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Blogging The Anissimov – Smith Reaction Debate

I was really excited to hear about the video debate between Noah Smith and Michael Anissimov on neoreaction.

Noah is an economics professor and author of the fantastically punnishly named blog Noah Pinion. He’s also a pretty liberal guy who lists Paul Krugman as one of his heroes. Michael is a Bay Area futurist (possibly not his official job title?) and author of the moderately punnishly named blog More Right. He’s also a sort of spokesperson for neoreaction and someone I’ve argued with a lot in the past. Both are very smart guys.

I was looking forward to the debate because real engagement and discussion between reactionaries and nonreactionaries is hard to find. Even my FAQ, which I hoped would start that kind of engagement, got a couple of brief rebuttals, which I tried to briefly counter-rebut, and then the whole thing died down (this was partially my fault, but I was trying to save my comments threads from becoming too hostile and heated).

The debate didn’t really live up to my expectations, though. Both sides were just too nice and reasonable. My impression was that Michael made weaker claims than usual, presenting his ideas as hypotheses or as a basis for future discussion rather than as assertions, and Noah was pretty happy to agree they were interesting hypotheses and that the future discussion should take place. But the debate that did take place was on a pretty high intellectual level and I feel like I learned some stuff.

First the video, and then my thoughts:

Michael began by criticizing modern society’s social isolation, which he blamed for things like rising depression, rising suicide rates, and poor civic engagement. However, he was very willing to admit that some (most? all?) of this was because of big technological changes like urbanization and industrialization, which in my opinion didn’t seem to leave much room for him to make any political point with it. Noah agreed that social isolation was bad and probably due to technology, and suggested it would be nice if technology somehow managed to solve social isolation. Michael agreed that if technology managed to solve social isolation, that would indeed be nice.

Noah then made much the same point I did in my FAQ – that happiness has generally increased in most countries in the past fifty years. Michael agreed this was true of the developing world but said it was ambiguous/no change in the developed (I don’t have a strong opinion on this). He said that he realized it might not work to go back to the time of monarchies and aristocrats, but that even society fifty years ago seemed a lot more stable and connected. I was confused by this part because it seemed to be cavalierly dismissing everything he has ever said up until now – he previously was pretty set on monarchies and aristocrats.

Around 10:47 they realize they don’t actually disagree on this issue and move on. Michael tries to milk one of his hobby-horses (sorry for mixed metaphor), and talks about how the phrase “all men are created equal” is obviously balderdash since some people are better than others at practically everything. Noah makes exactly the response everyone makes when confronted with this claim – that the founders obviously didn’t mean something completely stupid and so we should assume they meant something more like “everyone is equal under the law”. Michael agreed the founders weren’t completely stupid, but says that this latter reasonable meaning gets misinterpreted by everyone into the stupid meaning. To which all I can say is that it doesn’t really seem to me like lots of people are making this misinterpretation.

I would also point out that this is a case where we should read history of philosophy backwards. The Founders lived in a time when it was still considered reasonable to think that certain people were natural slaves who didn’t deserve legal rights – I’m not even just talking about blacks here, there were Irish slaves in America only a couple generations before the Revolution. In a lot of countries nobles were bound by different laws, faced different criminal penalties, paid lighter taxes, and were reserved most of the high government positions. So “all men are created equal” had an obvious and natural meaning to the Founders – “You know that stuff that everyone else is doing? We’re not going to do that.”

The debate then briefly degenerates into both of them debating the vague term “equality”, with Noah having warm fuzzy feelings about it and Michael having deep-seated anger towards it, without it really touching on concrete examples of policy proposals at any point.

Around 14:05 they move into a discussion of capitalism. Both are broadly pro- free market, but Michael thinks capitalism is insufficient because “it accords status based on who is the best merchant”. Noah requests that Michael differentiate better between “status” and “money”, which is a heck of a good point. Michael points out that money is a really important component of status in our society, which is also a pretty good point.

If I’d been involved I would have asked Michael how else one accords status. Like he says it should be for “service to the community”, which is very nice in principle, but how exactly does one cash that out? Old aristocracies had status depend on accident of birth, which seems even worse than effective merchant-ing. Besides that the only place I can think of for him to go is some sort of proposal like “the President is allowed to give people large cash rewards along with the Medal of Freedom”, which is pretty interesting as far as proposals go but not really neoreactionary.

Around 23:45, Noah says that modern non-traditional societies seem to be richer and more successful in pretty much every way. I was waiting for Michael to make what I think is the proper response – that the causation probably goes the opposite way and that wealth causes modernization and collapse of traditions. Instead, he argues that America had an unfair advantage because it had lots of land and natural resources and won World War II. I started yelling at my computer screen telling Noah to respond “Russia also has lots of land and natural resources and won World War II, but they did very poorly because of their dictatorial social structure”, and to my delight he complied.

Michael then said that democracies inevitably degenerate into tyranny. Once again I started yelling at my computer telling Noah to argue that historically democracies practically never degenerate into tyranny but monarchies seem to degenerate into tyranny quite a lot. And as an economics professor, I was hoping he would point out that the de Tocqueville “democracies spend themselves into bankruptcy” argument is wrong and that federal spending isn’t as bad as everyone thinks and government interest rates are impressively low. Noah says some stuff sort of to this effect, and then says changes the topic, saying “let’s mosy on to monarchy”, which I hope becomes a reactionary slogan.

Noah starts this off with a very ill-phrased claim about technological stability by saying (31:30) that “people in 1700 AD lived in about the same way as people in 1700 BC”, which makes me start worrying about the credibility of everything else he’s saying. I will excuse it as an on-the-spot attempt at a flourish of speech. But he goes on to say how technology has changed a lot since then, monarchies have mostly gone away, and “the only kinglike system I’ve seen instituted recently is North Korea”. Michael counters that Romania is considering restoring a monarchy, saying it will be a real monarchy and not just a figurehead, although his blog post sounds less sure. Some discussion on Romanian monarchy and how Romanians like their (currently non-governing) king more than their democratic government.

I would have added here that of course Romanians like their king, but this is only because the king serves as an apolitical focus for nice fuzzy feelings, the same way most Brits like Queen Elizabeth. So it’s unfair of him to say that the higher approval ratings for the king than the prime minister represent a good argument for monarchy. If the king had to do what the prime minister did – govern – people would find fault with him soon enough.

At about 34:45 Michael changes direction, and says that his main point in pushing monarchy is the “organic state”. I keep getting confused by this term because when I hear “organic” I think of organic farming – you know, leaving everything alone and letting it develop of its own accord, kinda a Taoist sort of thing. But Michael, apparently drawing from Evola, means (AFAICT) almost the opposite – a state in which everyone is united towards a common purpose. I don’t know how fully I understand this idea – for example, it would seem this would make Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution the organic state extraordinaire, since every citizen had to be totally devoted to the declared goal of the state – but these don’t seem like the sort of thing reactionaries usually support. This debate did nothing to allay my confusion.

Michael here makes probably the most memorable quote of the debate – that to him, America doesn’t even seem like a country in the organized-nation-state sense, it just seems like a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other. This doesn’t seem healthy if you want to stay stable and work on complicated projects together.

He makes a good point, but I would argue that America is united on certain uniquely American values. Those values happen to be freedom, democracy, and all men being created equal. Like, patriotism seems to be a really big thing here, and it tends to be expressed in terms of “We are really free! Freedom is great!” and then feeling smugly superior to people who are not free. When people express dislike for these values, we don’t burn them at the stake or anything, but we do tend to tut-tut at them pretty loudly.

And these are probably the only values that America stably can hold. The idea of being a united monoethnic nation-state missed the boat when the original English colonists started letting in German immigrants in the 1700s, let alone anyone else. Given that people disagree about nearly everything except the freedom-justice-equality complex, it’s hard to imagine what else our organic-state-goal could be without kicking out or silencing a pretty substantial portion of the population.

Noah didn’t bring this up, but he did say he thought liberal diverse countries were more stable than “organic” countries, which was the opposite of Michael’s claim. I think the gist of his argument was that if you have a unifying vision for the state, then you have to fight a lot over what that vision should be and people who don’t agree with it get upset, whereas liberalism is pretty live-and-let-live. Seems broadly correct to me.

I think a point that both miss is that organicity is an effect rather than a cause. If everyone in your country is the same ethnicity and agrees about everything, life is easy; but liberalism seems like a technology developed to deal with the tougher situations where this isn’t true. Compare to a philosophy of marriage that couples stick together if they always agree about everything, versus a philosophy that couples stick together if they learn how to set boundaries and fairly resolve disputes. The first kind of marriage is a good deal if you can get it, but the second seems like more of a real-life solution.

Noah points out that empirically, liberal societies are more stable and successful than organic ones; Michael counters with China getting rich; Noah counters with everyone in Asia got rich, China was actually last to do so, and this seems independent of government. Michael (43:00) says empiricism isn’t the proper tool for this kind of thing and we should rely on theory instead. This claim always sets off flashing red lights for me, but your experience may differ.

Around 44:10, the discussion moves to aristocracy. Noah expresses what I was wondering too – given that America has really rich people who tend to pass their wealth on to their kids, what’s the difference between an aristocracy and what we already have. Michael says real aristocrats would give back to the community, for example by sponsoring festivals. To me this doesn’t answer the question of how we would transform the Rockefellers, Kennedys, etc into “real aristocrats”. Flashy red robes? A title? Giving each of the fifty richest families them absolute power over one state? Without something more specific I can’t have opinions on it one way or the other.

Noah doesn’t push against this, and talks about how aristocrats in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere mostly just hold huge parties and become really corrupt and don’t give back to the community at all. Michael agrees this sometimes happens, but says aristocracy is high-variance, which is a good point – and I am usually pretty in favor of moving to higher-variance things because of the value of experimentation and evolution. But he doesn’t address Noah’s broader point which is that as far as I know there aren’t any awesome aristocrats in Saudi Arabia to serve as the far right tail of the high-variance bell-curve and this seems to be a fact that requires explanation.

I remember once reading an article that noted America has a lot of super-awesome give-back-to-the-community super-right-bell-curve rich people: the ones who come to mind are Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Peter Thiel. But that these people, as a class, are almost always first-generation self-made entrepreneurs. The actual aristocracy – the people who have had billions of dollars for generation – mostly spend their time playing polo, buying very expensive status symbols, and occasionally becoming Senator or something. The article conjectured that being born to wealth isolates you from reality enough that you lose your ability to be awesome and get stuck in the aristocratic culture of endless status games. An alternate explanation would be that you need a pretty high IQ to be as awesome as Elon Musk, and tech entrepreneurs mostly have it and fifth-generation old rich don’t (even if the first aristocrats had high IQ, regression to the mean ensures that barring outright eugenics the fifth generation won’t). So I predict that having a hereditary aristocracy would actually be worse than our current method of just having very rich people who are occasionally super-awesome. I can certainly think of fascinating non-hereditary aristocracy proposals that might work, but this gets into one of my general points that once we make neoreaction interesting or useful, we’re building novel utopias and not trying to return to traditional forms at all.

Michael continues on his variance point and says that monarchies have greater variance than democracies. Noah agrees but says variance is often because something goes wrong and does not imply anyone has a higher mean. This seems like an important point to me. For example, hospital patients have much greater variance in their level of health than people not in hospitals, but this does not imply that some long tail of hospital patients have better health than the non-hospitalized.

At 53:30, we move on to gender roles. Michael says the collapse of the family has caused profound damage to society, and that the best way to fix this is to reinstitute traditional gender roles.

Noah says we have to be really careful cashing out “collapse of the family”, but he doesn’t push it and this doesn’t really happen.

Noah says it would suck to make women stay in the kitchen all the time, and uses the example of his sister, who is apparently a very skilled lawyer (and, he notes, can’t cook). How would it be remotely effective to say she can’t practice law?

Michael says maybe she should practice law until she has kids and then stay home to take care of the kids. He agrees it is sad she can’t practice law more, but that it’s a tradeoff and it’s socially more important to avoid broken families than to maximize female earning power.

Noah asks “If two parents live together and split work responsibility and family responsibility, how is that a broken family?”

Michael then freezes, going completely silent for like two minutes. I was moderately hopeful that he was having some spectacular crisis of faith, that Noah’s comment had given him such an epiphany that he could only sit, awestruck, as he re-evaluated everything he thought he believed in. Unfortunately, it turned out that it was just computer trouble. After two minutes, he pops in again, saying that although this may work for the upper-classes, it is too complicated a solution for most people, and that “well-educated people overestimate the degree to which we can mess with traditional gender roles.”

I understand what Michael was trying to get at – it was exactly the point Ross Douthat made in his Social Liberalism As Class Warfare article I linked to this weekend. But I don’t think Michael ever really got there. And so I never got to hear Noah address it, which is too bad as he’s a smart guy and I’d be curious what he thought of it.

Then there was more computer trouble and everyone just decided to call it a night.

Overall I was impressed with the politeness and moderation of both debaters, but I felt that (maybe as a result of that) not a lot got said. If I had been Noah, I would have tried to force Michael’s broad value statements into specific policy proposals. If I’d been Michael, I would have focused more on specific failures of modernity – even though he’s had some excellent Facebook posts on rising crime rates recently that have mostly changed my opinion on the matter, crime barely came up at all.

Hopefully this will inspire more similar discussions in the future. And if Michael ever wants to debate me, he is welcome to do so for as long as he can tolerate my computer’s terrible microphone and constant whirring grinding noises.

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168 Responses to Blogging The Anissimov – Smith Reaction Debate

  1. Sniffnoy says:

    Michael tries to milk one of his hobby-horses (sorry for mixed metaphor), and talks about how the phrase “all men are created equal” is obviously balderdash since some people are better than others at practically everything. Noah makes exactly the response everyone makes when confronted with this claim – that the founders obviously didn’t mean something completely stupid and so we should assume they meant something more like “everyone is equal under the law”. Michael agreed the founders weren’t completely stupid, but says that this latter reasonable meaning gets misinterpreted by everyone into the stupid meaning. To which all I can say is that it doesn’t really seem to me like lots of people are making this misinterpretation.

    I should possibly actually watch the “equality” part of the debate before commenting, but I think there is an often-seen and not necessarily true interpretation of the phrase which is rather stronger than “everyone is equal under the law” but still weaker than “everyone is equal at everything”, and whose proponents don’t think it is completely stupid. Unfortunately I’m not sure I can right now really elucidate what that interpretation is; I’m not sure if it’s even coherent. But I think it’s out there.

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    • ozymandias says:

      I agree. I see something that is sort of like “everyone has equal moral worth” or “everyone is equally important,” and also (that may or may not be the same thing) something like what is expressed by these comics.

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      • Sniffnoy says:

        Yes, those comics are exactly the sort of thing I’m thinking of, thank you! I seem to recall one involving various animals in a tree-climbing contest as well. :) (It’s pretty similar to the first one you linked though.)

        Anyway — “Everyone has equal moral worth” is perhaps a bit strong; would a proponent of this sort of equality consider themselves to have the same moral worth as a mass murderer? (Or their own political opponents?) Well, actually they might, but my point is it’s not obvious.

        A weaker version which I suspect might be more accurate to how people actually take it is that only moral goodness (judged by whatever standard) contributes to moral worth; other qualities (intelligence, strength, reaction time…) do not.

        Of course, that’s more of an orthogonality claim than an equality claim, but then, I think all sensible equality claims are really orthogonality claims, so that’s actually a point in favor of it, even if its proponents wouldn’t talk about it that way. (E.g. “Your moral worth is independent of what your parents may have done” — orthogonality!).

        (It’s not really related, but it’s interesting to note, by the way, that the “liberal” position in that second comic can be justified purely on utilitarian grounds, due to the existence of a threshold height; if the fence were half the height, so that one box was sufficient to put everyone over, the distribution of the boxes would be less important. OK, sure, utilitarianism has an equality assumption baked in, but a nebulous appeal to “equality” by itself fails to distinguish between the two cases; if you’re doing it the utilitarian way, you don’t jump directly from “everyone has equal moral worth” to “redistribute boxes to make people the same height”, the chain of reasoning is longer than that!)

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        • ozymandias says:

          I think the “animals in a tree-climbing contest” is getting at an intuition sort of like the social model of disability. What traits are really good, kinda good, kinda bad, and really bad are not just handed down from on high: they’re related to the way that society is structured. If society values tree-climbing ability, then animals who can’t climb trees are screwed.

          It’s also sort of getting at the thing where people assume humans are made on a point-build system and if you are bad at some things *clearly* you must be good at other things. The monkey does well at a tree-climbing contest, the fish does well as a swimming contest, and no one is bad at all contests! (This is, of course, not true.)

          Hrm. By “moral worth” I meant something along the lines of “we should consider everyone equally in our utility calculations”, not “everyone is equally good,” although I can see where that’d be confusing.

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        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yeah, I suppose “moral worth” is kind of tricky to pin down, isn’t it? I guess I’m not really sure what I meant by it. Just sort of the intuition that some people are better than others, and there’s this fight over what you’re allowed to consider when judging who’s better. But I’m not sure if that really cashes out to anything when it comes down to what you’re actually supposed to do!

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          > I seem to recall one involving various animals in a tree-climbing contest as well.

          Link.

          (If this particular one happens to die, just search for “for a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam” on Google Images.)

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      • Douglas Knight says:

        Those cartoons don’t seem to me to have anything to do with “created equal”; quite the opposite. It is a common complaint that the left desires equality of outcome so much that it goes beyond the second cartoon to Harrison Bergeron, but what does equality of outcome (as a goal, not a default outcome) have to do with the phrase “created equal”? It seems that we have both the left and right agreeing that they are connected, for good or for ill, but I don’t see it.

        The first cartoon seems to be Anissimov’s complaint: false assertions of equality have bad consequences. I suppose both the left and right might endorse the cartoon to condemn the other, but I thought you were trying to make a statement of equality?

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        I agree some people use equality in that way, but I never hear it related to “all men are created equal”. In fact, the “created equal” formulation seems almost diametrically opposed to that – if everyone were created equal, they’d all be the same height and not need differently-sized boxes.

        Possibly Michael was just using “all men are created equal” as a conversational hook to get into this much newer concept of equality and I missed it. I still think it was a poor move.

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    • Brian Potter says:

      I interpret it as “everyone’s preferences are weighted (roughly) equally”, which is still too strong but closer, and is (I think) defensible with the appropriate caveats.

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    • Randy M says:

      There is, but it is extremely difficult for a secular society to define it.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    When you say “if the king had to … govern, people would find fault with him soon enough”, how exactly do you mean “govern”?

    The Belgian monarch has to sign every bill that parliament passes, which has led to entertaining contortions of law in the past, but despite that and a few other powers which technically make the Belgian constitutional monarchy incompatible with democracy, in practice the king’s role for the last several generations has been “stay out of parliament’s way.” I’m still trying to make sense of the history that led to this point.

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    • Anonymous says:

      A previous Belgian monarch being one of the evillest men in history probably has something to do with it.

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    • Tom Womack says:

      The British constitutional monarchy is very similar; Elizabeth Windsor has never said ‘La Reyne ne le veult pas’, though she in theory reserves the right to. The last time the question came up was over the grant of Irish Home Rule in 1914 (which ended up being a nullity because World War One intervened), and George V decided that this was not enough of a national disaster to be worth making the point.

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  3. Multiheaded says:

    If I were in the scary, all-pervasive modern inquisition that NRs like being so testerical about, I would’ve mandated a 51% affirmative action quota for women in any and all debates about gender roles, and persecuted any men who talk about women’s rights and responsibilities in a manner exclusionary to women. So Noah would’ve had to relay the testimony of his sister and Michael would’ve had to find an anti-feminist woman to back him up. Because this fucking bullshit with smug dudes talking about whether women should do X is really getting to me. This is a really bad meta-inequity.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        I perceive that this “inequality” is totally OK and doesn’t hurt me, as a man, in the slightest, nor does it stand a chance to become seriously dangerous in the real world. What’s more, neither am I awed or grateful at how the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges, begging and stealing bread.

        Seriously though, there is nothing good to a leftist about reinforcing the underlying inequality of circumstances with a formal “equality” of process, and I don’t like it when liberals buy into this idea of “equal treatment”. And gender, perhaps more visibly so than class or race, is not a level playing field.

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        • MugaSofer says:

          “I perceive that this “inequality” is totally OK and doesn’t hurt me, as a man, in the slightest, nor does it stand a chance to become seriously dangerous in the real world.”

          Speaking as a man and a feminist, that makes you a very privileged man. Not all are so lucky.

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        • MugaSofer says:

          “I perceive that this “inequality” is totally OK and doesn’t hurt me, as a man, in the slightest, nor does it stand a chance to become seriously dangerous in the real world.”

          Speaking as a man and a feminist, that makes you a very privileged man.

          Not all are so lucky as you.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          If you make discussions of female gender roles majority women and don’t make discussions of male gender roles majority men, women’s positions end up dominating the discussion of gender roles. Which I understand is your goal as a feminist, but don’t spit in my face and call it equality.

          My own position as an egalitarian is that people who have interesting things to say should say them without worrying about finding a token mouthpiece who checks off the right group-membership boxes. But I no longer trust the feminists and anti-racist activists to be pursuing the same egalitarian ideal.

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        • Oligopsony says:

          If you make discussions of female gender roles majority women and don’t make discussions of male gender roles majority men, women’s positions end up dominating the discussion of gender roles.

          Once this starts to become a problem, I’ll be the first to protest.

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        • Anonymous says:

          And similarly, let’s not discuss the issues with the Reactionary program until it’s actually implemented and it actually becomes a problem!

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        • ozymandias says:

          IDK, in my experience the vast majority of white male professional feminists and antiracists are pretty mediocre and gain prominence because people are excited that a privileged person agrees with them. At least on the feminist side, Multiheaded’s proposal would probably result in a far greater number of insightful people saying interesting things, and therefore I am inclined to endorse it.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          A debate involving Michael Anissimov is, to put it mildly, not an intrafeminist debate.

          If feminists marginalize the men inside their movement, that’s less of a concern, because men are always free to leave the movement. If they push their male-marginalizing norms on people outside the movement, then it starts to become a concern.

          Possibly you are suggesting that only feminists should discuss gender roles?

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        • ozymandias says:

          I was proposing that, by taking away the mediocre male feminists’ platforms, Multiheaded’s plan may overall increase the number of insightful people talking. I mean, feminists *do* tend to participate in a lot of conversations about gender; improving the quality of the feminist participation seems like it would elevate the overall discourse.

          I am, unfortunately, not qualified to comment on whether people are more likely to get unduly excited about mediocre non- or anti-feminist men or mediocre non- or anti-feminist women. Certainly I can come up with explanations about why it would be either way. But given my current level of uncertainty– very likely to increase quality of feminist participation, roughly 50/50 chance of increasing the quality of non- and anti-feminist participation– I feel like Multiheaded’s plan is likely to increase the quality of discussion overall.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, you could make a similar argument that feminist opinions on gender roles tend to be markedly insane, and you’d raise the level of the discourse by taking platforms away from feminists.

          I tend to be wary of all such conversation-engineering practices, because they seem vulnerable to corruption and all they do is move the argument up a meta-level. Rather than arguing that my point is correct, let’s argue that people like me tend to make correct points! It’s not clear that this is any better.

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    • BenSix says:

      More seriously, I don’t see the relevance of the background of a commentator unless one can show that their opinions are deficient in a manner that personal experience would have obviated – which can be true, of course, but need not. I mean, do you think Camille Paglia or, heck, Phyllis Schlafly are more worthy of attention on the subject of feminism than Michael Kimmel or Michael Messner?

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      • Multiheaded says:

        I did not propose that men should automatically give up in any debate against women, merely that lived experience should be a strong – but not insurmountable – prior. Moreover, even though I’m not familliar with Kimmel’s or Messner’s work, I’d venture to say that any deserved reputation a male feminist scholar establishes would hinge upon him being serious about gender treason, and to be a good traitor to your class you need to acquire a much, much better than average understanding of the underprivileged’s perspective. So yeah, I’d rather watch Kimmel debate Schlafly, trusting him to win on the merits if he’s a really good feminist, than watch him exchange second-hand opinions on women’s subjective experience with some other dude. After all, having a guy prove that he understands women’s issues better than one particular woman does would be impressive and informative in itself!

        So to generalize, I think that privilege carries a serious reality-warping risk, and trying to control for it before a debate is a good investment even when the alternative cost is more immediately obvious.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          To elaborate on “gender treason”: yeah, patriarchy hurts men too, blah blah – but insofar as some aspects of a conflict are zero-sum, where one supports a different group’s collective interest, there’s no need to pretend to some nebulous universal benevolence; it can be well within a clear ethical principle to help some while harming others.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Male” is also a gender. And before you say “Yes, but men are overrepresented in debates about gender, we need to hear a woman’s perspective as well”, take a second to think about whether men are actually overrepresented in debates about gender or whether in fact the exact opposite is true. This sounds like an *actual* example of the overused “men are default, women are bizarre deviation from maleness” trope.

      I am also curious whether you would support other statements of the same form, like “Only people who pay positive income taxes (Mitt Romney’s “47 percent”) should be allowed to discuss tax rates”, or “Only police officers should be allowed to discuss crime”, or “Only veterans should be allowed to discuss military action”

      I am *also* curious whether you think “private knowledge” – that is, knowledge about womanness you can only gain from being a woman – is so important that it almost completely screens off other advantages like IQ, rationality, domain-specific knowledge, charitableness, rhetorical ability, et cetera. That is, would a woman in the 49th percentile in all those areas definitely be better at productively contributing to a debate on gender than a man in the 51st percentile? What other areas have this private knowledge > public knowledge feature?

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      • suntzuanime says:

        I *think* the intuition behind “men can’t talk about women’s issues” is rooted in the notion that utility is not well-understood and doesn’t transfer well between minds and so you can’t really know how much disutility women get from various issues unless you actually experience it.

        Which is fair as far as it goes, but there’s never been any proposed solution to a woman’s issue that did not have some effect on men as well, and women are equally ill-equipped to understand this. So AFAICT we are doomed to simply try to do our best to understand one another. And one thing that might help with that quest is not trying to silence one another.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        take a second to think about whether men are actually overrepresented in debates about gender or whether in fact the exact opposite is true

        If you count all conversations about gender, not just those formally announced as a “debate”, then yes, I think one-sided male conversations which end up not challenging kyriarchy have a far greater net reach than equal or female-dominated conversations. Just look at all the speculation about the motives of single mothers that somehow manages to exclude single mothers themselves. Just look at all the everyday slut-shaming AND the shaming of feminine men; are these not (one-sided) conversations about gender? Do they not carry further than women shaming men?

        I am *also* curious whether you think “private knowledge” – that is, knowledge about womanness you can only gain from being a woman – is so important that it almost completely screens off other advantages like IQ, rationality, domain-specific knowledge, charitableness, rhetorical ability, et cetera.

        A Gosplan official would likely have more IQ, rhetorical ability, etc than a Soviet factory manager. A British statesman would appear far superior to a starving family in India. Does it follow that Soviet central planning was realistic and efficient, or that Britain was good at preventing famine in India? If you’re pro-capitalist, you presumably like Hayek’s arguments in The Use of Knowledge in Society; why not extend these to the sphere of public policy?

        EDIT: Yay, edit function! Thanks, Scott!

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        • Sniffnoy says:

          If you count all conversations about gender, not just those formally announced as a “debate”, then yes, I think one-sided male conversations which end up not challenging kyriarchy have a far greater net reach than equal or female-dominated conversations. Just look at all the speculation about the motives of single mothers that somehow manages to exclude single mothers themselves. Just look at all the everyday slut-shaming AND the shaming of feminine men; are these not (one-sided) conversations about gender? Do they not carry further than women shaming men?

          This is true so far as it goes, but, well, it just wasn’t what was being talked about. They may carry further outside the feminist bubble (or the educated liberal upper-middle-class bubble, or however you want to describe the bubble), and the feminists have pointed this out, and I thank them for it, but if you’re inside the bubble you see such things and you just write them off as the rantings of barbarians and pay no attention to it. It is more than a little exasperating how — if you’ll permit me to generalize — whenever you try to point out problems that feminist policies have caused within their bubble, they just point outside the bubble and say “Well, look how necessary these are out in the wider world!” OK, fine, but we weren’t talking about that, and the right thing to do in that context is not necessarily the right thing here. It’s not just that they think the right answer is context-insensitive; they frequently don’t even seem to realize such a bubble exists. (The typical response to “Feminism has already won” is not a helpful correction such as “That may appear to be the case from within here, but outside in the wider world it really hasn’t and in fact is struggling, and even in here its victory is rather less total than it appears.”)

          A Gosplan official would likely have more IQ, rhetorical ability, etc than a Soviet factory manager. A British statesman would appear far superior to a starving family in India. Does it follow that Soviet central planning was realistic and efficient, or that Britain was good at preventing famine in India? If you’re pro-capitalist, you presumably like Hayek’s arguments in The Use of Knowledge in Society; why not extend these to the sphere of public policy?

          Private information matters, but there’s no such thing as private insight. In real life, where you have a limited time to act, bandwidth and computation time are in short supply, and not everyone’s working together, what you’re saying makes sense. In an extended discussion, where time is not a limiting factor, there are few enough people that everyone can actually make themselves heard, and people have roughly the same goal (to figure out what the hell’s going on and what to do about it) — well, you need people there with that private information, and you need to make sure they actually get to speak and respond (and not just occasionally but a lot, because what private information is relevant is itself private!), but attempting to prevent others from contributing insight based on that information is unhelpful. (Of course the first attempts at such are likely to go badly because, again, if you don’t have the private information, you don’t even know what private information is relevant. But that’s why you let everyone speak and keep iterating.)

          And, really (to merge in a different thread of conversation from down below), it’s not as if only women or the standard oppressed groups have private information. Feminists seem in general to be pretty ignorant of the issue Scott described in his series of Meditations, or that Hugh Ristik described in here, generally taking the attitude Hugh Ristik gives examples of — “If our policies have hurt you, it can only be because you’re a bad person!” Even if they have more information in some numerical sense (which strikes me as entirely believable), that’s no reason to shut out the rest.

          Like, they seem to do an OK job of modeling certain common types of men, or certain common types of their opponents, like your standard Republicans or frat boys or other barbarous sorts, but, well, see above. And I’d certainly buy that trans people have a better understanding of cis people than vice versa, but consider Ozy’s notion of “cis by default” — did you hear that coherently articulated anywhere before Ozy proposed it? Yes, Ozy is trans eirself, I assume much of the relevant information came from that, but my point is that coming up with that idea was not just a matter of having that private information, but required insight; an arbitrary large gathering of people, regardless of transness or cisness, may still have failed to articulate it.

          (Note: To be clear about terms here — I mean “information” in the sense of information theory, i.e., things you can’t predict and have to experience or have conveyed to you, whereas by “insight” I mean what you produce by thinking about information, what someone who’s logically omniscient has infinite of. Although I should probably say I mean it roughly in those senses because after all we’re not logically omnisicient and so things that may be “insight” under the above definition may behave more like information for practical purposes.)

          Sorry if that got a bit ranty. But the initial “Let’s look at what’s going on in the outside world and just pretend the bubble is exactly the same!” really annoys me. (It is of course quite possible that I overestimate just how separate and how feminist the bubble is. (It’s also probably not monolithic.) But some things are clearly outside it one way or another.)

          (EDIT: Just in case it was unclear — when I attribute things to “the feminists”, who after all are not monolithic, I mean “This is what I typically encounter when I come across discussions of these things with feminists”; it’s not a universal claim. This also obviously has a dependence on what sort of things I encounter “typically”.)

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Just as an example; this conversation still has no women, so we have no way to find out what they would think of measures to improve representation!

      edit: oh, I overlooked Ozy’s comments – well, zie certainly counts for this purpose, then.

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      • suntzuanime says:

        Does zie? I thought zie explicitly didn’t.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          What matters here is that zie doesn’t have male privilege, and therefore zir worldview is in less danger of merely confirming the default… I think.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          If you bar anyone who benefits from the status quo from discussion, I bet the results of your discussion often end up being that the status quo needs to be overthrown. It’s not entirely clear to me that this is optimal truth-seeking behavior.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          I never said to bar them totally and unconditionally! I just want to find a healthy discount rate for their opinions, to counter the epistemic effects of privilege.

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        • suntzuanime says:

          What about the epistemic effects of lack of privilege? Privilege provides lots of benefits, it’s not clear to me why we would would expect “a more accurate worldview” not to be among them.

          If, as it has been said, it is impossible to get someone to understand something if their livelihood depends on them not understanding, then surely the more secure your livelihood, the better you will understand things.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          Which narrative would you judge as more trustworthy?

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        • ozymandias says:

          I am deeply irritated at being considered a woman.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          I absolutely DID NOT mean to imply that, but stupidly thought that it was too obvious to spell out. What happened is that my initial condition was too narrow and trans-exclusionary, as I unthinkingly said that only women don’t benefit from male privilege (as opposed to “all non-men”). Then I saw that you probably fit the criteria I had in mind, but amended my comment in an unclear and insensitive way. My apology. That was a clear fail.

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        • ozymandias says:

          Ah. Well, I think the relationship between transness and male privilege is… complicated and not just “all trans people lack male privilege,” esp. for genderqueer people. But I think in the context of Internet arguments I do have male privilege: at least, switching to gender-neutral pronouns led to an extraordinary drop in the number of times I was called a fat ugly slutty cunt.

          I think the argument for the epistemic benefit of marginalization is not necessarily strong for gender. Certainly for, like, transness the average trans person understands cisness much better than the average cis person understands transness, simply because trans people can’t avoid cis narratives/perspectives/thoughts but cis people can easily avoid trans narratives/perspectives/thoughts, and because understanding cis people is a necessary survival strategy. I think those dynamics still exist in the male-female axis, but less so, because women are half the population and men interact with women a lot.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          I think those dynamics still exist in the male-female axis, but less so, because women are half the population and men interact with women a lot.

          Might men have an incentive to acquire a peculiar and twisted understanding of women because they interact with them a lot? After all, it might be harder to enjoy the affection and emotional labour of others if one remembers that they are at least partly coerced.

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  4. Noah says:

    Thanks, great summary!

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  5. Noah says:

    Regarding the Douthat thing…

    I agree with him (and Charles Murray) that the disintegration of working class families is a bad thing, and something needs to be done.

    I kind of doubt that liberal attitudes and values were responsible for the breakup of families…to my knowledge most Scandinavians live with both parents despite the end of traditional marriage and the massive prevalence of liberal values there. But maybe Douthat is right, I’m not knowledgeable about this.

    But I HIGHLY doubt that traditional gender roles have much to do with it. American working class families are NOT coming apart because of modern gender roles, feminism, etc. And trying to force women back into traditional gender roles would neither succeed nor help.

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    • BenSix says:

      American working class families are NOT coming apart because of modern gender roles, feminism, etc.

      Not solely, of course, but I find it hard to believe that the acceptance of such things as promiscuity and abortion – never mind the belief that single motherhood is harmless or even “exciting” – has had at least something to do with it.

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      • BenSix says:

        * hasn’t had at least something to do with it

        I’m a pessimist at heart but I am at least optimistic that in the future all comment threads will have edit functions.

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      • coffeespoons says:

        Doesn’t abortion mean less single parenthood than would otherwise be the case?

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        • BenSix says:

          It can prevent cases of single motherhood, of course, though I suspect it can also provoke them. A man might not feel compelled to stay with the mother of his child if he thinks it’s her problem if she wants to have the kid. (I admit that I have no idea of the stats on this question.)

          More broadly, though, it’s one aspect of the normalisation of sex as a means of individual fulfillment as well as a procreative act or expression of marital love. You didn’t get too many single mums before the sixties.

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        • coffeespoons says:

          One could argue that sex isn’t divorced from procreation enough. Free really reliable contraception (such as the contraceptive implant) plus abortion in the UK should mean that it’s almost totally possible to avoid unwanted children. This should reduce single parenthood, as few people want to be single parents. I wonder why people don’t make better use of NHS contraception when they don’t want kids.

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        • coffeespoons says:

          FWIW, a lot of the communities I’ve been involved in (like the bi and and poly community in the UK) have very high levels of promiscuity, but unwanted pregnancies are really very rare, because people are really good about contraception. All my bi/poly friends who have kids live with their partner or spouse, and seem to have very committed, stable relationships.

          [STIs are also very rare, because people are very good about condoms plus testing].

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        • coffeespoons says:

          Doesn’t abortion mean less single parenthood than would otherwise be the case?

          Thinking about this again, I suppose it’s possible that legal abortion might mean many more women have pre-marital sex, knowing that abortion is an option, but fail to have abortions when they get pregnant. It might be the case that legal abortion means more unwanted pregnancies. I’d need to look at the stats, but I’d be very surprised if banning/restricting abortion now caused less single parenthood.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          The uncomfortable truth here is probably a good deal of hidden infanticide in the absense of abortion.

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        • BenSix says:

          I’d be very surprised if banning/restricting abortion now caused less single parenthood.

          Yes, so would I. I suspect it was significant because it came amid a package of social permissiveness – normalising alternative patterns of sexual behaviour and family arrangements. It was not, I’ll grant, the best example to have drawn from that.

          (Oh, wow, an edit function. My joy is appropriately unconfined.)

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        • BenSix says:

          The uncomfortable truth here is probably a good deal of hidden infanticide in the absense of abortion.

          True – though not nearly as much as there is abortion now.

          There were single mothers as well, of course. One of my great-great-grandmothers was a lone parent, and no one is sure of who she had conceived the child with. Speculating as to the origins of my genes, though, can be a fun pastime.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          baby farming

          :shivers:

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        • ozymandias says:

          A lot of cultures have abortifacent drugs, too: pennyroyal tea, for instance. Of course they also often killed the mother as well as the child, but there are a lot of herbs that will cause miscarriage if you don’t mind poisoning yourself.

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  6. nydwracu says:

    Even my FAQ, which I hoped would start that kind of engagement, got a couple of brief rebuttals, which I tried to briefly counter-rebut, and then the whole thing died down

    I would say that herding political theory types is like herding cats, but you can’t get a bunch of cats into the same room by giving them all beer.

    (An organized response was in the works, but it fell apart, preusmably since we can’t distribute beer over the internet yet. Then I decided to pick it up, and promptly forgot about it. I’ll go get back to it then, but it’ll be a while.)

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  7. John Maxwell says:

    “If I had been Noah, I would have tried to force Michael’s broad value statements into specific policy proposals.”

    Seconding this sentiment. IMO, it’s too easy for politics to devolve in to a signaling fest in the absence of concrete proposals that could work in the current political environment.

    If you’re not making a specific policy proposal that you think you might actually be able to make happen (or leading up to such a proposal), you’re goofing off.

    When I think about it, the entire reactionary platform seems very implausible a priori. My limited understanding: reactionaries argue that Memeplex X (society hundreds of years ago) has better memes than Memeplex Y (modern society). But memeplexes X and Y are complicated and made up of lots of memes, so it seems unlikely that a particular one of the memeplexes would be right about everything. Have reactionaries proposed some convincing reason why we should expect Memeplex X’s memes to be better?

    The boring reality is that to figure out which memes are the best, you have to carefully sort through memes from lots of memeplexes and figure out where the memes stand individually on their merits. I’m quick to suspect anyone who overwhelmingly endorses memes from a particular memeplex of having fallen prey to tribal affiliation.

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  8. Mike says:

    An alternate explanation would be that you need a pretty high IQ to be as awesome as Elon Musk, and tech entrepreneurs mostly have it and fifth-generation old rich don’t (even if the first aristocrats had high IQ, regression to the mean ensures that barring outright eugenics the fifth generation won’t).

    First- I think it heavily depends on the family– e.g., the Darwins/Wedgewoods/Galtons tended to ‘marry well‘ and achieve outsized things as ‘society families’. Having such a (pseudo-)aristocratic family name helped them marry well, whereas having a billionaire’s family name probably helps much less in super-high-quality marriage prospects. I’d expect much more ‘regression toward the mean’ with the Gates, Buffets, Slims, and Musks of the world than the Darwins, or indeed than most of the British aristocracy.

    Second- the concept of noblesse oblige seems an awfully important, painstakingly developed cultural construction and I’m not sure you get as much of it with either modern capitalistic society, or with e.g., Saudi aristocrats (as compared with, e.g., Victorian England). David Brooks has a moderate column about this; Steve Sailer has a more pointed one that names names:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/opinion/brooks-why-our-elites-stink.html?_r=0
    http://www.vdare.com/articles/thoughts-on-americas-jewish-ruling-class-and-noblesse-oblige

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m skeptical both that (minor) aristocrats marry better than billionaires, and that the “marrying well” that aristocrats did was correlated with intelligence more than the sort of assortative mating that goes on today.

      Keep in mind that Sergey Brin married the woman who founded 23andMe, Bill Gates married a Duke MBA, Mark Zuckerberg married a doctor, and Elon Musk married an really pretty actress who according to her bio “studies astrophysics for the fun of it”.

      For comparison, the two aristocrat marriages that come to my mind are Prince Charles + Camilla Parker-Bowles and Prince William + Kate Middleton; both seem nice enough but neither seem super-amazing.

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      • Mike says:

        Hmm, again I’d hold up the Darwin-Wedgewood family as an example of a ‘society family’ using their status and knowledge to marry well, but I grant you the current crop of British nobility isn’t confidence-inspiring, in themselves or their marriages.
        .
        Did you read that westhunter page I linked? It goes into the mathematics of this ‘regression to the mean’ stuff, and implies why Darwin’s children were so exceptional (not as exceptional as their father, or great-grandfather, but still exceptional). In short, the obsession with ‘breeding quality’ that animated Victorian England society family marriage choices gave the Darwin-Wedgewoods a higher mean to regress to. I suspect the children of Musk, Gates, and Zuckerberg will be fine and worthy individuals, but the dropoff in aptitude between the first and second generations will be very marked.
        .
        I could be wrong! But it makes sense from where I’m sitting. –p.s. I assume there’s a better way to insert paragraph breaks than using periods, but I’m not seeing it in the list of allowed HTML… any hints?

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  9. Salem says:

    But he doesn’t address Noah’s broader point which is that as far as I know there aren’t any awesome aristocrats in Saudi Arabia to serve as the far right tail of the high-variance bell-curve and this seems to be a fact that requires explanation.

    You may not know of any, but that says more about you than the Saudi “aristocracy.” Consider Sulaiman Al Rajhi, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Iffat Al-Thunayan, her daughter Princess Lolowah, etc, etc. Loads of people “giving back”. In fact Saudi Arabia’s problem isn’t too many selfish aristocrats throwing parties, it’s too many “public-spirited” aristocrats dispensing largesse, and too little business.

    The actual aristocracy – the people who have had billions of dollars for generation – mostly spend their time playing polo, buying very expensive status symbols, and occasionally becoming Senator or something.

    Eh? My impression is just the opposite. You start off with the hard-nosed businessmen, then the next generations descend into philanthropy. See Ford, Vanderbilt, Rockerfeller, etc.

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    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      This blew my mind and made me feel guilty for thinking that Saudi Arabians only cared about themselves and their families. I’ll be more careful now.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      You’re right, I’d never heard of those people before. But looking them up, Sulaiman Al Rajhi seems to be a self-made businessman, and Iffat Al-Thunayan was born extremely poor and married into royalty. It doesn’t bode well for your case that 2/3 of the useful Saudi rich people you can name aren’t aristocratic at all.

      I don’t think your history is quite right on the “first generation hard-nosed businessmen” with the next generation descending into philanthropy. Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Ford were all extraordinary philanthropists.

      We also have to distinguish between people who are genuinely impressive and people who just have a lot of money and give some of it away. Anyone who inherits $100 million can give a gift of $10 million to some university or museum and be lauded as “a great philanthropist”, and this is totally in keeping with my claims about the idle and useless n-th generation rich. But compare this to Musk who is inventing new technology, Gates who is personally spearheading a crusade against malaria, and Thiel who funds some really interesting cutting-edge stuff.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, and Ford were all extraordinary philanthropists.

        Don’t forget Carnegie, with his moldbuggery-fuel sinister plot to make U.S. capitalism more tolerable for society.

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      • Salem says:

        Queen Iffat was royalty, just born as an impoverished one. Then she married one of the mainline royals and had the money to spread around. Ultimately it’s very hard to talk about “aristocracy” in Saudi Arabia because there really isn’t one, there’s just royalty, and this may be confusing the issue. Plus the fact that the whole country was dirt-poor until very recently, but there’s certainly no shortage of philanthropy. In fact, they all engage in conspicuous, status-seeking philanthropy.

        On your second point, I think we need to distinguish between two claims:

        1. N-th generation aristocrats don’t “give back to the community” (your phrase, and what I understood you to be claiming).
        2. N-th generation aristocrats don’t generate as much value as tech entrepreneurs (what you now seem to be claiming).

        The second claim seems to be in substantial tension with the first, because you now seem to be saying that the notion of “giving back” is a crock, because they didn’t take anything – the real benefit that these people give to society is the way they accumulated their wealth – i.e. Bill Gates is a great man because he put a computer on every desktop, regardless of anything he did with malaria. If that’s so, then great, but maybe we should just suppose that Gates, Musk, etc are 1st-generation aristocrats. No-one is saying that the current Duke of Malborough has saved Europe from tyranny as many times as his ancestor (regression to the mean!), but the fact that people are able to securely pass their property over generations surely encourages the original entrepreneur (planting oak trees and all that), and is a good thing. To me, the existence of a (non-privileged) aristocracy is a great reflection on the security and stability of a country.

        But I’m not a neo-reactionary – I’m far from sold on the noblesse oblige element, and I think there is some truth in your negative portrayal. Any good aristocracy has to be open and regenerative, anyway (i.e. if you’re rich and respected enough, they ennoble you). The British aristocracy was open like that from at least the 18th century, and that’s the reason it still exists.

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  10. I remember once reading an article that noted America has a lot of super-awesome give-back-to-the-community super-right-bell-curve rich people: the ones who come to mind are Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Peter Thiel. But that these people, as a class, are almost always first-generation self-made entrepreneurs. The actual aristocracy – the people who have had billions of dollars for generation – mostly spend their time playing polo, buying very expensive status symbols, and occasionally becoming Senator or something.

    I continue to wish for a better kind of terminology, where we would call the actually-very-high-quality people like Elon Musk aristocrats, and not do so with the people who are just born with extreme privilege without demonstrating awesomeness. The non-awesome people who only have money should be called plutocrats.

    I can certainly think of fascinating non-hereditary aristocracy proposals that might work, but this gets into one of my general points that once we make neoreaction interesting or useful, we’re building novel utopias and not trying to return to traditional forms at all.

    Yes, this is exactly the direction neoreaction needs to go. (Though the at all there is an exaggeration, since there’s certainly good traditional stuff such as noblesse oblige that can be brought back as part of the novel new systems inspired by earlier, more primitive aristocracies.)

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  11. kylind says:

    I was disappointed in the debate.
    Michael and Noah didn’t seem to be all that good at debating. Especially Michael should be good at debating to have a chance of actually convincing people. In this debate I wasn’t even tempted by reaction. His writing is far better than this.

    It looked like more of a natural conversation, a chat, than a real debate. They were not prepared enough for one. That isn’t bad in itself, but I was hoping for more.

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  12. Multiheaded says:

    Regarding women’s work, I am disappointed (although, frankly, not surprised) that Noah took the most direct but probably the weakest rhetorical line: economic efficiency and visible personal happiness. Both are nice, of course, but the conservative rhetoric of responsibility and common good is usually brought out to counter them.

    However, it seems clear to me that women being able to get a career and a decent living outside the household benefits primarily not happily employed higher-class women, but 1) housewives who get more implicit bargaining power and reduce the leverage of potentially abusive husbands over them, and 2) “unhappy” working women who attempt to choose the lesser of two evils, being unable to find a satisfactory marriage but avoiding being sucked into a bad one. These counterfactuals should be more visible – and, I think, liberals should strengthen their rhetoric by talking about freedom as personal security and appealing to negative utilitarian intuitions.

    Tangentially related

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  13. Jess Riedel says:

    Michael here makes probably the most memorable quote of the debate – that to him, America doesn’t even seem like a country in the organized-nation-state sense, it just seems like a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other. This doesn’t seem healthy if you want to stay stable and work on complicated projects together.

    He makes a good point, but I would argue that America is united on certain uniquely American values. Those values happen to be freedom, democracy, and all men being created equal…

    And these are probably the only values that America stably can hold. The idea of being a united monoethnic nation-state missed the boat when the original English colonists started letting in German immigrants in the 1700s, let alone anyone else. Given that people disagree about nearly everything except the freedom-justice-equality complex, it’s hard to imagine what else our organic-state-goal could be without kicking out or silencing a pretty substantial portion of the population.

    I don’t know if he expressed this in the debate, but Michael agrees that the US is too big and diverse to rally around a stronger platform. This fits in fine with the story that larger and larger democratic governments (hypothetically culminating in a world-wide UN government) are bad, and smaller monarchies are good. He argues explicitly here that the US should be split up , although the discussion doesn’t get beyond fun map drawing:

    The United States is too large to form a coherent country. We have no sense of shared cultural identity or common purpose. Coastal citizens view the inhabitants of “flyover states” with suspicion or disgust, and many of the latter see the former as cultural imperialist invaders.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      That is certainly consistent with his other ideas, but I don’t think you can slice the US up fine enough to make much of a difference. I mean, his first map puts San Francisco and Salt Lake City in the same country!

      Even if we slice it up city by city, there are still going to be lots of ethnic minorities wherever we go. Red state/blue state is one big difference but even within red states and blue states there’s nowhere near the uniformity that would be required to make liberal tolerance-type values unnecessary.

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  14. Noah points out that empirically, liberal societies are more stable and successful than organic ones; Michael counters with China getting rich; Noah counters with everyone in Asia got rich, China was actually last to do so, and this seems independent of government.

    Here it is key to differentiate between economic freedom and political freedom. Economic freedom i.e. capitalism is what makes a society rich and more powerful than non-capitalist competitors. Political freedom i.e. democracy is just a tempting way for rich societies to use their wealth, and start on the path to decadence and ruin.

    Around 44:10, the discussion moves to aristocracy. Noah expresses what I was wondering too – given that America has really rich people who tend to pass their wealth on to their kids, what’s the difference between an aristocracy and what we already have.

    A proper aristocracy has virtue (granted, many historical aristocracies didn’t manage to really emphasize this, and are therefore more accurately described as plutocracies). Noblesse oblige. One who does not manage to be awesome does not belong in an aristocracy, or at least not at the higher levels where political power should be found.

    If I’d been involved I would have asked Michael how else one accords status. Like he says it should be for “service to the community”, which is very nice in principle, but how exactly does one cash that out? Old aristocracies had status depend on accident of birth, which seems even worse than effective merchant-ing. Besides that the only place I can think of for him to go is some sort of proposal like “the President is allowed to give people large cash rewards along with the Medal of Freedom”, which is pretty interesting as far as proposals go but not really neoreactionary.

    By accident of birth, people should only get access to low-level aristocratic titles and privileges to which there isn’t much political power attached. Then, according to virtue and merit, they could get promoted to higher levels where political power is to be found. (The aristocrats who previously got to the higher levels would be doing the promoting.)

    I’ve commented a bit more on this on my blog.

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    • peterdjones says:

      > A proper aristocracy has virtue (granted, many historical aristocracies didn’t manage to really emphasize this,

      A proper dictator should be benevolent, but there is no system of benevolent dictatorship, because there is no systematic way of ensuring benevolence.

      > A proper aristocracy has virtue

      Where does that come from? Elite schooling? That exists in democratic systems.
      A virtue test? Every politiician is closely scrutnised fro sleaze in democracies.

      > By accident of birth, people should only get access to low-level aristocratic titles and privileges to which there isn’t much political power attached.

      And by another accident of birth, some people don’t get a foothold on the meritoratic escalator at all. The fact that you are excluding some people is the
      only thing separating your proposals from pure meritocracy. But, all other things being equal, one would expect a meritocracy to function best when it has the largest pool of talent to draw from. Excluding some will probably damage the system, all other things being equall, unless your genetic sifting is really accurate.

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      • A proper dictator should be benevolent, but there is no system of benevolent dictatorship, because there is no systematic way of ensuring benevolence.

        Have we really properly tried to ensure benevolence yet? Or is this something that indeed hasn’t yet been seen in the world, but is possible to do once competent enough people get around to doing it?

        I for one am working on a solution. (Which wouldn’t have been possible in ancient times since it requires advanced technology for some things.) I intend to properly write on it in 10 years or so, but some early comments are available on my blog. (Also to clarify, it’s not about benevolent dictatorship, since a single point of failure is an unnecessary risk, but about a benevolent and competent aristocracy.)

        Where does that come from? Elite schooling? That exists in democratic systems.
        A virtue test? Every politiician is closely scrutnised fro sleaze in democracies.

        Elite schooling will be an important element, though you are correct to say that not a distinguishing element from current democracies.
        Virtue tests and continuing close scrutiny of one’s character will also be important elements, and here you are incorrect to claim that democracies would be doing this. (Democracies assume that voters will pay attention to such things, when in reality the vast majority of voters aren’t good or competent enough people to do so.)

        And by another accident of birth, some people don’t get a foothold on the meritoratic escalator at all. The fact that you are excluding some people is the
        only thing separating your proposals from pure meritocracy. But, all other things being equal, one would expect a meritocracy to function best when it has the largest pool of talent to draw from. Excluding some will probably damage the system, all other things being equall, unless your genetic sifting is really accurate.

        Actually I don’t mean to completely exclude low-born people from attaining the right to get into the aristocratic elite schools, from which the most successful students would meritocratically get into the actual aristocracy. So here I am even closer to pure meritocracy than you think. The differences (which in the end aren’t big, and I don’t object if people want to classify my system a meritocracy, though it is also an aristocracy and a non-absolute monarchy) come in some of the finer details, which I’m not getting into in this comment.

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        • peterdjones says:

          > Virtue tests and continuing close scrutiny of one’s character will also be important elements, and here you are incorrect to claim that democracies would be doing this. (Democracies assume that voters will pay attention to such things, when in reality the vast majority of voters aren’t good or competent enough people to do so.)

          Journalists and the media do this.

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        • Journalists and the media do this.

          Yes, and then the vast majority of voters completely fail to care about or pay attention to any such work, and proceed to vote for crooks and fools. Particularly when the crook promises a bit of money to some interest group the voter belongs to, he/she rarely really cares how much the crook steals from others (or from the voter himself through some other means, for that matter, since most voters can’t do simple math or understand economics).

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    • Multiheaded says:

      A proper aristocracy has virtue (granted, many historical aristocracies didn’t manage to really emphasize this, and are therefore more accurately described as plutocracies).

      “A proper socialism has freedom (granted, many historical socialist regimes didn’t manage to really emphasize this, and are therefore more accurately described as bureaucratic dictatorships).” Would you be okay with a commie handwaving stuff away like this? (If you cite Victorian England, the commie could cite Spain and Chile, and make a dig about how those killed fewer/no people and suffered for it.)

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      • “A proper socialism has freedom (granted, many historical socialist regimes didn’t manage to really emphasize this, and are therefore more accurately described as bureaucratic dictatorships).” Would you be okay with a commie handwaving stuff away like this?

        In a sense, yes, though I would also tell them that they are mistaken in believing that socialist systems can be stably free (for most definitions of socialism).

        The difference in what I’m doing is that aristocracies can actually be stably virtuous, even though it hasn’t really been done yet. (Of course I don’t expect you to take this on faith, but what I’m writing here is a short blog comment, not a book.)

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      If meritocracy is the active ingredient here, what role is birth playing? Why not just have the meritocratic system draw from everybody?

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      • ozymandias says:

        One can presumably breed the upper class for virtue and intelligence, socialize them from birth with norms that improve their ruling ability, and give them intensive personalized one-on-one education that would be too expensive to do for everyone. There are definitely benefits to knowing who’s probably going to be the ruler.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          This still doesn’t solve the problem of collective self-interest. Take the U.S. circa 1800s; would you trust 1) Thomas Jefferson, or 2) a few elected black representatives of black people to make policy better for black people?

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        • peterdjones says:

          One can have that kind of training do that without having actual aristocracy, eg the Gandhi and Kennedy dysnasties.

          One can also usal testing to find sutiable candidates for expensive, specialised training — as we do.

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      • I seriously considered being purely meritocratic in this sense, but wound up with the following somewhat unusual reason for not doing so:

        In my system, the requirements placed on high-ranking aristocrats/meritocrats include them not being allowed to have much private property (as part of the measures to prevent bribery). This has the notable drawback of them not being able to accumulate wealth that they could pass on to their children to make their future more secure, which might make many of the best people not want to become high-ranking aristocrats/meritocrats (since they could be wealthier if they chose e.g. a business career instead). To prevent creating such a disincentive, I’d have the system give some privileges and hereditary low-level aristocratic titles also to the children of high-ranking aristocrats.

        Nevertheless, I would expect that within each generation, most of the aristocrats would ascend from within the low-born population, i.e. would not be those who got some privileges because of their birth. (Though it is difficult to predict this precisely, and it is possible that especially in the long-term, there would be a surprisingly large amount of people who have some aristocratic ancestry and associated privileges — though mostly rather mild privileges.)

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        • peterdjones says:

          Reactions to corruption and sleaze vary a lot, suggesting those problems are solvable within democracy.

          If you keep bringing people into the aristocracy, and allow titles to be passed down, aren’t you going to end up with a very large aristocracy?

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        • I have yet to see a democracy with a large population where most of the voters wouldn’t be easily manipulated by plutocrats. They’re getting ever better at it, too, while ordinary dumbasses aren’t getting any more sophisticated than they were in Ancient Greece or Rome. (But I do actually believe that very small nations such as Iceland can survive as democracies, largely because big money doesn’t care about properly buying out the political establishments of small countries, when they get much more from buying out the big ones — and the problem here of course being that small countries are always in the end protectorates of big countries.)

          To your last question: no major titles would automatically pass down; the kids would be getting different, milder titles than their parents had. They’d also be given the privilege of being able to get mid-level titles somewhat easier than how it would be for low-borns, but they’d still have to go through a meritocratic process to get those, and the difficulty would be adjusted so that the total amount of people with mid-level titles would remain rather stable. And the lowest “titles” that they’d get rather automatically wouldn’t really be a very big deal economically, think something like double social welfare or something of that order…

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  15. Kaj Sotala says:

    America doesn’t even seem like a country in the organized-nation-state sense, it just seems like a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other.

    Doesn’t “just a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other” describe basically every Western country in the world? Possibly excluding some with tiny populations, possibly including also most non-Western countries because I don’t know non-Western countries that well.

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    • Randy M says:

      Pretty much. Multiculturalism destroys diversity.

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      • AJD says:

        “Multiculturalism destroys diversity.”

        That’s one of those simple statements that sounds like nonsense on the surface, leading the reader to infer that it must actually be profound, which upon further reflection turns out to still be nonsense, right?

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        • Oligopsony says:

          It’s not nonsense; different forms of diversity really are (under certain conditions) rivalrous. If in a diverse country each neighborhood is highly integrated then those neighborhoods are all diverse, but the types of neighborhoods (along that dimension) present in the country are not. Cultural globalization means that the radio in Iowa and Burundi are increasingly similar, though residents of each may find themselves with more diverse listening options. &c.

          Of course if the phrase is meant to act as a “gotcha” it doesn’t really work, because of course one can care about one form of diversity but not the other, or whatever. But it needn’t be read that way!

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        • Randy M says:

          Infer and reflect as you like, but I try not to make a habit of posting nonsense (unless it is as least amusing) I meant it to be read in the context of replying to Kaj; Western countries are increasingly homogenizing (one to another) as their native cultures are diluted by open borders, immigrants who hold no allegiance to the native culture, etc.

          This leads to the countries being “just places people live next to each other” rather than the homelands of a nation that shares history, language, culture, ethnicity, etc.

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        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @Randy

          Thanks, that had me scratching my head as well. Do you think that the damage is done? Is it even worth fighting against multiculturalism and mass immigration?

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Oh, I wasn’t actually even thinking about immigration, but rather the multitude subcultures and subsubcultures that exist even within an ethnically homogenous country. Geeks vs. jocks, atheists vs. believers, urbanities vs. country-dwellers, academics vs. businessmen vs. workers vs. unemployed, straight vs. bi vs. gay people, sci-fi fans vs. birdwatchers, WordPress vs. Tumblr vs. Instagram users…

          It’s just human nature for people to immediately splinter into smaller cliques the moment a larger group of people end up spending time together. Possibly there are some events – like war – that pull a nation together into something like a cohesive entity, but those are the rare exception.

          The notion of a nation-state is a relatively recent one, something that was dreamt up by romantics and which they managed to make a lot of people believe in. But aside for the obvious organizational and legal entities that have sprung up, I don’t think that it was ever anything but a myth that some people fervently hoped would one day become real.

          To the extent that such a thing did ever exist, the threat to it comes from technology much more than immigration. What binds people together are common goals and common needs: and in the old days resources were so limited that people in the same geographic location had to work together just to survive. Today the closest thing that we have to fighting for our own survival is fighting against mortgage costs, unemployment, or dysfunctional bureaucracies that deny us the social security benefits we’d be entitled to – but those are abstract things that you can’t really unite against, at least not in the same way that you’d band together to make sure that all the crops got harvested in time. So today people are relatively self-sufficient, no longer subject to a pressure that would force neighbors to really become parts of the same culture: instead they are free to splinter to ever-more eccentric subcultures. gwern’s Melancholy of Subculture Society is very relevant here:

          The national identity fragments under the assault of burgeoning subcultures. At last, the critic beholds the natural endpoint of this process: the nation is some lines on a map, some laws you follow. No one particularly cares about it. The geek thinks, ‘Meh: here, Canada, London, Japan, Singapore – as long as FedEx can reach me and there’s a good Internet connection, what’s the difference?’

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        • Randy M says:

          Kaj-Yes to technology, as was alluded to in the video, and also to simple population increase.

          I do think that a nation of Swedes, a nation of French, a nation of Arabs, Turks, Irish, whatever, is probably more diverse than a planet of multicultural societies separated simply by georaphy each with a mix of each.

          “It’s just human nature for people to immediately splinter into smaller cliques the moment a larger group of people end up spending time together.”

          Perhaps this is so; Dunbars number, is it? Or perhaps identities can only be derived in relation to what they’re not, to an outsider.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Doesn’t “just a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other” describe basically every Western country in the world?”

      To some degree yes, which is why Reactionaries aren’t really happy with any Western country. But your own home state of Finland seems pretty homogenous, Finns seem to have a lot of non-generic characteristics that they’re proud of, Finland seems – not isolated from the rest of the world, but not trivially completely porous either, and as a result it seems to do pretty well for itself and get along pretty well as best I can tell.

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      • Kaj Sotala says:

        True to some extent, but still, see my other comment – even though Finland is pretty homogenous, even here, an academic kind of urban intellectual such as me still lives in a very different world than an uneducated jock from the countryside.

        Jonathan Haidt had a bit in The Righteous Mind, I think, where he talked about his research showing that when it came to moral intuitions, the differences between academics and workers within a single country were larger than the differences between academics in countries such as the US and Brazil, IIRC.

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        • Konkvistador says:

          That moral intuitions between academics in countries such as US, Finland and Brazil would not differ much is hardly surprising much like the moral intuitions of Catholic priests in those countries likely being similar.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Indeed it isn’t, but it’s still worth pointing out, since people here seem to be assuming that ethnicity is a meaningful way of distinguishing between cultures. If academics in countries X and Y are more similar to each other than academics and workers in country X (or Y), and similarly workers in countries X and Y are more similar to each other than workers and academics in country X (or Y), then that’s pretty strong evidence against e.g. immigration being a very significant factor in multiculturalism, and similarly strong evidence for multiculturalism also being a fact of life in ethnically homogenous societies.

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        • Konkvistador says:

          No.

          They very much *are* meaningful distinctions between a Finnish jock and an American jock, and many of them are down to them being Finnish and not down to them say living in a colder climate than a Texan Jock. Ethnicity and nationalities aren’t monocultures. They are peculiar mixes of subcultures and relations between these subcultures, usually intertwined in a relatively long shared history and even ancestry (among its members).

          Think ecosystems not monoculture.

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        • Kaj Sotala says:

          They very much *are* meaningful distinctions between a Finnish jock and an American jock, and many of them are down to them being Finnish and not down to them say living in a colder climate than a Texan Jock.

          Never claimed otherwise.

          My argument wasn’t that you couldn’t find meaningful differences between countries, it was that the characterization of “mostly just a place where a bunch of people are living next to each other” seems to be true of pretty much any nation, and that the within-nation differences feel like they’d probably be larger than the between-nation differences.

          Which isn’t to say that between-nation differences wouldn’t also exist, of course.

          (Maybe I should actually watch the debate to get the exact context for the original phrase…)

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        • Randy M says:

          Did he study differences between non-academics of country x & y as well? Being an academic has certain character requirements that might limit the potential variation between two members of this class (pardon the pun) from different cultures or ethnicities.

          Consider also, Do countries x & y produce the same ration of academics (or whatever) to the general population? Maybe the host country would be changed by letting in outsiders much less (or more) likely to have an academic mindset.
          and, Do countries x & y accord academics the same status? Maybe the closer analog to an academic in country y isn’t a professor in their (Western founded?) university but (to use an extreme example) a tribal shaman or medicine man that the populace looks to for insight, and this class may differ dramatically from x’s academics.

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  16. Kokomo says:

    It’s hard to imagine what else our organic-state-goal could be without kicking out or silencing a pretty substantial portion of the population.

    An “organic state” is when most actors in society take decisions that match their Hayekian knowledge and level of ability.

    If people with shrines to Hitler or Lenin are on the streets doing politics: we don’t have an organic state.

    If social scientists dictate, from far outside local communities, the minutiae of everyone’s currency, contracts, employment, sexual ethics, education and social safety nets: we don’t have an organic state.

    This is a similar concept to “natural law”: a form of social organisation that doesn’t chafe in obviously avoidable ways.

    Obviously you don’t find this “hard to imagine”. It’s not a complicated idea.

    P.S. I’ve been hoping for progressives to learn this limerick:

    There was a young fellow who’d dabble
    In medicine and psychobabble
    His name was Scott
    Alas he could not
    Tell his equals apart from the rabble

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    • peterdjones says:

      If you don’t have outsiders dictating fair and liberal policies, then you the difference will be that there will more unfairness and illiberality. That will create losers, who will feel the chafing. I think the society you are describing is better only for the dominant.

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    • ozymandias says:

      I think that not allowing people who have shrines to Hitler or Lenin to participate in politics is going rather beyond one’s Hayekian knowledge of what people should believe. (Unless your proposition is not “we forbid Neo-Nazis and Leninists from politics,” but rather “no one identifies as a Neo-Nazi or Leninist,” which I feel in the absence of coercion is greatly underestimating the perversity of the species that brought us Snapewives.)

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      • Kokomo says:

        Progressives would see an eruption of proletarian unrest as a failure of management. “It ain’t gonna agitate itself.” This is an accurate perspective that their critics tend to lack; libertarians are phobic of theories of society in which individuals aren’t causally segregated from opinion-forming institutions and social constructions.

        I do not, however, think much of the progressives’ attempts to impose this frame on “neoreaction” (as they would have it). What if, modulo growing pains, they were to encounter a constellation of memes that are simply better than their 20th century ideology, with its many admitted flaws? It has to happen at some point.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m still kind of unclear – the only paragraph of yours I unambiguously understand is the “social scientists” one, but that seems pretty close to libertarianism.

      Also, less personal attacks please.

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  17. Oligopsony says:

    Hopefully this will inspire more similar discussions in the future.

    Hey! Nydwracu! Would you like to discuss the whole voice/exit thing sometime? Because I think that 1) you’re a pretty affable fellow for an Enemy and that a discussion that’s 2) more focused on a key NR idea that’s 3) relatively novel and interesting and 4) concerns facts more than values has a chance of being intellectually productive, maybe.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Yo! If you two do it, please invite me too! I do have some thoughts about that!

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    • nydwracu says:

      Sure, though I’d prefer something text-based to a video debate — there’s still a lot of work to be done there, and that pushes it toward the productivity side of the show/productivity format tradeoff. I’ll need to read a lot more history, and a lot of what I’ll need to read is obscure enough that I’m not sure I’ll be able to find it, but I’ll put together a post.

      (If I can’t get the history done in time, I’ll do it anyway so it doesn’t end up dying; it just won’t have the parts about Switzerland and those Dutch fundieoid settlements in Michigan and so on.)

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      • Oligopsony says:

        That works for me! I’ll let you (and Multiheaded) know when I’ve written something to respond to, although the short version is that I agree with Hirschmann’s own assessments about the trends in balance between the two and that a lot of the cultural fragmentation and individualism that concerns reactionaries seems to be a function of that. And ditto on needing to read more history – I’d elevate that to a general truth, even.

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  18. Paul Crowley says:

    No, sorry, the sounds your computer make aren’t really tolerable! Can I buy you a USB headset?

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  19. Brian says:

    as far as I know there aren’t any awesome aristocrats in Saudi Arabia to serve as the far right tail of the high-variance bell-curve and this seems to be a fact that requires explanation.

    It seems to me that most of Saudi Arabia’s quirks are explained not by the fact that it’s a monarchy but by the fact that it’s a single-resource state. It’s hard to overestimate how weird those get, and I think the reason why mainly has to do with the lack of diversification; when everything that doesn’t have to do with the extraction of your one important resource is optional from an economic point of view and you just need to keep everyone from blowing up your oil wells, some seriously perverse incentives start developing. It’s sort of like an early-20th-century coal mining town in the Appalachians writ large.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I agree that the main reason Saudi Arabia has managed to stay traditionalist for so long is that its monarchy has vast wealth it can use to pump against the tide of progress. But that does make it an interesting laboratory for what modern-age traditionalist societies look like.

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      • Multiheaded says:

        Hey Scott, as long as you’re talking about Saudi Arabia and willing to bash reaction, why not mention the awful situation of migrants there? I think it’s pretty much a huge problem that the aristocracy there can so easily be united in solidarity with the middle class against the people who do all the dirty work. A degree of benevolence and virtue to people who matter… but we have a way of making some people not matter!

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        • Konkvistador says:

          Oh yes it is so much more preferable for the aristocracy to be united in solidarity with imported cheap labor against the native middle and working class as we see in the West.

          /sarcasm/

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        • Multiheaded says:

          For cheap imported labour it totally is, and on the margin I care about them if I have to choose whom I care about. It is mostly Western countries and not Saudi Arabia that create and perpetuate the problem of unequal exchange, and they aren’t really trying to make amends – but that’s beside the point; the point is that I am, in theory, willing to fuck over innocent people to protect the tribe I care about. (Although like everyone I would prefer this to be a deterrent that never has to materialize.)

          As Oligopsony said in a different context, “white Zimbabweans: fuck ‘em”

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        • Konkvistador says:

          Immigrants don’t have to come to Saudi Arabia if they don’t like the rules. As far as they are mislead about the conditions there they have my sympathy (it is wrong to do so) otherwise not. Saudi Arabia is under no obligation to fix other countries so conditions there don’t suck, nor is it under obligation to make itself welcoming.

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        • Multiheaded says:

          “Personal responsibility” is certainly one way of interpreting the world; the point, however, is to change it. Let’s try some amateur game theory.

          Assume that we have three classes – Western economic elites, Western “middle-class” citizens and poor third-world workers – and three viable policy options (under capitalism):
          1) massive industrial and infrastructural development + education in the Third World, which would raise the demand for labour there and make local capital compete successfully with First World capital – China fits best in some regards, Brazil or India in others. (I confess I’m pretty ignorant on economic history.)
          2) migrant workers sell their cheap labour in developed countries, having some rights, protections and communities – see US and EU
          3) migrant workers sell their cheap labour in developed countries with few rights, less autonomy and more exploitation – see Saudi Arabia, to a lesser extent Singapore; [1]

          Evidence suggests that in the absense of other considerations, Western elites would slightly prefer 3 to 2 and strongly prefer both to 1; Western citizens would slightly prefer 3 to 1 and strongly prefer both to 2; third-world workers would prefer 1 to 2 to 3.

          Let us assume that two classes can ally to implement the best option of one that’s the second-best option for another. Let us also assume that we’re commies who care most about the people who are systemically deprived the worst. We want to help the Third World reach 1 and keep it from 3, and we’re prepared to shit on other people to do it.

          This could be achieved if the middle and the bottom settled on 1 and told the elite to suck it down; however, there’s a danger that the middle allies with the top over 3 (as the reactionaries would like it to). For various reasons, progressivism has been capable of staving it off (“migrants swing elections for the elite” is BS, though), and so the Western elite has to settle on 2.

          Now’s the tricky part: the middle wants to get out of 2, and we must drive a wedge between it and the elite by making 3 look totally unavailable. We punish the promotion of 3 and frame the choice as between 1 and 2. We hope that even if, for a while, pro-2 ideology drowns out pro-1 (which the elite naturally hates) and pro-3 (which we work hard at suppressing), eventually the middle goes for its second best option by breaking its alliance with the elite and backing 1. In the meantime, the inconvenience to the middle might look like it outweighs the gains to the bottom – but, being commies, we don’t let that bother us much.

          Comrades, how solid does that look? (Not going into assumptions.)

          [1] Reactionaries generally overestimate how smoothly Singapore is able to explot its comparatively huge resident population; “tensions” happen all the time.

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        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          Nice analysis but:

          massive industrial and infrastructural development + education in the Third World, which would raise the demand for labour there and make local capital compete successfully with First World capital

          Why do you believe that this is possible? Even if it were possible to educate people in developing countries to Western standards, Westerners have no idea how to do so! Even the prized Scandinavian education systems have been unable to make immigrants get decent test scores.

          Of course it probably isn’t possible since countries differ significantly in their average IQ, too much for them all to compete on the same level.

          Also, I’m sure you’ve seen this, so I don’t know why you assume that inequality stems mostly from education rather than genetics, prenatal care, pollutants, nutrition and peer effects.

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        • Kokomo says:

          Multiheaded,

          Whatever you think reaction is, in my eyes a reactionary would reject your premise and all of those “policies”. It’s a communist’s analysis.

          The same is true for schemes of creating ethnostates, secession &c. That general style of thought is harmful, although a person who thinks like that could still have something interesting to say.

          I would choose 4), make everyone better off by the advancement of learning. We shall know that we are better off when your analysis would seem bizarre.

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        • Alexander Stanislaw says:

          @Multiheaded

          I was really hoping for a response. Your argument starts off with a mainstream liberal idea that if the evil system would stop holding people back from achieving their true potential then inequality would go away or at least be significantly reduced.

          However, tabula rasa is dead, there is no reason to suppose that most inequality is a result of discrimination or an oppressive regime rather than people simply having different abilities and different levels of ability.

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      • Konkvistador says:

        Well what else would a traditionalist want to pump vast resources into? X gonna X after all. And as long as technology advances you get more resources to pump at the problem. If you get a good enough pump you might even keep your traditional society while getting nice benefits like antibiotics in the process. Studying the Saudi natural experiment thus seems like it will produce insight into that problem.

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  20. What rising suicide rate is he referring to?

    The US suicide rate may have risen slightly over the past 50 years after showing a much larger downward trend for a few decades before that. The British suicide rate shows a moderately clear downward trend over the past century.

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    • peterdjones says:

      Successful suicide is very sensitive to the availability of an efficient means.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      Agreed that the short and medium-term suicide rates are improving/stable, but after I brought up the same point Michael clarified he was referring to the very long-term, eg trends since 1300. Although there’s not great data, I am willing to believe suicide is up from its 1300s level.

      (also, it’s unclear how much of our stable/declining suicide rate is due to technological advances like better antidepressants)

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  21. vaniver says:

    To which all I can say is that it doesn’t really seem to me like lots of people are making this misinterpretation.

    So, consider John Derbyshire, and in particular this post. It seems to me that American Conservatives really are not willing to admit in public that all men are not created equal, and the social justice crowd really is willing to try to bully anyone who says otherwise into submission. I mean, remember Wilson, fired for repeating the scientific literature in front of journalists? If people believed that people were not equal- if you could look in the Player’s Handbook and see that elves get a bonus to dexterity- then I don’t think we would have those sorts of responses to noting how agile elves are.

    as far as I know there aren’t any awesome aristocrats in Saudi Arabia to serve as the far right tail of the high-variance bell-curve and this seems to be a fact that requires explanation.

    Consider the King Faisal Prize.

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  22. Bruno Coelho says:

    The role of women in society is very hard to change right now, so I see as the weakest point in the reaction. However, the criticism of democracy as the de best government system was made by other groups, but could be advanced as a preference for stability.

    Besides, I bet most proposed solutions to change social isolation involve some tech — if agreed as a problem.

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  23. mjgeddes says:

    Michael Anissimov really ‘jumped the shark’ with this neo-reaction stuff.

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  24. Kevin says:

    Noah agreed that social isolation was bad and probably due to technology, and suggested it would be nice if technology somehow managed to solve social isolation. Michael agreed that if technology managed to solve social isolation, that would indeed be nice.

    Time to update! Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All

    Hampton found that, rather than isolating people, technology made them more connected. “It turns out the wired folk — they recognized like three times as many of their neighbors when asked,” Hampton said. Not only that, he said, they spoke with neighbors on the phone five times as often and attended more community events. Altogether, they were much more successful at addressing local problems, like speeding cars and a small spate of burglaries. They also used their Listserv to coordinate offline events, even sign-ups for a bowling league. Hampton was one of the first scholars to marshal evidence that the web might make people less atomized rather than more. Not only were people not opting out of bowling leagues — Robert Putnam’s famous metric for community engagement — for more screen time; they were also using their computers to opt in.

    This article also has some interesting facts about gender roles and society:

    In fact, this was Hampton’s most surprising finding: Today there are just a lot more women in public, proportional to men.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      NYT won’t let me read it, but I am skeptical. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found something like that computer users today have healthier social structure, but I’d be surprised if they’d found something like that people today spend more time interacting with others, are more likely to know their neighbors, and have more close real-life friends than people in a 1700 farming village.

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  25. Konkvistador says:

    As chance would have it I was thinking out loud about Saudi Arabia on twitter before listening to the podcast.

    It looks like a pretty nice traditional-ish state when judged from the perspective of an Arab with Muslim values. The House of Saud can’t get the clannish, but strangely oil wealth softened, people together into a viable military that is true. It has however been winning at geopolitics for decades. This is *hard*. Its strategic genius has been continuously underestimated along the way. Even being a mere client of the US Empire with real internal autonomy is a difficult feat and its soft power around the world is extensive. They export loads of hardliner well off Fundamentalist Muslim troublemakers and employ them as a form of pressure, there are even rumors they arrange for them to get killed abroad. Two birds with one stone. Being Modernist Middle Eastern Muslims the Fundamentalists aren’t even very traditionalist, like American Protestant Fundamentalists usually aren’t. For example an “Islamic Republic” is a ridiculous idea unless headed by a Calif.

    Beyond its international dealings I don’t know that much but, I see at least surface level adherence to Islam and a high native birth rate, which is collapsing in other Middle Eastern states, they privilege the natives over foreigners significantly and I also recall studies showing Saudis are pretty happy. I also know about the decadence and deviance of some Saudi Princes, but they keep it out of the public eye, they adhere to at least that level of courtesy to the public, a level not reached by our own elites. Setting a good example and keeping up appearances matters. Many other princes also spend their money in ways I wish our “princes” of capital did.

    Now some people might say “haha you want a Saudi Arabia for Europeans” to this, but are missing the point that a modern traditionalist state means something different for different value sets and peoples. A European Saudi Arabia would be profoundly disturbing for Progressives yes, but it would not be Saudi Arabia. I’m not saying this to imply the latter is bad from some meta perspective, but because its object level tradition doesn’t match the European one which I happen to be tied to.

    A right wing person might still call Saudis savages while agreeing with this analysis. A left wing person might think it but usually won’t say it. And one can easily call one’s own society savage, if it doesn’t live up to one’s values. But I don’t think someone honestly holding *their* values would call their society savage. And that is the important meta when trying to learn about political science, politics or history to help one’s values thrive.

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    • Multiheaded says:

      Their foreign policy basically out-scums the CIA or the British. Impressive.

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    • nydwracu says:

      A country that has to send so many of its own people off to get killed someplace else in order to maintain stability is not a well-governed country. They’re strategic geniuses, sure, but so was Stalin.

      Certain alliances are necessary for survival these days, yes, but I’d rather have an Israel than a Saudi Arabia. (I’d rather have NYC secede and get run by someone who thinks like Lee Kuan Yew, but, you know, I’m from where I’m from and ethnostate culture-shock would be a thing. It probably wouldn’t be if I were ten years older and had kids, so, what the hell, do both.)

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      • Douglas Knight says:

        Stalin was one strategic genius. It is much more impressive if they have a system of government that peacefully finds strategic genius in the family and promotes it to power. I’m not sure I endorse that claim nor am I sure how long they’ve kept it up, but you might call it 250 years.

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        • nydwracu says:

          Sure, the Saudi system is impressive. Old coal plants are also impressive, but you wouldn’t want to use them if you had a better option and you certainly wouldn’t want to live downwind of them. And unlike an old coal plant, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to be learned from the Saudi system. You can get stability by allying yourself with a stable superpower, sending all the potentially destabilizing elements off to destabilize other countries and hopefully blow themselves up in the process, and buying everyone else off with the profits from your immense reserve of expensive natural resources while you run around smashing historical artifacts because Wahhabi clan-warriors have you by your shriveled, gas-coated balls. Great. But as far as formulas for stability go, that 1) doesn’t generalize, 2) breaks everything around it, and 3) has the constant killing of subjects baked in as a key part of the thing — so why would you want to?

          I don’t know much about Iran, but if they manage to last, they’ll be a lot more informative than Saudi Arabia. I don’t know if the old story about how Yeltsin wanted to set up a two-party system pretty much like the one Moldbug describes is true, but Iran may have found an even more reliable way of using the voting booth as a sponge. It will probably either die off once its patron state goes on too long continuing its age-old pattern of not realizing that succession is an engineering problem that must be taken seriously and breaks, get eaten by Cold War geopolitics, or find some inventive new way to completely implode, but if it doesn’t…

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        • Konkvistador says:

          To me as a system Iran doesn’t look that different from Western Democracies except for starting cultural assumptions.

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    • Salem says:

      For example an “Islamic Republic” is a ridiculous idea unless headed by a Calif.

      Don’t be ridiculous yourself. Firstly, what if you’re a Shi’a, or a Kharijite, or whatever, and hence reject the whole notion of a Caliph? Wilayat al Faqih isn’t obviously silly. Secondly, the idea that, even just considering the Sunni, a state can only be Islamic if headed by a Caliph… well, let’s just say that’s a mighty big assertion.

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  26. Pingback: Reaction Ruckus | Handle's Haus

  27. Sander says:

    The idea that 1700 BCE and 1700 CE had comparable living standards is actually very defensible and not nearly as easily dismissed as you appear to do. There’s significant debate among economic historians as to whether there was any structural development in living standards before the industrial revolution (and after the neolithic revolution) — it’s effectively a debate on whether the pre-industrial world was Malthusian. Evidence is, of course, hard to come by, but the proxies for living standards we can find are not without merit.

    The first three points in this response to some criticism by Gregory Clark have a few insights on the matter and may be a halfway decent introduction to the debate, although I’d strongly discourage you from reading his otherwise awful book or, really, the rest of that PDF: http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/gclark/Farewell%20to%20Alms/EREH%20response%20-%20revised.pdf

    Interestingly, you can also quite convincingly argue that the industrial revolution actually created worse living standards by the mid-nineteenth century (at least for a few Western-European industrial nations), which would probably support the neo-reactionaries. I’m not sure they ever actually make that point, though.

    That’s not to say that that debate on pre-industrial living standards is settled (it is not), so any claim by Noah that this was definitely the case is a little stronger than warranted, but it’s not something you should dismiss out of hand at all.

    As for gender roles, the whole “traditional gender roles” stuff is mostly a myth, anyway. The male breadwinner was historically little more than an upper-middle class fantasy which never played out among lower classes, and the neo-reactionary view on the matter isn’t actually grounded in what we know of historical realities.

    (for what should effectively be a debate on how things happened historically and how we get back to that, I sense a distinct lack of historians here, anyway)

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    • ozymandias says:

      It is true that housewives are a upper-middle-class 19th century fantasy, but distinct gender roles are not. While both men and women made economic contributions to the household, they made distinctly different contributions in most cultures; in our culture, the economic contribution of men and women is the same to an extent (AFAIK) unprecedented throughout history.

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      • Sander says:

        True, but I’ve yet to see someone make the point that society was better because women worked in textile mills while men worked in coal mines. In general the traditional gender roles arguments are employed to defend the male breadwinner model, and unless someone is specific in what he means by traditional gender roles, I’ll assume that’s what he’s referring to.

        Plus, it’s kind of hard to see how the fact that women no longer work in different places (or the same places doing different jobs) has eroded the traditional family. And also, we can place some asterisks here, because we can find plenty of examples where gender segregation was not the norm, or it was complicated (agriculture and shopkeepers, for instance).

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        • Fnord says:

          Coal mines versus textile mills is nearly as historically aberrant as breadwinner versus homemaker. ACTUAL traditional gender roles would be those in agricultural (or hunter-gatherer) situations.

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  28. Anonymous says:

    “I’ve previously blogged on how belief in Hell appears to make people more moral” Where ?

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