Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

Open Thread

Let’s try this and see what happens. Rules are anyone can post any discussion topic in the comments and other commenters join in.

I’ll also use this as a generic housekeeping thread for my own requests, of which right now I have three.

1. My brother is a professional jazz musician. He does a thing where he goes around and does concerts for free in people’s houses, raising awareness of jazz and making a little money by selling his CDs to people who attend and like him. He is currently searching for someone in Ohio to host his July 2nd concert. Requirements are your own piano and an ability to collect an audience of at least fifteen people. If interested, email me at scott[at]shireroth[dot]org and I will give you his email.

2. Handle would like to hold a debate between himself and anyone on the left [EDIT: Debate thread is now here]. I can vouch for him being polite and thoughtful, and think it would be an interesting and productive exercise. I don’t have time to do it myself. If you’re interested, post below and he’ll find you.

3. My blog goes down annoyingly often. If someone with good technical skills who could handle most of the move themselves would like to host me, I will probably say no for now, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have something ready in case the downtime starts increasing. You’d need to be able to handle about 5000 hits a day, more on good days. If you’re willing, let’s talk.


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244 Responses to Open Thread

  1. Assaf says:

    I’ve recently moved my own blog from a puny host to Amazon S3. It was a Ghost blog and I switched to Jekyll (a static blog system) with Disqus for discussions. What I gained is nearly free hosting (last month had more than 100k viewers, with lots of image downloads, and the whole thing cost a few dollars – you pay exactly based on the amount of traffic), extreme durability (like nine 9’s) and very high availability. I really recommend this, if you’re not married to your own particular blogging system.

    • Daniel H says:

      I have also heard good things about AWS, but I haven’t actually used them. However, I highly doubt the “nine 9s” claim. I remember Amazon S3 encountering some problems a few years ago, lasting several hours. It didn’t affect everybody that usde their services, though. Let’s say that it lasted 3 hours and 1/10 of everything they hosted was affected (both conservative, IIRC). That means that they should have perfect operations for the next 34 millenia.

      • Nornagest says:

        There’s a Warhammer joke here, but I can’t quite make it work.

      • The outage you mention would have affected availability, whether you get can to the data at a given time. The nine-nines claim is about durability, whether the data will be *lost* and gone forever. They are not the same. You may by all means doubt that they really won’t lose any data whatever on millennial scales, but the outage is not relevant to the argument unless you know of someone who lost data in it. Note that the availability was claimed to be “very high”, not a certain number of nines. 🙂

    • CAE_Jones says:

      Disqus apparently has accessibility issues. I’m hoping someone like this guy comes up with a fix, especially if Disqus becomes more popular in the Rationalsphere.

      • Disqus also has pain-in-the-ass issues– notably, that it doesn’t load all the comments automatically, which makes search difficult.

        • Deiseach says:

          Agreed that Disqus is a heap of rose fertiliser (I’m trying to cut down on my swearing). I can’t count how often it’s made webpages load slowly or not at all, or I’ve gotten the cheery message “Disqus seems to be slower than usual, do you want to reload?”

          On the other hand, the uselessness of Disqus has meant I’ve not been able to leave the comments I wanted to leave, which may be a net improvement for the world.

      • nydwracu says:

        Yeah Disqus is terrible and no one should ever use it.

        (What’s SSC on now? I’ve never had problems with, and apparently they allow custom domains. But I don’t get the WordPress toolbar here so I’m guessing it’s not that.)

        • lmm says:

          Disqus has its issues, but they’re much smaller than the current issues of “no way to get notifications of replies to your comments” and “no way to properly reply after the first three or four nested replies”.

          (And I really like having an upvote button, though that’s probably more arguable).

  2. Daniel H says:

    I have the politeness, but not the time, knowledge, or followthrough to debate Handle. I, however, would like to see the results of that debate. If it happens, could it or at least summaries of it from both sides be posted on the public Internet somewhere? If Scott posted the link, that would be even better.

  3. Nick says:

    Hey Scott, I work for a web hosting company, and I’ve debugged a decent number of WordPress downtime issues. If you decide to move hosts but stick with WordPress, I can definitely set you up on my VPS.

  4. Konkvistador says:

    1. Suppressing Tories
    On the unjust treatment given to enemies of the deplorable American revolution.

    2. Peter Turchin notices geopolitical superrationality (under another name) and sacredness in the Crimea Affair

    3. To Mars By A-Bomb, a one hour documentary on Project Orion

    4. An example of Soviet Engineering outperforming Western counterparts.

    “””The NK-33 and NK-43 are rocket engines designed and built in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Kuznetsov Design Bureau. The NK designation is presumably derived from the name of the chief designer, Nikolay Kuznetsov. They were intended for the ill-fated Soviet N-1 rocket moon shot. The NK-33 engine is among the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any Earth-launchable rocket engine (second only to SpaceX Merlin 1D engine), while achieving a very high specific impulse. NK-33 was by many measures the highest performance LOX/kerosene rocket engine ever created.”””

    Notice it took Elon Musk to beat the result, decades later and even then marginally so. And in a sense the Soviets did have an Elon Musk

    Related documentary

    5. If your civilization tries to do something impressive and you fail it may be 800 years before you try again.

    6. Notes on Peter Thiel lectures “whose philosophical alignment is sort of Girardian mystic game theorist financier” the general idea applied contrarianism statistical determinists and the alternative a very Girardian approach to the CEOs job description

    • peterdjones says:

      Always happy to see the phrase ” crushing tories”, although the contextual meaning is not what I’m used to.

    • moridinamael says:

      I am an engineer and well-versed in the mathematics of optimization but quite ignorant of rocketry, so I am asking the question: why is “rocket science” such a hard problem, historically? Rocket engine design seems like a relatively simple optimization problem, at least compared to something that *seems* complex like designing and airplane or a chemical plant.

      I am fully prepared to be made to look stupid now. Fire away, everyone.

      • Anthony says:

        Rocket science isn’t actually that hard, but even describing a single-stage rocket takes a differential equation, and it gets significantly harder with multi-stage rockets. Also, the engineering is hard, because as you increase the mass of the propellant relative to the payload, your effects increase only as the logarithm of that ratio.

        Also, Tsiolkovsky is hard to spell.

      • Alrenous says:

        Kerbal space program is a reasonable simulation of rocketry without having to spend years learning the physics and/or engineering.

        See the many, many ways you can horrifically screw up getting to orbit. Free demo! You can also watch various streamers or let’s players screw up instead, if you prefer.

      • Tuna-Fish says:

        Each individual subproblem in rocket science isn’t really hard. What is hard is that adding mass to the project has an *exponential* increase in cost, meaning that you cannot afford enough safety margin and redundancy. While building airplanes is more complex, it’s entirely viable to build airplanes where almost any of the parts can fail and the plane can still safely accomplish it’s task. To add full 2x redundancy to an airplane might cost 2x. To add full 2x redundancy to a rocket might well cost 100x.

        • Rocket engineering is hard. Rocket science is relatively simple.

          “Rocket science” (and its variants, which I thank google for suggesting) only became a common phrase in the 80s, I don’t know why.

      • lmm says:

        The hardest part of the rocket is the turbopump, probably because fluid dynamics in general is hard (or we’re not good at it). Also it’s difficult to iterate rapidly on a rocket engine design because most failures destroy the prototype.

  5. Omid says:

    Why is Less Wrong having a decline in discussion? Those of you who used to hang out on Less Wrong, why did you leave?

    • Anonymous says:

      Too few high-quality Main posts now; their comments seemed to be where the best discussion usually took place.

    • platypus says:

      Eliezer was a really good communicator. Even if I didn’t necessarily agree with him, I always enjoyed reading his posts. Scott has the same gift. But most of the posts on Less Wrong are just — well, they’re boring.

      Sometimes I go back to LW and use the user search feature to search for comments by interesting people, and I read those. (Plus necessary context.)

      Another thing, I think, is that I enjoyed the philosophical bits, but there was a lot of inadequately experimentally tested self-improvement stuff which sort of seemed to me like snake oil.

    • suntzuanime says:

      To some extent I left because all the interesting people were leaving, or at least being diluted by the uninteresting ones. But if you want an explanation other than a community death-spiral, it started being the case that there were two basic sorts of posts on LW:

      1) Hippie-dippie nonsense about the power of positive thinking with a thin rationalist veneer.
      2) Really technical math.

      I’m not super interested in either, and the first sort offended me when the community responded positively to it.

    • EoT says:

      Less Wrong has the stated purpose of refining human rationality. That isn’t a terribly interesting topic to most people. LW always was able to make up for this by having plenty of interesting discussions of various barely related topics. Eventually people discovered they could get upvotes for pointing out that a post was off-topic or only very weakly on-topic.

      So now people only post when they feel they are actually refining the art of human rationality, which is of course very difficult and fairly dry and not that interesting to most people.

      Of course, if you let discussions get too broadly interesting, you attract people who aren’t “aspiring rationalists” and the end result is 4chan.

      • suntzuanime says:

        You know, Eliezer made that same comparison in his awful and often-referenced “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism”. It seems to me that 4chan is a wildly successful community, and I can only dream of what a 4chan whose initial core community was made up of aspiring rationalists instead of anime perverts would be like.

        Honestly if you want to know what killed LW, I place the root cause at “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism”. There may have been some policy of forcing out people that could have saved LW, but it would have involved forcing out the boring idiots, rather than the interesting iconoclasts, and that’s not something the community could do on its own.

        Someone should write a rebuttal/epitaph entitled “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Democracy”.

        • trigger warning: rabid 4chan defender says:

          4chan is a wildly successful community where you can discuss just about anything (highly technical topics have trouble finding a place, but you could still post them) productively (or unproductively, if that’s your choice). It was started by anime nerds, true, but most people, including EY, who use “4chan” as a putdown aren’t even referencing the anime nerd stereotype but rather some vague Fox News report stereotype that floats around the culture. Much of its success as a community does come from its administration, but since its administration prefers to stay invisible rather than grandstanding like the management of literally every other community site, the stereotype can persist.

          Actually writing “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Democracy” would be a waste of time in my opinion, though it might occasionally be nice to have. I think the only people receptive to its message have already realized it – more to the point, if you’re still seriously entertaining the idea of voting systems for your community site, I consider you too far gone to reach.

        • Zathille says:

          “I think the only people receptive to its message have already realized it”

          It seems a tad uncharitable to imply that those who would disagree with the point after reading it would do so purely out of bias and ill-will or that the point is obviously true.

          For instance, I’ve participated in a number of forums when I was younger where no such voting systems existed, yet they’ve also stagnated. For me, it seems the voting system has only explicitated a process which underlay a more general issue, rather than being the issue itself.

          As communities establish themselves, produce and link content together, members of the community start forming reputations, allegiances, clades. A bit of an internal culture starts forming with its particular in-jokes and other signals. The once fluid relations in the community start to structure themselves, a certain pattern and predictability emerging along with a code of etiquette, explicit or implicit, which is expected to be followed by veterans and newbies alike.

          As this process goes on, a certain barrier to entry starts forming: Newbies are unlikely to understand the in-jokes at first or may start topics that veterans may find unworthwhile to discuss (as they’ve been discussed by them a thousand times before). The low-hanging fruit having been harvested already.

          Transferring this model to my understanding of Lesswrong, the barrier to entry may seem insurmountable to newcomers (Read the Sequences!), the lingo may seem alien and the topics rather narrow or strange (What is it with these people and AIs? Why is finding a nebula made out of paperclips cause for panic?). As for reputation, Eliezer and the more prolific posters would still likely have an overwhelming reputation, while newer posters may be scared of being downvoted into oblivion should they submit a post that does not match the high bar of expectations of length, breadth and content set by the usual high-quality posters. As I’ve said, the karma system merely turns a lifetime reputation into an explicit balance sheet that is explicitly available for everyone, marking one as either worthy or less so of consideration.

          Now for 4chan. Unlike the forum and LessWrong, the most defining feature is anonimity. There is no name attached to what you write unless you choose to have one (the majority doesn’t). There is no name taint what you write with ill-repute from previous posts or inflate your words with status from elsewhere, in fact, attempts to do so are usually met with mockery. There is, of course, a barrier to entry as behaviour that indicates lack of familiarity with the boards is met with the usual advice of posting less and reading more (Lurk moar), but since there is no identification on the posts newfags are free to shitpost knowing it won’t be held against them when they finally (hopefully) decide to post something pertinent to the board.

          4chan really impresses me in this regard, for me their crowning achievement is bleaching the word ‘fag’ of any and all connotations, negative or otherwise, to the point one has to call oneself ‘Gayfag’ in order to identify as a homosexual. In truth, this is likely the closest one has arrived to gender neutrality in an identifying term, a monosyllabic synonym to ‘person’ but without the usual underlying value judgement of ‘a person and therefore worthy of consideration’.

          Tangent aside and to keep it short, the stagnation of communities seems to be, in my experience, a mixture of communities which have crystallized a status structure while having a barrier to entry that discourages new people from starting to participate and potentially changing the ossified dynamics. As such, the reduction of the importance of status (or even the ability to gain status) as well as a broad choice of not-so-specialized topics to reduce barriers (The boards as opposed to LessWrong’s sequences and topics). The presence or absence of democracy only factoring in to the extent it affects status, which is why I disagree with attributing the death of the garden to it.

        • It occurred to me that I’d never actually looked at 4chan, so I checked it out. It wasn’t horribly hostile ( which was what I was expecting), but it didn’t seem especially interesting.

          Making Light is a firmly moderated blog which has been going strong for a long time.

          Zathille, I think you’ve got a point about crystalization. Someone, somehow, has to keep bringing new content rather than letting the site lapse into habit.

        • Zorgon says:

          Agreed with Zathille about the extraordinary “fag” phenomenon on 4chan. Thing is, it’s a natural barrier to entry, but it primarily affects those whose discussion styles would not suit the site anyway. Regardless, much as some British sites have bleached “cunt” to meaninglessness, the ubiquity of “newfag” etc on 4chan destroys the power of the word, and that’s speaking as someone with a MAJOR history of bad reactions to it.

          That said, there are other problems the site has with accessibility for people outside of a very specific self-selecting group. No amount of discursive flooding is going to make /b/’s relentless abuse of black people less disturbing, for one.

        • Nornagest says:

          Honestly if you want to know what killed LW, I place the root cause at “Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism”.

          Funny; that article always seemed like a joke to me.

          It’s widely referenced, all right, but its actual policy prescriptions are somewhere between misaimed and completely irrelevant. Karma systems are good at what they do, but there are certain problems that downvoting people more can’t solve, and those problems are quite capable of killing a community.

          Specifically: the downvote is best at deterring low-quality posts from new users, weak-willed cranks, and people whose preferred mode of communication is cat pictures and sassy .gifs. There is a place for this. But it’s much worse at driving off people who’re really hell-bent on making a stink, and it introduces certain perverse incentives. LW as a community doesn’t seem interested in dealing with either one: we essentially never remove people or content, and the technical obstacles put in place to prevent abuses of the voting system are so weak as to be effectively useless.

          This is not a well-kept garden. It’s more like a sea of mulch, watered by the random caprice of an inattentive gardener and seeded with birdshit and acorn falls; most seeds fail to germinate or die young, while those lucky or determined enough to survive are simply left to grow. Sure enough, the owners of such a garden won’t have to do much weeding; but they shouldn’t expect much usable fruit.

        • nydwracu says:

          For me, it seems the voting system has only explicitated a process which underlay a more general issue, rather than being the issue itself.

          Yeah, I’ve seen something like this happen before, on a forum with no voting system.

          Core of regulars with increasing standards over time as they got older and learned what they were talking about, who grew impatient with the new users (who were often pretty clueless) and either left or started flaming them into learning, which worked for some (who did end up learning) but not for others (who complained about the site being a hostile environment). Eventually a splinter forum formed that was specifically designed to avoid that pattern of hostility; it descended pretty quickly into a hugbox.

          The flaming bled over, and regulars started flaming each other, which drove a few more of them off; but once they were gone, it formed a fairly stable equilibrium for a few years, until the administrator decided that Something Had To Be Done, and banned a few of the better regulars, at which point half the other regulars left, and two more splinter forums sprung up. One died after a few weeks and the other descended into injoke-laden shitposting because there weren’t enough members for anything else, and also because the platform was set up to throw most relevant contributions in a place that was not the forum.

          (oi pthag am I describing this right)

          I am leaving out the constant drama surrounding the guy who wanted to make his every action consistent with the values of The Left, a bizarre construct of an overgrown superego which existed only in his head and drew all its ideas from extrapolations of the craziest parts of Tumblr. (He wanted, for example, to hold a banjo burning, because the banjo is an intrinsically racist and un-Leftist instrument, and he was in favor of the deportation of every single white person from South Africa back to Europe. He eventually got to the point of refusing to click any links for fear that they might contain un-Leftist content.) This drama was a thing that existed, but I do not think it was relevant. I was not, however, paying attention when The Happening happened, and he got banned in The Happening along with the actually sane regulars. So I could be wrong about that.

        • Alexander Stanislaw says:


          That was exquisite, perspective changing comments like this are one of the reasons I love this blog.

          Two concerns, does that happen to blogs as well? Will the slatestarcodex commentariat become diluted in quality and crystalized over time even if Scott manages to continue producing great content? And if there is such a risk, maybe we should all agree to change our names once a year or something? That’s a bad solution but I couldn’t think of a better one yet.

          And secondly, is it possible that porous borders cause countries and communities to have the same fate? Or perhaps it happens to physical communities and societies already? This is a bit of a stretch I realize.

      • Societies get turnover because people die. Yes, this is something that concerns me about increases in longevity.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I stopped hanging around there quite a while ago because it was simply taking up too much of my time. I think this may have before the decline people speak of, or at least the most noticeable parts of it. I still read all the posts in Main and occasionally comment on them; I occasionally browse through Discussion when I’m bored, but it seems to be slim pickings these days.

      Of course, you could say the real decline was before I even joined, as the Sequences were over by then, and those are by far the most valuable part of the site, or at the least have been since I joined!

    • Scott says:

      Alternate explanation: many valuable LessWrongers found a replacement good for using LessWrong. Melbourne has a thriving >40 people LW community; of which maybe 6 still use LessWrong. If lots of interesting LessWrongers have joined physical LW communities and stopped using LessWrong itself, you would see this kind of decline.

    • I’ve been reading Less Wrong since it started and commenting semi-regularly for most of that. It used to feel like a consortium of intellectual powerhouses I could learn all sorts of amazing things from. It doesn’t feel like that power is there any more. It’s mostly a bunch of people like me, and the most insightful stuff we’ve got to share comes from the same source.

      To a certain extent, I think what we might call the Rationalist Landscape has changed a lot over the past five years. There didn’t used to be anything like Less Wrong, but it drew a circle around all these disparate topics that seemed to go together. I was in Waterstones (probably the largest UK bookstore chain) a few weeks ago and they had a section called “Smart Thinking”, featuring books from Nate Silver and Dennett and Dan Ariely. That particular empirical cluster in idea-space is a lot more well-recognised in the public sphere than it was five years ago.

      All the superstars of Ye Olde Less Wrong seem to have gotten out of their armchairs, rolled up their sleeves and started doing things. I wonder if all the people (myself included) who are complaining about how it’s not as good any more are just the people who were too lazy to get out of the armchair.

      • Kiboh says:

        Your first paragraph implies a simpler hypothesis. It goes like this:

        When you first joined, you weren’t familiar with any of the useful concepts, so the people who invented and used them looked like intellectual powerhouses. But as you picked up the useful parts of LessWrongian rationality, leading LessWrongers stopped seeming like demigods and started seeming like “people like you”.

        Do you think this might have been a factor too?

        • This is definitely a factor, and not one I’ve overlooked. I am a lot more than I was five years ago. Still, many of those powerhouses are around in one way or another today, and while I don’t hold them in quite the same awe-bound esteem as I did five years ago, they’re still powerhouses. They still produce novel, insightful stuff of remarkably high quality, just not as regularly as I’d like, and not necessarily on Less Wrong.

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      I scaled back my LW participation, because I found it frustrating to talk to people there.

    • krstck says:

      This isn’t a particularly helpful explanation, but I left because it seemed like everyone else did too.

      • Zorgon says:

        I wouldn’t say it was unhelpful, it seems a perfectly reasonable explanation for at least some portion of the reduction in activity.

    • Lavendar bubble tea says:

      Hey, I’ve never commented(or possibly left one comment and forgot about it) on less wrong, but I have recently starting commenting here so I might be able to provide a useful point of view for why some people might not comment on less wrong.

      I am currently reading HPTMOR and I will occasionally go through a sequence or read some content on less wrong. Honestly I find it intimidating to comment there since there is so much content and so many new terms/concepts. I usually just end up reading the content and just not commenting myself.

      The second thing which keeps from commenting is that, I’m a little wary of the online community/social culture. I’m really put off by the tone of the parables and honestly it makes me wary of getting involved, whereas I don’t have that aversion to slate star codex comments.

    • It’s possible that there isn’t very much new to be said about rationality. If this is the case, how could you tell?

      • Oligopsony says:

        If this were the case I’d expect that most of the open problems had been resolved at least conceptually if not technically. Last I checked we were all collectively still confused about measure, Pascal’s mugging, acausal trade, different kinds of utilitarianisms, and some other things, but I haven’t checked recently or thoroughly.

        • Pthagnar says:

          there could be things to say, but LWers are incapable of getting anywhere with it, having reached limits of present state of science, capabilities of the people involved etc. ‘Awful lot of talk and not much use’ describes LW [and, to be fair, most of the rest of the Internet] pretty well, so this seems likely.

        • What I’m interested in is instrumental rationality, and issues which are somewhat close to it, like concept formation.

          Some of what you’ve listed seems pretty remote from that, though I might not be seeing the applications.

          What’s measure?

      • mareofnight says:

        Lack of new insights outside of LW as well would be evidence, but possibly weak evidence.

    • moridinamael says:

      Everybody is posting here instead.


      Or, y’know, their own personal blogosphere or whatever, but look how many comments-per-day these blog posts are getting?

      Posting on LessWrong has always felt like homework. You’re risking karma, which your chimp-brain cares about. You know that many people are going to read your post in the most literal, least charitable possible interpretation, so you have to rewrite it repeatedly to preemtively guard against possible attacks. It actually makes your comments stronger and it makes one a better writer in the long run, but I actually end up just deleting about half of the comments I start writing because I realize there’s no way to adequately armor-plate them against nitpicking.

      Posting here is more like chillaxing with your buddies after school.

      • anon says:

        I want to chime in and say that I agree with everything you just said.

      • nydwracu says:

        One of the reasons I don’t post on LessWrong is that it is a karma risk, yes. But the main reasons I don’t post on LessWrong are that I never see anything interesting there and I’m not quite sure what the intended topics are these days, other than community updates and vague not-terribly-useful talk of self-improvement.

        (Also I have next to no familiarity with scientific studies and most of what I say is just based on observation.)

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Posting here is more like chillaxing with your buddies after school.

        That would be one hell of a school.

        I concur, posting on LW is somewhat draining but I don’t think its the karma system, I think its the other reason you gave. I used to post a lot on Disquis which has a reputation system and it never felt like a chore to me.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        “Everybody is posting here instead.”

        Yeah, I’m sort of worried about that.

        Like, I’m glad to be able to contribute. But I also worry that maybe I’m going to create this community, attract lots of people away from Less Wrong, and then one day I decide to take up flower-arranging instead of blogging and the whole community collapses because it had been driven into a system that has a single point of failure (ie me).

        I have told two people that they have standing permission to post here. So far neither has taken me up on it (Ozy hasn’t yet but probably will soon). I am both interested in expanding that list, and worried that if I actually open it up for volunteers lots of people who aren’t very good writers or very interesting or who I have philosophical differences with or who I just don’t get will beg me and I’ll say yes because I’m bad at saying no to people. And then it will turn into Less Wrong II where people post their self-help advice. Or I’ll successfully say no but it will be very cognitively taxing and I’ll lose a lot of friends.

        I will unilaterally declare the following people sufficiently likely to be allowed to post on this blog NOT ABOUT MIND-KILLING THINGS that they should contact me at the email address in the About page if they want to and we can work it out: Eliezer, Athrelon, Alicorn, Steven Kaas, SarahC, NickT, maybe Nydwracu, and a couple other people I won’t mention because they have their own blogs and probably would rather post there anyway.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Less Wrong started going noticeably downhill in 2010, you weren’t a meaningful competitor for it at that point that I can recall. You only left freaking Livejournal like, a year and a half ago IIRC? Don’t put the blame for this on yourself.

          There are two names on that list I’m interested in not reading. Is there a way to filter by author in your content management system?

        • US says:

          “I also worry that maybe I’m going to create this community, attract lots of people away from Less Wrong, and then one day I decide to take up flower-arranging instead of blogging and the whole community collapses because it had been driven into a system that has a single point of failure (ie me).”

          One might argue that given the dynamics observed in the recent past this would be unlikely to be a long-term outcome; a big part of the LW community moved here, but there’s still a community. If you ‘go away’ those people (I prefer to not consider myself part of that crowd) will just find some other place to gather, no? Maybe they’d just return to LW, this is not a completely implausible scenario, though it’s perhaps more likely that they’d find some other new place to go; it seems to me quite likely that other people would be willing to step in as The New Community Leader if you were to leave, and that the rest of the community would then eventually pick one of those people as ‘The Winner’ (alleviating the concern that there’d be ‘too many’ who’d be interested in taking over your role – this seems to me most likely to only be a transitional problem). I imagine there would be a lot of the kind of status many people reading along here care a lot about associated with such a community-unifying-force-role, even if the people you’d perhaps prefer to take on that role aren’t jumping at the chance to take on a more active role in the community at this point.

          On a note related to your ‘MIND-KILLING THINGS’-comment, I’d assume you’d most likely have a lot fewer comments and readers if you didn’t write about politics at all (I consider basically all of politics to belong in the MK-category). If you want a big and active community ‘after you’ve left’ (if you do decide to ‘leave’), conditioning potential successors to avoid mind-killing stuff completely during the transitional phase may not be a good idea – tribal leaders need to cater to those tribal instincts occasionally, or people will go elsewhere. As you’ve been a tribal leader for some time you presumably know a lot more about group cohesion dynamics and similar stuff than I do and so it may be redundant to mention this, but I thought I should anyway, in case you’d overlooked this aspect.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Some of those people have their own blogs as well…

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I got hooked on your blog after “In Defense of Niceness…” essentially because it tackles things that would be considered mindkillers on LW and makes headway without getting too mindkilled. It’s the element of controversy that makes me comment more here than I ever did there.
          And in fact, I check both here and LW pretty much every day. But I almost always find something good here, and almost never there.
          There are actually loads of old LW posts I’d like to discuss, if a site-wide necromancy permission were declared. But the new stuff just isn’t that interesting.

        • Anonymous says:

          ADifferentAnonymous, how about you make a post in discussion entitled “Let’s discuss the old post named …” and see what happens?

          Yes, you probably need to make a longer, more detailed comment to get this started than you might want to add to an existing discussion. But how about you try it once?

      • Earnest_Peer says:

        I think there’s more to why people post here than just this place being rather chill. There’s also the fact that this site updates very frequently with new and exciting stuff of consistent quality – which is the great benefit of reading author blogs rather than forums, and my reason for leaving LessWrong for greener pastures (mainly here and Charlie Stross’s blog).

        Also, I really appreciate that this place isn’t a designated community like LW (but I think that’s the chillaxing with your buddies part).

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      Because I got mod-bombed, and didn’t like how that made me feel.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Started hanging out there less when I moved to the Bay Area, and less yet when Alicorn said she didn’t read everything on there any more.

    • anon says:

      I was irritated that argument quality didn’t stand on its own. Instead, people got reputations for having good arguments, and their posts or comments would seemingly automatically be upvoted regardless of their quality.

      Group consensus on the site was too strong. People downvoted automatically if they disagreed with someone. Many people used the current number of upvotes or downvotes as a proxy for the quality of the comment, and so dogpiling effects occurred. I think many people on LessWrong are smart, but assume everyone else there is smarter than them, and so they move with the crowd when they should be standing independent of it.

      A related phenomenon was people referencing LW memes as a discussion killer. It’s ironic that EY talks a lot about how historical China crippled itself by deriving all its wisdom from its ancestors, while discussion on LW followed the same basic pattern. “The Sequences” were given too much weight, and even inappropriate references to them garnered respect and persuasive value.

      Contrarianism was only accepted in minimal doses, not when applied to a main principle of the site. For example, there should be frequent debate about whether AI will FOOM anytime soon, instead I see none. It’s established that it’s possible in principle. But much more than principle matters in the real world.

      (Also, the Hanson-Yudkowsky debate was a farce, Hanson’s position was so ridiculously bad that it shouldn’t have been published. There are reasons other than not understanding calculus to be skeptical AI will arrive soon.)

      Finally, I got tired of trying to be persuasive, so I stopped commenting there. I’m not interested in changing minds, just exploring ideas. And LessWrong wasn’t as good a place to explore ideas as I first expected it to be, because people there are ravenous for status and not understanding, so comments have to be extremely well-written or they’ll be torn to shreds.

      • Nick T says:

        AFAIK many people in LW don’t believe in AI foom, there’s just not much interest in debating it for some reason.

    • nydwracu says:

      I think I only signed up after the exodus began, but I check it infrequently and usually only read the open threads, because it is, to me, mostly noise with hardly any signal.

      Older posts have less of this problem. I frequently find myself wanting to contribute to an actually-productive line of discussion, only to realize that it is three years old.

      It is a useful introduction to a network, and its archives are good, but Main seems pretty slow and my impression is that Discussion is mostly community updates and self-improvement stuff for which I am not part of the target audience. Perhaps this is because productive output goes elsewhere — like here.

      Maybe it’s the same pattern I’ve fallen into. A while after I started my first blog, I started a second blog for things that I didn’t think were efforty/contentful enough for my first blog. I didn’t post on my first blog again after that. I moved that second blog to WordPress (and it is the one in the website field now), but eventually created a Tumblr for things that I didn’t think were efforty/contentful enough for my first blog, and ended up posting there much more frequently than WordPress. Then I created a second Tumblr that was intended for non-political/rationalisty/philosophical content (so much lower-effort), and ended up posting said content to the second Tumblr about as much as the first. (Then the first one got deleted out of nowhere so I deleted the second one and made a new WordPress for the same purpose as the first Tumblr, and, as you can see, I post on that one much more than on my main one.)

      This is probably connected to the problem of loss of productivity through Twitter, which has been commented on by others, and which I’ve noticed in myself: things that would be better off as an article (on WordPress or Theden) get dumped to Twitter instead in a much rougher form, and once it’s already there, I can’t bring myself to rewrite the same ideas elsewhere.

      • If you reply to old threads (sometimes called thread necromancy), you’ve got some chance of your comment getting noticed in Recent Comments, and starting a discussion.

        • nydwracu says:

          Ah, so there’s no unwritten social norm against it?

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          There’s no LW taboo on commenting on old threads that I have ever noticed.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yes, resurrecting old threads is definitely considered OK on LW. (Kind of disappointed there’s no similar extensive “recent comments” here!)

        • I think LW would be improved if there were an option to see the most recent 100 comments, or even the most recent 1000.

          Making Light has a surprisingly good structure– long unthreaded discussions (capped at 1000 comments), but with comment numbers to make reference semi-easy, and and recent comments each linked by name of poster and thread– the comments themselves aren’t displayed, so the list of comments is fairly easy to scan.

        • Nornagest says:

          I used to read Making Light semi-often, although I never posted there. It got too heavy-handedly political for me sometime late in the Bush years and I stopped, but it did have one of the better commentariats I’ve seen. Fewer cog-sci nerds, more writerly types, but still very bright.

          I still miss John M. Ford’s stuff.

    • Darcey Riley says:

      I “left” (i.e. stopped reading, since I never commented much) because I felt like LessWrong’s value system was moving further and further from my own, and that if I disagreed vocally with the LessWrong consensus, I would be downvoted to oblivion and condemned as a moral degenerate. I kind of doubt that I would actually be ostracized, but the moral consensus was too strong and too vocal for me to be comfortable disagreeing.

      Interestingly, the moral issues changed over time. At first I felt uncomfortable because of the constant discussion of cryonics, and how everyone who hasn’t signed up is an idiot. Then I felt uncomfortable because of the effective altruism discussions, and the pervasive sense that if you don’t choose a career which maximizes your ability to make charitble donations, then you’re a terrible person.

      Thanks to the yearly surveys, I know that not everyone wants to sign up for cryonics, many people don’t donate to charity, and plenty of people think UFAI is not the most significant existential risk. So there is no “LessWrong consensus”. But the socially acceptable discussion topics sure makes it look that way.

      And it’s not that I wish LessWrong unaminously agreed with my personal moral positions. I just wish that LessWrong didn’t promote any specific morality, since I’m interested in discussing all topics objectively/scientifically, and the existence of a prescriptive moral consensus makes that more difficult.

    • mjgeddes says:

      The intended audience of ‘Less Wrong’ was one – Eliezer Yudkowsky. EY views himself as a flawless super-genius – he’s right about everything by golly, and anyone who doesn’t immediately subscribe to his views is either ‘mad’ or a total nincompoop. He has to reinvent himself every few years (completely revamping his organizations/communities and replacing all his ‘inner circle’) for the simple reason that eventually everyone he knows just gets fed-up with his insufferable bullshit and leaves.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Misses at least two of the “true, kind, necessary” demanded by the comment policy. You are banned from this blog – you, your children, and your children’s children – for three days.

    • lmm says:

      LW discussion is better than it’s ever been – the fun parts (open thread, media thread and the like) are more popular than ever, and now there’s less other stuff getting in the way.

  6. Alrenous says:

    Let’s check.

    0. Your ideal world is one where nobody is unkind to anyone else. Yes? Right?

    1. For example, you want to raise the rationality waterline to resolve more conflicts peacefully and due to roughly agreeing with Socrates’ assertion that no one does evil willingly. For sub-example, compassion for others flows from understanding. Or to see more conflicts as negative-sum, unwinnable.

    2. If you were elected demiurge, is there any world-property you would trade more kindness for?

    I have a couple assertions I’d like to know if you agree with but I need special permission to bring them up. My argument is I don’t want to discuss them, I just want to confirm your position.

    Here’s the rest: 3. war is bad because it kills people who don’t want to die. 4. Economic inequality is much higher than necessary and flows from the powerful arrogating resources to themselves for shits and/or giggles. (I may later ask for a rank ordering of power centres, and then possibly for some reasoning behind such.)

    5.1 It would be unkind to slow economic growth as that would prevent future humans from being healthy. 5.2 It would only be worthwhile if it allowed a greater kindness.

    6. Educating the average voter raises the rationality waterline and allows faster communication, more sophisticated communication, and thus strictly better communication.

    7. Are taxes coercive but necessary or not coercive?

    8. More advanced science empowers us to undertake stronger kind acts.

    9. Is it primarily progressivism or technological advance that is suppressing murder rates? (Or are they somewhat equal?)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think maybe where we’re going to differ or get confused is that I’m utilitarian. I think kindness is good because it’s wrong to hurt people for no reason. I think in principle being a jerk could be useful if it increases utility, but in general I don’t trust people to make that decision accurately and everyone would just be a jerk all the time and come up with excuses for why it increases utility. I’d rather come up with strict rules against that kind of thing with well-delineated procedures for granting exceptions.

      • Alrenous says:

        Where we differ is I don’t see how it’s possible to be a jerk to someone and simultaneously increase their utility. If it were, you could repeatedly do that thing until they had infinite utility but were utterly miserable. Otherwise we could break the act down into sub-acts of say one part jerk and two part kind that happen to be entangled (as far as we know).

        Is taxation coercion but necessary, not coercion, you don’t know, or you don’t care?

        So everyone would be a jerk if they could get away with it? What kinds of things are important for preventing them from getting away with it?

        • Anonymous says:

          Utilitarianism is about increasing total utility. So, if one person’s presence was making a lot of other people very unhappy, it would be possible to ask that person to leave and simultaneously increase total utility. The one annoying person’s utility would be decreased.

          I think your taxation question is answered by section 12.2 of

        • AJD says:

          Where we differ is I don’t see how it’s possible to be a jerk to someone and simultaneously increase their utility. If it were, you could repeatedly do that thing until they had infinite utility but were utterly miserable.

          This is a weird and obviously fallacious argument. If an action increases utility the first time that doesn’t mean repeating it will still increase utility.

          You could increase my utility without being a jerk to me by putting a square of dark chocolate in my mouth. Repeatedly doing that action wouldn’t give me infinite utility and (after enough repetitions) probably would leave me pretty miserable.

        • Alrenous says:

          Thank you for the link, anonymous, but I’m afraid it doesn’t answer the question. What I want to know is whether Scott, (or you, I’m not picky) thinks “taking without permission” constitutes coercion. If it does, I can now safely conclude that the answer is ‘coercive but necessary,’ but without this information the question remains ambiguous.

          Dear ADJ,

          This is a weird and obviously fallacious argument.

          That is a weird and obviously fallacious objection.

          Now what? Who wins?

          You compared an abstract being-a-jerk to a particular case of not-being-a-jerk.

          I’m sorry to have to say this, but please be advised that I now strongly suspect you’re too ignorant to be worth my time.

          The words ‘weird’ and ‘obvious’ are status moves, not scholarly moves. They cast doubt upon ‘fallacious,’ and indeed, upon review the example was itself fallacious. The first part of the comment retrodicted the second part, which suggests the reading is valid.

          Moreover, you seem to have missed the fact that what I offered was not an argument, it was a question. This is signalled by the phrase “I don’t understand.” The second part is merely clarification of how I’m confusion.

          That you overreacted to it usually indicates that you found it painful – that you are not, despite your explicit words, confident that it is wrong. When someone is feeling insecure and care about status, they will often use bluster to try to bludgeon their audience into not noticing. Again, the retrodictions are consistent.

          So that’s four or four-and-a-half serious errors. Because I am stupid, this is not enough for me to entirely sure, as I may have misread something. But if I haven’t, the question is overdetermined.

        • anon says:

          Alreneous, you only responded to the tone of AJD’s response, not any of the substance. Do you have a response to his chocolate analogy? I felt the chocolate analogy was good, even though I also disliked the way he presented it.

          Was he misreading your argument, perhaps? I think this might be the case, but could use clarification on what exactly your argument is.

        • Anthony says:

          I don’t see how it’s possible to be a jerk to someone and simultaneously increase their utility.

          Observe most sports coaching situations. Or what Army drill instructors do.

          Note that by making the claim of impossibility, you’re open to being falsified by a single counterexample.

          If it were, you could repeatedly do that thing until they had infinite utility but were utterly miserable.

          Does not follow. Any individual act of being a jerk may increase someone else’s utility, but the next act may not, because, among other things, they’re not exactly the same act. The second time I yell at someone to run faster, they have the history of the first time which may affect their response. See also “Law of Diminishing Returns”.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The following seem like examples of being jerks to people that could potentially increase global (not necessarily their) utility: committing people to mental institutions, spanking children, harshly punishing criminals, shaming people who make terrible arguments, shaming people who do publicly unvirtuous things in order to increase public virtue, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, being a drill sergeant in basic training.

          I’m not necessarily in favor of these things in real life, but I think on a totally philosophical “is it possible” level it clearly is.

        • Alrenous says:

          Scott, thanks, that’s the kind of answer I was looking for. It seems clear enough that it feels utterly redundant to re-state in my own words.

          I’m not entitled to an answer, but I do have to mention I still don’t know your views on coercion.


          Note that by making the claim of impossibility, you’re open to being falsified by a single counterexample.

          Yes, I do such things on purpose to make it hard to defend.

          because, among other things, they’re not exactly the same act.

          Did I make it clear I’m talking net-jerk, not gross-jerk?

          I don’t see how you get away with calling an increase in utility ‘being a jerk’ without a serious contradiction. If we’re talking some net decrease, then there’s no problem.

    • Dib says:

      > Are taxes coercive but necessary or not coercive?

      False dichotomy! They could be coercive and unnecessary.

      (For anyone interested in technical details about how to replace tax funded things with non-tax funded ones, I recommend David D Friedman’s excellent “Machinary of Freedom”

  7. Daniel Speyer says:

    I’m possibly interested in debating Handle. I’m not sure I’m leftist enough. I’m sort of minarcho-socialist.

    I’ve been thinking for a while about what it would take to create a rationalist space for political discussion. Either participating in, reading, or facilitating this could be useful for me in that.

    • Handle says:

      You don’t have to be leftist or progressive or whatever; just be able to accurately present your best, good-faith effort at the the ‘steelman’ version of those perspectives, or even just of your own.

  8. Me says:

    Yes! An open thread! Long have I secretly wished that you’d regularly hold open threads, allowing for some slightly less structured conversation among all the super-smart Slate Star Codex readership. I never actually raised the issue, but it appears that great minds think alike. Scott, I applaud you highly for this.

  9. macro minimizer says:

    yay open thread! can i just say that SSC is rapidly becoming one of the best sources of original, fair-minded, and insightful thinking online?

    i feel so lucky to have found it (relatively) early. this must be what it was like to have stumbled upon moldbug in ’08, or lesswrong in ’10.

  10. George says:

    Today I learned that the cause of dwarfism [1] is a single nucleotide polymorphism. That’s right, the whole thing is caused by a single mutation in your DNA — in this case a G to C. The mutation occurs on the FGFR3 [2] gene at protein position 380, and causes it to code for Arginine instead of Glycine… which somehow makes you a dwarf.

    Are there any other examples of SNPs with such profound effects on phenotype? I always figured this stuff would be more complicated.

    [1] Well, technically achondroplasia, that most common and recognizable type of dwarfism.

      • George says:

        Thanks for the link! There’s a lot of interesting ones there. Makes me wish I would’ve taken some life science courses while at university instead of spending all my time with math…

        • zslastman says:

          Nah. You can pick up the biology in your spare time. Math has to be forced into your brain.
          It’s actually very easy for any coding gene to get completely disrupted by a single mutation. All that has to happen is for a stop codon be created.

          In general these things are more complicated but there are some low hanging genetic fruit in the form of single, incredibly disruptive mutations which lead to ‘mendelian conditions’. They are uncommon for obvious reasons.

          • I’m wondering whether there’s some interesting math about what SNPs have large effects without killing and the control mechanisms which make that possible

        • Anonymous says:

          You know, that’s the first time I’ve heard someone say that (instead of the reverse)

          University courses are almost uniformly bad, unfortunately.

  11. lmm says:

    Was there any progress on considering comment systems? Particularly for an open thread, I really want “notify me when someone replies to one of my comments but not otherwise”. You’d think that was basic functionality for a comment system with threading (In Disqus or LW it’s the default), but WordPress offers me two checkboxes neither of which seems to do the right thing.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      A lot of things could be solved by WordPress plugins, but the last few times I’ve tried to install them the blog has gone down for a few hours and only stayed up consistently when I uninstall them. I think I’m hovering close to some kind of resource limit and too many plugins consume the resource, so I’m reluctant to add new ones.

      If there’s enough demand for this feature and someone finds a good plugin they have seen work before, I’ll try adding it.

    • Earnest_Peer says:

      A slight problem with this feature will be that people who post comments at the third level will get lots of notifications about answers to answers to them, and people at fourth level won’t get any.

      • lmm says:

        Sure. But getting notifications about all the replies to replies to me would still be a massive step up from getting notifications about every comment on the post.

  12. lmm says:

    What was with that rapidly withdrawn prediction (?), the one that requested Scott not read it until after writing the next post?

    • Oligopsony says:

      I predicted, incorrectly, that Scott’s next post would be about the recent mass shootings, criticizing feminists and commenting on mental illness. (My actual prediction was below 50% because of the burden of additional details.)

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I try pretty hard to avoid writing about stupid current events that everyone else is writing about. If I absolutely have to, I at least try to wait a few weeks so I’m not contributing to a critical popularity-feedback-loop.

  13. Oligopsony says:

    I would enjoy debating Handle, if he will have me.

    Handle, are you interested in debating anything in particular? I think almost all the major novel claims of NRx (the Cathedral, cladistics, caste analysis, exit) are wrong but in an interesting and “productive” way, so I’d be happy with a back-and-forth on each or any of those, but I’m also open to other suggestions.

    • Multiheaded says:

      I need to be kept as far away as possible from any polite and reasonable debate (by barbed wire, machineguns, etc), but I would insist that any other would-be debater takes Oligopsony as mission control; he has an unique advantage by being the only person in the SSCsphere with a really fundamental understanding of Marxist theory. I don’t think I’ve ever personally seen a serious long-form engagement between a learned Marxist and a far-rightist.

      (As for me, I think I’m only of any use in an open and many-sided discussion where there are people willing to steelman me. I could, however, point people towards some freely available or nautically acquired leftist literature that might help our candidate with a training montage. History of political thought, feminism, imperialism, stuff like that. Leave a note.)

      • Lavendar bubble tea says:

        I’d loved to see that debate. I love watching learned Marxists debate. (Also, I’m half tempted to request that training montage for myself, but I don’t think I’m right person for time management purposes)

      • anodognosic says:

        Multiheaded, I’d love to have access to that reading list if you wouldn’t mind compiling it.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Aaaaand… here it is!

          17 serious and acclaimed books (including one tetralogy); I’ve completed 8, and at least skimmed through the rest. Further suggestions from knowledgeable people (esp. Oligopsony and Zathille) highly welcome. If you’re unsure which ones to start with, try the [MUST READ] tag.

          p.s. maybe I’ll remove/disclaim Graeber’s Debt, not sure how much I’m liking it

      • Nornagest says:

        “Nautically acquired” is probably the best euphemism I’ve seen today.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Seeing this in recent comments, without context, I thought you were talking about thalassocracy.

    • Handle says:

      Sure. Tell you what, I’ll put up a post on my blog and if people are interested they can leave a comment there.

  14. Ilya Shpitser says:

    Scott do you visit the bay area anymore? Or too busy?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I absolutely love to visit the Bay Area, but I only get a few weeks’ vacation a year so in practice I visit once.

      I’ll probably be there next for Mike and Hannah’s wedding in September, but just for a weekend. After that I hope to be able to go in spring 2015 for a little longer.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        If you are there before the 25th of September, I would love to go grab a coffee. Email me if interested.

  15. J. Quinton says:

    What kind of jazz does your brother play? If he plays swing and/or can play for lindy hop dancers I could probably find a lot more than 15 people who would be willing to attend his shows.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m going to obscure the link so the last name isn’t visible to Google on this blog, and likely delete this comment later:

      Go to the House Concerts section there for more information.

  16. Carinthium says:

    I’m going to use this thread to ask for information. I’m doing an Arts degree at Melbourne University, and was planning to go on and do a Law degree. Could somebody with more knowledge of the subject tell me about the likely pace of technological unemployment in Law?

    • TimS says:

      I can’t speak for the Australian market, but in the States, it probably is not a wise economic decision to start a career in law right now, even if technological unemployment in law lags significantly behind other fields.

      That said, I do expect law to avoid much technological unemployment. Basically, accurate predictions about a case outcome require variables that seem to difficult to code from a data collection point of view.

    • It might be useful to define “success” – do you want a guaranteed job, prospects of getting paid really well for working very hard, the satisfaction of helping the less fortunate, ..?

      (Also, note that SSC will have more technologists than lawyers – consider asking the question somewhere law-oriented too. Separately, Hacker News has some ex- and current lawyers interested in technology.)

      • Carinthium says:

        I want a guarenteed, steady job on which to get a steady income. I’m a fairly selfish person honestly, so helping the less fortunate doesn’t come into it.

    • Lila says:

      I’m assuming you want to go into law because you want to be a lawyer, but less than 60% of law graduates get that:

      As that article also points out, 12.8% are just straight up unemployed.

      • Anonymous says:

        I wouldn’t extrapolate such a government-centric field from America to Australia.

  17. eeuuah says:

    As a progressive with reactionary sympathies, having a debate with someone like handle would be lovely for me. I’m sure I could be polite, although I don’t know how much value he would necessarily get from talking to me though.

    • BenSix says:

      As a progressive with reactionary sympathies…

      A friend of mine describes himself as “liberal with outbursts of violent fascism”.

    • Handle says:

      Give me an hour or so, and I’ll put a post up on my blog, and everyone in the SSC-sphere who has any interest can message me and we’ll work it out.

  18. Sean says:

    Well this is convenient as this site and community seems a great place to bring up a subject that despite recent calls for activity I just couldn’t seem to make fit with the taboo topics culture on LW.

    I think the rationalist community could use a discussion, at least to help establish real-world statistics outside of anecdote, on why adoption of rival memeplexes, or “apostasy” occurs. People don’t often even seem to acknowledge that differing memeplexes, as in religions, political ideologies, etc… clearly have widely differing rates of apostasy. In particular, exceptionally low rates of apostasy on certain things are something people seem to outright deny all the time, and probably threatens certain worldviews, yet the fact is those low rates mostly seem true.

    Of course, anti-apostasy memes for obvious game theoretic and evolutionary reasons are common in many ideologies. However for most interesting empirical cases this factor does not explain the whole picture, all the variance, because it’s shared by everything. Though the former conclusion might be something curious people want me to expand because it’s rarely been discussed and perhaps not as simple to understand as it’s always been to me, we don’t have to get ahead of ourselves.

    Likewise, a selection effect of certain memeplexes attracting or not attracting only the sort of individuals who are more stubborn and unlikely to change their minds plausibly accounts for some, but not all differences. To be clear, this is for differentiating from the point of focus on the structure of a memeplex, since it would be really interesting to find novel patterns in memeplexes predicting for apostasy when nobody really expected them. Mere differences in the people population makeup certainly count for something, and probably are large factors across societies for big obvious trends like the local mainstream vs all non-mainstream religious beliefs, but don’t necessarily account for interesting cases.

    Finally, it’s intuitively true in a rationalist sense that more truthful viewpoints should simply win out over time. Changing from an untrue belief to a true one, or at least more true, should be only a one way process absent people’s cognitive biases and irrationality. However, it’s hasty to attribute all remaining differences to this cause and especially uncharitable to dismiss rival viewpoints just because of this.

    As far as explanations for why rates of apostasy differ I’m definitely open to hearing something unexpected, something I’d missed. Regardless of the reasons the tacit assumption that everything has large amounts of apostasy all the time, even for important beliefs, should be challenged more. This underlying assumption contributes to a lot of frustrating debate and discussion structure if not outright disagreeable political stances from many perspectives, I’d think. It’s very much not true in certain cases, and except for the argument for Bayesian objectiveness puzzlingly so in several comparisons, though it’s possible statistical fluctuations over lower sample sizes can account for some observations. Since we can discuss religion and politics here any information or broad speculation is relevant, representative or not.

    • Oligopsony says:

      Success in building social networks, especially real-world ones, is doubtlessly a part of this – I would naively guess a greater one than all the factors you mention. Interaction ritual theory would predict this, and it jibes with what little I’ve read in the psychology of religious or political conversion.

      • Sean says:

        Well, that’s something that could vary somewhat independently as a sort of luck-based factor. It’s clear that would matter a lot if considered as a separate factor for absolute rates of apostasy, but not necessarily for relative rates in anything interesting I’d thought of. Observationally it’s contrary to expectations that it would be important in many interesting cases and doesn’t seem to account for much beyond the boring Bayesian evidence sense.

        As an example that gets at again a more “interesting” point, what could be described as atheist libertarianism/anarchism and atheist non-hippy socialism have different, much lower rates of apostasy from mainstream religion. Then the obvious structural and demographic factors explaining that clearly aren’t enough to explain why they have different rates from each other. There might be empirical disagreement on those relative rates, but even acknowledging that and aiming to figure it out counts for something.

        • Anthony says:

          I will venture to guess that “mainstream” religions and ideologies will have higher rates of apostasy because they’re mainstream. Americans (for example) who are atheist somethings are likely to have converted to that belief as adults (or nearly so), which makes their abandonment of that belief less likely than for people who’ve absorbed the belief as children.

          Also, ideological and religious groups which demand a lot of their members would tend to have lower rates of apostasy – requiring people to emit expensive signals gets them to value those signals more highly.

    • Desertopa says:

      “Finally, it’s intuitively true in a rationalist sense that more truthful viewpoints should simply win out over time. Changing from an untrue belief to a true one, or at least more true, should be only a one way process absent people’s cognitive biases and irrationality. However, it’s hasty to attribute all remaining differences to this cause and especially uncharitable to dismiss rival viewpoints just because of this.”

      Intuitively true, but perhaps not actually true. Or rather, “absent people’s cognitive biases and irrationality” is probably a stipulation that renders the initial claim basically meaningless.

      The anti-empirical movement in Islam which practically drove scientific progress in the Middle East, which had been the world’s scientific powerhouse in its time, to a halt, still effectively persists to this day.

      • Sean says:

        Right, but I was thinking centuries old historical cases are not “interesting” in a way anyone needs to be particularly more aware of, especially if they don’t really contradict any conclusions about memetics. The prevailing assumption to address is that people holding opposing positions might change their minds on memeplexes much like trivial tastes in arts and music or something. This is coupled with the fact that large numbers of memeplexes do have relatively high apostasy rates, which seems to contribute a lot to overlooking the other cases where that is really meaningfully not true. And the empirical rates of apostasy for some modern memeplexes relevant to the rationalist community, or by extension on a grab bag of some issues that aren’t ideologies per se, is something anyone can address. For a community that’s mostly outside of simplistic cases like mainstream religion in the first place there’s no need to feel uneasy about it.

    • Oligopsony says:

      This may or may not be interesting by your criteria but I wonder if there might be an empirically observable correlation between physical fecundity and apostasy, not because one causes the other, or even that the same conditions drive each, but that when superior fecundity and loyalty are united one alternative gains fixation and becomes invisible.

    • The harshness of anti-apostasy memes varies a *lot*, but that just pushes the question back a step. Why do some groups punish non-conformity much more than others?

      • Sean says:

        It pushes back an uninteresting side of the question, though, as trying to pinpoint how factors we already know about affect mainstream memeplexes in an exact deterministic way doesn’t seem that worthwhile. (Plus again in an evolutionary memetic sense if there is a possibility for differing levels of anti-apostasy memes, punishment of non-conformity or anything similar then memeplexes lacking these are selected against over time.)Factors beyond the structure and content of anti-apostasy memes account for something but nothing identified in any interesting cases; mainstream religion and politics aren’t particularly interesting cases for obvious reasons everyone is talking about.

        For instance, atheist socialism has around five to ten times less apostasy in comparison to atheist libertarianism.

        At least, that is the best estimate from most evidence right now, especially for Western industrialized societies. If there is disagreement that doesn’t change that this is something that can in principle be measured.

        We’re looking for unidentified factors that might account for this other than again the Bayesian evidence, Aumann’s agreement theorem sense that one of those viewpoints is just rationally incorrect. Everybody does not seem to implicitly accept that or appreciate this evidence in the context of other debates if we all do agree with that conclusion. Differences from mainstream religion are trivial to account for as a combination of some aforementioned factors. However, claims of different levels of anti-apostasy memes, and organization, and different personality types of people, and anything else put out there for these memeplexes, compared to each other, are not accurate or sufficiently relevant. Again, there can be uncertainty on the empirical rates on any interesting cases, but then whatever the rates are explaining low rates of apostasy, not just versus mainstream religion or politics but in comparison between other memeplexes, is an open question.

  19. Lavendar bubble tea says:

    Can we talk about theocratic rule by the sea? That’s my favorite lesser known form of goverment.

    • Multiheaded says:

      what if it’s really just the old ones, though

    • Zathille says:

      By that do you mean a mixture of theocracy with thalassocracy? A maritime state lead by a priest-king or a caste of priests? I’d like to hear examples of that if so, since I’m not knowledgeable about this specifically.

      Now, if that’s an invitation to discuss Theocracy by the sea then we may face meatspace limitations depending on where we live. Though I do enjoy the sound of crashing waves, really helps clear the mind.

      • Lavendar bubble tea says:

        I was mainly referencing the concept of thalassocracy and I had assumed that thalassocracy would likely be a form of theocracy because that’s currently the only way I can reason/assume people would give power to the sea if they think it is magic.

        Mainly I just really like the concept/find it fun and I want to hear more about it. (This post was very playful in nature/intent) However, talking about theocracy by the sea is also something I’d like. I’m less than 15 minutes away from a beach by the Hudson up around Orange, Dutchess and Ulster County NY.

        • Zathille says:

          I think the concept is less literal and more a reference to a state or territory which places great importance and whose source of power, military and economic, comes from control of a coast or sea. Kind of like the ancient Hellenic states or Britain, thus it doesn’t mean a religious significance is given to the sea, necessarily.

          I’m a bit far away, in another continent entirely, so yeah, meatspace problems.

        • Anonymous says:

          Zathille is correct: thalassocracy is rule of the sea, not rule by the sea.

        • Lavendar bubble tea says:

          @Zathille- I was mainly referencing this joke article on Scot’s old blog (Only I thought it was a theocracy not a Parliament for some reason)

          However, that more realistic definition does make sense and is cool to know.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      Gondolin was founded on orders from Ulmo, right?

  20. Error says:

    My blog goes down annoyingly often. If someone with good technical skills who could handle most of the move themselves would like to host me…”

    I am capable of this; I do related stuff for a living and have access to a certain amount of free resources through my employer. (I think $200/mo worth of hosting services, though some of that is earmarked for the LWSH) Any idea what sort of hardware you’re running on now, and what sort of bandwidth usage that 5000 hits translates to?

    I imagine the most significant concern with finding someone else to host you — more than technical skill, even — is finding someone who will stick around and not get bored with it. I’ve been in the community for around two years, for whatever that’s worth.

    (if this gets buried in the comments, I’ll probably try to email you instead, but last time I tried your email was broken)

  21. @JohnWBH says:

    I feel like the main LessWrong website has decreased n quality as a forum for discussions, there seem to be far fewer of the very high quality articles there used to be. A lot of the higher quality discussion and writing has moved to people’s personal blogs (like this one) and to other fora like tumblr.

    a) Do people agree this is the case or am I suffering fro a perspective issue?

    b) Why do people think this is?

    • Error says:

      This does seem to be the case to me; I don’t know why it is, although I can think of a few possibilities; and I do not like it, because it fragments an already-fairly-small community, and also because I hate most blog interfaces even more than LW’s.

      Edit: On the other hand, I’m unsure *when* it happened, because I spent a large part of my early days in the community chasing links through the archives. I have only a very vague idea of what was posted when.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I suspect the early LessWrong was dominated by a handful of high-quality posters (especially Eliezer), each of whom have individually stopped posting very much. With n this small, there doesn’t need to be a deeper cause.

    • anon says:

      Which personal blogs do you recommend?

  22. Well-Manicured-Bug says:

    So, is Michael Anissimov ready to accept that he’s intellectually bankrupt? I didn’t know anything about him or neoreaction until I read the anti-reactionary FAQ here. But I thought they’d have more substance to counter it than what Anissimov’s anti-anti-reactionary FAQ comes up with.

    Anissimov’s problem isn’t that he lacks substance, but the fact that unlike Mencius Moldbug, he’s not verbose enough to cover it up. I mean, if there ever was such a thing as talking past the other anti-anti-reactionary FAQ is that.

    • Zathille says:

      Hoo boy, accusing someone of intellectual bankruptcy, what a way to start a conversation, innit?

      Even without regards to tone, what arguments or points in particular do you find unconvincing in Anissimov? Answering this may be a better way to start something more productive than a flamewar.

      • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

        What to call intellectual bankruptcy other than intellectual bankruptcy? Much of neoreactionary writing is verbose, obscurantist nonsense, and in the case of Anissimov, even the verbose, obscurantist aspects are missing.

        Since you asked for an example, here’s one. Anissimov claims that Communism is progressivism carried to its logical conclusion, and since Communism killed 92 million people, progressivism is shit. Except, since neoreaction is sometimes defined as anti-progressivism, this would mean that pretty much everyone here is a neoreactionary.

        According to their own verbose, obscure philosophy, egalitarianism, pacifism, anti-racism, tolerance and social justice are major aspects progressivism. Does communism have all those aspects? Probably not. So why choose Communism? Why choose something that no one wants to defend? Do we have to defend it simply because they call it progressivism and call themselves anti-progressives?

        If your problem with progressivism is things like Communism, then your claim is trivial one. You need to be progressivism where it has worked, namely in liberal democracies. Instead you get to call yourself an anti-progressive, say Communsim is progressive, and hold liberal democrats responsible for whatever crimes the Communists may have committed? What on earth the word Communism doing in that article? Did Alexander try to defend Stalin? I’m pretty sure he didn’t. This attempt to discredit progressivism is as intellectually bankrupt as it can get.

        Finally, as for starting a flamewar, these ideas do not deserve respect. People who say stuff like the Negro is a vicious and stupid subhuman beast, are the scum of the earth and if that kind of people are attracted to your ideas, there’s something wrong with your ideas. Yes, I say that because I’m a progressive, and I’m right.

        • Ken Arromdee says:

          if that kind of people are attracted to your ideas, there’s something wrong with your ideas

          I can think of some pretty nasty people who are attracted to progressive ideas. Is there something wrong with those ideas too?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Does communism have all those aspects? Probably not.

          That is an extremely strange thing to say. You seem to be saying that you don’t know the facts of the matter, but you assume that reactionaries are wrong because reactionaries lie about everything.

          If the answer to the question matters, learn the answer, don’t speculate.

          Maybe the answer doesn’t matter, but say that, not that you have vague beliefs about the answer. If you want to argue that reactionaries try to tar progressivism with the brush of communism without regards to any actual connection, do that, but then don’t regard the connection. But if answer to your question matters, learn the truth, don’t assume reactionaries are the opposite of the truth. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

        • Nornagest says:

          egalitarianism, pacifism, anti-racism, tolerance and social justice are major aspects progressivism. Does communism have all those aspects? Probably not.

          All except for pacifism, by my count. Maybe tolerance depending on how you define it — most of the communist strains I’m familiar with would be tolerant by their own lights, certainly.

          The real problem with this line of thinking, though, is that whenever you’ve got an ideology defined in terms of more than one core goal, you run into precedence issues, and different strains of the ideology are doing to resolve them differently. That opens up a no-true-Scotsman criticism, but it doesn’t make it valid: all but the most tightly curated social movements are better understood as loose clusters of aims than as ideological checklists.

        • Oligopsony says:

          Liberalism has traditionally only embraced egalitarianism, anti-racism, and social justice in response to communist or otherwise radical coercion, and pacifism in response to like subversion. Nobody significant, meanwhile, has ever actually believed in “tolerance” as such.

        • nydwracu says:

          Anissimov claims that Communism is progressivism carried to its logical conclusion, and since Communism killed 92 million people, progressivism is shit.

          If that’s what he actually claims, he’s simplifying the argument.

          There are identifiable historical ties between progressivism (especially the FDR administration) and the USSR, which were cut and obscured in the ‘Anglo-Soviet Split’ (beginning of the Cold War).

          Moldbug’s idea is origin immunity: because progressivism originated in America, America is more insulated from its effects than elsewhere. (Cf. that LW post about compartmentalization: Islamist terrorists are well-educated, Westernized, and frequently engineers — Islam has ways of compartmentalizing its conclusions, but those ways are lost on people educated in non-Islamic traditions. This is not a strict parallel, but it’s close; a closer parallel would be the zeal of the convert.) That is, America is slower to reach the conclusions than countries to which communism is not native — but that doesn’t mean it won’t reach them.

          It is not difficult to find violent communist rhetoric from progressives — if you follow internet media, you’ve probably seen some.

        • DanPeverley says:

          >Yes, I say that because I’m a progressive, and I’m right.

          Jeez, I wonder how you managed to miss out on Anissimov’s actual points going in with an attitude like that. I’m kind of ambivalent about a lot of the points the movement makes, but it’s certainly not the 2-dimensional monstrosity you make it out to be.

        • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

          @Douglas Knight and others who say the same thing

          > If you want to argue that reactionaries try to tar progressivism with the brush of communism without regards to any actual connection, do that, but then don’t regard the connection.

          First, this attack was directed at Anissimov, not reactionaries in general. This is pretty much what Anissimov did in his FAQ. Secondly, even if there’s a connection between the kind of progressivism that is defended in the anti-reactionary FAQ and Communism, what’s that has to do in an anti-anti-reactionary FAQ? He wasn’t writing a neoreactionary manifesto. He was writing a response to a specific article that defended a specific kind of progressivism.

          The only valid reason for the word Communism to be even there is if he can somehow show that the kind of progressivism that Alexander defended could inexorably lead to Communist kind of progressvism. Otherwise it’s just a cheap attempt to tar progressivism, which is exactly what he did in his FAQ.

          What, you want anarcho-capitalists to defend Somalia?


          I said that with regard to people who say stuff like “the Negro is a vicious and stupid subhuman beast”. I know I’m right to think they are the scum of the earth. I didn’t make a broad claim like I know I’m right about everything because I’m a monarch, have divine right and right at all times.

        • Zathille says:

          @Nyd: Interesting, so when they talk of Progressivism they mean a historical-political trend which started concomitantly with the American Revolution, I take? Since their take on Progressivism is so central to their arguments I’d like to know if that’s true, I’ve always sort of assumed they meant everything from the French Revolution up to today.

          Knowing the ‘starting point’ of progressivism according to them would add much needed historical context to the discussion, I believe, I won’t ask for any specific dates as that’d be ludicrous since ideological movements don’t simply spring up out of the aether one day, but a timetable of when ‘progressivism’ first crystallized according to their analysis would be good.

        • suntzuanime says:

          The American Revolution preceded the French Revolution by a few years, it hardly seems to make any difference in terms of time period.

        • Anonymous says:

          Different reactionaries trace “progressivism” back to different points in time. Moldbug goes back the furthest and identifies it with Calvinism. But since he emphasizes primary sources in English, he certainly doesn’t mean John Calvin, but rather to non-conformists in 17th century England (though sometimes he sounds like he means earlier Holland, too.) One group is the Puritans, who were Calvinist; another is the Quakers, who were not. Most of the rest got wiped out, but their views are suggestive of the rest.

          Around 1800, the Puritans had a fissure and became the Unitarians and the Congregationalists. Some reactionaries trace back progressives back to the Unitarians. So, yes, around the time of the American or French Revolution, but ideas don’t start in revolutions; quite the opposite. Revolutions may act as advertisements to foreigners, or as social proof to the locals that have already heard the ideas, but you shouldn’t trace ideas to revolutions.

          Other reactionaries emphasize Exeter Hall (c1830).

        • Tom Hunt says:

          Regarding the origins of Progressivism: The work of Locke and Rousseau is commonly identified as important proto-Progressivism, notably the blank-slate theory and the concept of fundamental rights. The English Civil War was definitely between one faction which was more, and one which was less Progressive; I’m not sure to what degree the Roundheads’ philosophy was compatible with anything held by Progressives today, but in a progenitors-of-progenitors sense they’re identifiable. I’ve seen others trace it back to the Reformation itself, but don’t know enough about the connections there to rigorously evaluate that argument.

    • suntzuanime says:

      What empty bluster.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I didn’t think his anti-FAQ was so bad. A few points convinced me, most didn’t, but it was a good effort and I don’t get how you get this much contempt out of it.

      • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

        But it’s not a very good one either, is it? You are far too charitable to a ridiculous philosophy, and you’re giving free publicity to that ridiculous philosophy.

        Anissimov writes

        >In a monarchy, there is no free speech as far as criticizing the institution of monarchy itself. However, there is quite a bit of free speech otherwise. Arguably more than we have in a democracy.

        This is clearly someone who hasn’t lived under a monarchy. Seriously, try protesting against large corporations asking to raise your wages in Dubai. See where that’ll get you. No, living in a monarchy means not criticizing whatever the monarch doesn’t want to be criticized. Often these things include the monarch’s religion, his family, his friends, and whatever corporations that he doesn’t want to be criticized. You don’t necessarily have to criticize the institution of monarchy to get yourself beheaded.

        Their writings are full of this kind of utter nonsense. They are actually more naive than hardcore libertarians. You already know this, but you still treat it as if it’s a serious philosophy.

        • anon says:

          Does Scott just not even pretend to enforce the comment policy anymore? This is exactly why it exists.

          I actually agree with a lot of your impression. But you’re blatantly breaking the kindness rule and your arguments (when you bother to provide them) aren’t strong enough to get you by on the true or necessary rules either.

        • Well-Manicured-Bug says:


          I’m not going to say that my arguments are strong. That’d be ridiculous. If you disagree with what I say, you can present your opinions counter to them.

          But you think kindness is a requirement? Being civil is one thing, but kindness? Kindness gives nonsensical ideas an air of respectability. This is probably one of the reasons Lesswrong is dying.

          But if Alexander wants me to tone it down, please say so and I will do that.

        • suntzuanime says:

          @anon: I think the comment policy is underenforced, relative to its stated strength, in order that anyone it is actually enforced against should be blatantly and obviously in violation of it and with little room to complain. For someone’s hobby blog where drama might have a substantial negative impact on their enjoyment, this is a reasonable way to run things.

          Speaking of things that exist for exactly a reason, your concerns are exactly why the “report comment” link at the bottom of a post exists.

          @WMB: I am not the most enthusiastic supporter of the comment policy as written, but the comment policy as written requires kindness except in relevant and well-supported comments. I guess “obey legitimate authority even where you disagree with it” is a principle of those loathsome Neo-reactionaries, though.

        • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

          @Sun Tzu

          I didn’t know there was a written comment policy. I do believe that people who say stuff like “the Negro is a vicious and stupid subhuman beast” are scum of the earth and I believe I can say it here because it’d be covered under “delivering a very well-deserved smackdown against someone who is uncontroversially and obviously wrong.”

          As for the rest of it, well, I’ll tone it down, since many of you seem to think I’m being too aggressive.

    • nydwracu says:

      There was supposed to be a group-effort anti-anti-reactionary FAQ, but it died, for various reasons. (I was supposed to write a lot of it, but I am bad at doing things when there’s no deadline.)

      What makes you think Moldbug is lacking in substance? The problem I’ve noticed with Moldbug is that his writing is hopelessly disorganized: the groundwork is scattered across many different posts, often repeated and slightly restated, and those posts are frequently outside the main sequences so they don’t get read as often, which can create the impression that he’s lacking in substance.

      • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

        The Cathedral.

        >. The great power center of 2008 is the Cathedral. The Cathedral has two parts: the accredited universities and the established press.

        What an insightful idea. Liberal democracies are preserved by their key institutions. Didn’t figure that out at all. Thought it was aliens who did that.

        • Tom Hunt says:

          The importance of the Cathedral hypothesis isn’t that “universities and the press are important”. The importance is that what everyone thinks is the government, and gets taught in school is the government (three branches, separation of powers, checks and balances, &c. &c., I’m sure everyone here had a civics class), is not actually the government; it’s a distraction meant to divert the public and legitimize the actual government by appeal to the sacred value of self-determination, or something. Meanwhile, real decisions are made (to the degree they’re made by anyone) by the universities, the press, the civil service, &c. (A significant part of the reactionary critique of this sort of system is precisely that there is no clear-cut and legal chain of command. Thus, many of what we call the actions of the Cathedral are not made by any individual professor or journalist, or cabal thereof, cackling away in his/their Bond-villain lair; they’re the emergent result of a system in which incentives are screwed up, leading to an overall outcome which is not actually good for anybody.)

        • Well-Manicured-Bug says:

          If people actually believe that it’s the three branches and separation of power that keeps democracies alive, that’s probably because they don’t know much outside what happens in the Western world. If you look at a place like Singapore or India, it’s pretty clear what their problem is. Their problem is that the civil society has no power, and are too atomized to claim any power. This would be obvious to anyone if they read a simple book like From Dictatorship to Democracy. This is not a big secret.

          So anyway, if decisons are made by universities, the press and civil service, isn’t that sort of the point of democracy. Isn’t the whole point of democracy is to let people make decions, instead of a select few people? You may not like that, but isn’t that precisely what everyone else who is not a reactionary?

          And how exactly does Harvard make decisions? Obviously buildings don’t make any decisions. So can you describe the mechanism by which, say, Harvard decided to come up with prop 8?

          Also, how exactly is a monarch legitimate? Where does he get his legitimacy?

  23. Daniel Speyer says:

    Something that’s been bugging me here for a while: how do prediction markets handle counterfactuals?

    Suppose we have an island and are considering improving transit to it. We could build a bridge or establish a public ferry. We sell bonds that pay off based on how many people use each. The market “concludes” that a lot more people would use the bridge than the ferry, so we build the bridge. We measure traffic, and pay off the bridge bonds. But what about the ferry bonds?

    It seems like whatever solution you pick, this sort of circularity provides perverse incentives.

    • Anon says:

      You make the bonds’ returns conditional on the policy implemented. So the ferry bonds would return based on number of riders if the policy is implemented and you get your money back plus some appropriate interest if the policy isn’t implemented. The bridge bond would return based on number of bridge uses if the bridge is build and you’d get your money back if the bridge isn’t built.

      Now the town could look and determine which policy is more viable based on the projected use numbers.

      Robin Hanson’s government idea of futarchy is based on this concept of government defining goals and a prediction market deciding how to achieve the goals.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        I bet that’s exploitable.

        For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s just a bridge, and if the market predicts over 10k users it’ll be built. The moment the market opens, I buy a $1M payout on >10k. I pay $500k, because the prior is about 1/2. Immediately before the market closes, I see what the bet goes for. If it’s more than I paid for it, sell at a profit. If it’s less, then the market is saying not to build the bridge, so it won’t get built, so I get my money back plus interest. No risk: free money!

        • suntzuanime says:

          I’m not an options theorist, but I’m sure there is an established way to price that sort of “price floor” into the price of the bond. You might need a formula to convert between price and probability, instead of an easy “X% of face value means X% chance”, but a formula can probably be generated.

          In that case, the problem with your example is when you say ” I pay $500k, because the prior is about 1/2.” You pay what I charge, buddy. And I charge you a fair price.

    • Blake Riley says:

      Decision markets that choose the action predicted to be best will always have some manipulation opportunities (Othman and Sandholm, 2010). To build an incentive-compatible decision market, the decision rule needs to be randomized (Chen and Kash, 2011).

      Rather than rely on prediction markets, there are also mechanisms that elicit information from groups of agents without external verification. Since you never need to see the ground truth, the mechanisms can incentivize honesty about hypotheticals or subjective questions. These usually called truth serums or peer-prediction mechanisms after two initial papers on the subject. See Radanovic and Faltings, 2013, Zhang and Chen, 2014, and Riley, 2014 for the cutting-edge mechanisms.

  24. Daniel Speyer says:

    I got to The Economics Of Art And The Art Of Economics too late to comment on it, so I’m doing it here.

    While I tentatively agree on the object level, I don’t think this is a good application of consequentialism. In fact, it’s more like an illustration of what’s wrong with consequentialism.

    What is Detroit’s problem? It’s caught in a painful positive feedback loop. It’s an unpleasant place to live, so people with choices move out (if only to Ann Arbor), so evaporative cooling leaves the city full of people without choices, and those people are unpleasant to live around. (Some posters here might raise the subject of race, but the argument is really stronger without that distraction.)

    What does Detroit need to do to break free? It needs a critical mass of capable people to adopt the city by choice. So imagine the conversation:

    Recruiter: This awesome new biotech startup wants to hire you. They save money by being in Detroit so they pay 50% above market rates.
    Capable person: Nice company, nice pay, but Detroit?
    Recruiter: It’s not that bad. Sure there’s some bad neighbourhoods, but it’s still a real city. It has a good art museum.

    It’s not enough, but it’s a start. If Detroit can get enough things like this to start attracting people with choices, it can get a tax base under it and become functional again.

    Is an art museum a particularly efficient way of doing that? That’s the question we should be asking. And the answer is probably “no”, which is why I agree on the object level. But the value the museum is delivering to its patrons in the short term is a red herring.

    • Vaniver says:

      They save money by being in Detroit so they pay 50% above market rates.

      From my experience with the Austin tech industry, the way this actually works is “yes, we pay X% less than Bay area companies, but cost of living is X+Y% cheaper here, so you come out ahead!”. I would be very surprised if enough companies actually tried to compete on unadjusted incomes.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Seeing as Austin tech companies sell to the same global market as Bay Area tech companies, they’re being stingy.

  25. Sid K says:

    I would very highly recommend the TV show, The Wire if you haven’t already watched it. It has gritty realism, tightly interweaving plot-lines, fantastic actors, realistic and identifiable characters and great suspense.

    But perhaps more than all of that is the honest look at how politics and bureaucracies actually work. A small example: if the cops want a surveillance van, they don’t just get it; they have type up requests and access funding and make do with broken equipment and deal with limited manpower and so on. What TV show shows you all of that?

  26. Daniel Speyer says:

    As may be apparent from my previous post, I’m skimming back over the archive for things I missed the chance to discuss at the time.

    One thing that I see is several confused discussions of “cultural appropriation”. In one thread, Sarah gave as an example:

    At five or so, we had to sing some fake-Native American song in school about “the Earth is our mother”, and it freaked me out. Fingernails on a chalkboard. Because we weren’t really Native Americans. I’d never met one.

    She identifies it as a “fake-Native American song” (emphasis added). And I have little doubt she is correct. I think I would feel uncomfortable there too. I would be thinking “this composer took Native American stereotypes, simplified them to a cartoonish level, and wants to claim that all Native American cultures reduce to this simple childish meme.”

    “Appropriation” seems a poor choice of word here. It’s a bunch of fake Native Americans singing a song by a fake Native American — entirely internal to Fake Native American culture. “Insulting” and “stereotyping” seem like better words. Also “lying,” but that’s more general.

    As long as we’re distrusting words, I can think of a third thing that is bad and could be called “appropriation”: false signalling. Imagine someone with no medical knowledge walking around a hospital in a white lab coat with an embroidered caduceus. If that doesn’t bother you, imagine him giving medical advice to people who see the coat and think he’s a doctor. That’s an extreme scenario, but someone who has a huge 13th birthday party and calls it a “bar mitzvah” without studying a torah portion is doing a lesser version of the same thing.

    People who are bothered by “appropriation”: are you bothered by cases that don’t fall into either of these categories?

    • anon says:

      I don’t see negative consequences to a 13 year old calling a big birthday party a bar mitzvah, but I do see negative consequences for the doctor example. I like the idea of appropriation as false signalling, but that example actually makes me less confident in your view rather than more.

    • Me says:

      The doctor example is bad because it is a danger to the life and health of the people unfortunate enough to encounter this fake doctor. The bar mitzvah example… not so much.

  27. mesolude says:

    Harry Potter/Ayn Rand. When I read it I thought of you.

  28. Keratin says:

    There’s this perennial call, whenever there’s a blog post on here criticizing feminism or social justice or some other far-left pursuit for “good leftist blogs” that gets half-heartedly answered by Multiheaded or Oligopsony but generally completely forgotten by the next time things come around.

    Can we have a dedicated thread for recommendations along these lines?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I feel like after a few days it wouldn’t be the top thread anymore and then everyone would ignore it the same way they ignore the comment threads once they become invisible.

    • Oligopsony says:

      I’m hoping to update my blogroll soon so that it better serves this purpose. (At the moment, there’s a lot of good stuff that isn’t in my sidebar, and a lot of dead websites that are.)

  29. How do you handle reading large comment threads here? Neither skimming for new material (inefficient, likely to miss stuff) nor using email notifications (slow, akrasia bait) are what I’d call satisfactory.

    The least bad thing I’ve seen on the web (and not anywhere I’ve been lately) is having the option for either threaded or newest (unthreaded) on top.

    I still miss trn. It’s being worked on., at least to some extent.

    • eeuuah says:

      I scroll through for commenters I’ve noticed tend to be high quality and read their posts. If I am interested by that, I read the context of their posts until it stops being interesting. I’m sure I miss a lot of decent stuff but almost all of what I do see is pleasant reading.

  30. Oligopsony says:


    The rights-bearing individuals of John[ of Paris]’s political thought are individual propertyholders, and much depends on how property itself is conceived. Even feudal property, however conditional it may be and whatever obligations it may entail, is vested in individuals; but these individuals are themselves defined by their juridical or corporate identity. They hold their property not simply as free men but as lords, or as landholders subject to feudal obligations and lordly jurisdiction. Perhaps even more fundamentally, John’s view of private ownership coexists with a conception of the political community as constituted by corporate entities. If the state is in some sense accountable to individual propertyholders, this does not mean that it is constituted by a multitude of individuals. In medieval terms, it is much more likely to mean that the state is constituted by, and accountable to, the ‘people’ as a corporate entity, or even a collection of corporate bodies, whose representatives speak for them. Even the idea that the attribution of inalienable rights to individuals makes government in some sense a fiduciary power is not so much an anticipation of modern constitutionalism, as a residue of feudal parcellized sovereignty and claims to seigneurial or corporate autonomy against a centralizing state.

    The idea that government derives its authority from the ‘people’ was widely accepted by medieval thinkers, and it was generally agreed that kings had a duty to protect the rights of their subjects. Yet these principles were compatible with a broad range of political commitments, including the conviction that monarchical power should be virtually unlimited. If anything, the ‘people’ – as a corporate entity – was more often invoked in support of monarchical authority than as a limitation on its power, let alone in favour of more democratic forms of government. Even when the ‘people’ were granted a right to depose kings who failed in their duty, that right was typically vested in a corporate entity or its representatives, not least in feudal magnates of one kind or another. For John of Paris, for instance, the rights of individuals do seem to constitute significant limits on government, even entailing a right to depose kings. Yet he invokes this right on behalf of feudal magnates and he does so primarily in order to deny that right to the pope, while the prince remains the arbiter of the common good. [f.n. According to the Cambridge History [of Medieval Political Thought], ‘In France, the people’s right to depose kings was normally discussed only in the context of rebutting papal claims to do so.’]

    That is not to deny that feudal conceptions of the fiduciary relationship between kings and the people, however narrowly the ‘people’ was defined, could place severe restrictions on monarchical power. Nor is it to deny the profound influence that such medieval ideas would have on the development of modern constitutionalism, however misleading it may be to speak of them as anticipations of modernity. Precisely because the were predicated on the autonomous powers of magnates or corporate bodies, they could, indeed, be more restrictive than some later conceptions of individual consent, which (as in the case of Hobbes) could even underwrite absolute monarchy. The radical resistance theories of the sixteenth century in France, for example, would continue to be based on the autonomy of magnates and urban corporations. [f.n. Huguenot resistance tracts like the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos asserted the ‘people’s’ right to resist by invoking the independent powers of nobles and magistrates against the king.] There were also corporatist theories that challenged autocratic rule by invoking not only the autonomous powers of particular corporate entities but the superiority of a large, inclusive general corporation, on the principle that the ruler or pope might be superior to any lesser individual, but that he was inferior to the corporate entity constituted by the whole community. This doctrine – applied by John of Paris himself among others – was used against the pope, arguing that the general body of the Christian faithful, in the shape of a general council, was the ultimate ecclesiastical authority, which could even depose popes. – Ellen Meiksins Wood, Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Antiquity to the Late Middle Ages, pp. 216-217]

  31. Lila says:

    Regarding the recent mass shootings (don’t worry, this isn’t going to be as bad as it seems):

    I’ve seen a lot of calls for better mental health care, which is great. (Though it probably won’t do much about mass shootings. Only a few percent of psychotic people [which is who people are really talking about when they euphemistically refer to “mental health problems”, not people with OCD or depression] are violent. And most mass shooters are not psychotic.) But “better” mental health care, in the proposals I’ve read, often seems to translate to forcible mental health care. And often the language in these proposals starts to get stigmatizing. Maybe forcible care would be net-positive but it sets an iffy precedent.

    So my proposal: have everyone fill out a psychiatric advanced directive. (Currently most but not all states have this.) In Virginia, the PAD has you name two agents (I named my parents) in case you’re found incompetent by a psychiatrist. Then you check the boxes of what powers you want your agents to have, including involuntary institutionalization, forced medication, etc. (I chose to give my agents every power possible.)

    So if everyone had to fill out these forms, some people would still want to retain their rights to refuse treatment, but I think many people would seek out more aggressive options to avoid being a homeless schizophrenic forever. So it would be easier to give involuntary treatment without worrying about human rights violations and ticking off libertarians.

    Even in the absence of such a system, everyone should fill this out! Seriously, it’s so easy and it’s probably one of the most important things you can do. People don’t realize how hard it is to have someone involuntarily committed, even if they’ve completely lost all functioning as a person. People also aren’t aware of the existence of PADs. I hate to seem like I’m spamming, but would you mind promoting PADs on your blog?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I will mention it somewhere.

      I may have a skewed view of this. I think my hospital is one that errs very very strongly towards committing as many people as possible rather than not committing those who need it. It’s hard for me to imagine a family bringing someone in for an even kind of legitimate reason and us not committing them. As such, I hadn’t considered how important something like this might be.

      I’ll mention it on the announcements of the next open thread, if I can’t think of anywhere to fit it in before that.

      • Lila says:

        Hm, I guess it varies.

        My anecdotal experience: My uncle has had untreated paranoid schizophrenia for decades. (Part of the reason I’m interested in this is because I have a huge predisposition for psychosis.) He went to prison, got out, and was living on the streets, going hungry. But all my family could really do was give him some money for an apartment to get him off the streets.

        Also this is what I learned from the movie The Soloist, which is supposedly based on a true story. Though maybe it’s not accurate.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      People don’t realize how hard it is to have someone involuntarily committed

      My impression is that people don’t realize how easy it is. One way to reconcile our beliefs is short term vs long term. Another is that it varies a lot between states.

      In particular, if your victim travels a lot, it’s easy to get many short-term term incarcerations, by a combination of venue shopping and the fact that states don’t care what happened in other states.

  32. Anonymous says:

    No, Jim Crow did not involve a bureaucracy, which is what people generally mean by “big government.” But if you do count them, that supports Eugine’s point: big government came after abolition. This example is much more clearly related to abolition than most.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      This appears to be a reply in the wrong thread?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I think you meant to reply here.

    • If you think of big government as using law to do intrusive social engineering, then Jim Crow is big government.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not going to argue about meanings, Humpty Dumpty. As I already said, your preferred meaning supports Eugine, the context in which you brought up Jim Crow. Are you actually trying to make an argument, or just saying “JIM CROW JIM CROW I CANT HEAR YOU”?

  33. Shmi Nux says:

    I hope you can add a like counter to comments, to facilitate finding popular replies. Something like what Sean Carroll’s blog has, only without the downvotes.

    • @JohnWBH says:

      I like this proposal. Reading through comments chronologically is tiresome, and incentivises people posting quickly rather than taking time to think things through

  34. Pingback: Slate Star Codex Polite & Productive Pilot Project | Handle's Haus

  35. Anonymous says:

    Do you still fence? (the sport not the buying of stolen goods)

  36. Oligopsony says:

    I am compiling a list of ideological reading lists and FAQs, which I imagine some people here might find interesting (per interest expressed in leftist reading lists above), and additional entries to which I would be grateful for.

  37. Intrism says:

    So, I’ve got a challenge for whatever reactionaries are scurrying around. I don’t think it should be controversial to say that there are very few modern monarchies, particularly if you don’t include dictatorships (which reactionaries generally don’t). Indeed, the only notable one I can think of is Saudi Arabia, and the only reason they’re notable is because they wound up, by chance, on ridiculously immense reserves of oil. It should also not be too controversial to say that most of the world’s land area has, at some point or another, been ruled by a monarchy.

    So, my question is: if rationalists are supposed to win, and monarchy is supposed to be the rational option, why the hell has monarchy historically lost so, so badly? I mean, going from “the sun never sets on monarchy” to “we’re kinda eking out a continued existence in an oil-based banana republic and a few other places no one cares about” is a titanic loss by anyone’s standards.

    Note that I see a lot of excuses and blame-game from reactionaries on the topic. For instance, take this groaner from the Anti-Anti-Reactionary FAQ: “I blame the Revolutions of 1848 squarely on revolutionaries rebelling against their rightful monarch.” Well, so bloody what?

    Treat it like you’re a gambling addict begging for more money to spend on poker. You lost nearly every chip you’ve ever had, and you’ve had more chips than anyone over the years. Explain to me why, if I give you another chip, I shouldn’t expect you to lose it within the next twenty minutes. I don’t care if you come whining back to me about the revolutionaries and about how the house is conspiring against you, true or not. I care that you come back with more bloody chips.

    • Scurrying About says:

      Disclaimer: I’m not really NRx, more of an old-school reactionary, so don’t take this as an Official PositionTM. Most of them would probably use different, probably economic, arguments and disdain this one.

      You’re pretty much exactly half right here. Just putting a crown on Larry Page’s head and giving him command of the Californian National Guard isn’t going to create an organic state, and the Kingdom of Silicon Valley would fall for the exact same reason that most European monarchies fell. The area where we disagree here is why that is; you’ve implied that some external factor makes monarchy unsustainable today (perhaps modern technology?), whereas I would say that it’s a question of recent monarchies lacking an internal factor.

      A monarchy isn’t centered around the monarch, but on the reason which supports the monarch’s right to rule. That is the axis around which society turns; the monarch is a living representation of the ruling order which the priest-scholar class studies, the warrior class protects and the artisan-merchant class produces for. Without this central element of Tradtion, the monarch loses his legitimacy and the classes begin squabbling among themselves, leading to the destruction of the kingdom. This is the cause historical peoples almost universally attribute the ends of dynasties to, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that when Enlightenment-era monarchs began espousing sterile concepts like “the people” or “the nation” as their source of legitimacy that their kingdoms crumbled apart.

      That’s why Saudi Arabia is actually a pretty decent example of establishing a monarchy in the modern age. A small group of armed men united behind a charismatic leader (both in terms of chrism and personality) and conquered a vast area, sacralized that reign under the Wahhabi sect, and went on to build it into a regional power with what seems like almost supernaturally good fortune. That story is virtually the archetype for the origins of monarchies in the ancient world, and the fact that it could happen in the 20th century implies that the lightning could be made to strike again even in modern times.

      TL;DR: Monarchy depends on a core truth to animate it, and the Enlightenment destroyed most of the beliefs which had served that function up to that point. But those were exoteric beliefs, and the esoteric truths behind them are still very much present and capable of being reinterpreted into new forms. Once that happens, monarchies will likely return to their historical prominence.

      • Andy says:

        That’s why Saudi Arabia is actually a pretty decent example of establishing a monarchy in the modern age. A small group of armed men united behind a charismatic leader (both in terms of chrism and personality) and conquered a vast area, sacralized that reign under the Wahhabi sect, and went on to build it into a regional power with what seems like almost supernaturally good fortune. That story is virtually the archetype for the origins of monarchies in the ancient world, and the fact that it could happen in the 20th century implies that the lightning could be made to strike again even in modern times.

        SA survives because it is well-armed enough to destroy revolts, including those by its oppressed Shiite minority who sit on top of the oil, and because the oil gives it money to pay most of its population, who would otherwise be unemployed, not to revolt. They’re trying to build a sustainable post-oil economy, and I wish them well of it, but I’d never want to live there.
        By extension, I’m not sure that the monarchial template is the only way to build things. The republican template used by the United Sates has proven itself very flexible, to the point where it has hardened into a form of Tradition as strong as the old monarchies of Europe, partly because we can absorb and co-opt troublesome minorities into our own societal framework. The Irish Catholics and Chinese were each feared and hated for their difference, and both have become well-assimilated into American culture, at least in those regions where they settled (cities and most of the West Coast for the Chinese, Boston and New York for the Irish) and some of their culture, especially food in the case of the Chinese, is being absorbed into the larger culture.

        Monarchy depends on a core truth to animate it, and the Enlightenment destroyed most of the beliefs which had served that function up to that point. But those were exoteric beliefs, and the esoteric truths behind them are still very much present and capable of being reinterpreted into new forms. Once that happens, monarchies will likely return to their historical prominence.

        Monarchial mysticism?
        I think you’re remiss in dismissing the economic and technological factors. The pseudo-monarchies of Egypt and Tunisia didn’t fall just because the people were lacking tradition. In Tunisia, a big source of popular discontent was a government system that was contemptuous and hostile to entrepeneurs, and made it impossible for an entrepeneur who wasn’t from the business class to get a business license, to register his property, to obtain financing, to rent a stall for selling fruit, or to complain about local government corruption. If Los Angeles police did as Tunisian police did to Mohammed Bouaziz, and stole a vendor’s fruit and scales without provocation, it would be a major scandal. In Tunisia, it was just another day.
        Here in Los Angeles, the local, county, and state governments aren’t exactly lasseiz-faire to local businesses, especially those that handle food or hazardous waste, but we don’t make it impossible to get a business license or to operate a small marginal business. A quick look at the number of food trucks that started operating after the 2008 crash and resulting construction downturn sent a number of used food trucks onto the market for entrepreneurial chefs and foodies to snap up and start operating. It wasn’t without a great deal of conflict with established restaurants, but with some adjustments to rules, the trucks are now an established part of the local business community, and if a rule isn’t working for them, they can go before the government and lobby to get it changed. It’s working pretty well. Democracies have their downsides, but they can adapt to changes better than tradition-ossified monarchies can. Or you can ban all change and outside influence and live by Tradition the way North Korea does. I hear that’s working really well for them.

        • Multiheaded says:

          Or you can ban all change and outside influence and live by Tradition the way North Korea does. I hear that’s working really well for them.

          When I of all people am telling you that something is fucking stupid and unsubstantiated hate… don’t do it. Wtf. Comment reported.

        • Scurrying About says:

          I was probably a bit remiss in not defining my terms particularly well here. Tradition with a capital-T is a very specific set of universal beliefs and symbols which repeatedly occur throughout most historical religions and cultures, distinct from the general idea of ‘tradition’ as accepted practice; you can read about it a bit on wikipedia although I’d suggest reading some Evola if you’ve got time to kill.

          As a specific response, the economic and social issues you mention seem like symptoms of the breakdown of a center rather than causes in themselves. The rapacity of Tunisia’s capitalist class, the rebelliousness of Egypt’s military, and the way both of their priesthoods (Progressive or Muslim) fanned the flames are all signs that there wasn’t an organizing principle in their societies. Since Egypt had already overthrown it’s King half a century ago and Tunisia was a republic which had spent the previous century colonized by another republic, the fact that neither dictator could rely on their society’s inherent stability is not a surprise.

          Since you mentioned North Korea, totalitarianism and the organic state are precise opposites in the same way that Plato’s Tyranny and his Monarchy are. The only similarity between them is that they occur close in time to one another, since one is at the end and the other is at the beginning of a cycle, but in every meaningful way they are diametrically opposed.

        • Andy says:

          When I of all people am telling you that something is fucking stupid and unsubstantiated hate… don’t do it. Wtf. Comment reported.

          Moi? I was essentially repeating an argument from the Anti-Reactionary FAQ. I don’t see what’s so objectionable.

          Tradition with a capital-T is a very specific set of universal beliefs and symbols which repeatedly occur throughout most historical religions and cultures, distinct from the general idea of ‘tradition’ as accepted practice;

          I’ll do some reading on Evola since I’ve got time to kill this summer, but I predict, on the record, that what I will find is either very vague hand-waving about what exactly the unifying principles are, or cherry-picking pieces of doctrine from religions not well-known in the West (like Hinduism) to match whatever Tradition they’ve conjured up, and hoping that readers don’t notice that religions like Hinduism not only don’t have a founder, it’s impossible to get all the different branches of the great dialogue we give the convenient label “Hinduism” to agree on anything. If I find a concrete set of principles, that I think broadly applicable to all historical religions, I will say so in this thread and grant you victory.
          Now to the principle I think underlies successful societies, and that I bet I won’t find anywhere in Evola: effectiveness in delivering a sense of order, predictability and safety to subjects.
          I enumerated this in a terribly long comment below this theory, and I recommend the first part of David Kilcullen’s book Out of the Mountains for reading, and it’s fairly snappy and easy to get. I’ll summarize:
          A group of people that can establish a predictable, normative system of rewards and sanctions, and enforce them with measures administrative, persuasive, and coercive, over a stretch of area, and can defeat any challenges to its system is effectively a state, whether other states recognize it or not. The Jamaican “garrison districts,” and the Taliban court system, are fascinating examples of this.
          What determines a state’s viability is not some impossible-to-measure Center, but whether most ordinary subjects feel that they can achieve their own interests and be safe in the system. The Tunisians utterly failed this by ignoring entrepreneurs to benefit their capitalist and government class. Shutting those entrepreneurs out of the formal economy and leaving them to develop their own informal economy (including informal clerks where people can register market space and contracts in writing outside of the corrupt state-generated system) they left them in a market environment that they felt was neither ordered nor predictable.
          Come to think of it, this sounds like that great organizing principle that the Traditionalist School is searching for. It’s called enlightened self-interest.
          A state that makes a large majority of people feel like they have a stake in its continued existence will continue to exist. The Taliban, as I enumerated in the Long Comment below, do this by mediating disputes, and doing so in writing. From “Out of the Mountains:”
          “When the Taliban court has reached a verdict, both parties in the dispute are obliged to sign, or make their mark, on a court document held by the local underground cell. This record allows enforceability, but it also puts those who sign at the mercy of the Taliban. By recognizing the Taliban court’s authority to resolve disputes, our hypothetical elder has signed onto their broader agenda.”
          If I go to the LA County courthouse to mediate a dispute against my neighbor, I am giving the County, and the State and Federal governments that create it, legitimacy and sign onto their agenda – which is to continue to exist and govern the United States, of which my home is a part. If I thought the local courts would not deliver a fair verdict, or I was unable to access the administrative resources of the courthouse, I would have much less incentive to support the County or its parent governments. And I’d be much more willing to support a revolutionary group that comes along, promising security, predictability, and order. There’s a reason the Taliban took over so much of Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet invasion – they did exactly this in an environment that was overrun with rapacious warlords shooting at each other, and ordinary people wanted some security and order, even if it meant agreeing to the Taliban’s rather harsh methods of rule. This is how Mao expanded Communist control over so much of China – enforcing order, predictability, and security in an environment overrun with warlords who weren’t much liked by the people.
          A revolution is a competition for control. As in most would-be American revolutions (Timothy McVeigh and the sovereign citizen movement, extremist Tea Party fringes, the Black Bloc of the Occupy movement) can’t compete with the American government. But in Afghanistan or China, regions overrun with unpredictable warlords, the Taliban and Communists won their respective contests for control, resources, and legitimacy.
          And here’s another prediction: The Taliban will not only outlast the weak, corrupt, and uncompetitive current Afghan government, and will probably end up in control of a large chunk of the country after the US pulls out.

        • nydwracu says:

          Moi? I was essentially repeating an argument from the Anti-Reactionary FAQ. I don’t see what’s so objectionable.

          It doesn’t matter where the argument is from — if it’s not a good argument, don’t repeat it. Saying that an explicitly revolutionary state installed by the Soviets has anything to do with reaction is not a good argument.

          Then again…

          effectiveness in delivering a sense of order, predictability and safety to subjects.

          …it sounds like you don’t like progressivism very much. NYC was pretty disorderly and unsafe before the evil racists took over.

      • Andy says:

        On your suggestion, I got Evola’s “Revolt Against the Modern World” off Gutenberg and I’m slogging through it on my Tumblr, linked above. I am not impressed, so far. Evola’s reading more like L Ron Hubbard than John Locke. I don’t know if something is getting missed in translation, but it’s not convincing me of much except that even bad progressivism is a distinct improvement over having an ascetic philosopher-king looking toward heaven.

        • nydwracu says:

          I tried to read that once and couldn’t get through it — the two other books of that sequence might be better. Though I’ve only read parts of Men Among the Ruins, and can’t even remember what the third is called.

    • Andy says:

      (warning: long comment is long. Sorry.)
      *slow clap*
      Good casino metaphor, I likey.
      I think it’s actually more complicated than that, though, and I’m not a Reactionary, but I’ve argued with them enough to absorb a few points by syncretic osmosis. I’ll have to back up a few steps in order to explain this fully, and lay my explanations on a theoretical foundation I’m not sure you’ve heard of, so I’ll lay it out just so I’m nice and clear. Most of this comes from David Kilcullen’s Out of the Mountains: the Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, which I highly recommend if you want to look into why states succeed or fail.
      The point of a state is in essence to put the population it serves into a normative control system so people can get along and live together and avoid the Hobbesian “war of all against all.” We see normative control systems all the time, but mostly ignore them. Think of traffic control systems. In my home of Los Angeles, traffic is controlled to keep people driving in a relatively safe and predictable environment. The actual traffic environment is neither entirely safe nor entirely predictable, but people feel relatively safe getting to work and school because they feel like they’re in control. They feel that if they take certain actions – drive safely, follow the rules, obey orders from police – they will be safe. The state uses three kinds of tools in order to create this system: persuasive, administrative, and coercive.
      Persuasive tools are the weakest, but shouldn’t be ignored. They affect how people think, and memes can be very powerful.
      Coercive tools are the most obvious. The power of the police to pull you over, stop you by force, arrest you, take away your car, throw you in prison, or kill you, if you are a threat to other drivers or to the system as a whole.
      Administrative tools are, I think, the most powerful and the least obvious. They’re also the hardest to use. In the rules of the road, these are things like street lights, and stop signs that dictate how people use the limited resource of road space. In addition, it’s traffic courts and insurance companies and speed limits.
      Now, we have states that are normative control systems serving their populations, attempting to guarantee safety and some economic security in exchange for behaving a certain way. States have to adapt over time to changing time, or risk getting outcompeted and overthrown.
      Now, let’s talk about monarchies. The Monarchies of Europe had it pretty good, and by all accounts, given their technological level, were doing kind of okay. Life, by current standards, sucks, especially if you were in a war zone like central Europe circa 1630 or northern France in 1415. But in the villages and towns that weren’t being burned down or starved, it was going kind of okay, because everybody, everywhere, was presumably having the same problems. Revolts happened everywhere, of course, because life generally sucked, but the revolts got put down by the feudal armies without a great deal of trouble.
      Revolts happen, in short, because of two factors: 1) “This sucks” (the amount of dissatisfaction in the population) and 2) “We can do better” (the idea of a system that can do better.) “This sucks can be unpacked more as: People don’t feel in control of their own fates. If you’re following The Rules and some situation keeps kicking your legs out from under you, you’re going to want to change the system.
      In America, the colonies that had been pretty much left alone, and had developed some half-decent systems for governing themselves, felt like the King was oppressing them in taking more direct control over their territories. The local elites put together a half-decent state, persuaded lots of people to support them, and kicked the British armies out. After a few tries, they hit on a state system that could administer resources, persuade people of its legitimacy, and coerce people into following its laws. More or less, it’s worked since.
      In France, the Monarchy had to deal with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and the accompanying urbanization, right after a vicious war that had drained the treasury. The middle class and urban underclass felt like they were being screwed over by a Monarchy that wouldn’t listen to their concerns. The monarchy repeatedly failed to adapt to the changing situation and fell. That’s a gross oversimplification, but what I’m getting at is that democracy is not necessarily better than monarchy. The reason the French were unstable, and the reason that governments like those in most of Africa are so unstable, is because nobody’s been able to fix their problems. There’s a very low cost of replacing the government when the situation’s that crappy. Especially when ethnic and religious rivalries get added into the brew, as in contemporary Africa.
      What Reactionaries get right when they’re looking at contemporary democracies in Africa is that mostly, those governments aren’t able to deliver even basic security. Nigeria’s inability to combat Boko Haram is a shining example of this – a state can’t even bring coercive force against a globally-hated insurgent group. On the other hand, often the insurgents aren’t strong enough to enact their own control systems, though in Boko Haram’s case it’s certainly trying. A better example of an insurgent control system is what the Taliban is doing that most media outlets haven’t picked up at all – establishing regional court systems that are more honest and fair than the regular Afghan court systems. But to get access to the Taliban court, you have to accept its legitimacy and abide by its decision, which gives the Taliban court both some legitimacy and a way to retaliate against defectors. And they don’t do much of the religious law that the Taliban is famous for – it’s mostly what we’d call civil or business law. If two villages are having a dispute over who a particular orchard belongs to, the Taliban will mediate without handing victory to the highest bidder, and has the will and muscle to actually try to enforce its judgements.
      Another counterexample is Egypt, where the military takeover was broadly supported because the Muslim Brotherhood made a key mistake in trying to take over the government entirely. Democracies aren’t innately superior to monarchies, but they can adapt to changing conditions more quickly. But democracies can fail in interesting ways too. In the United States, Jim Crow was in a way a perfect demonstration of democracy – the majority of the white majority wanted the black minority separated and subservient, and that happened. More recently, we put some things as “not up for a vote,” which is why gay rights activists have won most of their victories through the federal court system, which is deliberately divorced from public opinion.
      What I’m looking for is a unified theory of political science that doesn’t go “monarchies 4eva” or “democracies rule, kings drool,” but tries to match the proper form of government to a society’s cultural template and socio-economic framework.

    • nydwracu says:

      ah yes, the only goal of political thought is to join the faction that wins the hardest in the short term,

  38. Ialdabaoth says:

    I’d like to make an observation on pond-sizes vs fish-sizes:

    I grew up in a rather backwards “little” town (I say “little”, because it was 150,000 people when I was born, and has grown to almost 400,000 today. But it still has the ‘small town’ mindset, so… meh). Since I was small, I was always the smartest person in the room, the least physically imposing, and the least aligned to community social standards (primarily based around American conservative politics, sports, violence, and alcohol / rec-pharms).

    This taught me two things:

    1. Being at the bottom of a hierarchy is TERRIBLE,
    2. The only defense I have about being at the bottom of a hierarchy, is being the smartest guy in the room.

    Now that I’m finally exposed to the Rationalist community, I discover that – rather than being the smartest guy in the room – I’m *barely* above the 4th quintile. Some of that is pure intelligence deficit, but a lot of that is a combination of neuroses and irrational behaviors.

    Nevertheless, here I am, at the bottom of a social hierarchy, AND dumber than most of the people around me.

    And somehow that seems okay.

    I’m wondering why it is that aggressively smart people are less dangerous to their lower-ranks than aggressive socializers. I’m also wondering if there’s a way to tell my PTSD-soaked hindbrain that this is a real thing that I can afford to update on, and not an elaborate trick being played on me by predators operating at the next level above me.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      First hypothesis that springs to mind: because the other rationalists have also been at the bottom of social hierarchy.

      Could also be a conservation-of-ingroupiness thing, where the giant gulf between Rationalists and the rest reduces within-group division.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Could also be a conservation-of-ingroupiness thing, where the giant gulf between Rationalists and the rest reduces within-group division.

        I haven’t always seen that play out, though – sometimes, being a small isolated group with a huge inferential gulf between you and the rest of the population makes you MORE prone to in-group pettiness. So I’m still confused.

    • Jai says:

      This may not be universally true among all groups of smart people – just some of them, one of which you find yourself in. If you, like me, recoil from meanness and memories of low-status harassment, then spending more time in communities of niceness is the expected outcome.

      I can assure you there are many mean, status-bullying smart people out there, I’ve met more than a few and I fear that in some of my worst and least-self-aware moments I’ve been one of them.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        This may not be universally true among all groups of smart people – just some of them, one of which you find yourself in.

        I guess my question is, how do I convince myself of that?

    • nydwracu says:

      I can think of two explanations.

      First: It’s not an intelligence thing; it’s that belief in the importance of epistemic rationality is not attractive to sadists. Intellectually-inclined sadists become Arthur Chu, and Arthur Chu does not like the rationalist community, because the rationalist community has values like “it’s not good to intimidate people into believing lies in order to gain the power to thoroughly demonize one’s opponents”, and does not have values like “people who don’t agree with my movement are evil and wrong about everything and should not be allowed to exist”.

      Second: The rationalist community is a subculture that does not have high status, and subcultures that do not have high status tend to take out their aggression on outsiders instead of lower-ranked insiders.

      It is probably some combination of the two: subcultures that don’t have high status are less likely to attract sadists, belief in the importance of epistemic rationality is not attractive to sadists, and subcultures that don’t have high status are more likely to aim their aggression on outsiders, perhaps by calling them sadists.

    • Alrenous says:

      Do you feel predated upon? (Subjective world.)

      Are you being asked for material sacrifices, like $10,000 donations? (Objective world.)

  39. Matthew says:

    The American Association of Horoscope Writers decided to hold their annual convention in some outdoor pavilions this year. There was an earthquake. At first, people thought the entire thing might have collapsed, but they surveyed the damage and realized it was just the awning of the stage of Aquarius.

    Apropos of nothing, except that Scott likes puns; plus it’s my birthday and so I feel unusually entitled to inflict one on the rest of you.

  40. Army1987 says:

    I notice the published academic paper mentioned in the tag line never uses the word “sleep”, though I’d expect sleep deprivation to be a major confounder when comparing reaction times of people today with those of people before the internet, television, radio, and electric lighting.

  41. Pingback: Through the Microscope at a Well-Manicured-Bug | Aristonothos

  42. Ialdabaoth says:

    Hey, where’s a good place with a reasonably large viewer-base for discussing / showing off / playtesting tabletop games and RPGs?

    No for $REASONS, and boardgamegeek is a little too frenetic.

  43. Matthew says:

    I made the mistake of not zoning out the commercials on my commute home, causing me to pick up on this gem from the Maryland Highway Safety Administration (or something to that effect):

    “Speeding is aggressive driving. And that’s why the Maryland state police are out ticketing speeders and aggressive drivers….” (PSA continues, but at no point is the idea that aggressive driving puts people in unnecessary danger mentioned)

    My initial response is to mock the iron logic at work here, but the paranoid cynic in me wants to think this message is meant to inure the populace to the idea that law enforcement can and should harass them for arbitrary reasons at any time.