in Syria, only $5000.

Aside from the economics, there are other advantages. If you happen to be Muslim, you will have a heck of a lot easier time practicing your religion freely in Israel than in some Middle Eastern country where you follow the wrong sect of Islam. You’ll be allowed to vote for your government, something you can’t do in monarchical Jordan or war-torn Syria, and which Egypt is currently having, er, severe issues around. You can even criticize the government as much as you want (empirically quite a lot), a right Syrian and Egyptian Arabs are currently dying for. Finally, you get the benefit of living in a clean, safe, developed country with good health care and free education for all.

I’m not saying that Israeli Arabs aren’t discriminated against or have it as good as Israeli Jews. I’m just saying they have it better than Arabs in most other countries. Once again, we find that colonialism, supposed to be the root of all evil, is actually preferable to non-colonialism in most easily measurable ways.

It may be the case that pre-colonial societies were better than either colonial or post-colonial societies. I actually suspect this is true, in a weird Comanche Indians are better than all of us sort of sense. But “pre-colonial” isn’t a choice nowadays. Nowadays it’s “how much influence do we want the better parts of the West to have over countries that have already enthusiastically absorbed the worst parts of the West?” Whatever I may feel about the Safavid Dynasty, I would at least rather be born in Afghanistan-post-American-takeover than Afghanistan-pre-American-takeover.

So does this mean some sort of nightmarish “invade every country in the world, kill their leadership, and replace them with Americans, for their own good” type scenario?

Once again, no. Look at China. They’ve been quietly colonizing Africa for a decade now, and the continent has never been doing better. And by “colonizing”, I mean “investing in”, with probably some sketchy currying of influence and lobbying and property-gathering going on on the side. It’s been great for China, it’s been a hugely successful injection of money and technology into Africa, and they probably couldn’t have come up with a better humanitarian intervention if they had been trying.

Why hasn’t the West done it? Because every time an idea like that has been mooted, the progressives have shot it down with “You neo-colonialist! You’re worse than King Leopold II, who was himself worse than Hitler! By the transitive property, you are worse than Hitler!”

No one needs to go about invading anyone else or killing their government. But if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

The Uncanny Valley Of Dictatorship

I kind of skimmed over the Palestinian Territories in the last section. They are, indeed, a terrible dehumanizing place and the treatment of their citizens is an atrocity that blemishes a world which allows it to continue. Is this a strike against colonialism?

Any 19th century European aristocrat looking at the Palestinian Territories would note that Israel is being a terrible colonizer, not in a moral sense but in a purely observational sense. It’s not getting any money or resources out of its colony at all! It’s letting people totally just protest it and get away with it! They’ve even handed most of it over to a government of natives! Queen Victoria would not be amused.

Suppose a psychopath became Prime Minister of Israel (yes, obvious joke is obvious). He declares: “Today we are annexing the Palestinian territories. All Palestinians become Israeli residents with most of the rights of citizens except they can’t vote. If anyone speaks out against Israel, we’ll shoot them. If anyone commits a crime, we’ll shoot them.” What would happen?

Well, first, a lot of people would get shot. After that? The Palestinians would be in about the same position as Israeli Arabs are today, except without the right to vote, plus they get shot if they protest. This is vastly better than the position they’re in now, and better than the position of say the people of Syria who are poorer, also lack the right to vote, and also empirically get shot if they protest.

No more worries about roadblocks. No more worries about passports. No more worries about sanctions. No more worries about economic depression. The only worry is getting shot, and you can avoid that by never speaking out against Israel. Optimal? Probably not. A heck of a lot better than what the Palestinians have today? Seems possible.

It seems like there’s an uncanny valley of dictatorship. Having no dictator at all, the way it is here in America, is very good. Having a really really dictatorial dictator who controls everything, like the czar or this hypothetical Israeli psychopath, kinda sucks but it’s peaceful and you know exactly where you stand. Being somewhere in the middle, where it’s dictatorial enough to hurt, but not dictatorial enough for the dictator to feel secure enough to mostly leave you alone except when he wants something, is worse than either extreme.

Mencius Moldbug uses the fable of Fnargl, an omnipotent and invulnerable alien who becomes dictator of Earth. Fnargl is an old-fashioned greedy colonizer: he just wants to exploit Earth for as much gold as possible. He considers turning humans into slaves to work in gold mines, except some would have to be a special class of geologist slaves to plan the gold mines, and there would have to be other slaves to grow food to support the first two classes of slaves, and other slaves to be managers to coordinate all these other slaves, and so on. Eventually he realizes this is kind of dumb and there’s already a perfectly good economy. So he levies a 20% tax on every transaction (higher might hurt the economy) and uses the money to buy gold. Aside from this he just hangs out.

Fnargl has no reason to ban free speech: let people plot against him. He’s omnipotent and invulnerable; it’s not going to work. Banning free speech would just force him to spend money on jackbooted thugs which he could otherwise be spending on precious, precious gold. He has no reason to torture dissidents. What are they going to do if left unmolested? Overthrow him?

Moldbug claims that Fnargl’s government would not only be better than that of a less powerful human dictator like Mao, but that it would be literally better than the government we have today. Many real countries do restrict free speech or torture dissidents. And if you’re a libertarian, Fnargl’s “if it doesn’t disrupt gold production, I’m okay with it” line is a dream come true.

So if the Israelis want to improve the Palestinian Territories’ plight, they can do one of two things. First, they can grant it full independence. Second, they do exactly the opposite: can take away all of its independence and go full Fnargl.

We already know Israel doesn’t want to just grant full independence, which leaves “problem continues forever” or “crazy psychopath alien solution”. Could the latter really work?

Well, no. Why not? Because the Palestinians would probably freak out and start protesting en masse and the Israelis would have to shoot all of them and that would be horrible.

But it’s worth noting this is not just a natural state of the world. The British successfully colonized Palestine for several decades. They certainly tried the Fnargl approach: “No way you’re getting independence, so just sit here and deal with it or we shoot you.” It worked pretty well then. I would hazard a guess to say the average Palestinian did much better under British rule than they’re doing now. So why wouldn’t it work again?

In a word, progressivism. For fifty years, progressives have been telling the colonized people of the world “If anyone colonizes you, this is the worst thing in the world, and if you have any pride in yourself you must start a rebellion, even a futile rebellion, immediately.” This was non-obvious to people a hundred years ago, which is why people rarely did it. It was only after progressivism basically told colonized peoples “You’re not revolting yet? What are you, chicken?” that the modern difficulties in colonialism took hold. And it’s only after progressivism gained clout in the countries that rule foreign policy that it became politically impossible for a less progressive country to try colonialism.

If not for progressivism, Israel would have been able to peacefully annex the Palestinian territories as a colony with no more of a humanitarian crisis than Britain annexing New Zealand or somewhere. Everything would have been solved and everyone could have gone home in time for tea.

Once again, the problem with these holes is that we keep digging them. Maybe if we’d stop, there wouldn’t be so many holes anymore.

Humane, All Too Humane

There seem to be similar uncanny valley effects in the criminal justice system and in war.

Modern countries pride themselves on their humane treatment of prisoners. And by “humane”, I mean “lock them up in a horrible and psychologically traumatizing concrete jail for ten years of being beaten and raped and degraded, sometimes barely even seeing the sun or a green plant for that entire time, then put it on their permanent record so they can never get a good job or interact with normal people ever again when they come out.”

Compare this to what “inhumane” countries that were still into “cruel and unusual punishment” would do for the same crime. A couple of lashes with the whip, then you’re on your way.

Reader. You have just been convicted of grand theft auto (the crime, not the game). You’re innocent, but the prosecutor was very good at her job and you’ve used up all your appeals and you’re just going to have to accept the punishment. The judge gives you two options:

1) Five years in prison
2) Fifty strokes of the lash

Like everyone else except a few very interesting people who help provide erotic fantasies for the rest of us, I don’t like being whipped. But I would choose (2) in a fraction of a heartbeat.

And aside from being better for me, it would be better for society as well. We know that people who spend time in prison are both more likely to stay criminals in the future and better at being criminals. And each year in jail costs the State $50,000; more than it would cost to give a kid a year’s free tuition at Harvard. Cutting the prison system in half would free up approximately enough money to give free college tuition to all students at the best school they can get into.

But of course we don’t do that. We stick with the prisons and the rape and the kids who go work at McDonalds because they can’t afford college. Why? Progressives!

If we were to try to replace prison with some kind of corporal punishment, progressives would freak out and say we were cruel and inhumane. Since the prison population is disproportionately minority, they would probably get to use their favorite word-beginning-with-”R”, and allusions would be made to plantation owners who used to whip slaves. In fact, progressives would come up with some reason to oppose even giving criminals the option of corporal punishment (an option most would certainly take) and any politician insufficiently progressive to even recommend it would no doubt be in for some public flagellation himself, albeit of a less literal kind.

So once again, we have an uncanny valley. Being very nice to prisoners is humane and effective (Norway seems to be trying ths with some success), but we’re not going to do it because we’re dumb and it’s probably too expensive anyway. Being very strict to prisoners is humane and effective – the corporal punishment option. But being somewhere in the fuzzy middle is cruel to the prisoners and incredibly destructive to society – and it’s the only route the progressives will allow us to take.

Some Reactionaries have tried to apply the same argument to warfare. Suppose that during the Vietnam War, we had nuked Hanoi. What would have happened?

Okay, fine. The Russians would have nuked us and everyone in the world would have died. Bad example. But suppose the Russians were out of the way. Wouldn’t nuking Hanoi be a massive atrocity?

Yes. But compare it to the alternative. Nuking Hiroshima killed about 150,000 people. The Vietnam War killed about 3 million. The latter also had a much greater range of non-death effects, from people being raped and tortured and starved to tens of thousands ending up with post-traumatic stress disorder and countless lives being disrupted. If nuking Hanoi would have been an alternative to the Vietnam War, it would have been a really really good alternative.

Most of the countries America invades know they can’t defeat the US military long-term. Their victory condtion is helping US progressives bill the war as an atrocity and get the troops sent home. So the enemy’s incentive is to make the war drag on as long as possible and contain as many atrocities as possible. It’s not too hard to make the war drag on, because they can always just hide among civilians and be relatively confident the US is too humane to risk smoking them out. And it’s never too hard to commit atrocities. So they happily follow their incentives, and the progressives in the US happily hold up their side of the deal by agitating for the troops to be sent home, which they eventually are.

Compare this to the style of warfare in colonial days. “This is our country now, we’re not leaving, we don’t really care about atrocities, and we don’t really care how many civilians we end up killing.” It sounds incredibly ugly, but of colonial Britain or very-insistently-non-colonial USA, guess which one ended up pacifying Iraq after three months with only about 6,000 casualties, and guess which one took five years to re-establish a semblance of order and killed about 100,000 people in the process?

Once again we see an uncanny valley effect. Leaving Iraq alone completely would have been a reasonable humanitarian choice. Using utterly overwhelming force to pacify Iraq by any means necessary would have briefly been very ugly, but our enemies would have folded quickly and with a few assumptions this could also have been a reasonable humanitarian choice. But a wishy-washy half-hearted attempt to pacify Iraq that left the country in a state of low-grade poorly-defined war for nearly a decade was neither reasonable nor humanitarian.

Once again, the solution isn’t some drastic nightmare scenario where all prisoners are tortured and all wars are fought with sarin nerve gas. It’s that if prisoners prefer corporal punishment, progressives don’t call “racism!” or “atrocity!” so loudly that it becomes politically impossible to give them what they want. Once again, all we have to do is stop digging.

Gender! And Now That I Have Your Attention, Let’s Talk About Sex

So the two things Reactionaries like to complain about all the time are race and sex, and since we have more then gone overboard with our lengthy diversion into race, we might as well take a quick look at sex.

As far as I know, even the Reactionaries who are really into biological differences between races don’t claim that women are intellectually inferior to men. I don’t even think they necessarily believe there are biological differences between the two groups. And yet they are not really huge fans of feminism. Why?

Let’s start with some studies comparing gender roles and different outcomes.

Surveys of women show that they were on average happier fifty years ago than they are today. In fact, in the 1950s, women generally self-reported higher happiness than men; today, men report significantly higher happiness than women. So the history of the past fifty years – a history of more and more progressive attitudes toward gender – have been a history of women gradually becoming worse and worse off relative to their husbands and male friends.

This doesn’t necessarily condemn progressivism, but as the ancient proverb goes, it sure waggles its eyebrows suggestively and gestures furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.

To confirm, we would want to look within a single moment in time: that is, are feminist women with progressive gender roles today less happy than their traditionalist peers? The answer appears to be yes.

Amusingly, because we do still live in a society where these things couldn’t be published unless someone took a progressivist tack, the New York Times article quoted above ends by saying the real problem is that men are jerks who don’t do their share of the housework.

But when we actually study this, we find that progressive marriages in which men and women split housework equally are 50% more likely to end in divorce than traditional marriages where the women mostly take care of it. The same is true of working outside the home: progressive marriages where both partners work are more likely to end in divorce than traditional marriages where the man works and the woman stays home.

Maybe this is just because the same people who are progressive enough to defy traditional gender roles are also the same people who are progressive enough not to think divorce is a sin? But this seems unlikely: in general religious people get divorced more than the irreligious. And since I did promise we’d be talking about sex, consider the studies showing people in traditional marriages have better sex lives than their feminist and progressive friends. This doesn’t seem like something that could easily be explained merely by religion, unless religion has gotten way cooler since the last time I attended synagogue.

So why is this? I have heard some reactionaries say that although there are not intellectual differences between men and women, there are emotional differences, and that women are (either for biological or cultural reasons) more “submissive” to men’s “dominant” – and a quick search of the BDSM community seems to both to validate the general rule and to showcase some very striking exceptions.

But my money would be on a simpler hypothesis. Every marriage involves conflict. The traditional concept of gender contains two roles that are divided in a time-tested way to minimize conflict as much as possible. In a perfect-spherical-cow sense, either the husband or the wife could step into either role, and it would still work just as well. But since men have been socialized for one role since childhood, and women socialized for the other role, it seems that in most cases the easiest solution is to stick them in the one they’ve been trained for.

We could also go with a third hypothesis: that women aren’t actually bizarre aliens from the planet Zygra’ax with completely inexplicable preferences. I mean, suppose you had the following two options:

1. A job working from home, where you are your own boss. The job description is “spending as much or as little time as you want with your own children and helping them grow and adjust to the adult world.” (but Sister Y also has a post on the childless alternative to this)

2. A job in the office, where you do have a boss, and she wants you to get her the Atkins report “by yesterday” or she is going to throw your sorry ass out on the street where it belongs, and there better not be any complaints about it this time.

Assume both jobs would give you exactly the same amount of social status and respect.

Now assume that suddenly a bunch of people come along saying that actually, only losers pick Job 1 and surely you’re not a loser, are you? And you have to watch all your former Job 1 buddies go out and take Job 2 and be praised for this and your husband asks why you aren’t going into Job 2 and contributing something to the family finances for once, and eventually you just give in and go to Job 2, but also you’ve got to do large portions of Job 1, and also the extra income mysteriously fails to give your family any more money and in fact you are worse off financially than before.

Is it so hard to imagine that a lot of women would be less happy under this new scenario?

Now of course (most) feminists very reasonably say that it’s Totally Okay If You Want To Stay Home And We’re Not Trying To Force Anyone. But let’s use the feminists’ own criteria on that one. Suppose Disney put out a series of movies in which they had lots of great female role models who only worked in the home and were subservient to their husbands all the time, and lauded them as real women who were courageous and awesome and sexy and not just poor oppressed stick-in-the-muds, and then at the end they flashed a brief message “But Of Course Working Outside The Home Is Totally Okay Also”. Do you think feminists would respond “Yeah, we have no problem with this, after all they did flash that message at the end”?

Aside from being better for women, traditional marriages seem to have many other benefits. They allow someone to bring up the children so that they don’t have to spend their childhood in front of the television being socialized by reruns of Drug-Using Hypersexual Gangsters With Machine Guns. They ensure that at least one member of each couple has time to be doing things that every household should be doing anyway, like keeping careful track of finances, attending parent-teacher conferences, and keeping in touch with family.

So do men need to force women to stay barefoot and in the kitchen all the time, and chase Marie Curie out of physics class so she can go home and bake for her husband?

By this point you may be noticing a trend. No, we don’t need to do that. If we stopped optimizing the media to send feminist messages as loud as possible, if we stopped actively opposing any even slightly positive portrayal of a housewife as “sexist” and “behind the times”, and if we stopped having entire huge lobby groups supported vehemently by millions of people dedicated entirely to making the problem worse, then maybe things would take care of themselves.

There’s some sort of metaphor here…something about dirt…or a shovel…nah, never mind.

Plays Well In Groups

Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?

This question isn’t about whether you think an individual Unitarian or Mormon would make a better person to rush in Rambo-style and get you out of there. It’s about whether you would prefer the Unitarian Church or the Mormon Church to coordinate your rescue.

I would go with the Mormons. The Mormons seem effective in all sorts of ways. They’re effective evangelists. They’re effect fundraisers. They’re effective at keeping the average believer following their commandments. They would figure out a plan, implement it, and come in guns-blazing.

The Unitarians would be a disaster. First someone would interrupt the discussion to ask whether it’s fair to use the word “terrorists”, or whether we should use the less judgmental “militant”. Several people would note that until investigating the situation more clearly, they can’t even be sure the terrorists aren’t in the right in this case. In fact, what is “right” anyway? An attempt to shut down this discussion to focus more on the object-level problem would be met with cries of “censorship!”.

If anyone did come up with a plan, a hundred different pedants would try to display their intelligence by nitpicking meaningless details. Eventually some people would say that it’s an outrage that no one’s even considering whether the bullets being used are recyclable, and decide to split off and mount their own, ecologically-friendly rescue attempt. In the end, four different schismatic rescue attempts would run into each other, mistake each other for the enemy, and annhilate themselves while the actual terrorists never even hear about it.

(if it were Reform Jews, the story would be broadly similar, but with twenty different rescue attempts, and I say this fondly, as someone who attended a liberal synagogue for ten years)

One relevant difference between Mormons and Unitarians seems to be a cultural one. It’s not quite that the Mormons value conformity and the Unitarians value indivduality – that’s not exactly wrong, but it’s letting progressives bend language to their will, the same way as calling the two sides of the abortion debate “pro-freedom” and “anti-woman” or whatever they do nowadays. It’s more like a Mormon norm that the proper goal of a discussion is agreement, and a Unitarian norm that the proper goal of a discussion is disagreement.

There’s a saying I’ve heard in a lot of groups, which is something along the lines of “diversity is what unites us”. This is nice and memorable, but there are other groups where unity is what unites them, and they seem to be more, well, united.

Unity doesn’t just arise by a sudden and peculiar blessing of the angel Moroni. It’s the sort of thing you can create. Holidays and festivals and weird rituals create unity. If everyone jumps up and down three times on the summer solstice, then yes, objectively this is dumb, but you feel a little more bonded with the other people who do it: I’m one of the solstice-jumpers, and you’re one of the solstice-jumpers, and that makes us solstice-jumpers together.

Robert Putnam famously found that the greater the diversity in a community:

…the less people vote, the less they volunteer, and the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings. “The extent of the effect is shocking,” says Scott Paige, a University of Michigan political scientist.

I don’t think this effect is particularly related to race. I bet that if you throw together a community of white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and Martian Mormons, they act as a “non-diverse” community. As we saw before, culture trumps race.

So this sort of cultural unity is exactly the sort of thing we need to improve civic life and prevent racism…and of course, it’s exactly what progressives get enraged if we try to produce.

In America, progressivism focuses on pointing out how terrible American culture is and how much other people’s cultures are better than ours. If we celebrate Columbus Day, we have to spend the whole time hearing about what a jerk Columbus was (disclaimer: to be fair, Columbus was a huge jerk). If we celebrate Washington’s birthday, we have to spend the whole time hearing about how awful it was that Washington owned slaves. Goodness help us if someone tries to celebrate Christmas – there are now areas where if a city puts up Christmas decorations, it has to give equal space to atheist groups to put up displays about how Christmas is stupid and people who celebrate it suck. That’s…probably not the way to maximize cultural unity, exactly?

We are a culture engaged in the continuing project of subverting itself. Our heroes have been toppled, our rituals mocked, and one gains status by figuring out new and better ways to show how the things that should unite us are actually stupid and oppressive. Even the conservatives who wear American flag lapel pins and stuff spend most of their time talking about how they hate America today and the American government and everything else associated with America except for those stupid flag pins of theirs.

Compare this to olden cultures. If someone in Victorian Britain says “God save the Queen!”, then everyone else repeated “God save the Queen!”, and more important, they mean it. “England expects every man to do their duty” is actually perceived as a compelling reason why one’s duty should be done.

It would seem that the Victorian British are more on the Mormon side and modern Americans more like the Unitarians. And in fact, the Victorians managed to colonize half the planet while America can’t even get the Afghans to stop shooting each other. While one may not agree with Victorian Britain’s aims, one has to wonder what would happen if that kind of will, energy, and unity of purpose were directed towards a worthier goal (I wonder this about the Mormon Church too).

Reactionaries would go further and explore this idea in a depth I don’t have time for, besides to say that they believe many historical cultures were carefully optimized and time-tested for unifying potential, and that they really sunk deep into the bones of the populace until failing to identify with them would have been unthinkable. The three cultures they most often cite as virtuous examples here are Imperial China, medieval Catholicism, and Victorian Britain; although it would be foolish to try to re-establish one of those exactly in a population not thoroughly steeped in them, we could at least try to make our own culture a little more like they were.

Once again, the Reactionary claim is not necessarily that we have to brainwash people or drag the Jews kicking and screaming to Christmas parties. It’s just that maybe we should stop deliberately optimizing society for as little unity and shared culture as humanly possible.

Reach For The Tsars

I have noticed a tendency of mine to reply to arguments with “Well yeah, that would work for the X Czar, but there’s no such thing.”

For example, take the problems with the scientific community, which my friends in Berkeley often discuss. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”

And I answer “Well, yeah, that would work for the Science Czar. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status. And since we all follow the Science Czar’s Science Decrees, it would all work perfectly!”

Why exactly am I being so sarcastic? Because things that work from a czar’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along.

Likewise, no journal has the incentive to unilaterally demand early registration, since that just means everyone who forgot to early register their studies would switch to their competitors’ journals.

And since the system is only made of individual scientists and individual journals, no one is ever going to switch and science will stay exactly as it is.

I use this “czar” terminology a lot. Like when people talk about reforming the education system, I point out that right now students’ incentive is to go to the most prestigious college they can get into so employers will hire them, employers’ incentive is to get students from the most prestigious college they can so that they can defend their decision to their boss if it goes wrong, and colleges’ incentive is to do whatever it takes to get more prestige, as measured in US News and World Report rankings. Does this lead to huge waste and poor education? Yes. Could an Education Czar notice this and make some Education Decrees that lead to a vastly more efficient system? Easily! But since there’s no Education Czar everybody is just going to follow their own incentives, which have nothing to do with education or efficiency.

There is an extraordinarily useful pattern of refactored agency in which you view humans as basically actors playing roles determined by their incentives. Anyone who strays even slightly from their role is outcompeted and replaced by an understudy who will do better. That means the final state of a system is determined entirely by its initial state and the dance of incentives inside of it.

If a system has perverse incentives, it’s not going to magically fix itself; no one inside the system has an incentive to do that. The end user of the system – the student or consumer – is already part of the incentive flow, so they’re not going to be helpful. The only hope is that the system can get a Czar – an Unincentivized Incentivizer, someone who controls the entire system while standing outside of it.

I alluded to this a lot in my (warning: political piece even longer than this one) Non-Libertarian FAQ. I argued that because systems can’t always self-improve from the inside, every so often you need a government to coordinate things.

Reactionaries would go further and say that a standard liberal democratic government is not an Unincentivized Incentivizer. Government officials are beholden to the electorate and to their campaign donors, and they need to worry about being outcompeted by the other party. They, too, are slaves to their incentives. The obvious solution to corporate welfare is “end corporate welfare”. A three year old could think of it. But anyone who tried would get outcompeted by powerful corporate interests backing the campaigns of their opponents, or outcompeted by other states that still have corporate welfare and use it to send businesses and jobs their way. It’s obvious from outside the system, and completely impossible from the inside. It would appear we need some kind of a Government Czar.

You know who had a Government Czar? Imperial Russia. For short, they just called him “Czar”.

Everyone realizes our current model of government is screwed up and corrupt. We keep electing fresh new Washington Outsiders who promise with bright eyes to unupscrew and decorruptify it. And then they keep being exactly as screwed up and corrupt as the last group, because if you hire a new actor to play the same role, the lines are still going to come out exactly the same. Want reform? The lines to “Act V: An Attempt To Reform The System” are already written and have been delivered dozens of times already. How is changing the actors and actresses going to help?

A Czar could actually get stuff done. Imperial Decree 1: End all corporate welfare. Imperial Decree 2: Close all tax loopholes. Imperial Decree 3: Health care system that doesn’t suck. You get the idea.

Would the Czar be corrupt and greedy and tyrannical? Yes, probably. Let’s say he decided to use our tax money to build himself a mansion ten times bigger than the Palace of Versailles. The Internet suggests that building Versailles today would cost somewhere between $200M and $1B, so let’s dectuple the high range of that estimate and say the Czar built himself a $10 billion dollar palace. And he wants it plated in solid gold, so that’s another $10 billion. Fine. Corporate welfare is $200B per year. If the Czar were to tell us “I am going to take your tax money and spend it on a giant palace ten times the size of Versailles covered in solid gold”, the proper response would be “Great, but what are we going to do with the other $180 billion dollars you’re saving us?”

(here I am being facetious. A better answer might be to point out that the British royal family already lives in a giant palace, and they by all accounts earn the country more than they cost)

As for the tyranny, we have Fnargl’s shining example to inspire us. But really. Suppose Obama were named Czar. Do we really think he’d start sending Republicans to penal camps in Alaska for disagreeing with him? If Sasha took over as Czarina, do you think she’d do that?

Is this the face of someone who would crush you with an iron fist?
In the democratic system, the incentive is always for the country to become more progressive, because progressivism is the appeal to the lowest common denominator. There may be reversals, false starts, and Reagan Revolutions, but over the course of centuries democracy means inevitable creeping progress. As Mencius Moldbug says, “Cthulhu swims slowly, but he always swims left.” A Czar, free from these incentives, would be able to take the best of progressivism and leave the rest behind.

(the Reactionaries I beta-tested this essay with say that the last paragraph deserves much more space, that there are many complicated theories of why this holds true, and that it is a central feature of Reactionary thought. I don’t understand this well enough to write about it yet, but you may want to read Moldbug on…no, on second thought, just let it pass.)

So who gets to be Czar? Probably the most important factor is a Schelling point: it should be someone everyone agrees has the unquestioned right to rule. Obama is not a bad choice, but one worries he may be a little too progressive to treat the job with the seriousness it deserves. We could import the British monarchy, but really ever since the Glorious Revolution they’ve been a bit too constitutional for our purposes. If we wanted a genuine, legitimate British monarch of the old royal line, someone with authority flowing through his very veins, our best choice is, indeed to exhume the body of King James II (ruled 1685 – 1688), clone him, and place the clone on the throne of the new United States Of The Western World.

Really, it’s just common sense.

A Brief Survey Of Not Directly Political Reactionary Philosophy

We have reached the goal we set for ourselves. Is this a comprehensive understanding of Reactionary thought?

No. This focuses on political philosophy, but Reaction is a complete philosophical movement with many other branches.

For example, Reactionary moral theories tend to focus on the dichotomy between Virtue and Decadence. Extensional definitions might do best here: consider the difference in outlook between Seneca the Stoic and the Roman Emperor Nero, or between Liu Bei and Cao Cao, or between Thomas More and Henry VIII. In each of these cases, a virtuous figure recognized the decadence of his society and willfully refused to succumb to it. Of course, an even more virtuous example would be someone like Lycurgus, who realized the decadence of his society and so went out and fixed society.

Reactionary aesthetic theories tend to be, well, reactions against progressive aesthetic theories. To Reactionaries, the epitome of the progressive aesthetic theory against which they rebel is the fairy tale of the Ugly Duckling, where one duckling is uglier than the rest, everyone mocks him, but then he turns out to be the most beautiful of all. The moral of the story is that ugly things are really the most beautiful, beautiful things are for bullies who just want to oppress the less beautiful things, and if you don’t realize this, you’re dumb and have no taste.

Therefore, decent, sophisticated people must scoff at anything outwardly beautiful and say that it’s probably oppressive in some way, while gushing over anything apparently ugly. Cathedrals are “gaudy” or “tacky”, but Brutalist concrete blocks are “revolutionary” and “groundbreaking”. An especially conventionally attractive woman is probably just “self-objectifying” and “pandering”, but someone with ten tattoos and a shaved head is “truly confident in her femininity”. Art of the sort people have been proven to like most is old-fashioned and conformist; real art is urinals that artistically convey an anti-art message, or paintings so baffling that no one can tell if they are accidentally hung upside-down.

The Reactionary aesthetic, then, is something so simple that if it weren’t specifically a reaction to something that already exists, it would sound stupid: no, beautiful things are legitimately beautiful, ugly things are legitimately ugly, any attempt to disguise this raises suspicions of ulterior motives.

Reactionaries also seem to be really into metaphysics, especially of the scholastic variety, but I have yet to be able to understand this. Blatant racism, attempts to clone long-dead monarchs, and giving a gold-obsessed alien absolute power all seem like they could sort of make sense in the right light, but why anyone would want more metaphysics is honestly completely beyond me.

But Seriously, What Do We Do About This Hole? And How Fast Should We Be Digging, Anyway?

We started with an argument that modern culture probably doesn’t give us a very impartial view on the relative merits of modern culture, and so we should investigate this more thorougly.

We noted that on many of the criteria we care about, the present is better only because of its improved technology. We further noted that on other criteria, even despite our better technology, past societies seemed to outperform us

Nevertheless, we identified some areas where the present really did seem better than the past. The present was less racist, less sexist, less colonialist, more humane, and less jingoistic.

We then went through each of those things and showed why they might not be as purely beneficial are as generally believed. We found evidence that societies many would call “racist” give minorities better measurable outcomes; that societies many would call “sexist” give women higher self-reported life satisfaction; that colonialism led to peace and economic growth that decolonialism was unable to match; and that supposedly more “humane” policies end up torturing their victims far more than just getting something superficially cruel over wit would; and even that cultural unity, which some might call “jingoism”, has been empirically shown to be an important factor in building communities and inspiring prosocial sentiment.

Therefore, we found that all the points we had previously noted as advantages of present over past societies were, when examined more closely, in fact points in the past societies’ favor.

Next, we looked at how we might replicate these advantages of past societies in a world which seems to be moving inexorably further toward so-called progressive ideals. We independently came up with the same solution that these past societies used: the idea of a monarch, either constitutional or (preferably) absolutist. We found that many of the problems we would expect such a monarch to produce are exaggerated or unlikely.

Finally, we identified this ideal monarch as a clone of James II of the United Kingdom.

We also went into a survey of a couple of other Reactionary ideas. Other such ideas I have not included simply because I was totally unable to understand or sympathize with them and so couldn’t give them fair treatment include: an obsession with chastity, highly positive feelings about Catholicism that never go as far as actually going to church or believing any Catholic doctrine in a non-ironic way, neo-formalism, and what the heck the Whigs have to do with anything.

Nevertheless, I hope that this has been a not-entirely futile exercise in trying to Ideological Turing Test an opposing belief. I think Reactionaries are correct that some liberal ideas have managed to make their way into an echo chamber that makes them hard to examine. And even though the Reactionaries themselves are way too rightist, I think it’s good to have their ideas out there in the Hegelian sense of “and then the unexamined-conservativism touched the unexamined-liberalism and in a puff of smoke they merged to magically become the perfect political system!”

-   *   –   *   -   *   -

Once again, expect my counterargument to this sometime in the next while. I would be interested in hearing other people’s counterarguments in the meantime and am very likely to steal them. I am also likely to ignore some of them if they make arguments I already agree with and so feel no need to debate, but I would still enjoy reading them. Basically I welcome comments and discussion from all sides.

With one exception. Yes, I have included the racist parts of Reactionary philosophy above. Yes, those points need to be debated, and some of that debate may be in favor. But any comment that moves away from the sort of dry scientific racism used to prove or disprove political theorems, and toward the sort where they’re just shouting ethnic slurs and attacking racial groups to make their members feel bad, will be deleted and the person involved probably IP-banned. I also reserve the right to edit comments that don’t quite reach that point but are noticeably in need of rephrasing.

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337 Responses to Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell

  1. ari says:

    The “Comanche Indians are better than all of us” link is broken, and I am enlightened.

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  2. The term you are looking for is ‘biologians’. As for the article…悪くない.

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  3. “Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries – for heavy ones they cannot.” — Niccolò Machiavelli

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  4. Oligopsony says:

    I do think it is important to go into why Reactionaries think Cthulhu always swims left, because without that they’re vulnerable to the charge that they have no a priori reason to expect our society to have the biases it does, and then the whole meta-suspicion of the modern Inquisition doesn’t work or at least doesn’t work in that particular direction. Unfortunately (for this theory) I don’t think their explanation is all that great (though this deserves substantive treatment) and we should revert to a strong materialist prior, but of course I would say that, wouldn’t I.

    And of course you could get locked up for wanting fifty Stalins! Just try saying how great Enver Hoxha was at certain places and times. Of course saying you want fifty Stalins is not actually advocating that Stalinism become more like itself – as Liebniz pointed out, a neat way of telling whether something is something is checking whether it is exactly like that thing, and nothing could possibly be more like Stalinism than Stalinism. Of course fifty Stalins is further in the direction that one Stalin is from our implied default of zero Stalins. But then from an implied default of 1.3 kSt it’s a plea for moderation among hypostalinist extremists. As Mayberry Mobmuck himself says, “sovereign is he who determines the null hypothesis.”

    Speaking of Stalinism, I think it does provide plenty of evidence that policy can do wonderful things for life expectancy and so on, and I mean that in a totally unironic “hail glorious comrade Stalin!” way, not in a “ha ha Stalin sure did kill a lot people way.” But this is a super-unintuitive claim to most people today, so ill try to get around to summarizing the evidence at some point.

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  5. Athrelon says:

    This blog is great, but it needs more Yvains. There isn’t enough Yvanity in this blog! We need two Yvains – no, fifty!

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    • Athrelon says:

      Okay to be serious here.

      I think this is a great summary of many of the object-level arguments of reaction. Now, one potential takeaway is “Okay, so if I had a policy knob, I’d tilt it a little bit towards the (R) side.” I’d agree with this, although we might quibble about exactly how far to turn it. The bigger takeaway, though, is that this doesn’t seem possible! As you said, there appears to be a steady drift leftwards and we don’t really understand why or how to control it. So, yes you can enact your policy preferences, but a generation from now you’ll be the out-of-date fogey and history will have marched on. “A Yvaintopia, if you can keep it!”

      And “keeping it” – finding a way to not just find the optimal policy mix but keep it from drifting through both selfish human incentives and leftwards drift, is exactly why reactionaries are unsatisfied with conventional political activism. Hence they start thinking about kings and formalism and so on, which are certainly imperfect solutions but are byproducts of trying to grapple with this institutional design problem. Really, regardless of your view of the optimal society, it’s worth asking “what does the historical record show about the likeliness of my descendants having values I’d recognize as worthwhile?” Value drift affects everyone.

      Understanding the object level arguments of reaction without grappling with this meta-level concern is like learning about atheism and saying “Huh, maybe I’ll tithe a little less.”

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      • WhiteKnight says:

        I like your point about values drift. My ideal society was one more like our original constitutional republic, with one exception: no eminent domain. In my society, the state would have no involvement in infrastructure.

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        • Toby Bartels says:

          That’s a good idea about forbidding eminent domain. One should probably should put something into the Constitution requiring every State to levy taxes uniformly, or they’ll use the tax power to effectively force a sale.

          But since this is a thread on reactionaries, I would change a few other things that might normally go without mention: no slavery, rape laws based on consent without regard to marriage, etc.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Given centuries worth of autocrats to choose from, why would you pick one who couldn’t even hold on to power for five years? More generally, absolutist systems seem much less stable than constitutional ones. Half the Stuarts were violently overthrown, compared to zero of their successors and a single (unambiguous) illegal peaceful regime change in the US. It seems unlikely that two coups a century with occasional eruptions into full civil war would be an improvement over the current system, and you’d probably just end up with a democracy again anyway. Given the rarity of ancient democracies, you could probably reduce the latter risk by exterminating all progressive memes, but that would be a lot of work and interfere with the “take the best of progressivism” project.

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    • gwern says:

      It might be interesting to instead use Frederick the Great, based on his _Anti-Machiavel_.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m trying to remember where I first heard the joke that Reaction could be summarized as “clone and install King James II”. I think it might have been Moldbug, and I think he might have been obliquely saying that it was all downhill since the Glorious Revolution since that was when absolute monarchy become unpopular in the Anglosphere (I’m not sure why he didn’t choose Cromwell and the English Civil War)

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      • Zimriel says:

        Maybe because Cromwell and the barebones parliament had made themselves more unpopular than the Stuarts, such that the English did beg for the next best thing to Charles I. Whose name was coincidentally also Charles.

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  7. Deiseach says:

    Scattered and unconsidered reactions to the above:

    (a) You think you are joking about the media? Let me link you to this piece by the “Washington Post” ombudsman. Now, before you start reading, let me make the disclaimer that I don’t believe there is A Vast Liberal Conspiracy out there, and I came by this link via a site which likes to think there is such as thing as American journalism which does not run on the “European advocacy” model and is consequently astounded every time they find that yes, certain newspapers and other media outlets do indeed have a particular worldview which they promulgate. As a cynical European, my reaction tends to be “And this surprises you why? I know what I’m going to see printed in the British “Daily Mail” and I allow for bias there; why on earth do you think the “X of Y” paper is any different, just because it’s American?”

    (b) Race and ethnicity – oh, my dear, there certainly were plenty who liked to ascribe the difference between the Irish and the English to the Celtic versus Anglo-Saxon strain. Hilaire Belloc, who was a crusty old reactionary (and maybe even a Reactionary) himself, had great fun mocking the then-fashionable 1920s view of the superiority of the ‘Nordic’ racial type. Please read it all, it’s very funny.

    (c) Colonialism – yeah, but the British tried colonising us Irish for eight hundred years and we kept on having rebellions until we eventually got rid of them (from a 1929 preface by George Bernard Shaw to his play “John Bull’s Other Island”):

    “From a battery planted at Trinity College (the Irish equivalent of Oxford University), and from a warship in the river Liffey, a bombardment was poured on the centre of the city which reduced more than a square mile of it to such a condition that when, in the following year, I was taken through Arras and Ypres to shew me what the German artillery had done to these cities in two and a half years, I laughed and said, “You should see what the British artillery did to my native city in a week.”

    So I don’t think that would work for Israeli politics either.

    (d) James II? *rolls around the floor laughing* To quote the Wikipedia article on the Battle of the Boyne:

    “James’s loss of nerve and speedy exit from the battlefield enraged his Irish supporters, who fought on until the Treaty of Limerick in 1691; he was derisively nicknamed Seamus a’ chaca (“James the shit”) in Irish.”

    I remember learning such anecdotes in school as that, on arrival at Dublin Castle he supposedly complained to Lady Tyrconnell “Your countrymen can run well”, to which she is said to have replied: “I see your Majesty has won the race.”

    And that Patrick Sarsfield, the general in command of the Irish forces, said after the final defeat at Limerick to some English troops who were taunting the losers “Change kings and we’ll fight you again!”

    (e) Ugliness in art, particularly religious: This award-winning design from 1968 for a Roman Catholic church center in Berkeley: which does it say to you more strongly, Roman Catholic or Esoteric Order of Dagon?

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    • Oligopsony says:

      Indeed, Ireland is in many ways The Original Colony.

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    • Sarah says:

      I wonder how many of the reactionaries who are comfortable with pretty rough claims about black people would be equally comfortable with some of the stuff that used to be said about the Irish.

      I suspect Moldbug would bite all the bullets, but the rank and file should see what their beloved Carlyle said about their grannies.

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    • Mary says:

      G. K. Chesterton (in What I Saw In America) observed that English talking to Americans about the Irish about their need to govern Ireland talked a great deal of obvious bosh.

      Now the point is not only that this view of the Irish is false, but that it is the particular view that the Americans know to be false. While we are saying that the Irish could not organise, the Americans are complaining, often very bitterly, of the power of Irish organisation. While we say that the Irishman could not rule himself, the Americans are saying, more or less humorously, that the Irishman rules them. A highly intelligent professor said to me in Boston, ‘We have solved the Irish problem here; we have an entirely independent Irish Government.’ While we are complaining, in an almost passionate manner, of the impotence of mere cliques of idealists and dreamers, they are complaining, often in a very indignant manner, of the power of great gangs of bosses and bullies.

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  8. Intrism says:

    Tell me what the heck you think our high school students are learning that’s just as difficult and impressive as the stuff on that test that you don’t expect the 19th century Harvard students who aced that exam knew two hundred times better (and don’t say “the history of post-World War II Europe”).

    In my experience? Modern Bayesian statistics, single- and multi-variable calculus, linear algebra, any kind of sane biology, chemistry, or geology, computer-aided design with reference to CNC, laser-cutting, and 3D printing, basic robotics principles, GIS, computer programming in languages including C, Python, Java, and PHP, image processing, basic principles of AI, basic principles of networking, virtualization principles, use and administration of Linux and Solaris in an enterprise environment, modern Web development techniques, parallel processing, GPU computing, raytracing, electrical circuit design including analogue and digital components, digital audio processing, field-programmable gate arrays, computer architecture, and video signal generation.

    I furthermore expect anything that wasn’t language or basic arithmetic to have been taught vastly better, with emphasis on actual comprehension rather than the fixation on rote memorization found in that hideous “exam.” Rest assured that my specialization in computer science and electrical engineering was my own choice and that similarly deep studies are available for those interested in physics, optics, biology, materials science, et cetera. And, yes, I am talking about a public high school in the United States.

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    • Thomas Eliot says:

      Wow, that’s dramatically more impressive than the extremely wealthy American public high school I attended. Which one is it you’re talking about?

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      • Anonymous says:

        I think Intrism is misremembering undergrad as high school.

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      • Intrism says:

        For the obvious privacy-related reasons, I’d rather not tell you where I went to high school, but it is well-known enough that if you research the topic you’ll find my school near the top of a very short list. And, no, I’m not thinking of undergrad.

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        • gwern says:

          If it’s well-enough known, then that sounds like you’re going to some famous magnet school like Stuyvesant which is perhaps as or more selective than places like Harvard, and so as a response is like pointing to John Stuart Mill’s childhood education as evidence for how standards have fallen woefully…

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        • Damien says:

          Stuyvesant isn’t representative, but neither was the applicant pool to Harvard in 1869. (Yvaine said 1899, but the images said 1869.) Seems fair to compare the best to the best.

          More broadly, modern high-level applicants might not be able to do all the geometry proofs, but could probably handle most of the arithmetic and algebra, and would be expected to know calculus as well.

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        • Josh S says:

          Obviously, his high school didn’t teach him very good reading skills, since “our high school students” is clearly not referring to the top 0.000000001% of students going to one of a tiny handful of super-elite schools.

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    • James says:

      I’m jealous that you had that much of an undergraduate technical education already in high school. We had AP social studies, English, and calculus, but I’d have killed for a single programming class, let alone all that stuff.

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      • James says:

        Oh, and

        Tell me what the heck you think our high school students are learning that’s just as difficult and impressive as the stuff on that test that you don’t expect the 19th century Harvard students who aced that exam knew two hundred times better

        At my relatively more typical large American public high school, I learned calculus, physics, organic chemistry, computer-aided design, psychology, microeconomics, and a foreign language that someone I’m likely to encounter might actually speak natively or exclusively, in addition to much of the same stuff (both useful and not) that 1899′s high schoolers would have learned.

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        • nydwracu says:

          At my award-winning, magnet-program American public high school, I learned… er, in terms of actual subject matter, a bit of chemistry and a bit of Java. But I also learned some things that are far more instructive, such as that an honors English class in such a school will fail so miserably at reading Chaucer, even when they’re given a translation, that the teacher will give up on it halfway through and adjust the curriculum to fit the students’ moronitude.

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      • Damien says:

        My magnet public middle/high school in Chicago had BASIC and Pascal classes; I took one in 8th grade. Earlier gifted school had a computer lab, though I don’t remember much. Typing in programs from paper, I think.

        Also had classes in diagramming sentences, which no one tests for, and occasional logic puzzles, which no one tests for now that they changed the GRE.

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    • Qiaochu says:

      Outlier. The vast majority of American high schools look nothing like this, and you should know that.

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      • Intrism says:

        Oh, yeah, and I suppose the 19th century aristocrats who went to Harvard weren’t outliers at all. It wouldn’t be in the slightest fair to compare their ludicrously expensive private education to free, public education.

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        • gwern says:

          Your supposition would indeed be correct. Harvard was essentially the best of a very bad bunch; any aristocrats with brains or money would be trying to go to Oxford, Cambridge, Gottingen, Heidelberg, the Sorbonne – you know, all the *real* universities and global leading lights of the period. This is why you can read the bios of people getting into Harvard in the 1800s with minimal education or preparation; when only 1 or 2% of the American population is going to higher education in the first place, even ‘elites’ can’t afford to be too selective. So it’s no surprise when one reads eg. that Harvard and Yale saw their medical schools closed in Abraham Flexner’s famous purge and the American medical establishment rebuilt on European lines, nor that Japan during the Meiji Era imported as much from Germany as it did from America (ever notice the military suits students still wear?) – America was a low-standards backwater.

          If all this seems surprising, controversial or counterintuitive (‘America was not always #1 in science or medicine? America was a hick backwater? How can this have been?!’), well, you can thank WWII for sending countless top academics fleeing to the USA and utterly crushing the German universities.

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        • Sarah says:

          Yay Courant!

          Moral of the story: if existing universities are refusing to hire fleeing genius refugees, START YOUR OWN SCHOOL.

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        • cory says:

          “that Harvard and Yale saw their medical schools closed in Abraham Flexner’s famous purge and the American medical establishment rebuilt on European lines”

          This is simply wrong. In the real world, Flexner recommended that they remain open. http://medicine.yale.edu/about/history.aspx and page 263 of the report.

          Intrism is exactly right. While it wasn’t the best in the world, Harvard in 1869 was already the most elite American university and most of its students would have been educated at an elite level, think private tutors and prep schools. You’d want to compare them to a modern AP maven college minded student, not to the average one.

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        • gwern says:

          Read the actual report, and you see that Flexner recommended that the medical school be made independent of Harvard, merged with the Tufts school, and expanded along his lines. So if one were to change my claim to ‘considerably changed due to his report’, I would agree with that.

          > Intrism is exactly right. While it wasn’t the best in the world, Harvard in 1869 was already the most elite American university and most of its students would have been educated at an elite level, think private tutors and prep schools

          Those aren’t the same things, and the latter agrees with me: when almost no one is going to college and few people went to high school and most people who can are going to the real colleges in Europe, Harvard was just the least bad of a bad bunch.

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    • Army1987 says:

      Where did you go to high school? I want to raise my future children there!

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    • Charlie says:

      Don’t forget science :)

      Biology, including developmental biology, anatomy, food webs, evolution, and molecular biology. Chemistry, including quantitative atomic theory, characterization of materials, acids and bases, and simple reactions. Calculus-based physics, including moving bodies in both cartesian and angular coordinates and simple circuits. Small bits of geology, archaeology, astronomy, surveys of particle physics (got to go use a particle accelerator on a field trip), ecology, cosmology, meteorology, materials science, et cetera.

      I went to a public high school, too, so no complaining that I’m unrepresentative :P

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    • Anonymous says:

      Knowing, admittedly, admittedly a small sample of Harvard Grads and successful applicants, I find it very safe to say that less than one percent are familiar with all those things and I suspect that while a decent sized number (~10-25%) are fairly proficient in at least one of the above disciplines as well as a past applicant would have been expected to know Latin, a lot of those would be people entering as adults with at least some college.

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    • Faul_Sname says:

      My early education was nowhere near as impressive as that, but along those lines, Spanish and French instead of Latin and Greek, enough math that I could have breezed through the math section going into high school, and a significant amount in the way of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology). I only got about half of the geography questions, but with a year of study I probably could get them all without much trouble. I’m not even close to being modern-day Harvard material, but I think I probably would have been Harvard material back then. For reference, I went to a fairly typical public high school (~60th percentile test scores, so slightly better than average, but not that much better).

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    • Josh S says:

      I went to one of the best, most selective science & engineering schools in the country. That sort of high school background was not representative even there.

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  9. Julia says:

    >people in traditional marriages have better sex lives

    To the extent that this mean women are working part time or at home, this makes lots of sense. Staying awake another half hour is much more appealing when I know I know I can sleep in or nap the next day.

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  10. Some mostly disconnected points:

    1) I consider myself a liberal, but I’m happy to endorse cultural imperialism. Just the other day I mentioned on my blog that I think some cultures are better than others. By all means, design public school systems for aggressive assimilation of students into the dominant culture.

    2) I’m generally in favor of easy immigration, based on the same economic arguments that support free trade, but I can accept that there are situations where tighter immigration policies might be necessary. But really, try assimilation first. Make restrictions on immigration plan B.

    3) Reactionary skepticism of academicia seems poorly grounded. There’s a lot of fragmentation in the academic world , such that ideas that are heretical in one corner of academia can be celebrated in another. Charles Murray still has a career post-Bell Curve. I’m making preparations to probably reapply to grad schools, and if I go I’m tentatively planning on building a career based mostly on interacting with relatively like-minded scholars. People do that all the time.

    4) The crime stats graph immediately reminded me of Sam Harris citing statistics showing more rapes in countries with tighter gun control, totally failing to take into account problems related to the reporting of rape. The graph could represent things like more laws to charge people under, more aggressive enforcement, etc. (And the link you provide discusses other similar possibilities.)

    5) Steven Pinker’s latest book seems to give pretty good evidence that that graph is at least partly misleading. He shows that the centuries-long trend in murder rates (a much better measure than overall crime rates) has been downwards. Murder rates went temporarily back up starting in the sixties, but came back down again in the 90s. (I’m working from an ebook here, so I don’t have page numbers, but this is discussed in the last two sections of chapter 3.)

    6) I thought the math on the Harvard entrance exam was mostly pretty doable, except for the questions that required doing roots/trig functions/logarithms by hand. I think I learned to do those at some point in middle school, just never reinforced the skill because of calculators. My guess is that if calculators didn’t exist, I’d be able to do all that math. (Note: I got an 800 on my math SAT.) Oh, and in a few cases the terminology was unfamiliar, but I’m pretty sure that’s because the terminology has changed. For example, I’m assuming “infinite or circulating decimals” = “repeating decimals.” (And Googling it, Dictionary.com says I’m right.)

    6a) And I’d dispute your point about reading comprehension–I do well on reading comprehension tests (790 verbal SAT), but my observations of other people make me think that being good at other things is no guarantee of having good reading comprehension. In fact, I tend to think we probably don’t emphasize reading comprehension enough in schools.

    7) I’ve had only limited experience with Unitarians, but in my limited experience they seemed perfectly capable of uniting around certain things. In fact, they seemed to ape the ability of conservative churches to unite around certain political causes, only with liberal political causes. I found this deeply creepy, which is why I purposely kept my experience with Unitarians limited.

    8) The things Reactionaries complain about in aesthetics seem not the fault of progressives, but the result of an unavoidable signaling logic. See Quentin Bell on what he called “conspicuous outrage.”

    9) Seriously everybody should read Pinker.

    10) In general, if this is a fair representation of what Reactionaries think, I’d ask them if they’ve considered trying neoliberalism instead. (Vaguely related link on reclaiming the word “neoliberal.”)

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    • Oh, and the claim that it’s progressives’ fault we aren’t investing more in Africa seems dubious. Fear of cultural imperialism hasn’t stopped us from outsourcing to Asia a lot. My guess is that Chinese investors and American investors face different economic incentives, that’s all.

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      • Anonymous says:

        White guilt in Asia is a Nike/Foxconn era phenomenon. It needs more time to develop before it will play the same role as white guilt in Africa.

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        I don’t think it’s progressive guilt that causes us to *directly* not invest in Africa. I think we’re directly not investing in Africa because of bad conditions there. But I think there are ways to get around those conditions and that it’s guilt that’s preventing us from trying those.

        Like a lot of the reason we’re not investing in Africa is because of local instability. We could probably solve that with some variant on the charter city idea, or just influencing the governments there directly. Another reason is lack of skilled labor. The Chinese just imported a million Chinese people to run their projects; the West probably wouldn’t be up for that. There are questions of “if China builds a railway in Africa, do they then own the railway moreso than the local population does?” I think Western companies would be too worried about the political fallback of trying to enforce that claim to try it.

        Finally, the Chinese are successful because they’re bribing the local governments, often pretty awful, to work with them. The West is too nice to try this. I realize this isn’t *quite* a colonialist idea, but it seems important and within the spirit of Reaction, insofar as the spirit of Reaction is “be kind of a jerk but then later it might work out”

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    • Oh, and in response to this part:

      Unlucky groups tend to have higher teenage pregnancy rates, more drug use, and greater intra-group violence, even when comparing similar economic strata. That is, if we focus on Chinese-Americans who earn $60,000/year and African-Americans who earn $60,000/year, the Chinese will have markedly better outcomes (I’ve seen this study done in education, but I expect it would transfer). Sampling from the same economic stratum screens off effects from impoverished starting conditions or living in bad neighborhoods, and it’s hard (though of course not impossible) to figure out other ways an oppressive majority could create differential school attendance in these groups.

      I’d have to do some research, but off the top of my head I can think of a couple other key variables we may not be controlling for here.

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      • gwern says:

        ‘Control’ for enough key variables, and you can make anything (including real things) go away or fail to make the significance cutoff…

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        • Chris says:

          Then your sample size is too small to make accurate inference. You should, in fact, reject the notion that your data is providing evidence in support of the existence of “real” things. Bryan Caplan has a good explanation of that.

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        • gwern says:

          Yes, multicollinearity is the idea there. But saying that that is a feature and not a bug is to make the pedant’s mistake of putting theory over practice; since things like IQ correlate with so many beneficial outcomes, one would need impracticably huge samples if one throws in every half-way plausible covariate.

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        • Chris says:

          Right. That’s the point. You DO need huge samples then, or you can’t reach conclusions. So you can’t reach conclusions, and you don’t know what you think you do, and you need to be honest about it. It’s not being a pedant. It’s being correct. Saying otherwise is misusing statistics to say that the world is giving you information that it is not. If you’re going to misuse statistics in that way, you might as well just make up data, because that’s just as meaningful.

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        • Chris says:

          By the way, I meant “you” for the general you, not Gwern, specifically. The fact is the available data just doesn’t let us make inference on a lot of interesting and important questions. That’s not a “statistical” problem, it’s a feature of reality.

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        • gwern says:

          It is a pedantic point. What is happening when you throw in all those covariates to make a known existing result go away is the same thing as doing tests on some data set on a specific narrow question, getting the original answer which you dislike intensely, and then running 100 more tests so you can justify the use of a multiple correction to set the significance level to 1/100 the original and far beyond what your original result could satisfy. You are controlling for Type I error by massively widening the standard errors and thereby utterly trashing your Type II error rate.

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        • Chris says:

          then running 100 more tests so you can justify the use of a multiple correction to set the significance level to 1/100 the original

          Standard errors do not work like that.

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        • Chris says:

          You’re also secretly smuggling in a Bayesian assumption about a “known” existing result. Nothing wrong with being a Bayesian! But that’s bringing in information from outside the regression to make inference (no problem with that!), not an excuse to challenge standard errors.

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        • gwern says:

          It would be helpful if you argued less by assertion. How does Type II power on a particular variable not decrease when you throw in tons of covariates?

          > You’re also secretly smuggling in a Bayesian assumption about a “known” existing result. Nothing wrong with being a Bayesian!

          If we use previous results on a small set of variables and covariates to guide our subsequent analyses of a similar small set of variables and covariates (as opposed to throwing in every covariate under the sun and demanding a sample size of billions before we dare draw any conclusions whatsoever), do we improve on our estimates in any way besides the obvious increase in sample size?

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        • Chris says:

          It would be helpful if you argued less by assertion. How does Type II power on a particular variable not decrease when you throw in tons of covariates?

          It’s the scaling (100 tests to 1/100 the significance level) I was objecting to, not the concept overall. I might have misinterpreted how literally you intended that.

          If we use previous results on a small set of variables and covariates to guide our subsequent analyses of a similar small set of variables and covariates (as opposed to throwing in every covariate under the sun and demanding a sample size of billions before we dare draw any conclusions whatsoever), do we improve on our estimates in any way besides the obvious increase in sample size?

          That’s a really tricky issue, that I’m not sure I understand well enough to discuss. In a strict (frequentist) statistical sense, the answer is “no”. You don’t compute standard errors using extra information about how you selected variables or what you thought prior. In practice of course you DO use that information.

          My point (and I’ll let you have the last word) isn’t that you have to use literally every variable you can think of. It’s that if you have plausible, grounded in some sort of theory covariates and you include both of them in a regression and it comes out insignificant, then that’s useful information. You ought to be uncertain! Now if you have a lot of extra information from elsewhere that says one explanation is preferred to the other, great! But in this particular regression you aren’t getting confirming evidence for your hypothesis from the data, and dropping covariates doesn’t help that problem.

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        • gwern says:

          No, I didn’t mean it literally (1/100 is what the Bonferroni correction would be, IIRC, and I read somewhere that this can be seen as assuming the worst-case; so I would be a little surprised if the weakening by introducing additional covariates was purely linear).

          > Now if you have a lot of extra information from elsewhere that says one explanation is preferred to the other, great! But in this particular regression you aren’t getting confirming evidence for your hypothesis from the data, and dropping covariates doesn’t help that problem.

          But you could have gotten disconfirming evidence, so it is evidence for your original explanation… I wonder what the legitimate Bayesian interpretation here is. Guess I’ll keep an eye out as I read things.

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        • jsalvatier says:

          @Chris

          Standard linear regression has implausible priors for effect sizes in the social sciences. Thus, throwing the kitchen sink of predictors into a regression can obscure instead of enlighten.

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        Curious which ones you’re thinking of. I can also think of a few, but they don’t hugely convince me.

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    • Intrism says:

      I consider myself a liberal, but I’m happy to endorse cultural imperialism.

      If I ever had to come up with a populist political platform in a big hurry it would definitely be a mashup of imperialism and American exceptionalism with liberalism and progressivism. Seriously, they work amazingly well together.

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      • im says:

        Yeah. I’ve noticed that among non-radical political attractors, that really seems to be missing. Which makes me wonder why.

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      • Toby Bartels says:

        I think that you’ve reinvented Teddy Roosevelt.

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      • Oligopsony says:

        It’s called the Democratic Party.

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        • Leon says:

          It’s called Barack Obama.

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        • im says:

          It would be if the Democratic Party and Obama were not incredibly boring.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Given the American political climate, “boring” is the local optimum for Democrat politicians, since they have to stay below a certain (VERY low in historical perspective) level of perceived threat to an increasingly more anxious 50% of population that’s directly gulping down the right-wing Kool-Aid. And their “base” – both the liberal commie hippie academia bogeyman and the ordinary folks, who are scared and confused but have a vague sensation that maybe something’s up, that it didn’t use to be like that and that the twin “libertarian”-”conservative” narrative might be a fever dream – got a good spanking back in 2000 for being so naughty as to give a few votes to some limp-wristed terrorist Cultural Marxist fairy. Better stay in line, you unruly spoiled runts! You already made Europe a faggot muslim shithole, but we’re onto your plots! Besides, Obongo is an outspoken Bolshevist anyway: how there can be anything to the “Left” of him, silly?

          Oh, and the minorities – well, no-one is confused as to their role in American politics; reactionaries are refreshingly honest about their desire to keep the impure subhuman pillaging hordes from the White Man’s land and White Man’s property. Although whether the emphasis falls on Land or Property varies according to the reactionary’s audience (sometimes White Wimminz are also included in the list of threatened Property). Studies about e.g. how socially and culturally conservative many Hispanic immigrants actually tend to be are dangerous, because nuance smacks of Liberalism and worse.

          Source(s): 5 years of internet politics.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          On a tangential note: I just clicked on a link to some Forbes article and, like several times before, got an intermission screen with a header saying “FORBES THOUGHT OF THE DAY” and just empty dark-grey space below it. Previously I had thought that it’s a glitch/compartibility issue; now it has dawned on me that the website must be working correctly, and that my browser simply had so much commie material/analysis/criticism viewed in it that it started functioning like the sunglasses in They Live.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Reactionary skepticism of academicia seems poorly grounded. There’s a lot of fragmentation in the academic world , such that ideas that are heretical in one corner of academia can be celebrated in another. Charles Murray still has a career post-Bell Curve. I’m making preparations to probably reapply to grad schools, and if I go I’m tentatively planning on building a career based mostly on interacting with relatively like-minded scholars. People do that all the time.”

      There seems to me a difference between “a famous person, probably with tenure, can break this rule and get away with it” and “this is something the average person can do if they ever want to advance further”. Murray also seems to be an exceptionally rare data point, in that when I was looking at pro-racist science there are only like five names that ever come up and his is one of them, whereas looking at anti-racist science it’s the same as any other field where there are lots of different people looking in lots of different areas.

      “The crime stats graph immediately reminded me of Sam Harris citing statistics showing more rapes in countries with tighter gun control, totally failing to take into account problems related to the reporting of rape. The graph could represent things like more laws to charge people under, more aggressive enforcement, etc. (And the link you provide discusses other similar possibilities.)”

      This area is woefully under-studied. I can’t find similar time-scale statistics for the USA or other countries, and I can’t find more than the bare analysis of that graph that I found on the site, which is pretty speculative and inconclusive. I agree that there are many other possible explanations for this; nevertheless, it makes that criminology book that said there was minimal crime somewhat more believable.

      “Steven Pinker’s latest book seems to give pretty good evidence that that graph is at least partly misleading. He shows that the centuries-long trend in murder rates (a much better measure than overall crime rates) has been downwards.”

      Why are murder rates a better measure than overall crime rates? It seems possible that murder comes from some sort of evolutionary propensity to violence (which I think is Pinker’s hypothesis to some degree) but that banditry, etc depend on how well-organized society is and how many people there are who can’t/won’t get money through the legitimate system?

      “And I’d dispute your point about reading comprehension–I do well on reading comprehension tests (790 verbal SAT), but my observations of other people make me think that being good at other things is no guarantee of having good reading comprehension. In fact, I tend to think we probably don’t emphasize reading comprehension enough in schools.”

      Fair point. I find it hard to see how reading comprehension could be hard, but this could just be a typical mind effect. I certainly have a stereotype of olden day people as extremely impressive broad-ranging intellects, but this could just be selection bias from those being the only ones who write books.

      “The things Reactionaries complain about in aesthetics seem not the fault of progressives, but the result of an unavoidable signaling logic. See Quentin Bell on what he called conspicuous outrage.”

      I think this might be a false dichotomy. What would it mean for something to be the fault of “progressives” as opposed to a certain social dynamic, when progressivism is itself a social dynamic? I think the Reactionaries are broadly right that this sort of aesthetic seems to be associated with leftist political views, and their own literalist aesthetic associated with rightist views. I think the next post I write is going to deal with this.

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      • Re: Murray

        Okay, shouldn’t have used Murray as my only example. This post by Brian Leiter makes the point that many people’s impression of what academia is like is really just what their undergraduate major was like. I don’t entirely agree with this post, but it will give you a sense of what I mean when I talk about academia being fragmented.

        Another example: on more than one occasion I’ve heard Alvin Plantinga cited as the only philosopher of religion philosophers in other subspecialties take seriously, and there’s a limit to how seriously Plantinga is taken. But somehow PoR survives as a subdiscipline regardless, with adherents reassuring each other they’ve taken care of the problem of evil and only the ignorant disagree.

        Also, lack of racist science in mainstream academia is not itself evidence of unfair bias against racism, any more than lack of creation science in mainstream academia is evidence of unfair bias against creationism.

        “Why are murder rates a better measure than overall crime rates?”

        Counting murders is relatively straightforward. Yes, sometimes someone goes missing and you’re not sure if they’re still alive or not, and sometimes you’re not sure whether to rule a death a homicide or not, but nevertheless in most cases there’s a body which in most cases you can identify as having been murdered.

        In contrast, consider: rape victims being afraid to report, people getting into fist fights and the cops making arbitrary decisions about whether to book them both for assault or just say, “eh, it was a fight, shit happens,” crackdowns leading to drug arrests going up while drug use remains constant, long term trends towards adding on more charges per case to coerce people into plea bargaining… see the problem?

        “I certainly have a stereotype of olden day people as extremely impressive broad-ranging intellects, but this could just be selection bias from those being the only ones who write books.”

        Note that someone can seem very widely read, but then when you look closely you realize they haven’t understood most of the authors/works they so eagerly name-drop.

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        • Thomas Eliot says:

          Completely off topic, but I’m curious to see these supposed solutions to the problem of evil. Google isn’t turning up anything other than “god works in mysterious ways”

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        • Free will defense is the big one. I discuss this in one chapter of the book I’m working on.

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        • im says:

          Should be noted that if 1. you ignore in-depth of at least one hard science and 2. you are more interested in broad (yes, meaningfully broad) but maybe not-practical aristocratic knowledge, you can seem really broad.

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        • Fnord says:

          So, aggregate crime rates.

          Well, major point that people seem to be missing: Property crime is way more common than violent crime. Per the FBI’s Uniform crime report, in 2011 there were 1.2 million violent crimes in the US, and 9 million property crimes. It’s perfectly possible total crime (which is mostly made up of property crime) to be rising even if violent crime is falling.

          So, on the one hand, Pinker et al showing falling violence don’t actually make that graph inaccurate.

          On the other hand, total crime is probably a bad measure for how scared people are to leave their homes at night, and any such claims might be better directed to Pinker et al.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Of course, crime rate in general may be a bad measure of how scared people are to leave their homes at night, as it’s more influenced by the perceived than absolute crime rate. Obviously a sufficiently high crime rate will unavoidably be perceived as high, but a low rate may be perceived as much higher if the media makes big enough of a deal of the few crimes that do take place.

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        • mwengler says:

          Property crime and rape are more of a “moving target” than murder, which seems a good reason to look at long term trends in the simpler more stable crime.

          We simply have 1000s of times more property per capita than we did in the past. How can theft not increase with so much more to steal? Meanwhile, the number of heads per capita has stayed constant, so murder seems better normalized.

          Rape and the reporting of rape are too entirely different things. Does having sex with slaves count in to the rape statistics of the antebellum U.S.? How about date rape? And how do we adjust for the somewhat recent inclusion of voluntary sex with girls between the ages of about 13 or so an 18 as rape? (Ages of consent have risen precipitously in the US). I’m not saying you can’t tease out possible trends in sex crimes over the centuries, I’m just saying it is a lot harder than teasing out murder rates over the same time period.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          “We simply have 1000s of times more property per capita than we did in the past. How can theft not increase with so much more to steal?”

          One might also argue that having more property reduces the incentive to steal, since the thieves are more likely to already have enough wealth that turning to crime wouldn’t be worth the risk. (This is one of the major rationales behind social security systems, after all – it’s better to give people money than to have them stealing things.)

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      • Doug S. says:

        Why are murder rates a better measure than overall crime rates?

        Because 1) homicide is the same regardless of when or where it takes place and 2) very few homicides go unreported or undiscovered.

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        • nydwracu says:

          “homicide is the same regardless of when or where it takes place”

          Not necessarily. Would a homicide in 1900 be a homicide in 2000? A hundred years of development in medical technology makes it much more likely that any given victim would survive, so holding political systems the same and varying only technology, wouldn’t we expect murder rates to fall dramatically?

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        • Doug S. says:

          Medical technology has indeed improved, but not THAT much – you stab someone in the chest a bunch of times and leave them in a dark alley, they’re still gonna die, whether you’re in Ancient Rome or modern New York City. On the other hand, people have attributed at least part of the decline in homicides in the U.S. since the 1960s to better medical technology – people are indeed surviving things that they wouldn’t have in the past.

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      • mwengler says:

        Stanford has the Hoover Institute with Russ Roberts, among many others. The University of Chicago is virtually synonymous with a very non-progressive economics. Shelby Steele is still a professor somewhere, I”m pretty sure, unless he quit to follow the money. Don’t get me started on business schools!

        Sure, if you want Marxists in the U.S. you need to go to the “Liberal Arts” side of a university to find them. But walk over a building and see how the engineering departments are voting.

        I think a concern that universities are militantly progressive is as sensible as listening to a Fox News panel decrying the liberal bias of the media.

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      • sardonic_sob says:

        Murder rates are in fact very deceptive, in that in most industrialized countries trauma medicine and post-injury care (e.g. antibiotics) have improved to the point that untold numbers of people who would have been murder statistics prior to 1970 or so now end up being merely violent-crime statistics.

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  11. Nestor says:

    A lot of the disconnect can be explained in terms of this being an individualist’s philosophy – not being dumb, they are aware they live in a society, so they want that society to conform to some rules that are convenient for them as individuals. You gave examples of effective societies, all examples of low individualism.

    So if I’m an individualist I certainly don’t want to be a mormon, but I may observe, as you do, that they get shit done, and I may approve, or even move to a mormon area for personal convenience.

    It helps that authoritarian personality types come with a built in “let the elites get away with murder” bias.

    As for education, it’s certainly a hard exam but I imagine all attending would’ve had plenty of personal tuition, less distractions, and would have a lot of their personal identity wrapped up in being the kind of person who passes such exams. I’l like to observe the fact that typing schools not that long ago were a thing, and that nowadays strangely enough all kids seem to absorb the skill effortlessly on their own initiative…

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    • David Gerard says:

      “I’l like to observe the fact that typing schools not that long ago were a thing, and that nowadays strangely enough all kids seem to absorb the skill effortlessly on their own initiative…”

      I wish. It’s hunt’n'peck land far as the eye can see. I am perpetually appalled at the proportion of people I know who spend all day every day at a keyboard and won’t take a few weeks to learn to use ten fingers. LEARN TO TYPE DAMMIT.

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      • Zerk says:

        In your experience, would learning full-on machine stenography be worthwhile?

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      • David Gerard says:

        Stenotypes and other chording keyboards? No idea, never used ‘em. I used to be a shit-hot audio typist (I did an indie rock fanzine) but that was just using QWERTY with ten fingers.

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        • Zerk says:

          The former, as most “other chording keyboards” reduce the number of keys such that each chord corresponds to only one symbol. Personally(currently not-completely-touch typing this on an iPad using ~seven fingers, at 40 WPM) I am procrastinating learning steno, as opposed to dvorak, because it seems to be the quickest text-entry system humanity has come up with so far. If you have a gaming keyboard lying around, I recommend trying it out.

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  12. suntzuanime says:

    What’s missing from that Harvard entrance exam? How about any mention of science at all? If you pay attention in your highschool physics/biology/chemistry, you’ll learn things at least as impressive as the geography nonsense on that test. How about computer programming? I recognize that it’s a bit unfair to expect that seeing as how computers hadn’t been invented yet, but learning to write C++ is much more useful than learning to write Latin. What about calculus? We spend less time drilling people on how to do cube roots by hand, so that our brighter undergraduates show up on day one able to do integration by parts.

    And you scoff at reading comprehension, but I can easily imagine someone who aces this exam through memorizing algorithms and pithy quotes about dead Greeks but can’t actually follow an essay’s argument. The only thing on that exam that requires any real human thought is the geometry proofs.

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    • suntzuanime says:

      Actually, compare that Harvard exam to an Advanced Placement exam. They have AP tests for things like CompSci, Calculus, and various physical sciences, and I think that the AP is a much more reasonable metric of the actual capabilities of high-achieving high school students than the SAT. (Which is I presume where the reading comprehension mockery came from.)

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Now I wonder to what degree 19th-century education included the science of their time. It wouldn’t surprise me if it existed but just didn’t make the exam, in the same way there’s no Science SAT.

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      • suntzuanime says:

        There are the SAT Subject Tests, which include Chemistry, Physics, and Biology. I remember taking the Physics one and spending a half-hour the night before cramming optics because my high-school physics class didn’t cover it. I don’t remember which of the schools I was applying to asked for SAT subject tests, but presumably some of them did or I wouldn’t have bothered.

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    • Toby Bartels says:

      No, those geometry proofs are straight out of Euclid. You can memorise them too.

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      • suntzuanime says:

        Oh, huh. Guess that shows what sort of education I’ve had!

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        • Toby Bartels says:

          Yeah, you took a geometry class in which they wanted you to come up with your own proofs, rather than one in which they wanted you to read the proofs that Euclid came up with (or collected) over 2000 years ago. (But to be fair, in the traditional Euclid-based curriculum, the student was supposed to read Euclid’s proof only after trying to come up with their own.)

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  13. gwern says:

    > Would the Czar be corrupt and greedy and tyrannical? Yes, probably. Let’s say he decided to use our tax money to build himself a mansion ten times bigger than the Palace of Versailles. The Internet suggests that building Versailles today would cost somewhere between $200M and $1B, so let’s dectuple the high range of that estimate and say the Czar built himself a $10 billion dollar palace. And he wants it plated in solid gold, so that’s another $10 billion. Fine. Corporate welfare is $200B per year. If the Czar were to tell us “I am going to take your tax money and spend it on a giant palace ten times the size of Versailles covered in solid gold”, the proper response would be “Great, but what are we going to do with the other $180 billion dollars you’re saving us?”

    “Watashi, ki ni narimasu!” Let’s do it Fermi-style (disclaimer: I’ve always stunk at metric and geometry).

    How much gold plate does $10b get us? A random webpage (http://www.learningandfinance.com/2013/03/03/gold-price-per-gram-todays-gold-price-per-ounce-silver-price-per-ounce-precious-metal-review-today/) tells me that gold is $1572 per troy ounce. Google says 1 troy ounce is 31g, so 1kg of gold is 1572 * (1000/31) = $50709. Plating, however, is about volume and not weight. Wikipedia tells me that 1 m^3 is 19300 kg. So we can buy us $10000000000/(50709*19300) = 10.22 cubic meters of gold.

    What thickness counts as ‘gold plated’? Well, some things described as ‘gold-plated’ have gold thicknesses measured in microns. I however prefer to use the thickness of Joseph Smith’s Golden plates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_plates) – if that thickness is good enough for God and the angel Moron, it’s good enough for Fnargl! Alas, Smith doesn’t tell us how many pages the Golden plates were and the Golden plates themselveas are unavailable for obvious reasons, but there seems to have been at least 100 with a total thickness of 10cm, so each one was a tenth of a centimeter.

    How much surface area can we convert 10.22m^3 into?
    10.22 * 10.22 * 10.22 = y * x * x; 1067.46 = 0.001 * x * x; 1067.46 = 0.002x; 1067.46/0.002 = x; 533730 = x; (total volume is 533730 * 533730 * 0.001)

    So we can cover 533,730 square meters with a thickness of a tenth of a centimeter. This sounds like a lot, but unfortunately Wikipedia also tells me that the Palace of Versailles has 67,000 square meters; so we can gild the floors (466k m^2 left) and then gild the corresponding flat ceiling area (399k left) without a problem, but I’m not sure how to estimate how much surface area is left for the interior and exterior walls – I remember when I was there that a lot of the rooms were pretty cubical, but even if I take Wikipedia’s 2300 rooms count, is that enough? Oh well, I’ll do it anyway: there’s 67k m^2, which gives an average room footprint of 29.1 m^2, and if each room is cubical then the total interior surface area is 6 sides of a cube * 29.1 = 174.78, and then over 2300 rooms, 402000 m^2. This leaves us 131k m^2.

    But the problem here is obvious. If it took us 67k m^2 to cover the floor and then the ceiling, we need to do it a third time for the *outside* of the ceiling (64k left) – and now what about the outside of the walls surrounding our original 67k m^2 palace footprint?

    It can’t be done. We need to drop an assumption, like rooms being cubical. Really, 3 meters is enough vertical for anyone! This’ll cut our area demands by something like 1/9, so we can afford to do the exterior too.

    However, while our new czar can luxuriate in the freshly done Versailles (hopefully wearing goggles to deal with the shininess), dectupling the palace means either spending a lot more on buying gold or going downmarket to even thinner than a tenth of a centimeter. I fear that the latter cutrate solution will undermine the luxuriance of the effect. As the Quakers say, God always knows.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m actually pretty happy my “take the exact same number again for a completely different problem” strategy got within an order of magnitude.

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      • gwern says:

        Well, I should mention that after I posted, Burninate did some figuring of his own, noticed that while I assumed Versailles was 1 floor there are actually 4 floors sometimes (which surprises me – thinking back, the place looked like it was 2 stories all over, at most) and also that the exterior is at least 55k m^2.

        (On the positive side, he thinks that 0.1cm is way too thick and you might as well go with micron-thickness since it looks just as good.)

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      • im says:

        Gold leafing is normally extremely thin. Furthermore, tech is going to lead to a lot of differences here. (Have actually been thinking about the possibilities of computer-generated and CNC-machined rococo wall paneling and molding, hold the gold leaf.)

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  14. DMcCunney says:

    An old friend who is a secular Jew proposed a solution for Palestine similar to the one you mentioned – Israel simply takes over and annexes the territory – with the critical difference that the Palestinians all become full Israeli citizens with voting and other rights under Israeli law. I told him he’d have a lot harder time getting that past the hard-liners in Israel than he would with the Palestinians.

    The issue a fully independent Palestine faces is whether it could survive as an independent nation. What would it do for a living? What does it have to exchange with the rest of the world to support an economy?

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    • hersaa says:

      The Palestinians would likely be thrilled if this happened. They do, after all, have a majority between the Sea and the Jordan river, so to speak.

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    • Damien says:

      ” What would it do for a living? What does it have to exchange with the rest of the world to support an economy?”

      Most countries don’t trade because of some obvious unique resource advantage, they trade because of subtle specializations and even more fundamentally, comparative advantage. Palestinians can certainly be put to work doing *something*. What? That’s what markets are good at figuring out. Also, for most countries most economic activity is internal: growing food, producing power, building things, trading services. Granted that works less well for Gaza, which is basically a city AIUI.

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    • sardonic_sob says:

      The problem with your friend’s solution is that Israel would shortly thereafter cease to be Israel – that is, a secular state which is a home for the Jewish people. You may question the morality and/or necessity of the existence of such a state, and who can gainsay you? But the demographics are ironclad – Jews would be a minority in a very, very short time. Therefore there are ENORMOUS incentives for the Jewish residents of Israel (and Jews worldwide) to resist such a solution with all of their resources.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Israel isn’t exactly self supporting either.

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  15. Pingback: Rationalist reactionaries, cultural imperialism, and dictatorship

  16. suntzuanime says:

    Thank you for explaining the seething Reactionary hatred for Brutalist architecture, by the way. It had been puzzling me for some time. Wish you could have figured out the bit about the Whigs, too.

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  17. ozymandias42 says:

    That Harvard exam is not *that* hard– I would have been able to do the Latin when I graduated high school (four years of Latin, decent but not exceptional Catholic school), although two years with only half a semester’s Latin have reduced my abilities correspondingly.

    My problem with the czar thing is, well, how do we pick a good czar? Democracy has a lot of flaws, but at least a democratically selected leader will not be substantially more crazy, stupid, or evil than the average voter. An arbitrarily chosen czar, however, might be Caligula. Caligula with nukes. This is a bad plan. And while there are strategies for avoiding Caligula (I personally recommend not using lead in your cookware) I am not sure any of them work as “well” as democracy. (Not to mention that a czar isn’t an unincentivized incentivizer either– he might decide “hey, all these CEOs are my friends, I should double the amount of corporate welfare.”)

    I feel like I should comment on the gender section, because apparently gender is my Thing, but all I have is the vague recollection that there are possibly methodological problems with that happiness research, and since that came from feminist blogs that tend to yell “methodological problems!” every time research comes out that they don’t like, I wouldn’t say that’s super-credible. (I would go look it up and find out what the alleged methodological problems were but… I am lazy.)

    I am not sure why “Job 1 is better than Job 2″ necessarily leads to “therefore women get Job 1.” I mean, that’s nice for women, but that seems a bit unfair to men. Also it’s very simplistic to be like “women worked inside the home” when that’s only really been true since the Industrial Revolution, before which pretty much everyone worked inside the home AFAIK, and large numbers of poor and unmarried women always worked and… okay, I lied about not having anything to say. :P

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done well on their Latin even with my own four years of high school Latin. The same is true of their classical history section, even though (gratuitious boasting) I actually got the top score in the state of California on a classical history competition thing. Maybe you were just a better student than I.

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      • MountainTiger says:

        I would be particularly interested to know something about the grading standards for those sections. To me, the Latin and Greek is at a level that should be difficult but manageable for someone who has completed a grammar course. In particular, the composition has so much hand-holding that it basically amounts to a review of the formation of some common types of clauses; not much vocabulary or syntactic creativity is needed.

        The difficulty of the ancient history questions (and note that someone entering as a freshman only needed to answer the geography questions and two of five history questions) depends heavily on how much depth they wanted. The “route of the 10,000″ question leads me to believe that those answers would have been expected to be fairly short and unoriginal, which makes the section much easier than if they expected length and originality.

        Overall, the test is basically useless as a measure of 19th century elite education without an account of how it was scored and how scores were distributed. The variation in the difficulty of questions and the instructions for more advanced students lead me to believe that the average freshman would not have performed or been expected to perform anything close to perfectly, but I could be wrong.

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    • im says:

      Ozy The Blogger!!! <3

      - On Czars: I have actually wondered a little about this. Was looking around on monarchist sites, staring into the abyss. Mostly those people have only ininteresting attempts at preserving the British royal family, sometimes talk of the US rejoining the Commonwealth. Nobody seems to have any idea about how one might choose a monarch (More focused on traditionalisms such as some kind of ethnic connection to the populace, and so on.)

      - The Czar does not actually need to be invincible. The thing that immediately comes to mind is actually a sort-of-Four-Estates type thing, but re-organized to not suck, and with *some* kind of actual power, guarded by critical cost. One possibility is that it could force the replacement of the king with somebody else, but NOT somebody who is part and parcel of the opposition, and who is already indoctrinated with the weight, importance, and duty of command.

      - Somehow I think I remember that inclusion in elite universities in the past was more about social power and was almost a matter of course for the elite, (or maybe involved intrigue and politics?) rather than meeting incredibly high arbitrary academic requirements.

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      • Deiseach says:

        On czars, monarchs, and other absolute rulers, I’d like to quote from a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son in 1943:

        “My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. …Give me a king whose chief interest in life is stamps, railways, or race-horses; and who has the power to sack his Vizier (or whatever you care to call him) if he does not like the cut of his trousers. And so on down the line. But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that – after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad corrupt unnatural world – is that it works and has worked only when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way. The quarrelsome, conceited Greeks managed to pull it off against Xerxes; but the abominable chemists and engineers have put such a power into Xerxes’ hands, and all ant-communities, that decent folk don’t seem to have a chance.”

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      • sardonic_sob says:

        The thing about insane monarchs is that they can be assassinated without disrupting the monarchy. Insane dictators cannot. Again, the Uncanny Valley appears in the mists.

        Another way to look at it is this: assuming we have credible heirs for the Monarch, no one other than the Monarch’s heirs have any particular reason to want to remove them from power. They may rule without fear or favor, because while they *personally* may be the target of revenge, their line will continue to rule. And since their control of the government is assured for some indefinite time, they have no reason to run up huge debts, loot the place, murder all the opposition, or any of those other charming hobbies that UC-level dictators or democratically elected regimes are wont to pursue. If they start doing this, due to bad genes or lead-based paint in the Royal Crib, sooner or later somebody will remove them from office and let a competent heir assume control. Whereas if you kill Saddam Hussein, you get… whatever it is they have in Iraq now. While I’m sure I’d rather be a Kurd now than when Hussein was running the show, I’m not sure an argument that the average Iraqi is in a notably better way now passes the laugh test.

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    • Konkvistador says:

      “Democracy has a lot of flaws, but at least a democratically selected leader will not be substantially more crazy, stupid, or evil than the average voter.”

      Reread that until horrified. ;)

      You will also not get a ruler who is substantially less crazy, dumb or evil than the average voter.

      “Monarchy risks an insane monarch, but the People are always insane.”

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      • Multiheaded says:

        Two words: situational psychology. The ordinary person is strongly subject to it, and day-to-day framing can lead to the same kind of people going to church and giving to charity or guarding Auschwitz. Rulers are more likely to be extraordinary, though; that’s why it’s likely useful to bind them with the fetters and prejudices of public opinion… as long as that opinion isn’t shaped by an unfortunate situation to support something truly awful. This is the left-conservative agrument for democracy, I’d say: as ugly as common stupidity and narrow-mindedness can be, extraordinary people without incentives to conformity can sink to worse things. The average Belgian could’ve silently supported slavery and racism, but it took an intelligent and daring ruler like Leopold to make Congo hell… and the bland faceless ideologized British bureaucracy to make it less so. Likewise, it was probably some brilliant young mavericks at Rand Corporation who thought of Agent Orange, ecocide and forced-draft urbanization in Vietnam. Stupid leftist bureaucracy can fail miserably, but it takes a brave individual, rising above the herd, to lead a slaving expedition to Africa, or smuggle opium into China, or lead armies to “glory” and “honour”. Systems intended to harness their monomaniacal ambition, like regulated capitalism, often fail to channel it safely.
        -
        Mediocrity and hypocrisy are two of democracy’s greatest and least appreciated virtues.

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        • Konkvistador says:

          This is an excellent point. I always find this sort of small c-conservative argument in favor of Liberalism the hardest to pick apart.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Thanks. I’ve always thought along these lines since acquiring an interest in politics, but incidentally this is also what Chesterton (the archetypal leftist conservative IMO) used in an attack on Carlyle and his Great Man theory.

          “The weak point in the whole of Carlyle’s case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men.”

          (Echoed by Lord Acton:)

          “The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern. Every class is unfit to govern…
          …Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

          -
          Of course, I diverge from conservative liberalism on some vital points – sometimes even prudent lassiez-faire could hide a complicity with deeper, more systemic abuse of power and privilege – but overall it’s a great heuristic. Temporary/”subjective” concentration of power might be called for to overcome deep-set/”objective” structures of power, abuse and misery – like the British or the Communists uplifting the 3rd world – but, by the same token, it could be very awful to set up new abusive structures for a tactical gain in wealth/security.
          -
          So it appears to me that the apologies of Jacobinism from a Radical like Twain and a conservative like Chesterton can be reconciled. We could perhaps conclude that the merits and evils of Jacobinism or Maoism are best debated by comparing* 1) socioeconomic conditions before and afterwards, and 2) how they extend to the “personal” stories of people, both majorities and minorities – not the particulars of the events themselves.
          -
          This is hardly even “cold” or “ruthless” for a sentimentalist – if you’re going to wax dramatic about some 0,5% who perish in upheaval or revolution, you might as well vividly imagine the generations of torment that some silenced minority of 5% suffered, or a majority which could’ve led a different existence.
          -
          Leftists, especially of the Marxist or feminist bent, would further argue about what makes for valid evidence about people’s personal lives, how widespread are phenomena like internalized repression, alienation of labour or false consciousness, and so on.
          -
          P.S. fuck, another rant that ought’ve been a post.
          -
          *Controlled for external variables like scientific progress, of course.

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        • Mary says:

          The problem with that is the little problems can amass to a great deal more misery than anyone can inflict in one grand atrocity.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          And this is exactly the other point I’ve been making. All politics that even considers fundamental change to be a real and desirable goal must walk a line between replacing inhuman, misery-reproducing structures with better ones vs. not letting despots and psychopaths attain proeminence.

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        • Billbo says:

          The banality of evil. The slave ship captian, the rand nerd, the major general (even the lowly irs agent) are not the product of initiative but rather the product of obedience to the authority. Harmless Channels for authoratative ambition in the republic were effective when the beaurocracy was very small as to be near ineffective. Evil great men and big gubmit create mediocrity, hypocrisy, and repression.

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      • greg rhame says:

        democracy looks great on paper, but in reality 90% of democracies are nothing but corporate dictatorships. usa, and japan, just to name a few.

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  18. Kaj Sotala says:

    Thanks, I never really had any idea of what Reactionaries were all about, since it seemed like I’d have to read Moldbug for that and I never had the patience or time for it. This helps considerably, and many (most?) of the ideas that you describe in this post seem to make quite a lot sense. Looking forward to hearing your criticisms.

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  19. Fnord says:

    I have lots of problems I could point out, but it seems superfluous to probably repeat many of the point you’ll be making in your own post criticizing reactionary thought.

    But I agree with the reactionaries that it’s a shame you only gave one paragraph to the “tyrants in the traditional sense won’t become tyrants in the modern sense” idea. Because it does seem key to an important part of reactionary thought, and at least potentially highly problematic.

    Fnargl MIGHT do what’s describe here. Or he might unleash nanobots which expand exponentially to render ever atom of gold in the earth’s crust into his hands (you can’t say he’s unable to do that, if he’s omnipotent).

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    • im says:

      Yeah, although I think the idea is more along the lines of ‘omnipotent in human affairs’.

      I think that Fnargl would ‘optimize’ human society, which would be bad, but on a human scale of badness, sort of like fascism.

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      • Fnord says:

        It’s certain that the only thing that would stop Fnargl from unleashing the gray goo is gray goo not being available to him, despite the fact that it’s pretty terrible result for everybody but Fnargl. What’s best for the dictator need not be best for everyone else. That’s the point, even if the example of grey goo is as outlandish as the premise of omnipotent aliens.

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    • Doug S. says:

      Moldbug describes his gold-loving alien Fnargl as having two superpowers:

      1) Invulnerability
      2) The ability to magically kill anyone, regardless of where they are or how well-protected they might be

      Everything else, he’s dependent on humans to do for him.

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      • Fnord says:

        In that case, he does have incentive to suppress free speech, torture dissidents, etc. He can’t be overthrown, sure, but he still needs to enforce the collection of his taxes, he needs to find, punish, and deter tax fraud, etc.

        To the extent that the dictator needs our cooperation, he has incentive to use oppressive techniques to ensure that cooperation. To the extent that the dictator doesn’t need us, he has no incentive (save altruism) to make our lives pleasant or indeed allow us to live at all.

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        • sardonic_sob says:

          Fnargl is the embodiment of The Restatement of Acton: “Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat.”

          Why would he want to repress free speech? Why would he want to torture anyone? He has nothing to fear and no motive to engender fear. He’s already decided that the market economy is as efficient as anything he can come up with without majorly restructuring the world’s economy. Sure, he could turn the world into a big gold-mining camp, but he has the example of Mao’s Five-Year Plans to teach him that human beings just don’t work that way. Anything he could do would almost certainly make things worse than the minimum possible amount of interference. Anyone who presents a serious obstacle drops dead. Anyone who presents a minor obstacle is… minor.

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      • Mary says:

        That’s a kinda limited power, actually. What, for instance, would he do about malingering?

        (A topic that, as it happens, I’ve already gone on at length about.)

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        • sardonic_sob says:

          Malingering which rises to the level of seriously impacting gold extraction would be the first symptom of a quick and fatal disease.

          Malingering which does not is merely a consequence of the fact that we are dealing with individual beings of varying levels of ability. The hidden third restriction on Fnargl is that he is basically rational. (It’s not so hidden, really: it’s how he gets to the point of realizing it would be more work than it was worth to radically rearrange the economy.)

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        • Mary says:

          How long do you think it takes for them to discover the exact amount below that level that you need?

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  20. Nobody says:

    I loved the old Harvard exam (which, if you look carefully, actually appears to be from 1869, the 1899 date being presumably a library archiving date). I especially like the way things are worded in the mathematical sections, and was particularly charmed by the use of “of” for multiplication.

    It was very appealing in a “Haha, I see exactly how you guys are trying to be all intimidating and high-status signaling, but guess what, not only do we still have people around who can answer these sorts of questions, but they even include people like me who are descended from Appalachian white trash, barely graduated from high school due to being too busy thinking and reading, and envy the privileged Old Money preppies and Jewish/Asian prodigies with intellectual parents who get to go to Harvard and receive social validation for their thinking and reading — meanwhile, why don’t you 19th-century types take a crack at passing our era’s comparably selective tests — oh that’s right, you can’t, because the concepts hadn’t been invented in your time yet. Nyah-nyah!” sort of way.

    In other words, I was favorably impressed, but I’ll definitely pick now over then.

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  21. Jay L. Gischer says:

    Hmm, well, there’s a lot to absorb there, but I’m going to only address one point – relying on self-reported happiness which compares current times with 50 years ago is laughably bad science. Happiness, for any individual, tends to return to a set-point. This is known as the “hedonic treadmill”. The reporting point of “how happy are you?” Well, how can we put a number on that that we can any confidence whatsoever translates from one cohort to another, or even the same cohort after 50 years?

    This really makes no sense at all.

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  22. moritheil says:

    The link to the intelligence/race study is fascinating, as it is (by our modern standards) horrifyingly racist but also, to all appearances, scientifically rigorous. One effect I know of that they did not appear to account for is that poverty depresses intelligence for 4 generations (we could call it genetic damage – methylation of certain DNA strands and so forth.) If your grandparents starved, that affects you negatively, and this has been shown statistically. It seems that would account for a lot of the effect they attribute to race, as they only account for socioeconomics in the present generation being tested.

    It’s really unfortunate that something like this can’t be published and discussed in a proper scientific journal, because of how it would be misunderstood. Not because I have an agenda and want science to get into “socially divisive” issues – but because “may the best argument that explains all the data win, and damn the politics” is simply how science should be done.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m aware of studies that show that if your grandparents starved you’re more likely to be obese (there was that one in Sweden or somewhere) but I thought that was just a carefully executed adaptation to “Guess there’s not much food here so we should save whatever we can”, rather than genetic damage per se. Are you familiar with a different study that shows what you’re suggesting? That’d be fascinating.

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      • Anni L says:

        I guess it technically shouldn’t be called genetic damage – mechanisms like DNA methylation and histone acetylation alter the ways in which an individual’s genes are expressed, but leave the DNA sequence intact. Most of the methylation patterns are erased from primordial germ cells, but apparently some can persist for at least a few generations.
        These epigenetic modifications aren’t necessarily just adaptations, either. For example, in a 2012 study, pregnant rats were fed excess estrogen, which resulted in an increased cancer risk and changes in DNA methylation patterns in several generations of their offspring.

        The methylation patterns of people from different socioeconomical classes seem to differ significantly. Now, all this could mean that, say, stressed or malnourished people develop and pass on to their descendants a range of epigenetic modifications including some which may negatively affect brain development or other factors contributing to intelligence. To me, this actually seems like a pretty reasonable hypothesis. However, I couldn’t find any studies directly supporting it, so I suppose it needs further investigation unless moritheil has some more information.

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  23. Mike Blume says:

    Every first-year engineering student at MIT works all the way through The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, which I think is nearly as impressive.

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    • Candide III says:

      MIT 6.001 was discontinued in 2008. It’s replacement, 6.01, uses Python instead of Scheme, and looks much less rigorous. Judging from the online course materials, it is merely a light smorgasbord after the fashion of the recent online AI course, ai-class.com.

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  24. Chris says:

    A modern day comparison to those 19th century Harvard admission tests is the STEP, which are admission tests taken by incoming Cambridge maths undergraduates. Past papers, up to and including last year’s, are online here.

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  25. bholiday says:

    I don’t understand the demand for a “general account” of group differences: The “reactionaries” seem to think that genes make a (positive and substantial) contribution in every case, their critics seem generally to think that they’ll make a negligible (at best) contribution in every case. So people (like the original poster) think cases where genes couldn’t make a major difference have important implications for more ambiguous cases – because, after all, if one sweeping account fails, then some other sweeping account must be the answer. Unless there’s something I’m missing, this doesn’t actually make any sense.

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    • sardonic_sob says:

      It makes perfect sense because we see vast amounts of evidence of differential group outcomes. And more importantly, we live in a society where differential outcomes are inherently suspect. If members of Racial Group A has lower average income/lifespan/education because they are in fact being repressed by Racial Group B, it is incumbent on society to raise them up and/or put a stop to Racial Group B’s nefarious activity, because we are all better off when people are able to use their talents to the maximum extent possible.

      But if Racial Group A has lower average income/lifespan/education than Racial Group B because Racial Group A has a biological tendency to prefer present reward to future gain, then Racial Group B is not doing anything wrong, and attempts to equalize their outcomes will be actively detrimental to society.

      You can substitute Culture Groups for Racial Groups above if you prefer the culturalist argument – I myself am something of a mixed adherent in that I think racial groups tend to tend toward cultural structures which reflect their tendencies, but I also think that a strong cultural structure can more than compensate for this. (E.G. the post-Leopold Belgian Congo, or Rhodesia.)

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      • Multiheaded says:

        But if Racial Group A has lower average income/lifespan/education than Racial Group B because Racial Group A has a biological tendency to prefer present reward to future gain, then Racial Group B is not doing anything wrong, and attempts to equalize their outcomes will be actively detrimental to society.

        Well… congratulations, that’s two non sequiturs, the Naturalistic Fallacy and a good deal of unspoken assumptions about ethics in a single short paragraph.
        For the record, I agree that group differences in intelligence affect life outcomes, I’m just stunned as to how this even justifies such policy prescriptions.

        Ameliorating the “natural” bad luck of its individual members as much as possible… is somehow not society’s duty? To me this is not a matter of “entitlement”, as right-libertarians derisively call it, but of fundamental obligation. Whether people somehow “deserve” helping or not is the wrong way to consider it, taboo “deserve” – the only question is how much we are able to do.

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        • sardonic_sob says:

          I decline to stipulate that I have committed any such errors. I did not say that preferring present reward to future gain was inherently a superior moral position. (And if you knew anything about me, you would realize that for me to say that would be pretty hypocritical.) I merely pointed out that if Group A has such a preference, and Group B does not, Group B will tend to engage in behaviors which produce those objectively measurable benefits and Group A will not. There is more to life than education and income. However, I never see arguments to the idea that members of a given group tend to have more sex, more free time and less concern about the future means that members of some other group should be jealous of them, and that they should be sanctioned in order to try to make them have less sex, work harder and take life more seriously. At best you get Bill Cosby when that happens, who is thought of as a dangerously reactionary crank by most right-thinking people.

          To answer your question, individually, we are able to do much. We can offer the best and the brightest of all groups as much education and opportunity as they are able to take advantage of, to the betterment of all.

          On a group basis, we can either encourage interbreeding, which is ethically iffy no matter which side of the debate you’re on, or we can just stop digging – in other words, we can acknowledge that different groups are going to have differential outcomes and that it is not necessarily a sign of some nefarious social conspiracy, it’s just how things are. That doesn’t mean we can’t treat people equally under the law. “[T]here is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein [...]” It means that we shouldn’t punish people for being inherently unequal any more than we should reward them for it.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          I never see arguments to the idea that members of a given group tend to have more sex, more free time and less concern about the future means that members of some other group should be jealous of them, and that they should be sanctioned in order to try to make them have less sex, work harder and take life more seriously.

          Sure you do; that’s the content of a whole discourse of cultural ressentiment against hedonistic and dissipated secular elites and their mud-race goons.

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        • sardonic_sob says:

          Touche, but I meant among people who have any actual power or influence. :)

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  26. Alejandro says:

    The “Cthulhu always swims left” assertion is only plausible if you look at a restricted set of social/cultural issues, such as women’s and gay rights. Economic policy has evolved rightward, with leftist policies that were common decades ago (like ultra-high income tax rates for the rich and strong protections for unions) being unthinkable today.

    Even in social issues, the assertion is not universally true. For example, from the sexual revolution in the 1960s, a Reactionary would plausibly extrapolate that by the 2010s free love would be the norm all over society. But instead, the elites have reverted to “bourgeois” norms and mostly hold monogamous marriage as an aspiration to be pursued.

    I find the “Cathedral” idea (that society tracks what the academic/cultured elite believes) to be plausible, but the evolution of the elite’s beliefs is not unidirectional and uniform across all issues.

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    • nydwracu says:

      Cthulhu always swims left, and left always swims neoliberal. Yglesias thinks there’s nothing more left than pushing for full employment.

      Or just look at internet ‘social justice’: they think they’re the leftmost thing ever while bashing the lower classes more than any conservative ever could.

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      • Intrism says:

        Social justice isn’t really a standard liberal movement. They’re what you get when you apply conservative thought patterns to a liberal worldview. Note the glorification of in-group bias and absolutism – usually, liberal movements avoid these like the plague (and thereby turn into Yvain’s example Unitarians) but SJers do the opposite.

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        • im says:

          Which social justice are you looking at? There are quite a variety with the worst probably being the para-SJ weirdness you see on Tumblr that’s focused on gender edge-cases, false uniqueness desire/bias, and some bizzaro categories nobody else seems to care about. There is also a lot of SJ stuff on the internet that fails to understand the majority.

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        • Mary says:

          I’ve seen plenty of the glorification of in-group bias and absolutism in leftists.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          I don’t think “in-group bias” can be realistically applied to ideologically constituted identities (with the caveat that lots of pro forma ideologically constituted identities, like religion obviously, are in practice ascribed.) Otherwise in-group bias is just believing that you’re correct and in the right, which is just the condition of not being insufferably post-modern, or being narrow-minded and/or really passionate about it, which is presumably already covered by “absolutism.”

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  27. Doug S. says:

    Regarding that Harvard entrance exam:

    There’s no *calculus* on it. There are a lot of computationally intensive math questions, and some of the terms are archaic, but there’s nothing there that I couldn’t have done with the math I knew at the end of my junior year of high school. (I don’t happen to know a fast algorithm for finding square roots and cube roots by hand, but that’s the kind of thing I could have looked up.) Compared to an AP Calculus test, it’s really not all that sophisticated.

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    • Deiseach says:

      Log tables were what were used before slide rules and calculators.

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    • Charlie says:

      You could do taylor series on paper fast enough to solve the log and square root problems, which is a reasonable thing to teach high school students, though for obvious reasons we don’t emphasize it now.

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      • Toby Bartels says:

        You can do Taylor series for the roots quickly, but for the logs they’re terribly slow. I expect that the students were allowed to use log tables, which was the normal practice for those who applied these calculations. (I also expect that they used memorised algorithms for the roots rather than Taylor series, although this amounts to essentially the same calculation.)

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        • Doug S. says:

          There’s a specific hand algorithm for square roots that resembles long division; they used to teach it to students as part of arithmetic, but not any more. I looked it up once.

          And of the two questions that involve logarithms, one of them can easily be done without a log table.

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        • Toby Bartels says:

          Yes, the algorithm resembling long division is the one that I mean that is essentially equivalent to using the Taylor series, just organised in a more user-friendly way. And yes, #9 is trivial; I really just meant that #10 would want a log table. I would also want an arcsine table (or at least one arctrig table) for #13. Still, perhaps if I thought about them more, I could do them without either tables or intensive calculation.

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  28. In a two party system, one side doesn’t lose forever; the center moves.

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    • im says:

      Yeah, and a lot of people realize this superficially but don’t take into account the full considerations. Furthermore, the center is moved by more than just the clamor of the two sides which (may) explain the continued gradual success of liberalism despite how much the Democrats suck.

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  29. im says:

    Hmmm. I have a complicated view of Reactionaries, and have to say that I think that many of their ideas need to be gently withdrawn for examination from the right-wing fluid in which they were grown and which still provides many incorrect object-level views (particularly relating to race and gender).

    - I do agree very strongly that modern society HAS to get over the CONSTANT LOW QUALITY META! w/r/t art and some culture. Especially because our meta isn’t even very good meta. We are obsessed with slaying our heroes, not with finding their faults and fixing them. Especially because we have gotten to the point where criticism of something or abandonment of it is no longer shocking or even noticeable.

    - I think that an attempt should perhaps be made to separate right-wing aesthetics and object-level values from each other. I’d add that a variety of left-wing movements should pay attention to this, as some of them seem to be very much built around left-wing or super-left-wing aesthetics that do not appeal to more than a portion of those they are trying to save.

    - I have to say, I am worried about the immigration issue. Plus it’s a little more complicated because the groups that are immigrating have a legitimate need for (costly) social services. Providing these is not compatible with mass immigration (esp. the even-greater immigration caused by less stigma and more opportunities and/or citizenship.) I’m worried by the support of policies that have this as their formal goal. One option would be to restrict immigration, but accept (temporary?) immigrants as a kind of client population (which unlike illegal immigrants would not be beyond control.) with no stigma (Note: Eliminating stigma may be impossible). I have heard that there was something kind of like this called the ‘bracero program’ but I have also heard that it was unfair and oppressive, so I don’t even know what to say about it.

    - Additionally, progressives have basically said that the dominants are not allowed to have any exclusivity at all. Reactions against this have been messy, often quasi-fascist, and sometimes more focused on hatred than self-preservation, and have made the thing into a real ugh field. I still take issue with it though, and progressives seem to have obliterated any discussion that is not pre-arranged to end up agreeing with them…

    - Not sure how to react to the imperialism thing. (Tee hee, ‘react’). One thing that occurs to me is that cultures in countries with low industrialization/whatever may be poorly adapted to getting said industrialization. Also, withdrawing colonialism may leave countries without a native leadership (And also without appropriate elite cultures needed for leadership) because the colonialists were providing that for them and possibly destroying attempts at forming such a thing (since it would probably be revolutionary). It should also be noticed that (by my entirely subjective, and usually rather progressive intuition) that ‘post-colonial’ theory tends to be bizzare, BS-y, and often thinks that it knows much more about the colonizer than it really should.

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    • nydwracu says:

      All I need to know about postcolonial theory is that there are postcolonial theorists who straight-facedly polemicize against ‘biotechnoscience’. (Their term, not mine.) And that I was forced to read that crap in college, by a professor who endorsed it, and went on to argue that mapping the human genome has no practical value.

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      • im says:

        Link or something?

        That’s the sort of thing that makes me just loose all reason and want to start jibbering incoherently about might making right and the perfection of Europe or some such bullshit. Not to mention that I don’t see what tech, science, or biotech has to do with colonialism, but I think that a lot of anti-colonialists (and other anti-oppression-ists) vastly overestimate how important the oppression or colonialism or whatever was to the ex-oppressor. Kind of a ‘But for me, it was the Ninteenth Century’ thing.

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      • Intrism says:

        Now, now, don’t go bringing sociologists into a discussion of sentient human beings.

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    • Thomas Eliot says:

      >- Additionally, progressives have basically said that the dominants are not allowed to have any exclusivity at all.

      Could you expound upon this? I’m not sure what you mean

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      • im says:

        I used vague language to reduce the probability of hostile or quasi-friendly pattern matching. I hate most people who argue the point I am about to argue.

        Progressives have refused to allow dominants to have any ingroups that exclude non-dominants, even if those ingroups are not likely to actually be a problem. Groups formally consisting of dominants and formed for the purpose of talking about the experience of being a dominant are prejudicially assumed to be for the purpose of conspiracy to maintain eternal dominance, and are occasionally allowed if 1. they focus all about the dominance, not other cultural aspects of the Dominant group and 2. they engage in humiliating hero-slaying, iconoclasm, and essentially the work of ending not only the dominance but also the self-respect of Dominants.

        The perception of these groups is often accurate but has resulted in some incredible neuroticism among dominants.

        ‘dominant’ can refer to a variety of groups of people who have historically dominated society.

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    • Oligopsony says:

      Post-colonial theory is bad on a bunch of levels, including having anything to do with the ideology of actual anti-colonialist militants, who all believe in gunpoint modernization (at which they were often quite successful, so long as they managed to successfully monopolize the guns) and grand narratives.

      If you want good accounts of why imperialism was in fact important to the imperialists, skip the literature departments and go to the economic historians. Kenneth Pomerantz and Immanuel Wallerstein are good places to start; J. Sakai if you’re ready to take the Actual Red Pill.

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      • im says:

        Ummm, your grammar is a little confusing.

        Are you saying that post-colonial philosophers are dissimilar to the militants and revolutionaries who actually expelled imperial regimes?

        Are you saying that said militants and revolutionaries favored ‘gunpoint modernization’?

        What are you saying about Grand Narratives (which I presume is not nice)?

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        • Oligopsony says:

          Yes, yes, and I’m saying that anti-colonial revolutionaries believed in them.

          If you want to divide the world up into nice and not-nice, I’d happily put anti-colonialism, gunpoint modernization, and grand narratives into the nice pile. But that sort of evaluation doesn’t have any influence on what happened historically, of course.

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  30. Pingback: A Thrive/Survive Theory Of The Political Spectrum | Slate Star Codex

  31. Chris says:

    Noam Chomsky made a career of criticizing our society and became rich and famous and got a cushy professorship.

    might more accurately read, as I have no doubt you’re aware:

    Noam Chomsky made a secondary career of criticizing our society and became rich and famous and this in no way prevented him from keeping a cushy professorship in a completely unrelated field.

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  32. Randy M says:

    “While one may not agree with Victorian Britain’s aims, one has to wonder what would happen if that kind of will, energy, and unity of purpose were directed towards a worthier goal ”

    Ending slavery not good enough for you? (Or am I unclear on the where victorian era ends?)

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    • Oligopsony says:

      Nope, that was the Victorians, and moreover the most Victorian elements of Victorian society. (Their earnest hope – outside of the really really fifty-Stalins Victorian elements – was that the freed would become hard-working subsistence laborers, materially pretty much where they were but no more subject to sexual violence and other gratuitous indignities heaped upon them by planters. They were sometimes successful at this and sometimes not.)

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      • Randy M says:

        “Their earnest hope … was that the freed would become hard-working subsistence laborers, materially pretty much where they were but no more subject to sexual violence and other gratuitous indignities heaped upon them by planters”

        I’m not sure if you mean this as an indictment or not.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          I mean it as a description! All things in history are pregnant with what is admirable and what is to be condemned, if you are in a mood to admire or condemn, but that’s not always the best way to understand the stuff.

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        • Randy M says:

          Sure. The juztaposition of describing their hopes as earnest and the object of the hopes being stuck in subsistence level made me wonder if there was some backhanded compliment at work.

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  33. Anonymous says:

    You, sir, are the best devil’s advocate I have ever read. I hereby ask the Rationality Czar to name you the Steel Man of Rationalist Necromancy.

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  34. Pingback: A Charitable View of Reactionaries | Junior Ganymede

  35. Erin says:

    This post did not show up in my rss feed (google reader); all other ones I checked seem to have. Thoughts, anyone?

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  36. Mary says:

    One notes that your religious groups may have engaged some kind of selection process that produces your results. Thomas Sowell notes that immigrant groups from different regions of a country often have very different outcomes.

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  37. cory says:

    Your link for the crime graph goes nowhere. Here’s the source: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/olympic-britain/crime-and-defence/crimes-of-the-century/

    As expected from Moldbug, it’s being deceptively used. From my link:

    There is no simple answer as to why crime rates increased so markedly in the second half of the century. Over the period, there were significant changes to the types of offences recorded as crime, and how they are counted, making it difficult to accurately assess underlying trends in ‘real’ crime. Recorded crime levels have also been affected by the behaviour of the public in reporting crimes to the police. An increase in the number of burglaries reported, for example, may partly be due to the relatively recent need to inform the police in order to make an insurance claim, rather than an indication of any real increase in the level of burglary.

    You’d be better off looking the murder rate, since murder is generally consistently defined and recorded, much more so than other crimes. Here’s a long article on long term trends in murder rates for Europe:
    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/history/postgraduate/ma_studies/mamodules/hi971/topics/interpersonal/long-term-historical-trends-of-violent-crime.pdf

    And here’s the US:
    http://thepublicintellectual.org/2011/05/02/a-crime-puzzle/

    These illustrate the difference between someone like Moldbug and a real scholar. Moldbug’s sole goal is political advocacy, so as soon as he finds a datum that supports him, he stops questioning it. There are of course people that do that on the left, but most specialists aren’t like that. At their best, they don’t think “How can I move society to the left?”, instead they think “How can I integrate the new study on medieval murder rates in Sweden in order to get a better picture of historical trends?” Bias happens, but cries of “Bias” more often come from someone who wants to dismiss evidence they don’t like.

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    • Jake says:

      A better graph would collate that chart with medical life saving tech. Most murders are acts of assault that end death, not planed murders. Murder is by far the worst crime to track for.

      A better test than official standard is always is it safe to go outside without guards/at night, ect. Almost all major US cities fail this test and have done so since the 1960s. People the 60s people left their cars unlocked in LA. Only an insane man would do that today.

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      • Damien says:

        Non-homicide violent crimes have also been going down dramatically. The fall in rapes is particularly dramatic given the efforts made to increase its reporting.
        http://filipspagnoli.wordpress.com/stats-on-human-rights/statistics-on-violence/

        So “it’s just the medicine” won’t work.

        As for “is it safe to go outside at night”, that’s not perfectly useful since what it measures is *perceived* safety, which can be heavily out of line with reality thanks to sensationalist news reporting. Still, it is true that there was a general rise in urban crime in the 1960s, but it’s also true that there’s been a general fall since the 1990s, and people with money and choice are moving back into the cities. There’s also been a fall in the excess crime cities have over rural populations. The one factor that seems to explain all this well is lead. Externalism strikes again.

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    • Damien says:

      “There is no simple answer as to why crime rates increased so markedly in the second half of the century”

      There might be: lead.
      http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-link-gasoline

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      • Candide III says:

        South Africa before and after 1994 is a problematic data point for this theory. (Note: Wikipedia does not show the apartheid-era figures, they are too embarrassing. You have to download a pdf to actually see the graphs.)

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        • Damien says:

          Not really. The theory isn’t that lead poisoning is responsible for all murders, that’d be silly. It’s that lead poisoning is responsible for the rise and fall in crime rates that happened mostly in synchrony throughout the First World. South Africa is a very different country with its own unique problems and not part of the data set to be explained.

          I don’t know about your PDF but http://www.iss.co.za/pubs/CrimeQ/No.7/Thomson.htm has older data. Which actually isn’t entirely incompatible with the lead theory: there’s an increase in crime in the usual decades of the 60s through 80s and the usual decline from the mid-90s onward. There’s a unique spike in the early 1990s, with the end of apartheid.

          I note there’s also been a big increase in the deaths by gun after 1990. Says though doesn’t show guns have become much more widely available.

          Wiki on leaded gas:
          “As of June 2011, unleaded automotive gasoline is available almost universally throughout the world and the only countries in which leaded gasoline is the only type available are Burma and Afghanistan; Leaded gasoline also remains available in Algeria, Georgia, Iraq, North Korea, and Yemen”

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/31/AR2005123100957_2.html
          “As recently as 20 years ago, testing in South Africa revealed some of the highest concentrations of lead levels ever measured in children.

          Unleaded gasoline was introduced as an option in 1996″

          20 years before would have been 1986. Maybe apartheid was able to keep the lid on, but the population would have been ripe for violence.

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  39. asdf says:

    The biological case is already proven science, we just aren’t allowed to talk about it.

    See the following reading list:
    http://www.humanbiologicaldiversity.com/

    HBD actually discusses a wide variety of interesting topics besides IQ.

    “But for now I’m just going to say let’s assume by fiat that the biologicalist hypothesis is false”

    I’m afraid you can never understand Reaction if you start with this (which, btw, you don’t justify).

    Let us take a simple example like immigration:

    Person A) Letting lots of immigrants in could alter our culture in a bad way.
    Person B) It’s okay because we are going to re-educate them and change their culture.
    Person A) Seems dangerous.
    Person B) That’s just because you an evil racist who doesn’t believe in that people can pick up new cultural ideas. We certainly aren’t going to stop these people from immigrating because you are afraid that we can’t pull it off. This is America, we can accomplish anything. Don’t be a pussy.

    We know this is how it plays out because that was the arguement and earlier generation of progressives made.

    This is how it plays out if you accept the biological arguement:

    Person A) Letting lots of immigrants in could alter our culture in a bad way.
    Person B) It’s okay because we are going to re-educate them and change their culture.
    Person A) No, they are biologically incapable to assuming new cultural norms. As such no amount of can do American spirit can fix them and they will be a constant drag on our country for eternity, maybe one day causing massive civil strife and fractures.
    Person B) Oh yeah, makes sense.

    We know that works because it did work for people back when they were more racist. Lincoln wanted to ship the feed slaves back to Africa for a reason.

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    • Anonymous says:

      “I’m afraid you can never understand Reaction if you start with this (which, btw, you don’t justify).”

      Agreed. If you do not acknowledge racial IQ differences or inherent psychological differences between men and women, then most of the strongest arguments against immigration, multiculturalism, the welfare state, and feminism are summarily obliterated. It’s a testament to Scott’s skill as a thinker and writer that he was able to steelman Reaction this much while removing one of its fundamental cornerstones.

      The fundamental realization of the Dark Enlightenment is that all men are not created equal, not individual men, nor the various groups and categories of men, nor are women equal to men, that these beliefs and others like them are religious beliefs, that society is just as religious as ever it was, with an official state religion of progressivism, but this is a new religion, an evil religion, and, if you are a Christian, a demonic religion.

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      • Alex says:

        Hmm, you’re line of thought is as follows.

        P1: There are innate biological differences between men and women and people of different races.
        P2: ????
        P3: From P1 and P2, discrimination against women, and people of different races is justified. (I’m not interested the welfare state)

        I would be very curious to hear what exactly P2 says, for now though I would like to dispute P1. Quoting myself from an earlier comment: consider the following thought experiment.

        “Suppose that I were to get a group of upper class white mothers to become surrogates for embryos that were obtained from poor parents and vice versa (poor mothers become surrogates for embryos from upper class white parents). Suppose also that the surrogate mothers and their spouse raise the babies that they give birth to ie. babies of the other race.”

        I would predict that the black children raised by upper class white mothers would have an average IQ that is much closer to their adoptive/ surrogate parents than to their biological poor black parents and vice versa. What would you predict? This eliminates the variables of culture, pre-natal care and upbringing leaving us with just biology.

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        • gwern says:

          > I would predict that the black children raised by upper class white mothers would have an average IQ that is much closer to their adoptive/ surrogate parents than to their biological poor black parents and vice versa. What would you predict? This eliminates the variables of culture, pre-natal care and upbringing leaving us with just biology.

          I am pretty sure this experiment has already been done, and I am pretty sure that people pointed out that this most certainly does not ‘eliminate the variables of culture, pre-natal care’ inasmuch as the black children would not magically gain white skin and be treated exactly like other white upper-class children (so ‘culture’ would not be equalized) and nor would they be conceived in the wombs of upper-class white women (so ‘pre-natal care’ would not be equalized).

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        • Alex says:

          Doh! I could have sworn I had changed “black” to “insert race” to address this criticism but I missed few instance and wordpress doesn’t like angle brackets so the “insert race” parts got removed.
          /end rant

          Anyways, yes I am aware of that criticism. The thought experiment isn’t perfect but I still think it is valuable for preventing the reactionary from sneaking in “innate differences” when he/she has only shown that there are differences.

          Also, doesn’t pre-natal mean before birth? I thought that a surrogate baby would receive mostly the same pre-natal care as a naturally conceived one.

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        • gwern says:

          You can only implant after the embryo has started developing, so while surrogacy goes a lot farther than regular adoption, it still hasn’t completely equalized womb environments.

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          Surrogacy is usually IVT, so completely eliminates the womb of the genetic mother. So if you implant into two wombs, you have equalized womb environment. I doubt much data is available comparing wombs. Nor do I think that there are experiments comparing IVT to natural gestation, but indirect data might be available.

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        • Alex says:

          Thanks gwern and Douglas.

          @Gwern
          You said that surrogacy experiments have been done already? I’m pretty surprised at that. Do you happen to have any links?

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        • gwern says:

          I was a little sarcastically referring to the various adoption studies, which have never settled the debate in part because as I said, adoption does not control for how society treats people with black skin.

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  40. asdf says:

    BTW, the more you explore HBD science the more you will find explanations for all the objections you raised in your essay.

    Of course if you don’t want it to be true I’m sure you will find a way.

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  41. Jake says:

    Have you ever considered what discrimination and prejudiced is? Every human society has it. Every human society practices it. It’s how your society forces you to conform. We discriminate against immigration groups most strongly when they are the most different from the rest of the populace. When they start dressing, acting, and speaking the same as the dominate group the discrimination eases and eventually disappears. That’s what happened to those large batches of Irish, Italian and German immigrants.

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    • Damien says:

      “the discrimination eases and eventually disappears”

      Except in the case of the German Jews under the quintessential Reactionaries, the Nazis. There a largely assimilated population was killed by the millions, by a party reacting to progressivism (including “decadent modern art”), full of ideas about racial superiority and the proper role of women.

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  42. Steve Johnson says:

    Excellent summary for a non-reactionary – I suspect that eventually the gnawing doubts that even writing something like this creates will grow.

    A few points:

    “As far as I know, even the Reactionaries who are really into biological differences between races don’t claim that women are intellectually inferior to men. I don’t even think they necessarily believe there are biological differences between the two groups.”

    That’s untrue.

    Women are plainly and clearly intellectually inferior to men and plenty of reactionaries have stated this.

    Here’s an example of a very strong argument in favor of that proposition:

    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/women.html

    Short version of reactionary beliefs about sex differences: women are more emotional and aren’t as good at essential tasks necessary for building civilization as workers. They’re horrible at making civilization preserving sexual choices – unrestrained they’ll make choices that will destroy civilization (and are well on the way to doing so).

    There’s a whole set of Dark Enlightenment writings on women.

    The more important quibble is this: you don’t state the reactionary view of what progressivism actually is.

    Progressivism is an ideology that erodes all sources of legitimate authority that it doesn’t control and tries to foster as much dependency as it can afford. Elements that don’t further those goals get discarded over time. Someone earlier mentioned unions – they were useful to the New Deal coalition but had the side effect of being an uncontrolled source of power – so they were discarded. Much easier to replace their votes with low IQ clients (yes, the “biologicalist hypothesis” is inescapably bound up with reaction).

    Each element of the progressive project is there to destroy some rival for power and empower the state.

    Here is a very good summary:

    http://freenortherner.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/47-the-liberal-goal/

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Here They come! Brace for impact, Scott!

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Women are plainly and clearly intellectually inferior to men and plenty of reactionaries have stated this.

      Short version of reactionary beliefs about sex differences: women are more emotional and aren’t as good at essential tasks necessary for building civilization as workers. They’re horrible at making civilization preserving sexual choices – unrestrained they’ll make choices that will destroy civilization (and are well on the way to doing so).

      Ahem, isn’t this attitude to “emotion” and “inferiority” better explained by the mindsets of the reactionaries themselves? I suggest that you, sir, read some Ursula Le Guin – certainly a very sensible, rational and even-handed woman!

      Shevek saw that he had touched in these men an impersonal animosity that went very deep. Apparently they, like the tables on the ship, contained a woman, a suppressed, silenced, bestialized woman, a fury in a cage. He had no right to tease them. They knew no relation but possession. They were possessed.

      We hate in others what we fear in ourselves, don’t we?

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      • Candide III says:

        You could say that the attitude to “civilization” is also better explained by reactionary mindsets. After all, who decides what “civilization” is? Etc. (Rome did not “fall”, it transformed into an eco-city with urban farms and extensive recycling of masonry.) This line of argument is silly. It leads to an agreement to disagree on everything — unless one side can declare the other insufficiently progressive, which promptly terminates the discussion.

        I like LeGuin very much myself, and I specifically like The Dispossessed very much. I understand what you feel when you read it. However, the history of Earth-side communes is not encouraging. The human nature is not good enough for Anarres to work. You have a different opinion? Go ahead, start a commune. I’ll short you.

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        • Damien says:

          It’s been a long time but I thought Anarres was a pretty critical look at what it takes for a commune to work. They don’t have “government” but they have social norms that are at least as coercive, and kind of oppressive to nails sticking up like the protagonist. And they’re in very poor conditions, where equality is maintained partly because there’s not enough wealth for anyone to accumulate some.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Yeah, the social and political problems that have been developing on Anarres are a central conflict in the plot – but so is the contrast between Anarres and Urras, and these dialectical contradictions are held up as a potential source of progress, not as an argument for futility. It’s a very nuanced work. Re-read it, maybe, or at least check out this collection of essays on it.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          I’m not literally suggesting a revolution tomorrow and full anarcho-communism in all things. (Although Orwell did have a high opinion of Actually Existing Anarcho-Communism he saw in Spain.) Hell, I’m not even that opposed to autocratic and centralized government – not all autocracies are alike.
          -
          I’m merely pointing out that 1) Le Guin understands the dynamics of power and hierarchy well, in all its varying forms – as seen in the detailed description of the problems with Anarres and the non-strawman capitalism on Urras, and 2) at least about the capabilities and innate proclivities of women, such reactionary-essentialist rants are nonsense; look outside the window to see the proof.
          Gender equality can work perfectly well and doesn’t need to mean gender sameness.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Also see The Day Before the Revolution for some more detail on Odonian social philosophy and the character of Odo herself – which is not identical to UKL and her own thought, of course, but still it’s a coherent ethos.

          She liked the young, and there was always something to learn from a foreigner, but she was tired of new faces, and tired of being on view. She learned from them, but they didn’t learn from her; they had learnt all she had to teach long ago, from her books, from the Movement. They just came to look, as if she were the Great Tower in Rodarred, or the Canyon of the Tulaevea. A phenomenon, a monument. They were awed, adoring. She snarled at them: Think your own thoughts! –That’s not anarchism, that’s mere obscurantism.–You don’t think liberty and discipline are incompatible, do you?
          –They accepted their tongue-lashing meekly as children, gratefully, as if she were some kind of All-Mother, the idol of the Big Sheltering Womb. She! She who had mined the shipyards at Seissero, and had cursed Premier Inoilte to his face in front of a crowd of seven thousand, telling him he would have cut off his own balls and had them bronzed and sold as souvenirs, if he thought there was any profit in it–she who had screeched, and sworn and kicked policemen, and spat at priests, and pissed in public on the big brass plaque in Capitol Square that said HERE WAS FOUNDED THE SOVEREIGN NATION OF A-IO ETC ETC, pssssssssss to all that! And now she was everybody’s grandmama, the dear old lady, the sweet old monument, come worship at the womb. The fire’s out, boys, it’s safe to come up close.
          -
          She had never feared or despised the city. It was her country. There would not be slums like this, if the Revolution prevailed. But there would be misery. There would always be misery, waste, cruelty. She had never pretended to be changing the human condition, to be Mama taking tragedy away from the children so they won’t hurt themselves. Anything but. So long as people were free to choose, if they chose to drink flybane and live in sewers, it was their business. Just so long as it wasn’t the business of Business, the source of profit and the means of power for other people.
          -
          She had felt all that before she knew anything; before she wrote the first pamphlet, before she left Parheo, before she knew what “capital” meant, before she’d been farther than River Street where she played rolltaggie kneeling on scabby knees on the pavement with the other six-year-olds, she had known it: that she, and the other kids, and her parents, and their parents, and the drunks and whores and all of River Street, were al the bottom of something–were the foundation, the reality, the source. But will you drag civilization down into the mud? cried the shocked decent people, later on, and she had tried for years to explain to them that if all you had was mud, then if you were God you made it into human beings, and if you were human you tried to make it into houses where human beings could live. But nobody who thought he was better than mud could understand.
          -
          Now, water seeking its level, mud to mud, Laia shuffled through the foul, noisy street, and all the ugly weakness of her old age was at home. The sleepy whores, their lacquered hair-arrangements dilapidated and askew, the one-eyed woman wearily yelling her vegetables to sell, the half-wit beggar slapping flies, these were her countrywomen. They looked like her, they were all sad, disgusting, mean, pitiful, hideous. They were her sisters, her own people.

          I find much to be admired about such anti-Nietzcheanism. Philip K. Dick has this voice too in places. I disagree with it often, but it’s a good voice to have in one’s head. If only because I loathe and despise the opposite attitude – like the attitudes of Moldbug, Foseti, John Derbyshire or Nick Land.

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    • Damien says:

      Unions were discarded by progressives? Great way to zero out your credibility, I must thank you for the convenience.

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      • sardonic_sob says:

        Look at the relative power that Unions had in the middle of the twentieth century versus the relative power that they have now.

        “Discarded” is too strong a word – Useful Idiots remain a resource which is always renewed – but mainstream political progressive thought has certainly greatly reduced their actual power as anything but a rallying symbol.

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        • Damien says:

          Yes, unions are weaker. But not because *progressives* turned on them and sought to depower them. They’re weaker from a combination of changes in the type of work done and from laws passed by reactionary elements, with union-breaking as a deliberate goal. Taft-Hartley Act, “right to work” laws… Much of the Southern program can be summed up as measures to keep labor cheap and fearful. Liberals/progressives are still pro-union, though union weakness means less prominence is given to them.

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    • Damien says:

      But I looked at your links anyways and… they’re also not credible. David Stove’s effort to denigrate the intellectual burden of nurture leads to him writing fathers and fatherhood out of the childhood experience, which is an interesting angle for a Reactionary. More fatally, in going on and on about the lack of intellectual performance by women, and the supposed tradeoff made by female genetics of motherhood for brains, he completely overlooks the impact of pregnancy and childrearing on performance. Were women to be as bright or even brighter than men, the fact that most have spent most of their lives raising children would put a crimp in their outside accomplishments. Combine that with the various social obstacles reared in their way, which he acknowledges but handwaves away, and his argument falls apart.

      As for his dismissing of “equal results on math tests” on the grounds that the opposite result would not be reported, this is total bullshit. Girls falling behind boys on math tests as they age is more definitely reported and worried about, thus the celebration when girls seem to be catching up. Ditto for blacks underperforming whites on standardized tests or IQ tests. He only shows his own intellectual bankruptcy in dismissing contrary evidence.

      As for your other link, it dismisses the payroll taxes paid by most of the mythical “47%” on the ground that those just pay for benefits, not general taxation, which ignores the fact that those benefits *are* the major function of the federal government. It also blames progressivism for the destruction of black families, while not mentioning the War On Drugs Other Than Alcohol and Tobacco and three strikes laws and such.

      Pretty poor intellectual performance by the reactionaries so far.

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      • Oligopsony says:

        Reading charitably, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to say that the left’s goal is to destroy rival power bases, in the sense that the thrust of leftward movement has been to eliminate corporate categories and ascribed identities in favor of an increasingly unmediated relationship between individuals and the abstract state. What leftists mean when we speak of “oppression” is the power of husbands over wives, whites over blacks, employers over employees, and so on; the destruction of these power bases is our program in its simplest form. But you cannot just get rid of power; it is implicit in the mere existence of social relationships. So the goal of the left is power and the destruction of our rivals.

        The only problem with this characterization is that it is utterly trivial. The goal of any program, at this level of abstraction, is power and the destruction of one’s rivals.

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        • Steve Johnson says:

          “The only problem with this characterization is that it is utterly trivial. The goal of any program, at this level of abstraction, is power and the destruction of one’s rivals.”

          The reactionary program doesn’t have this element. Reactionaries support policies that lead to strong families with strong single authority, strong social clubs with restrictive rules, strong civil society with wide ranging powers to ostracize, colonial governments with authority over the territory they govern, etc.

          The fact that progressivism has to tear down every other form of social organization to survive and thrive should be deeply troubling.

          Why are alternate client / patron relationships so threatening to the progressive order?

          The progressive answer is that those relationships are abusive and exploitative.

          The reactionary answer is that these relationships are dangerous to progressives because they are effective and because they are better for everyone involved than progressive government so progressives have to destroy them to prevent dangerous thoughts.

          Thoughts like “if Rhodesia does so well with non-progressive government in Africa, what could a non-progressive government accomplish with a European or Asian population?”

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        • Oligopsony says:

          “The only problem with this characterization is that it is utterly trivial. The goal of any program, at this level of abstraction, is power and the destruction of one’s rivals.”

          The reactionary program doesn’t have this element. Reactionaries support policies that lead to strong families with strong single authority, strong social clubs with restrictive rules, strong civil society with wide ranging powers to ostracize, colonial governments with authority over the territory they govern, etc.

          Uh, that’s “this element” precisely. You support some power structures and so are compelled to fight their rivals (the administrative state, unions, feminism, academia, unruly children, whatever.) There’s no need to apologize, that’s what politics is, and if you want to persuade others to support the particular power bases you do against others then we’re stepping down a level of abstraction that’s actually useful.

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      • Steve Johnson says:

        Scott Alexander asserted that reactionaries don’t believe in biological differences between the sexes (really? I guess I’d better check with my doctor as to where my womb went) – this assertion is untrue. Reactionaries do believe that the sexes differ (on average) in interests, capabilities, and (most importantly) temperament. The link provided is an example of this which proves the only point I was trying to make – that people believe what the author of the post asserts they do not believe. There are hundreds of other examples.

        As to the substance of the point, here’s the reactionary argument:

        1) Males and females have been under different selective pressure since our ancestral line diverged from asexually reproducing ancestors.
        2) Differential selective pressure selects for different traits – that’s what differential selective pressure means.
        2) Women have been selected physically for the ability to give birth to a large headed infant. Men have been selected for other purposes that lead to them being faster, stronger, more aggressive, having higher bone density, better hand eye coordination, better throwing ability, taller, with greater lean muscle mass, stronger muscles per unit weight, etc.
        3) As much as women and men have been subject to different selective pressures for physical attributes they have been subject to different selective pressures for mental attributes.
        4) Therefore, there is every reason to expect women and men to be very different mentally and physically.

        Given that, I’m afraid that you’ve managed to score an own-goal here:

        “More fatally, in going on and on about the lack of intellectual performance by women, and the supposed tradeoff made by female genetics of motherhood for brains, he completely overlooks the impact of pregnancy and childrearing on performance. Were women to be as bright or even brighter than men, the fact that most have spent most of their lives raising children would put a crimp in their outside accomplishments. Combine that with the various social obstacles reared in their way, which he acknowledges but handwaves away, and his argument falls apart.”

        In short, women are under different selective pressures than men are – pressures that involve child rearing. A woman who is terrible at spatial relations but capable of raising children well would have left descendants. A woman who had the reverse set of traits would not. There is no reward for genes that make women who would be capable of any kind of outside accomplishment. On the other hand, genes that make men capable of outside accomplishment spread. Your assertion is that women get capabilities that have remained unused for all of human history yet don’t get removed from the gene pool. That’s… unlikely (to put it charitably).

        (not an actual quote from anyone (yet)) -

        “But men and women only differ trivially genetically – a missing Y for women replaced by an extra X – surely they must be the same”

        Peacocks and peahens.

        “As for your other link, it dismisses the payroll taxes paid by most of the mythical “47%” on the ground that those just pay for benefits, not general taxation, which ignores the fact that those benefits *are* the major function of the federal government.”

        Here are a few other taxes you missed:

        Gas taxes
        Sales tax
        Excise taxes

        The point which you missed isn’t the exact number. It’s the strategy. It’s about what reactionaries claim is the essence of progressivism. Is the essence of progressivism this or that program? Is it Keynesian economics? Is it anti-racism? Is it anti-sexism? Is it striving for economic equality? Is it preserving the environment? What happens when those goals are in conflict?

        The reactionary answer is: the action that enhances the power of the state and destroys any other form of social organization is the progressive one. In other words, to the reactionary, the other elements are flimsy excuses and not motivating actions.

        The reactionary model makes better predictions.

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        • Damien says:

          Fair enough on providing an example. But hey, you seem to believe this stuff anyway.

          “2) Women have been selected physically for the ability to give birth to a large headed infant. Men have been selected for other purposes”

          More BS. Yes, having big-headed kids has been one of the selective pressures on human females, leading to their wonky hips. But it’s blind to say that’s the only thing they’ve been selected for. They have to choose a good mate in a species where males often provide for their young; raise the knowledge-hungry child to well-socialized and competent adulthood; sometimes, deceive the male as to the paternity of his children… also, traditionally, learn to identify and classify a large number of plants as safe and useful, weave, etc. There’s lots of intelligence required in those things, arguably more than there is in throwing rocks.

          Hell, we could reverse your logic: males have been selected to be strong in hunting and inter-male combat, not smart, with their bulging muscles taking energy away from brain development. It’s women who have to be field biologists and social manipulators and child psychologists.

          Intellectual performance? Women are often regarded as more verbal, more social, better writers… the main semi-robust claim to superior male performance is freaky creative-analytical stuff which most men aren’t very good at either, but the genius outliers tend to be male, so far.

          ***

          “The reactionary model makes better predictions.”

          Uh-huh. You’d have to back that up with actual predictions to be convincing…

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        • Steve Johnson says:

          They have to choose a good mate in a species where males often provide for their young; raise the knowledge-hungry child to well-socialized and competent adulthood; sometimes, deceive the male as to the paternity of his children… also, traditionally, learn to identify and classify a large number of plants as safe and useful, weave, etc. There’s lots of intelligence required in those things, arguably more than there is in throwing rocks.

          Hell, we could reverse your logic: males have been selected to be strong in hunting and inter-male combat, not smart, with their bulging muscles taking energy away from brain development. It’s women who have to be field biologists and social manipulators and child psychologists.

          You’ll get no argument from me on any of that. It still misses the point.

          First check if there are different selective pressures on men and women.

          Are there? Yes, no one disagrees.

          From there you proceed – what do you find when you actually examine the capabilities of men and women? What do you find when you examine the accomplishments of men and women?

          Don’t you see? There is no reason to expect men and women to be equal. Once you discard that invisible assumption you then examine the evidence. No evidence points to women being as competent as men in a huge array of areas. Lots of evidence points to women being less competent in a huge array of areas. Lots of evidence points to women being more competent in areas like child care.

          What do progressives do when confronted with this? They say that sexism explains it but given that everyone agrees that there’s no reason to expect women and men to be equal there’s no reason to believe in the invisible and intangible force of sexism as opposed to assuming that differences between men and women are caused by women and men being, gasp, different.

          As to the content of what men and women are better at and how to structure society around the actual nature of men and women so that both enjoy their lives more, I’ll leave that aside for now.

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        • Damien says:

          You fail when you call sexism an “invisible and intangible force”. It’s very real. I’ve tutored math, and encountered girls who got told (by some gym teacher roped into teaching math) that girls were bad at math. Stereotype threat is a real and measurable thing, for sexism and racism. In the computer field, male programmers are often quite sexist, and women at events get assumed to be someone’s girlfriend or a secretary in marketing — this, when there used to be a lot more women in computing. A lot more women got hired by orchestras when they switched to blind auditions and the hiring decisions being made without noting the sex of the candidate.

          It’s possible that sexism doesn’t explain all the differences in performance, but to deny sexism and its pernicious effects is to live in a comforting fantasy world of one’s own.

          “No evidence points to women being as competent as men in a huge array of areas”

          Except, you know, stuff like those modern girls outperforming boys on math tests, which your first link dismissed as bad evidence for no good reason.

          And the ancestors of the modern reactionary view said women couldn’t be doctors and physicists. Now they are, in double-digit percentages. Not equal, yet, but the reactionary view was *wrong*. Flagrantly, hugely, wrong.

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        • Damien says:

          “Your assertion is that women get capabilities that have remained unused for all of human history yet don’t get removed from the gene pool”

          Unlikely only if you have particular priors about the strength of selection and the precision of the genetic program with regard to capabilities. If there are particular mental modules that have been useful for male hunters and farmers and not for their wives, expression of those might not develop or might atrophy in women. If humans run mostly on “general intelligence” useful in different ways for both sexes, then there’d be no reason for difference. Given that a key factor in driving human intelligence is thought by many to be *dealing with other humans*, we wouldn’t even have to postulate different ways.

          For most of history, a majority of the educated were men, but most men weren’t educated; the capabilities for inventing calculus weren’t much more selected for among men.

          As for female accomplishment in history, another confounding factor is whether accomplishments got erased by the biases of historians or appropriation. Martin Luther considered his wife to be creative and intelligent, and she wrote a lot, but her writings didn’t survive. Victorians are said to have had a poor attitude toward evidence that contradicted their notions of the sexes. Rosalind Franklin’s career was steeped in sexism, and her key role in the discovery of DNA’s structure was suppressed for a long time. I have no idea if Einstein’s wife contributed to relativity theory, but it’s certainly plausible that she did without getting credit, as some say.

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        • ozymandias42 says:

          Um, actually, there being different sexual pressures on men and women doesn’t prove that men and women are different. Men contribute genes to female babies too. :P It’s perfectly possible that a trait that causes genetic benefits for men but is neutral for women (or even negative but not so negative it outweighs the benefits the genes give to men) gets passed along to both sexes. (And, of course, the same vice versa.)

          So I’m really not going to accept “men got selected to be faster, therefore they’re faster than women” as an explanation unless you /also/ have an argument for why women got selected to be slower.

          Also, it’s bullshit to say that women didn’t need any genes for any kind of outside accomplishment. Off the top of my head: gathering produces most of the calories hunter gatherers eat. In most of the Middle Ages, women dominated brewing. For thousands of years women were primarily responsible for birthing babies. Unless those don’t qualify as outside accomplishment for some reason…?

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    • Troy says:

      Stove’s argument is weak. In particular, he ignores a possible innate explanation of the lack of great women achievements, one that actually has empirical support: not a lower average IQ, but a lesser standard deviation. Basically, there are fewer female geniuses and fewer female idiots. (We find a similar pattern for other traits.)

      His claim that psychologists would not report male-female IQ differences is also too strong. They do report black-white differences, even though these are unpopular. True, they don’t like to talk about them and the psychologists who do are demonized in the mainstream media, but the situation clearly isn’t so bad that no one would ever even report a study that found that women have lower IQs on average than men.

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  43. Damien says:

    I think Scott made a stronger case for Reaction than the actual reactionaries in the comments. Sort of like a Turing Test where the computer sails past 50% to consistently beat out the human.

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  44. sardonic_sob says:

    We don’t need a revivifier: a candidate presents himself. As Moldbug points out, a very viable method of approaching our problems would be to identify them individually and say, “How would Hereditary Prince Alois handle this?”

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  45. BenSix says:

    It sounds incredibly ugly, but of colonial Britain or very-insistently-non-colonial USA, guess which one ended up pacifying Iraq after three months with only about 6,000 casualties, and guess which one took five years to re-establish a semblance of order and killed about 100,000 people in the process?

    Guess which one took place in an era where rebels had little or no access to guns, rockets and bombs? Colonialism was successful without enormous casualty rates because the people that were conquered were armed with spears and bows and arrows and thought a good military tactic was to run at one’s occupiers while screaming. It was the emergence of modern strategies and the accessibility of powerful weapons more than anything, I think, that made imperialism harder. In the Philippine-American war, for example, the Yanks had no qualms with – in the words one of their newspapers – “killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people, from lads of ten and up” but conflict dragged bloodily onwards because the Filipinos were smart and had begun to use guerrilla tactics.

    As for the legacy of colonialism in Africa: I note that Rwanda failed to get a mention.
    The lesson is not, “Be smarter in occupying countries” but, “Do not occupy countries.”

    Having a really really dictatorial dictator who controls everything, like the czar or this hypothetical Israeli psychopath, kinda sucks but it’s peaceful and you know exactly where you stand.

    Does it? It seems to me that a lesson of the twentieth century is that however powerful a dictator is they can always imagine that their position is insecure. So, a Stalin or a Pol Pot or a Kim Jong-il – or, heck, to be more historical, a Caligula or Vlad III – had their nations at their feet but kept on massacring people because they imagined that at any moment one of them would reach out and trip them up.

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    • BenSix says:

      Ag. Meant to expand upon the point about Rwanda by observing that the genocide was, in large part, a consequence of the divide and conquer tactics of those benevolent Belgians.

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    • Heron61 says:

      Well said. The difference between late 19th century colonialism in Africa, where one side had maxim guns and the other had spears and the occasional musket, and modern efforts where both sides have automatic weapons and IEDs, and rocket launchers is pretty darn striking.

      Also, while I don’t have a reference, since I last studied colonialism in depth 20 years ago, I remember a very persuasive study that showed that even British colonialism was essentially a scam, in that overall British colonialism in India (which was all the study looked at) made the UK no money at all and in fact was a net drain (although not a very large one) on the UK’s economy. Instead, the colonial venture in India proved to be an excellent method of transferring money from the British government to various corporations and individuals who did very well indeed.

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  46. Sniffnoy says:

    The link to the source for the crime graph is broken.

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  47. Heron61 says:

    This fascinating article (+links) just ate my evening :) I’ve also now got Empire of the Summer Moon on hold at the local library, the linked review made it sound well worth reading.

    Your article itself was fascinating, but also had two truly enormous holes. The most obvious is that the crime rate data, which was nonsense. Murder rates correlates quite well with overall violent crime rates, and including non-violent crime ends up including laws that can change drastically. More importantly, the biggest problem is pre-prohibition violent crime data in the US is mostly junk, and so is most early 20th century violent crime data from the UK (the two nations I’ve looked at), in large part because of the complete lack of anything like good record keeping, reporting, and suchlike. The best estimates I’ve seen are that the rate of violent crime in the US in the 19th century was signficantly higher on average than it was in the 20th, and that in the 20th century, the 1900-1920 crime rate was similar to the 1945-1965 crime rate, and that the violent crime rate had two peaks – during Prohibition + the Great Depression and 1975-1995. I’m also not entirely convinced that the violent crime rate of 1900-1920 was as low as ’45-’65, but once again evidence is difficult to come by. All that I can definitely saw is that the graph depicting an exponential increase in the crime rate from 1900-1990 is factually incorrect.

    The other major mistake was in the discussin of the reasons for the lack of change in black vs. white wages in the US. That discussion neglects the influence of the drug war and the massive increase in the prison population, along with the associated equally massive increase in black incarceration, which is provably in large part due to the fact that for the same offense, a white offender is more likely to not be arrested, not be charged, and not be found guilty/pressured to plead guilty than a black offender.

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  48. “I endorse this position, as do, I’m sure, the hundreds of inner-city minority youth who are no doubt reading this blog post because of the massive interest in abstract political philosophy their schooling has successfully inspired in them.”

    Bravo.

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  49. perlhaqr says:

    And you’re sure you don’t agree with this stuff? Not in the sense of thinking that racism actually has a point about the inferiority of other ethnicities, but more in a general “this philosophy actually has useful things to say” manner. Because, I gotta say, it worked pretty well as a sales pitch. I am completely on board with this “stop digging” plan, and would like to know where I can buy some.

    ——

    Suppose you were kidnapped by terrorists, and you needed someone to organize a rescue. Would you prefer the task be delegated to the Unitarians, or the Mormons?

    Well, I don’t really know about the Unitarians, but as an ex-Mormon, I’m definitely going with the Mormons. For one thing, they wouldn’t hold my aspostasy against me, and for another, every Mormon I know knows how to shoot. Many of them shoot reasonably frequently, as a hobby. Some of them shoot very frequently indeed, and are in fact some of the best shooters I know.

    I mean, I’m sure the Unitarians are very nice people, but my friend Larry is Mormon and used to own a machine gun store in Salt Lake City. Unless there’s a secret Unitarian Battle Division I’ve never heard of… I’m going LDS on this one.

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  50. Medivh says:

    ” Using utterly overwhelming force to pacify Iraq by any means necessary would have briefly been very ugly, but our enemies would have folded quickly and with a few assumptions this could also have been a reasonable humanitarian choice”

    The Russians made exactly this experiment in Chechnya. The result is far worse than iraq.

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    • Federico says:

      Russia’s behavior in Chechnya was disastrous.

      However it is comparable to Israel. Certainly they are brutal to the Palestinians, and pay a price in return, but this does not refute efficient annexation and counter-insurgency warfare. USG, world police, won’t permit that. “Human Rights outrage” etc.

      In other words, Russia squeezed the nettle half-heartedly, which is worse than grasping it, or demurring. They were never going to stay there and see the job out, hence they shouldn’t have harmed a Chechen hair. USG is the immovable obstacle to grasping the nettle—of course Russia should have behaved accordingly.

      In addition, the obvious likelihood of US intervention motivates resistance—most recently to Gaddafi—since insurgents clearly can win by swaying international (American) opinion. If USG were reliably non-interventionist, resistance would be far less prudent—and most humans are nothing if not prudent. The Luttwakian argues that, before USG was a hidden party in almost every global conflict, history bears out his simple theory of counter-insurgency.

      Reactionaries would like to make USG less interventionist.

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  51. Ariston says:

    I find that no one here has taken up your question about metaphysics, which has not particularly surprised me; most of the ‘reactionaries’ are not actually very concerned with it (Moldbug being the obvious example of a reactionary who shares philosophical commitments essentially equivalent to your own as I understand them from both here & Less Wrong). My health doesn’t allow* the sort of longer response I think this deserves (as I think it is a lacunae in a lot of reactionary thought— much of which I have misgivings about, though mostly different ones from your own) at the moment, but let me make a few, sketchy remarks.

    One intellectual feature that either immediately preceded or was co–birthed with progressivism is the modern tendency towards the rejection of metaphysics. Indeed, there are many features of progressive thought that I think would be impossible to hold under traditional Western metaphysical views (broadly speaking, the Platonic/Aristotelian synthesis that was curated by Latin & Greek Christianity through late antiquity and the Middle Ages)— the most obvious being that of equality (which undergirds much of what is addressed above).

    The reasons for rejecting metaphysics—especially teleological concerns—are increasingly under attack. This is the more interesting aspect of Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos that has been drowned in all the noise about whether or not he is giving aid & comfort to the enemy. (One interesting thing in reading the book was that he only mentioned Aristotle twice, despite advancing a view which largely amounts to a tentative sketch on Aristotle.) Or, for a more specialist take, Kathrin Koslicki’s The Structure of Objects advances a very thorough argument for a teleological definition of objects, and while she explicitly brackets the ontological question, there is no doubt that any sort of teleological theory of mereological coherence is going to ultimately have to have some sort of ontic element. (Nagel brushes up against this, as well, but holds out hope that this can be avoided in some sort of as–yet–mysterious way, among other things he hopes can be avoided in the same fashion.)

    I am not sure, in any case, how anyone is supposed to avoid metaphysics except in some sort of arcane bracketing (or willful blindness). Bracketing is fine as a way of focusing a philosophical argument, but I am not sure how useful it is as a general strategy. (Despite this, I use it, as well.)

    * Especially as I am unsure of how interesting this actually is to anyone, considering the metaphysical allergy.

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  52. altereggo says:

    I think I’m a reactionary now. Seriously.
    I’ve always avoided reading them because, well, they’re honestly pretty hard to stomach. But your response is going to have to be pretty good to convince me that any of these critiques of modern leftism are off the mark.

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  54. Tim Keller says:

    I would dispute the assertion that “Cthulhu is swimming leftward” and replace it with “Cthulhu is swimming towards his own authority”.

    That is to say; any given concentration of power will work to increase its own power as much as possible.

    This phenomenon can be seen in both the private and public sectors – my prima facie libertarian argument is that the solution is to decentralize power, which will naturally prevent (particularly, but not exclusively government) power bases from doing nasty things, because they’ll be unable to.
    The Reactionary argument hinges on there being a central authority who knows better than I how to run my own life – this is the classic “benevolent dictator” or “philosopher king” argument, which has been trounced any number of times.
    That’s all I have time to write at the moment.

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  55. HlynkaCG says:

    Greetings Scot,

    I found found this essay through a link on a blog called the “The Smallest Minority” and felt compelled to comment.

    I’m not sure if I qualify for your “reactionary” label, many of the names and specific positions you mentioned are alien to me, and but I certainly skew to the “far right” of the standard American political spectrum. If not for the first 6 paragraphs of this essay I would have quickly classified you as something akin to a fellow traveler. Many of your arguments, and lines within them, would not seem out of place as “quote of the day” for a right-wing blog or publication. In fact, that’s how I found this essay in the first place.

    smallestminority . blogspot . com / 2013 / 03 / stop-digging.html

    The arguments you’ve presented, specifically the ones on “Imperial/Colonialism”, “Being Humane”, and the Aesthetics of reaction are very close, if not identical, to those that lead me down my current path.

    If being able to see the world through your opponent’s eyes, and argue his positions as if they were your own is a mark of wisdom, then you have it. You have passed the Ideological Turing Test with flying colors and I look forward to reading your rebuttal.

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  56. Bobert says:

    How well do you think this quote fits within the reactionary ideological framework?

    “From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to decadence; from decadence back again to bondage.”

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  57. Hank says:

    The examples of post-colonial states doesn’t mention any of the states that have done, more or less, fine since their colonizers left. Ireland was impoverished and depressed as an English colony and has done fine as an autonomous nation. Vietnam as well has done okay since the French (and U.S.) left and India has been okay too, not to mention the entire New World.

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    • Mary says:

      Vietnam? The country taken over Communists? From which people fled in anything that could float?

      And this is “okay”?

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      • gwern says:

        People fleeing during the takeover, oddly enough, has very little to do with whether Vietnam has done decently since then. It’s almost like they’re separate claims about two separate time periods or something…

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        • Mary says:

          What bosh. The two separate time periods Hank cited are not the ones you are defending. Especially since you are claiming that the takeover lasted for years and years and years.

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        • gwern says:

          Maybe you should calm down before replying.

          Here’s the point. You are venting about the boat people. The boat people were in the ’70s. Even dating from 1979, that was *34* years ago. How has Vietnam done in the past 34 years? Not that badly.

          That’s the point. Please try to deal with it, and not go huffing ‘what bosh!’

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        • Mary says:

          To not get annoyed at the defense of cold-blooded mass murder is to be depraved. Though not half so depraved as defending and then lying about and then getting on a high horse when you are called on it.

          The 1970s were ” since the French (and U.S.) left.” Hank described Vietnam as having done okay in that time, which therefore includes the over a million people murdered in cold-blood and sending scads more fleeing for their lives. That is the point. If you want to defend the murders as doing Okay, do so. If you don’t, don’t. Don’t try to move Hank’s goalposts and defend an evil regime by obfuscation.

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        • Damien says:

          “over a million people murdered in cold-blood”

          Going by Wikipedia, post-1975 Vietnam imprisoned a million people, and executed 100,000-200,000. Still pretty bad but factors of 10 matter.

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        • gwern says:

          And now you’re accusing me of lying. I think we’re done here.

          (Although it’s too bad, because if you had been willing to engage in actual discussion, there’s an interesting conversation to be had about whether, say, helping crush the Khmer Rouge and 30 years of economic development and its consequences like lower childhood mortality vs observed development in successful US-supported dictatorships compensate for the post-war executions and reprisals, and to what extent discussion of post-war reprisals is ideologically motivated as evidenced by things like the post-WWII reprisals against millions of ethnic Germans (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_and_expulsion_of_Germans_%281944%E2%80%931950%29 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_of_Germans_in_the_Soviet_Union https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_casualties_in_World_War_II ).)

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  59. Sam Rosen says:

    “The true interest of an absolute monarch generally coincides with that of his people. Their numbers, their wealth, their order, and their security, are the best and only foundations of his real greatness; and were he totally devoid of virtue, prudence might supply its place, and would dictate the same rule of conduct.”
    — Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter V

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  63. Anonymous says:

    There is much of interest in this screed, but much that is very US-centric

    ” But anyone who tried would get outcompeted by powerful corporate interests backing the campaigns of their opponents, or outcompeted by other states that still have corporate welfare and use it to send businesses and jobs their way. [..] It would appear we need some kind of a Government Czar.”

    Some non US countries have come up with a way of ameliorating this problem, which it to limit spending on electoral campaigns, thus reducing the voice of the wealthy.

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    • Mary says:

      And increase the power of incumbency. Not desirable.

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      • Damien says:

        First you have to show that limiting campaign spending would increase the power of incumbents. Given that one of the advantages of incumbency is easier fundraising, your claim isn’t exactly obvious.

        Public financing would also mean more time spent by the incumbents on doing their jobs, rather than on raising money for the next campaign.

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        • Mary says:

          Every time we have limited campaign financing in this country, incumbency has increased its chances of gaining re-election.

          Given that the incumbents are the ones setting the parameters for themselves, and their opponents — can you say conflict of interest? — that’s not surprising.

          As for doing their jobs, given what they produce, that’s a flaw, not a virtue.

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  66. being reactionary is the norm nowadays

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  67. Lucia Dremsly says:

    As someone who was actually born in a third world country (albeit in a very privileged position within it) and might soon move to a developed country, I wonder if that kind of progressive would still attack me for criticizing my native country’s culture.

    I am not a reactionary but I found myself agreeing with the bits that argued in favor of cultural differences having a very important role in the luck a group might have. I’m honestly baffled that some people think all cultures, with all their different values, would be as beneficial.

    It doesn’t help that my country is somewhat like Conservia (or bad in general). Where I’m from:
    *Abortion is completely, absolutely forbidden.
    *There is such hate for LGBTQ people that being out in any way is much more dangerous than in developed countries. If you are gay or trans, you most definitely can’t trust the average citizen with that information.
    *The country is sorta named after Jesus and passports have a creepy picture of Jesus standing on top of the world, almost everyone is some kind of (usually conservative) Christian.
    *Crime is obscenely common and unusually brutal.

    I think this place would be better off being ruled by and assimilating to…Sweden or something I guess?

    (Also, I have been reading this blog for a few months now and find it very interesting, I only now brought myself to commenting though.)

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  69. peppermint says:

    Reactionaries would go further and say that a standard liberal democratic government is not an Unincentivized Incentivizer. Government officials are beholden to the electorate and to their campaign donors, and they need to worry about being outcompeted by the other party

    This is not the Reactionary™ position, it’s a fairly standard position that everyone knows about, and has known about since at least 1913 when Charles Francis Adams quoted a London paper as saying

    created a party machine which has brought the country
    under the sway of a sort of Radical-Socialist Tammany, and bound
    together the voter and the deputy by a tie of mutual corruption, the
    candidate promising Government favors to the elector in return for his
    vote, and the elector supporting the candidate who promises most. Hence
    a policy in which ideas and ideals are forgotten for personal and local
    interests, as each candidate strives to outbid his rivals in the bribes
    that he offers to his constituents. Hence, finally, a general lowering
    in the tone of French home politics, every question being made
    subservient by the deputies to that of their reëlection.

    –Charles Francis Adams, “Tis Sixty Years Since”

    The actual Reactionary™ position is to try to figure out who has actual, instead of nominal, power. Which led Moldbug to the conclusion that it’s about something called public policy.

    Public policy options are developed, public policy outreach is performed, and only then do the politicians step in, merely to delegate the option that is seleted through the nasty process of democracy, a.k.a. politics, to bureaucrats and NGOs to implement. When we understand what incentives the development and outreach guys are working under, we can understand why all the recent decisions the US government has made were mainstream public policy options.

    Moldbug refers to this theory of his as the “Polygon”. Sadly, that term isn’t found as often in the Reactosphere™ as his other school-of-thought-defining word choices.

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  70. peppermint says:

    Concerning culturalism and biologicalism, you should check out HBD Chick’s culturalist/biologicalist fusion thesis about Why The West Grew Rich. Her argument is that

    * culture and biology co-evolve, through a feedback between what behaviors lead to reproductive success

    * this occurs over time periods as short as several hundred years

    * when the Church banned cousin marriage among various Northern European peoples, that is what created the low corruption, high social mobility, innovative cultures that begat the Industrial Revolution

    Naturally, this theory should apply to the culture of every ethnicity. But I’m not going to say how, because drawing unflattering conclusions and suggesting eugenics through a different incentive structure probably crosses the line, at least here, at least until the Reboot :)

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    • Arilou says:

      That would help if the church bans on cousin-marriage wasn’t largely a medieval thing, and was to a large extent reverted during the Reformation. (So logically protestant Northern Europe should be *less* successful than catholic southern europe, unless cousin marriages are actually good…)

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  71. Jason says:

    A must-read summary of neoreaction:

    The Laws of the Cathedral. Obey or Perish!

    http://occamsrazormag.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/the-laws-of-the-cathedral-obey-or-perish/

    90007

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  73. Kim Jong Un says:

    Well I could have told you all that.

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  78. Eli says:

    Bunk! Bunk I say!

    Or rather, retroactive rationalization, I say! The problem with the neo-reactionary narrative regarding “progressivism” is that it (progressivism) is treated as a unitary thing in itself, a single Great Cthulhu that always marches in a coherent direction (leftward, towards Nordic-model social democracy). In doing so, it’s blatantly ignoring all the not-so-”progressive” things that have been done under the aegis of the political Left, while also whitewashing the Old Right.

    For instance, take Stalin. Not very democratic, was he? Not very progressive on the roles of women, gays, and non-Russian ethnicities either. I’d also call the whole mass murder thing pretty un-progressive, since progressives are always advocating against that sort of thing.

    Is Stalin thus a good neo-reactionary Fnargl? Well, no. He was a state-socialist dictator who acted for the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He’s no reactionary at all!

    Then where does he fit in this model of politics? He doesn’t. How is Nordic-model social democracy different from Stalinism (other than being “more like Nordic-model social democracy”, aka “more progressive”)? The neo-reactionary theories have a hard time describing it. They’re too wedded to their unitary Cthulhu.

    They’re projecting partisan splits in today’s political spectrum in a narrow set of Western countries, and in fact often a narrow set of academic campuses within a narrow set of Western countries, onto hundreds of years of history.

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    • Frank says:

      Wrong.

      Progressivism is indeed a “unitary thing”. Stalin fits the Nordic model just fine, insofar as the Nordic model is progressive. You don’t really understand politics. Not really. You’ve never had sight of the political backbone of the left (and the antipodal backbone of the right). You still see the left and the right as shadows cast by a selection of policies. If the impression of the sum of all policy seems to conform to what you identify as democratic or progressive, you identify the government as such. The same holds true for your identification of right-wing governments. My, my, whatever do you do when the all-too-frequent contradictions present themselves? Like most progressives, I assume that you ignore them completely. China must really confuse you with all of their anti-liberal laws. How does the restriction on freedom of speech in Sweden sit with you? This willful ignorance of the contradictions is why progressives, despite their frequent intellectual vanity, fail to acquire a basic understanding of modern politics. If you didn’t ignore the contradictions, you would need to ask difficult questions. Difficult questions about the left, and its history, modern manifestation and purpose, would spell deep trouble for your worldview and those like you.

      Do you actually think that the far left and the far right could move with the terrible power that allows them to bend deeply ingrained culture as they do, either in their full or muted (covert) forms, if their power was rooted in a hazy selection of policies with no clear threshold for what constitutes the ‘left’ and the ‘right’?

      It’s utterly meaningless to the power structure of the left whether or not women, gays, and minorities are given special consideration or protections. You don’t understand politics.

      It’s true that the left utilizes the politics of individualism that would advocate for special considerations for homosexuals, women, and minorities. However, only fools believe that individualism is the goal. Individualism is not the goal. Individualism is the process that is utilized to achieve the goal. The goal is not individualism, but the destruction of its opposite: authentic and politically powerful community rooted in common culture (in contrast to the false and powerless community of the class struggle). Real community is destroyed with its opposite: individualism. However, the weapon that is individualism is not needed in its active political form once it has done its job and the political remnants of the ‘cultural revolution’ (cultural destruction) are loosely attached with the paper surrogate that is class association and a communist government is instated.

      Stalin had no use for homosexual, women’s, or minority rights in Russia. To what end? The battle was won, and propping up any group would only introduce instability into the culture of the class war. In the non-Soviet west that was mobilized to defeat authoritarianism in WWII, such violent and overt communist takeover isn’t possible. Therefore, the progressive soldier uses the spear of individualism, and its associated edges of minority group rights, to make communities and their associated democratic power ever more brittle in a slow walk toward leftist power (ie: no middle class) that will ensconce a small aristocracy in power with no political nor military possibility of removal.

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  81. Aurini says:

    Ah, I recognize this condition. It’s merely an abscessed meme. Usually these things pop on their own, but sometimes they go subcutaneous. When that happens they can induce toxic shock.

    I prescribe three tabs of acid, and a friendly conversation with God. That usually serves to root out the poison without any scarification.

    Come and see me in a week, young Padwan, and we’ll discuss whether the Jedis are really as noble as they claim.

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  82. Arilou says:

    They really don’t have much of an actual understanding of the way sampling errors, source criticism, etc. works, do they?

    I mean, not in a pejorative “Ha ha! They know nothing of history!” (I’m certain they do) but they seem to have a serious problem with understanding that what we “know” of history is an artifact of what is “accessible” from history, not what is actually there, and that methodologies for gathering information varies greatly, and usually aren’t directly comparable.

    IE: Our ability to actually gather information is also increasing along with other technology. Victorian statistics on eg. crime are not comparable because they simply didn’t have the tools to gather information the way we do now.

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  84. Lindsay Beyerstein says:

    The moral of the story is that ugly things are really the most beautiful, beautiful things are for bullies who just want to oppress the less beautiful things, and if you don’t realize this, you’re dumb and have no taste.

    That’s not the moral of the Ugly Duckling. In the fable, the “duckling” really is ugly, and the ducks are cruel to him because he’s ugly. But then he grows up and becomes an objectively beautiful swan. The moral is that circumstances can change: that things that are ugly today may have unseen potential to become beautiful and that things that are beautiful right now may degrade with time. The first one now will later be last, and all that.

    It’s not a story that challenges our perceptions of beauty and ugliness. The ducklings aren’t wrong about what’s beautiful and what’s ugly. Part of the satisfaction of the story is that they are perfectly capable of seeing the beauty of the swan when he comes into his own and they’re just drab ducks, instead of the adorable fuzzy ducklings they used to be.

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  88. Richardo says:

    This lengthy post is dripping with arcane bits of philosophical knowledge: like the Chinese Room Experiment, or the Turing Test. Way too obviously erudite and not at all convincingly sincere or, for that matter, convincing at all

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  90. Mordecai says:

    ” Surveys of women show that they were on average happier fifty years ago than they are today.“ That is seriously misleading and possibly untrue. The NYT article you linked to mentions two studies – the first one, by Stevenson and Wolfers, looked at reported happiness (“Taken all together, how would you say things are these days,would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Firstly, the sample starts in 1972, which was 42 years ago, not 50. Secondly, this is Figure 1 from the study http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/llog/Happiness1.gif

    Do you think that the right way to describe the data summarized in that graph is „So the history of the past fifty years – a history of more and more progressive attitudes toward gender – have been a history of women gradually becoming worse and worse off relative to their husbands and male friends“? Because it is a huge distortion. The study found small shifts in heavily overlapped male and female distributions.

    It would be more accurate to say something like: “Women were one percentage point less likely than men to say they were not too happy at the beginning of the sample [1972]; by 2006, women were one percentage more likely to report being in this category.”

    The second study cited in the NYT article by Kruger looked at trends in sex differences in the amount of time spent on activity perceived as unpleasant. This is what he found http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/myl/llog/Krueger1.png Again: there are extremely small differences between men and women, and women in fact report slightly less time doing unpleasant activities. Moreover, the time spent doing unpleasant activities is pretty much constant over time.

    Btw, if women are becoming more and more unhappy, why have been female suicide rates falling? The study by Stevenson and Wolfers (your source) found that “contrary to the subjective well-being trends we document, female suicide rates have been falling, even as male suicide rates have remained roughly constant through most of our sample [1972-2006].” This suggests that the shifts in reported happiness observed by Stevenson and Wolfers are due to some factor other than increasing unhappiness, such as changes in sex differences in norms of self-presentation.

    I don’t think you are trying to mislead people, just that you haven’t read those studies because they are long and boring. The problem is that science reporting sucks, so you can’t rely on it – you have to read the original papers if you want to avoid bullshitting people.

    It would be intellectually honest if you showed the graphs I posted alongside your claims about women’s increasing unhappiness, or retracted those claims.

    I apologize for my English, I’m not a native speaker.

    References:

    Stevenson, B. A., & Wolfers, J. (2008, May). Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. In American Law & Economics Association Annual Meetings (p. 107). bepress. http://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/35564/1/605352836.pdf

    Krueger, A. B. (2007). Are we having more fun yet? Categorizing and evaluating changes in time allocation. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 2007(2), 193-215.

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    • Elijah says:

      Would you say that much of what you listed and the inaccuracies contained within qualifies as “repressing the things you don’t like?”

      “And so the main difference between modern liberal democracy and older repressive societies is that older societies repressed things you liked, but modern liberal democracies only repress things you don’t like. Having only things you don’t like repressed looks from the inside a lot like there being no repression at all.”

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  92. Cerita Lucu says:

    How well do you think this quote fits within the reactionary ideological framework?

    “From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from great courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to decadence; from decadence back again to bondage.”

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  93. Tristan Haze says:

    and any politician insufficiently progressive to even recommend it would no doubt be in for some public flagellation himself, albeit of a less literal kind

    Something’s gone wrong here… instead of ‘insufficiently progressive to’, you mean something like ‘non-progressive enough to’ – but you probably want to think of a better-styled fix.

    This has been a pleasure to read, by the way. Easily the best thing of yours I’ve read. I laughed, I cried. OK, not cried, but I did laugh while also taking it very seriously.

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  94. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any
    widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this.

    Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward
    to your new updates.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Anyone want to explain this spambot? Really doubt it’s actually Google, but if not, what is it advertising and for whom?

      Report comment

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Probably the first version got caught by akismet so the spammer tried fiddling details to see what gets through.

        There are two links. One to google, the other to the gravatar account, and thence to a couple of blogs. In theory this could be advertising the blogs. That doesn’t sound very plausible, but the spammer must know Dawn’s email address, so this can’t be a purely automated attempt at verisimilitude. I suppose that the spammer could put manual effort into finding the email address and then use this identity to spam extensively.

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        • Vertebrat says:

          They presumably got the email address the same way other spammers do. It’s easy to filter out addresses that don’t have gravatars; they needn’t know anything else about Dawn.

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          Oh, right, the spammer knows the email address, but has exhibited no other knowledge of Dawn.

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  95. Anon says:

    Less racism and sexism is an advantage?

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  98. Richard says:

    Interesting article. Some good points, some bad. It would probably improve the article to taboo the words “racist” and “racism”, since you seem to be piggybacking on their negative connotations.

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