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OT9: The Thread Pirate Roberts

This is the semimonthly open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. Also:

1. You remember that time I tried to explain fashion using cellular automata, referencing hipsters in particular? A recent Washington Post article highlights the work of a prestigious French mathematician who is trying to explain fashion using cellular automata referencing hipsters in particular. And from the Post article, even our specific automata look very similar in being vertical four-cell-tall columns that display alternating loop behavior – although his runs on kinda different rules than mine does. Probably a coincidence, unless any of you want to fess up to being prestigious French mathematicians. But it’s nice to have some independent confirmation.

2. Comments of the month: JayMan disagrees with me on the genetics of divorce (1, 2), a terrible pun on divorce, F&C discusses a really interesting idea for a NaNoWriMo novel, and Nate Gabriel one-ups my discussion of whales, gender, and the Bible with a story about Biblical whale gender that I would not have believed if it weren’t all there on Wikipedia.

As usual, no race and gender on the Open Thread. As usual, Ozy is hosting a concurrent Race and Gender Open Thread over at their place for all of your horrible race and gender related comments I don’t want to have to think about. Someone asked last time if neoreaction was also banned, and I said I’d think about it, and having thought about it the answer is “No, because then people looking for neoreactionaries to ask weird questions to will do it on LW, and then RationalWiki will get one more data point for their ‘EVERYONE ON LW IS SECRETLY NEOREACTIONARY’ hypothesis”. So react away. Unless it has to do with race and gender, in which case go bother Ozy.

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471 Responses to OT9: The Thread Pirate Roberts

  1. Pingback: Open Thread #3: Gender’s Game | Thing of Things

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Obviously I support Robin against this kind of character assassination, but the whole debacle is sufficiently related to gender that I would prefer to avoid it on this thread. Maybe I’ll talk about it elsewhere later.

      • Handle says:

        Fair enough.

        Part of the whole problem is the ability to play semantic games with words like “aggression” and ‘welcoming’, ‘safe’, ‘threatening’, and ‘hostile’, so I think you’d be interested in that given your recent trend.

        Semi-related is Heather MacDonald’s latest on ‘microaggressions’ in City Journal.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Now I’m ignoring my own demand, but – this is the reason I was annoyed by Popehat’s request that people not use words like “witch hunt” to refer to race/gender-related Internet pile-ons.

          They’re using ridiculously overblown figurative violent language every day, day in, day out in ways that beggar the imagination, and we’re not even supposed to use one little metaphor which is pretty much spot on and which has been officially approved for this indication ever since Arthur Miller? Leaving us totally unable to describe or object to what’s happening?

          Sometime I might expand this into a post, but at this rate it’ll be long after the original Popehat article is forgotten.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I feel like this is part of the reason why a ban on race and gender in the open thread doesn’t really work. There’s a lot of meaningful stuff that tertiarily impinges on race and gender because those have been really hot topics for the past couple centuries. We can turn away and close our eyes but that won’t keep them from coming for us when they’re done coming for the Communists.

        • 27chaos says:

          But we can go to Ozy’s now.

        • Anonymous says:

          The commenters at Sailer’s blog are usually pretty terrible, but he still engages with them. I’d love to see someone sane and articulate there, even from the opposition.

          • George says:

            If by terrible, you mean unabashedly racist or shockingly Red Tribe, then I agree with you. But overall, I think the comment quality is very high. It’s one of the few comment sections that I always read. You just have to learn to ignore the crazies — it’s no different than here. 🙂

    • Noahhumility says:

      Perhaps immunizing against offense reactions would be more productive than policing thought experiments? The smuggness with which Noah attempts to catalyze a reaction he can’t control is infuriating. No matter the outcome, he will find his action just.

      Edit: Looks like this isn’t going to go critical, but Noah is being pretty patronizing to those he’s trying to champion. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got some blow back on this if it had gone critical.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        How do you immunize against offense reactions?

        • Halfwitz says:

          Exposure therapy. Getting a lot of practice steelmaning positions you passionately oppose seems like the type of thing that will immunize you against getting offended by factual claims and thought experiments.

        • Randy M says:

          I’d say stop reflexively honoring them.

          • blacktrance says:

            The problem is that it’s a prisoner’s dilemma (played between people who’d like to get rid of offense reactions), where being “nice” and honoring someone’s offense is the action that avoids trouble and makes people treat you better, but that’s defecting because if no one honored offense, the would-be offense-causers would be better off.

        • Handle says:

          To answer that question you need a theory of what feelings and displays of offense reactions are for and where they come from.

          Naturally, the answer is pretty complicated, especially since there is an element of the strategy of escalation and conflict involved, and there’s an incentive for deceptive bluffing about levels of overcommitment. But it’s pretty clear that they don’t bear much stable relationship to the actual content of provoking stimuli, so it’s extremely social context-dependent.

          In my model, people have a little subconscious social-game-theory module that is constantly busy calculating and working all the angles. A very important factor is when the game-theory module detects that they are in a situation in which intentional lying or exaggeration would be beneficial to their interests.

          But because most of us express ‘tells’ in our body language when we consciously lie, and other people have decent subconscious ‘intuition’ systems that translate these tells into emotions of suspicion, it helps if one doesn’t actually have to consciously ‘lie’, which has to involve an element of subconscious self-deception.

          So the game-theory module completely bypasses the ‘elephant-rider’ consciousness (which might threaten to evaluate any major reaction as being completely unreasonable and totally out of proportion), and sends a signal directly to the emotional centers to pump up the chemicals that generate the genuine experience of extreme outrage, insult, and offense.

          Instead of fighting this urge, the much-slower-to-the-game consciousness takes the emotional state as a given and presumptively ‘valid’, and just plays clean up and retrospectively invents patently ridiculous narratives that try to rationalize why an outburst was ‘justified’. It somehow applies a dose of rationality anesthetic like a mosquito does when it bites, so that one just simply accepts this story when it is in one’s social interests to do so, no matter how facially absurd it is.

          A prediction of this model is that the loudest complaints and strongest passions of offense would occur at precisely the places where there is least likelihood of offense, and where they would be of the smallest magnitude – like elite Academia. Or the UC-system education and law schools in that Heather MacDonald article. How else would you explain it? People develop genuinely thinner skins when they subconsciously grok that it serves their interest to do so.

          The question becomes how does the game-theory module determine this interest by evaluating observations and environmental and social cues? What it is really trying to probe for, as usual, are any deviations between the ‘true’ status and social ranking (“who would beat whom, or support whom, in a fight”) and the currently formally accepted hierarchy.

          “I’m a beta male now, everyone thinks that and treats me like that. But I’ve been getting stronger, and the old chief (or silverback) is getting older and weaker. Am I strong enough now, such that if I bait him and pick a fight, I’d come out on top and be the new alpha?”

          The game-theory module is looking for situations just like this, and when it’s time to pick a fight, it doesn’t make you think “It’s time to pick a fight to test the waters”, it makes you feel “God dammit the way that silverback treats me – with a lack of respect – is infuriating!” and then you just impulsively lash out in sincere rage.

          And one of the easiest things to look for is the reaction to conspicuous displays of offense by people like you and who are similarly situated, and towards people who formally hold high status and authority.

          If you observe that when challenged, the people who are supposed to have all the status and authority (like faculty and administration), and who one would instinctively expect to swiftly and severely push back against such probative mau-mauing by purportedly lower-status people (like students), instead always back down immediately, no matter what, and do whatever they can to placate their accusers, refuse to contradict them, and to defuse the situation and make it go away as quickly as possible, then you have found your deviation. Your little game-theory module says, “Aha! That’s what I figured. The real status ranking proves I’m the one who is really on top. If it’s not because of me, then it’s because they recognize that the strength of my political coalition is such that the people who have my back can destroy them, whereas they cannot touch me.”

          But in the natural world, a successfully picked-fight will flip the social positions of the combatants, which will tend to calm the situation. However, in our world, after one of these outbursts of offense, everyone just goes back to their former social positions and following the same rituals of interaction, which is absolutely guaranteed to cause a perpetual, unstoppable explosion of similar incidents.

          Furthermore, if there really is no possibility of pushback, then there is no logical limit to the kinds of things that can and will generate real, intense offense. The claims will become increasingly trivial as you progress from actual impolite behavior to ‘negligent, unintentional microaggressions’ until finally you reach the extreme case where any action (from, say, a professor to a student) that fails to conspicuously demonstrate the utmost respect, deference and submission will cause real feelings of humiliation and anger.

          It will devolve into the equivalent of classic bully behavior, “Are you questioning me?!” Or, “What’s that face? Did you just look at me funny?!” And even into imagined states of mind, “I think that he thinks that he’s better than me. How dare he!?”

          Of course, our society signals to everyone that the universally accepted rationalized justification for all this is hate, prejudice, and X-ism, which leads to more frequent and increasingly delusional and spurious claims that it is a broader and deeper problem than ever before in exactly the places and sane person would least expect to find it.

          The “Are you questioning me?” scenario is exactly what happened in those incidents cited by MacDonald, and is the most dangerous manifestation of the problem because it makes it impossible for anyone to defend themselves through discourse or dialogue. To defend yourself requires that you find some error in the accusation which means that you win in a status fight because you are right and the accuser is wrong. But the status fight was the whole problem, so the questioning itself must itself be wildly outrageous to the accuser.

          If it is also evil (i.e. offensive, hostile, threatening, aggressive) to even question the assertions of the person accusing you of evil, then you’re toast. (This is what just happened between Smith and Hanson, by the way).

          And without any limit, you are also on a slippery slope. The fact that every savvy person in charge of these institutions recognizes the fact of this impossibility of defense is why there is never any pushback or attempt at defense, and instead prefer to throw some perfectly innocent scapegoats on the pyre in the hopes that it will satisfy the angry gods. This is what creates the obvious lack of even the possibility of negative consequences (notice the school wouldn’t even reveal a hoax to save itself) that is the cause of the whole problem. So you get a positive-feedback loop which sets up the vicious cycle to singularity.

          And this is why pushback is essential, and why it needs to be swift and severe. Nice people think they are being enlightened and caring are trying to be polite and considerate and compassionate and ‘welcoming’, and go out of their way to indulge their underprivileged fellows and not cause offense or hurt feelings. But instead, the little subconscious game-theory modules of those fellows are correctly interpreting all this – and especially the supine hypersensitivity to accusations of sin – to be ‘weakness’, which means it’s a good time to pick a fight, which leads to hair-trigger hypersensitivity that is salivatingly eager to detect any hint of offense, no matter how implausible.

          That’s what Randy M means by, “I’d say stop reflexively honoring them.” If you incentive offense, you will get more of what you’re subsidizing. The way to actually generate less offense is to make it clear that complaining about unmeasurable feelings won’t usually get you very far, and that false or trivial complaints will get you ostracized.

          I’d imagine that the typical person’s model is that the behavior of others causes feelings in a victim, and so then, when people are treated disrespectfully or bullied by jerks, they’ll still experience the same amount of psychological trauma, but now they’ll have to suffer in silence and bite their tongues lest anyone make fun of them for being a weakling weenie.

          But no, that’s not how it actually seems to work most of the time. Instead, when people see that there’s no point in complaining, they genuinely do not have nearly the same level of emotional response, and much more stoic, and are less subconsciously tempted to hysterically blow something out of proportion and make mountains out of molehills. In other words, the true model is incentives cause feeling cause rationalizations about the importance of other people’s behavior and whether or not one is a victim.

          This model would predict counter-signalling, and that the same insults poking fun at the same attributes when made by a person who won’t back down if challenged with an escalation of, “I’m offended!”, will produce no actual feeling of offense. The well-known rules of comedy in terms of who can poke fun of whom for what (or use certain expressions without being accused of hate or ‘appropriation’) also follow.

          The logic of this case is extendable to all kinds of emotional responses to social interactions, and is certainly the cause of much of the shift in observed and reported sensitivity to certain kinds of incidents that is correlated with overall social, political, and ideological change.

          More outrage at more trivial ‘slights’ isn’t a result of more progress and increased refinement of sensibilities, but simply the result of everyone’s intuitive and subconscious understandings of who really holds status and power and the ability to impose negative consequences.

          Finally, to the extent one accepts my psychological model, one has to ask whether this is a usual case of the typical progressive reaction to try and make things better for less privileged groups by making things easier for them only ending up having the unintended consequence of making things worse for them by negatively altering their decisions and conduct when their behavior adjusts to new incentives.

          The obvious analogy is to giving blacks welfare only to notice that within 20 years their communities are beset with social pathologies not as a coincidence, but as a consequence, because we gave a man a fish instead of creating a world in which he could and would fish for himself. (I’ll use blacks as an example, but the logic applies more generally)

          In this case, in our effort to help blacks succeed in school and feel as comfortable as possible we have committed ourselves to detecting, investigation, and eradicating every last possible trace of anything that anyone claims could possibly be racist. In case we missed anything, we agree to take seriously any and all claims of offense and bend over backwards to remedy the situation, accommodate the complainants, and purge the sin.

          But what that has done is put the little game-theory modules in all their heads on constant reality-status-deviation five-alarm emergency mode, which has warped their brains, made them completely race-obsessed and hateful of those in ‘oppressor’ groups, and given them perpetual chips on their shoulders the size of redwoods.

          They’ve all become Anthony Fremont from The Twilight Zone episode It’s A Good Life. People who that have been granted God-like powers of personal destruction if they ever decide to target someone.

          I view modern faculty members as the adults in that show. They may even be Anthony’s parents and love him, but still, Anthony will kill them for nothing and they can’t escape. So they are constantly terrified and sweating and walking on eggshells lest their masters start to imagine that they’ve been thinking bad thoughts about them.

          Nobody wants to hang around someone like that – it’s like walking through a minefield. Eventually you’re going to do or say something and off goes the mine. Naturally, that is going to exacerbate, not alleviate, social isolation and mutual distrust.

          But the real ironic tragedy is that all this offense-obsessiveness steals from most talented black students the opportunity to achieve conventional career success in their professions, which was supposed to be the original intent of all this effort. Instead, a huge portion of them end up diverted into being permanent, professional salesmen in the race-card printing industry. They are consumed with their own blackness and on related subjects.

          I’m amazed and depressed with how standard it has become for a black graduate student to write their thesis on some impact of racism or, well, just ‘being black’, and then going on not to teach chemistry or practice law, but to become diversity specialists and inter-cultural dialogue lecturers, and critical-race-theory scholars and so forth. And, of course, when it becomes professional, there is constant pressure to find and theorize about ever more subtle examples of racism. In other words, they are employed to supply the insatiable demands of the confirmation-bias market with ever more narratives of rationalized justification. What a disaster.

          And this, too, only intensifies the problem of representation in other professional fields, and feelings of oppression and outrage.

          Until we get to where we are today, where our society is the least bigoted it’s ever been, but is experiencing the highest wave crests ever in a perfect storm of delusions about prejudice.

          • Handle says:

            Heh, autocorrect goes from precommitment into overcommitment! Added to dictionary!

          • Handle says:

            I sincerely apologize for violating your ‘no race’ policy with some of the statements in the above post. I hope you forgive me and make an exception in this case since I really do not see any way to avoid these taboo topics and still talk about the most important types and examples of ‘offense’ in our society. Mea Culpa

          • Matthew says:

            Heh, autocorrect goes from precommitment into overcommitment! Added to dictionary!

            You typed the grandparent on a phone?!

            Now that’s (over)commitment.

          • pneumatik says:

            Thank you for posting this. I’m a believer in the many module model of the human mind. It’s nice to see the social groups / relationship module explained so well.

            I’ve found that the most common problem I have when talking to non-rationalists is their belief that they don’t have modules like this one driving their actions. While I understand that politics (real-world government election type politics) are driven by people who believe in their side really strongly, I always forget that those people don’t realize why they’re acting the way they are.

          • Sam Rosen says:

            I’ve read this comment several times, and it’s really profound. Good stuff!

      • fubarobfusco says:

        There’s a common non-sequitur where someone says “You are threatening me; please stop” (or “You are encouraging people to threaten me; please stop”) and the response is something like “I’m sorry that you were offended” or “You shouldn’t be offended”.

        • Randy M says:

          Can you give an example of what you mean by threaten there? I fear that word may also be stretched at times into merely being made uncomfortable.

        • Nathan Cook says:

          The most consequential reply would be “with what?”, but usually what is claimed is that the complainant feels threatened, which is not the same as having actually received a threat. But in that case, “I’m sorry you feel that way” isn’t a non sequitur at all.

    • Anonymous says:

      He disagrees that there are many such men, and would bet on a poll on the subject, but thinks it offensive to make such a poll, and won’t help with that.

      We should disregard any person that is against finding the truth because it might be offensive.

      Noah Smith lost quite a lot of my respect.

      It is counterproductive even for his own goals. How does he expect “There is a thought experiment that may make some potential readers uncomfortable, let’s popularize it so as more people read about this” to be helpful for those potential readers?

      • Please note that that’s how Robin describes his opponent’s position, not how Noah himself describes it. I’d want to see some kind of evidence that we’re not unintentionally strawmanning him.

        • another says:

          What are you talking about? I can see that you might be skeptical of what is attributed to Noah in the last paragraph, but it is attributed by Anon, not Robin. The quote from Robin refers to this.

          • That’s fair.

            Wow, this is a difficult situation. I’m now modeling Noah’s viewpoint as something along the lines of, {I know that asking contrarian and provocative questions is what you do, Robin, but this time you’ve gone too far. If you seriously don’t see anything wrong with what you’re doing right now, then you’re either very clueless or very callous.}

            And I feel like he has a point, and that Robin probably shouldn’t be doing what he’s doing. But I don’t have a argument for it that can beat the obvious argument on Robin’s side, which is that refusing to ask ourselves important questions just because they’re socially disapproved of is anathema to rationalism.

            If Scott doesn’t want this conversation to continue here, then I wouldn’t blame him, and would probably be inclined to consider it a sign of wisdom and sanity on his part.

          • veronica d says:

            I think is important to understand how social power can be expressed according to what is questionable. Who decides what questions will get asked today? On which forums? Heard by whom?

            When one group of people finds themselves constantly the target of “just questions” while another group is largely above scrutiny, and then you see that the latter group has a greater share of power, the larger forums, and in fact are the very people who keep asking the questions, at some point you get to say, “Hey, you know, maybe just asking questions is not so innocent after all.”

          • Matthew says:

            @veronica

            There are two problems with that line of thinking. One, even in situations where the relative power is accurately described, whether “you are not allowed even to questions” is acceptable in certain circumstances is more or less exactly the border where the online social justice left and the opposed-to-online social justice left part ways. The question (whatever the question) is triggering for one group; being told not to ask questions is triggering for the other.

            Two, your comment is what a bravery debate feels like from the inside.

          • veronica: Which group do you think is above scrutiny in this case?

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Veronica: I agree with the bravery debate angle mentioned below, but I think this angle is an even bigger problem. The whole point of a bravery debate is that even the people on the top think they’re on the bottom; that means it’s way too easy for the people on the top to believe they should be immune from any questioning.

            The way I see it, everyone is constantly forced to listen to feminist questions all the time – “How come there are so few women in industry?” “How do we know this thing isn’t a result of sexism?” “Could this piece of media be oppressing women?” “Are all men harassers, as proven by this video which will later turn out to be fake?” to the point where it’s impossible to keep up with all of them.

            Then whenever anyone asks a question from the other side, they’re told that asking questions can sometimes be oppressive so they shouldn’t do it.

            When only one side can be questioned, you end up with a pretty one-sided debate.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Taymon,

            It’s not a difficult situation, it’s just an uncomfortable one. “Refusing to ask ourselves important questions just because they’re socially disapproved of is anathema to rationalism” is the correct and obvious answer.

            Speaking as an outsider who is sometimes tempted by Rationalism, nothing turns me off faster than seeing self-proclaimed rationalists flinch and turn away the moment they find themselves having to question Blue dogma. It is every bit as hypocritical as the fundamentalist preacher spending his nights in bath houses, and it makes me say, “why should I bother trudging through The Sequences? It’s obvious the Methods of Rationality haven’t actually helped you guys overcome your biases.”

            Scott is able to produce many interesting and thought-provoking pieces, yes, I but I suspect this is something innate to him that would have been true even if he’d never encountered Less Wrong.

          • veronica d says:

            @Scott — What matters, I think, is the effect the questions have, how they work in practice. Furthermore, we can measure poverty, homelessness, suicide rates, murder rates, etc. Thus we can determine to some approximation who is really the underdog.

            Anyone here want to trade places with a Brazilian transvesti?

            (We observed TDOR last night. The name I read was a Brazilian woman.)

            Furthermore, I have not myself suggested that questions be regarded “off limits.” I know that other people say that, but don’t round me off to the nearest SJW. (Although I certainly am a SJW. But I have my own arguments.)

            I’m not suggesting that people be silenced, per se. What I am saying is that we can recognize how social power works and how certain people are able to link their “just questions” to actually oppressive social systems. This happens. We can see it and name it. We can shine a bright light.

            But more, when someone says, “Hey, it’s just an innocent question,” we can show how that question ain’t so innocent after all.

          • veronica: Two things. First, I think it’s important to distinguish between social power and structural power. {Women are generally disadvantaged along the axes we care about} does not imply {feminism lacks sociopolitical influence and society generally doesn’t give antifeminists a hard time for “just asking questions”}. The latter is, as far as I can tell, untrue, at least in the section of society that I’m part of.

            Second, I don’t need to be convinced that leftism is correct, or that we should take social justice issues seriously. I’m already on your side there. I need to be convinced that there’s a good reason why what Robin is doing is wrong. It seems to me that it probably is, but I can’t put up a good argument for this. “It’s against the ideology that society needs to accept” is not a good reason because we should consider all relevant arguments regardless of which side they favor. “It’s against an underrepresented ideology and in favor of an overrepresented one” is not a good reason, because, as mentioned above, that doesn’t seem to actually be the case.

          • Jaskologist: I don’t actually hold the belief that rationalists are able to reliably determine the correct answers to questions that have become entangled with politics. And holding me up as a representative rationalist is probably not a good idea.

            But more to the point, what do you think I’m doing in this thread right now? I’m trying to find, through rational argument, the correct answer to a political question that has thrown my intuitions out of reflective equilibrium! That’s exactly what rationalists are supposed to do! Your perspective, I think, is that your answer (that Robin is completely in the right) is so obviously correct that the only way someone could fail to immediately accept it is if they’d been mind-killed. But I could just as easily argue that you’ve been mind-killed since you can’t consider alternative conclusions. That would be a really stupid argument to have, though; instead we should look at the object-level issue.

            Also there’s no such thing as “Blue dogma” because Blue is a tribe it is not a political ideology seriously did nobody actually read that post. Sorry, but this has been annoying me for some time now.

          • veronica d says:

            @Taymon — The goal is not to “go after” Hanson and make him feel bad. Instead, the goal should be to put his statements in context. Does he ask stuff like this often? Is he rewarded for doing so? How? By whom? Then we ask, what limits does his viewpoint have? Does he wear “blinders” to certain issues?

            And yes, at this point we can ask what his lived-experience is. Cuz this matters. Cuz lived-experience teaches lessons that are hard to learn in other ways.

            Once we make this evaluation, we can present a challenge to him. Then we see how he responds.

            (In my experience the most common response among people convinced of their own rationality is *smug self-satisfaction*. I think it is worthwhile to notice this and point it out.)

            And yes, this all often plays out in pretty dysfunctional ways. I wish we were all better at this stuff.

          • Anonymous says:

            Veronica, you equivocate between what the goal is and should be.

          • veronica d says:

            I’m defending my position and no one else’s. Specifically, I am challenging the notion that “just asking questions” is always an innocent activity. Likewise, I reject the notion that we must not challenge such questions on social justice terms.

            Any discourse can be challenged according to how it reinforces oppressive structures. A thing can be “questionable” in misguided and unjust ways. Those same questions can keep coming up, even when they have been asked and answered many times. We get to talk about that.

            However, I also acknowledge that the “Internet hate-mob” style of pile-on politics is very counter-productive, regardless of who does it, and the critiques we make of someone’s “just asking questions” should be sophisticated.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Taymon

            I don’t consider Robin completely in the right, so much as I consider Noah completely in the wrong. I think the underlying dispute (whether cuckoldry or rape is worse) is undecidable. But the idea that we should not ask offensive questions is dangerously wrong.

          • veronica d says:

            @Jaskologist — Perhaps. But here is another dangerous idea: the notion that people can ask any question they want, whenever they want, based on whatever broken assumptions they have, targeting any marginalized group, regardless of how this question fits into a broader oppressive discourse, and that at no point this questioner should face serious challenges to that discourse, nor be held accountable for the results of their words.

            Trust me, as someone on the wrong side of this stuff, that too is a dangerous idea.

            Funny thing, ask yourself this: which kind of dangerous idea routinely affects you personally. Now try to be sensitive to those on the other side, try to see how they are effected. This is hard to do. It requires empathy and the willingness to listen. But I hope you conclude that this is a location of genuine social struggle.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think we shouldn’t discuss that here, because simply reading what you linked to reduced me to such a state of frothing rage that anything I might say would very quickly break down into screaming, shouting and what the lawyers call “vulgar abuse” (which apparently is the defence against slander; if I say “Joe is a pig-raping mother-murdering sack of shit who likes to torture puppies to death and goes out every Friday night to find six year old orphans in order to break their ribs”, that is so outrageous no person can be expected to take it seriously and so it’s ‘vulgar abuse’ and namecalling, not slander).

  2. Susebron says:

    I fully expect you to someday make a pun about politics using whales as a metaphor for rationality.

  3. Jordan D. says:

    As required by the strange voices in my head:

    Beyond Earth was not a very good game and it was a worse Alpha Centauri sequel. On the other hand, I recently picked up Endless Legend, and it has yet to betray me. On the third hand, maybe that’s because it scratches my Wesnoth-ian itch to command vast legions of ghost armies to destroy the realms of the living.

    Unrelated: every state has a state capitol, and each of those has a capitol building. Any building which cost millions of dollars when built a century ago is apt to have some pretty interesting stories- but even people who live in those cities often aren’t aware of them. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t visited their local capitol building to take a look at the artwork and chambers within (I expect most have guided tours) and learn a bit about the history of the place.

    Edit: Almost forgot-

    The best legal doctrine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tipsy_Coachman

    A very bad way to win your case:
    http://www.loweringthebar.net/2014/11/the-singing.html

    • eqdw says:

      Beyond Earth heavily disappointed me, but I think maybe 90% of my complaints are primarily about game balance. I imagine it’ll be fixed by the time the first expansion comes out

      • suntzuanime says:

        I didn’t find the Civ V expansions to sufficiently address the problems with that game’s balance, and that was a mainline Civ game, so I’m holding out much less hope that a random spinoff will be fixed.

        • eqdw says:

          Really? What were your concerns in particular?

          I’m only a casual (read: bad) Civ player, but I’ve racked up over 500 hours on Civ V. I liked it since the day it came out. I never noticed any glaring balance problems, only bugs (which have been fixed over time). Further, in my mind every expansion added new and interesting aspects that, er, expanded the opportunities.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Sulla explains it better than I could in this article: http://www.garath.net/Sullla/Civ5/bnwreview.html

            But in the interests of being my own human being, and as a tl;dr:
            *The AI is totally incompetent at war due to not being able to handle 1 unit per tile, which throws the guns vs. butter tradeoff that the Civ series has relied on out of whack.
            *There has always been a blatant “right” choice of policy tree, though which it is has shifted with the patches.
            *The attempts to balance “wide” vs. “tall” empires have never really worked. At best, this leads to the perennial Civ problem of infinite city spam; at worst you get the final patch’s problem of having no reason at all to expand. Civ 4 actually managed to solve this problem by making “wide” empires better but providing substantial opportunity costs to expansion, but Civ 5 threw that solution out.

          • eqdw says:

            Huuh. I never noticed any of those, with exception of the last thing you said (most recent patch = no reason to expand).

            I need to up my game

          • Anonymous` says:

            At best, this leads to the perennial Civ problem of infinite city spam; at worst you get the final patch’s problem of having no reason at all to expand. Civ 4 actually managed to solve this problem by making “wide” empires better but providing substantial opportunity costs to expansion, but Civ 5 threw that solution out.

            I’ve only played Alpha Centauri, never any Civ games… was its opportunity cost of expansion system (each city can only build one thing at a time; one of those things is a colony pod which can travel and become a new city) similar to Civ 4’s?

          • suntzuanime says:

            The opportunity cost of building a settler/colonist/colony pod is in every game in the Civ series, but it’s generally small enough that it doesn’t amount to much. Especially since it doesn’t scale, and so the cost shrinks down to almost nothing later in the game.

            Civ 4 adds to this cost a per-city maintenance cost in gold, which you have to pay from the moment you first settle a city and which means that until the city reaches a certain size and level of development, it is a net economic negative. Since your economy controls your scientific advancement, this means that you have to choose between rapid expansion and progressing up the tech tree in the short term, which is a more meaningful tradeoff than a few turns of production from one city.

          • Vaniver says:

            It should be mentioned that, for all its merits, SMAC did not solve the ICS problem. The best choice in multiplayer, as I recall, was to be Human Hive and put cities literally as close to each other as possible. Just terraform everything to be forest, have one police unit to keep the 4 citizens in the city that occupies a 2×2 square from rioting, and you grow until you cover the map. Extra cities would drop your efficiency and make more drops (not a problem for Hive).

            Civ IV solved it decently by having research dependent on gold, which came from tiles, and which was eaten by cities in a nonlinear fashion (as I recall, because of the distance- which also rewards realistically close empires). Eventually, you reached the point where an additional city cost you more gold than it gained you, and thus would slow you down in the tech race. Sometimes worthwhile for the extra hammers, but typically not.

            Civ V’s systems to prevent ICS were happiness (which just meant ‘only found cities near novel luxury resources’, and for many patches still allowed happiness takeoff allowing infinite cities) and increasing culture and science costs. If a marginal city doesn’t increase your science output by 15%, then you tech slower- but again we have a tech vs. hammers tradeoff, which is basically what you want. They also increased the minimum distance between cities, to an amount that I think is too large (and demonstrates how sloppily they’re solving this problem).

            BE has a totally ludicrous trade system that rewards additional cities to a massive degree, combined with a health system that lets you achieve takeoff after ~150 turns.

          • suntzuanime says:

            The difference between the tech penalty for expansion in Civ 4 and Civ 5 is that in Civ 4, the penalty was harsh in the near term, but disappeared in the long term as the city grew prosperous enough to pay for itself. In Civ 5, the penalty was not as harsh in the near term, but much harsher in the long term (you can see in my link Sulla working out that you’ll never profit off your fifth city).

            In Civ 4 a city was an investment, with costs in the short term leading to long term gains, and there was a strategic interplay in how much you could afford to spend on growing your empire vs. whether it was better to get your next few techs sooner. In Civ 5, expansion will never improve your economic position, so it’s a much less interesting tech-vs-hammers tradeoff. The Civilization games have always come down very heavily on the “tech” side of that equation. I think that’s thematically appropriate and it works well as gameplay too.

          • My conclusion after reading these articles is that I don’t play Civ at a high enough level to notice these things.

            Well, sorta. My general impression of Civ V was that aside from war, Civ IV was more fun, and that I preferred it overall. Having read some of the complaints, I now think that some of the “fun” that was missing from Civ V was actually “balance”, and that I wasn’t having as much fun because the game wasn’t giving me enough interesting choices, since there was almost always one obvious “correct” choice.

            That said, there are two things from V that I love, and which keep me from going back to IV: hexes, and one-unit-per-tile. Combat in previous Civ games is incredibly tedious, essentially devolving into who has built the bigger Stack of Doom. Combat in V requires actual tactics, even if the computer is bad at it. And hexagons are always better at everything.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            5 managed to fix some of 4’s problems though- there were optimal city builds in 4 based on terrain and the cultural victory was insane- you had to build 3 legendary cities and so plan for it from the beginning of the game.

            5 managed to make culture and religion actually interesting mechanics.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Civ IV solved it decently by having research dependent on gold, which came from tiles, and which was eaten by cities in a nonlinear fashion (as I recall, because of the distance- which also rewards realistically close empires).

            Maintenance in Civ IV is a function of both distance from the capital and number of cities.

            Combat in previous Civ games is incredibly tedious, essentially devolving into who has built the bigger Stack of Doom.

            I have never played multiplayer, but at least in single player Civ IV, I have absolutely shredded ginormous AI stacks through the appropriate use of siege units, defensive terrain, promotions, etc… in fact, Sullla’s website chronicles a very interesting episode in which he and another player called Speaker found themselves invaded by five civilizations at the same time, from multiple directions. Speaker masterminded an absolutely brilliant defense and managed to save their civilization, and he did not do it by building a bigger stack.

            5 managed to fix some of 4’s problems though- there were optimal city builds in 4 based on terrain and the cultural victory was insane- you had to build 3 legendary cities and so plan for it from the beginning of the game.

            Maybe at the highest levels, but I know for a fact that could commit to a cultural victory halfway through the game and win at the middle levels of difficulty. Of course, when I say commit, I mean commit; your entire empire had to be optimized towards building culture in the three key cities, with no realistic backup plan if the cultural victory failed. The science path is a lot more flexible; you can go for the space race victory, or you can use your advanced units to go for the domination victory, and even if you fail to achieve either one before the game ends you might still have accumulated enough techs and territory for a time victory.

    • Vaniver says:

      On the other hand, I recently picked up Endless Legend, and it has yet to betray me.

      I picked up Endless Legend a while back. I don’t know, there’s something a bit off about the games they make (I’ve also played Endless Space) for me; but maybe that’s more a comment about me than the games.

      My chief frustration has been that a lot of the strategies are dependent on 1) the leaders and 2) the hexes you get, and you can’t really choose either of them. Yes, a lot of good game-playing is responding to randomness, but when I’m building a civilization I want to be able to decide some of the important features, and not being able to go tech because I don’t have the right terrain seems silly.

      • Jordan D. says:

        That’s a big issue, I agree; your luck at generation really determines a lot your later capabilities and the strategies you can employ. On the other hand, I think your choice of leader actually mitigates that to a great degree.

        The one random thing I don’t like at all is that you can totally fail to find the minor civilizations you would like. I love Haunts, and games where I cannot recruit them are much less fun.

  4. Andy says:

    I’m about to graduate with a BA in Geography, focusing on Geographic Information Systems, and so far I’ve been unable to find a job, despite my years of experience in GIS for local government and a portfolio bulging with completed cartography.
    About a month ago I gave a professor who was visiting for a lecture (who was studying something I was fascinated in) my contact information, in case he wanted to use GIS on his research material. That weekend he contacted me, asking for some maps for a conference, and I returned to him the maps he wanted within 24 hours, and made some money on the transaction.
    This experience, and a prior gig in GIS consulting, makes me think I can go freelance for a short time until I land a full-time gig with benefits. I have no desire to be freelance for a long time, just until I land a full-time job. (This isn’t an unrealistic hope – there are a lot of local governments in the US that are hiring qualified GIS people, and I have enough experience to be considered for GIS management jobs.)
    But when I was consulting before, my boss and the owner of the company had the job of selling me – my job was to sit quietly and look smart for the customers, and then make them their maps. That gig isn’t available anymore (I left amicably to go back to school full-time and the company hired replacements) but I’d like to freelance for more social-science researchers, especially historians. I know where and how to get historical US boundaries and statistics and to turn them into maps (This was about a day’s work for me) and it seems like this seems like a skill I could peddle to historians who aren’t really skilled with GIS themselves.
    But I don’t know where to begin on advertising myself, especially to a fairly narrow audience of academics. Does anyone have any suggestions for advertising cartographic services to academics?

    • 27chaos says:

      I feel like there are better places to ask for advice than SlateStarCodex, although I do hope someone here can help you. Have you asked anyone on a subreddit? Have you talked to your former academic advisors and professors? Have you asked the person who helped you? Networking is basically the same thing as advertising, really.

      • Andy says:

        a subreddit?

        I would rather cut my eyes out than go on Reddit, most of the time. The only web forum I spend any time on (other than here) is related to cooking.

        former academic advisors and professors

        They’re next, when they (and I) am not so crazy-busy with finals. I’m asking SSC for advice in addition to, rather than instead of, traditional forms of advice.

        the person who helped hired you?

        I am currently working on a letter to him that’s essentially “hey, let me map out that massive archive of early-modern long-distance financial deals” without being too forward or braggy.

        • Anonymous says:

          I am currently working on a letter to him that’s essentially “hey, let me map out that massive archive of early-modern long-distance financial deals” without being too forward or braggy.

          Don’t worry about being too forward or braggy. People hire braggarts, they just roll their eyes while they are dong it. On the other hand, lots of people who ARE qualified don’t get hired because they don’t communicate why they are qualified.

        • 27chaos says:

          I feel like your aversion to Reddit is too high. As an economist, I’ve found that there are many helpful resources there for people looking to figure out their futures. It might not apply to your field, but it seems worth a look. You probably shouldn’t indulge unimportant small preferences when you’re trying to find a career.

    • imuli says:

      This is more for GIS (and freelance) work generally than academia.

      i took up online freelance programming two weeks ago (much more fun than freelance generic local computer work) as an experiment. There’s a couple half way decent websites out there, and there are at least some GIS related gigs posted. A quick search on oDesk showed 81 gigs, and browsing through the first bunch suggested that some of them could be interesting.

      Freelance sites are far from ideal, but better than nothing and, if nothing else, you keep abreast of what people are looking for.

    • Will says:

      I occasionally do freelance work in data science. Whenever I need new contracts, I find an upcoming conference, attend it, and schmooze, talk to people about their problems, and hand out cards. This has never failed to find at least one or two contracts, which often leads to steady word of mouth work for a few months after.

      Downside- conferences can be expensive.

      • Andy says:

        On the other hand, I might be able to go to a few on my department’s dime even after I’ve graduated, according to the chair. If I get accepted to talk or present a poster, I get my registration fee paid for. Transportation is another problem, but there are a lot of GIS conferences in my local area (Southern California) and I’ve been to a few journalist conferences in my girlfriend’s train.

    • jsalvatier says:

      My brother is just starting to get his BA in Geography with an emphasis on GIS, in the northwest US and I’d be curious if you have any advice. It sounds like the job market is so-so?

      • Andy says:

        1. Intern. Intern intern intern. I got my start in GIS straight out of high school, in an internship that turned into a paid staff position. Unfortunately, that was for a nonprofit with little pay, no benefits, and a slowly declining workload, so I got out. Your brother’s school may also offer credit-hours for geography/GIS internships. Mine did, though I never took them up on it. Many internships do lead to full-time jobs, and interning is one of my current job-hunt strategies. An ESRI (BIG GIS software company) staffer who studies the GIS job market told me that most companies and agencies are looking to hire people who have jobs already, but students can often get in the internship door without GIS experience.

        2. Build a portfolio. Make it look good. Have multiple copies. Mine are in a clear three-ring plastic report cover thingy, with my resume first, followed by maps, each with a written explanation on the opposite page. The portfolio items don’t have to be paid work – about 2/3 of mine is school assignments or personal projects, like the US population GIFs I linked in my OP. make it look neat and professional. Have multiple copies so he can give it to prospective bosses. I’m currently working up an online portfolio, so I don’t really know how one of those should be organized, but it’s a good idea too.

        3. Learn code. Especially Python, SQL and Java. Python is used in a lot of geoprocessing tasks, SQL gets used in database queries (GIS layers are a lot more like database tables than just drawn shapes), and Java gets used in a lot of the web-development aspects that are very popular today. One of my biggest regrets is not learning Python sooner, but I focused on clear and effective communication in maps, rather than the coding and web-developers aspects that are more in demand.

        4. Learn statistics. A LOT of current GIS work is essentially stats work. I’m currently working on a geographically-weighted regression assignment that’s chock-full of r-squared and p-values and a lot of terms that are mostly going over my head.

        Hope this helps. Best fortune to your brother. We need more good GIS people in the industry.

    • Hi Andy, I don’t know how you found Slate Star Codex, but regardless, I recommend asking this question exactly as above on Less Wrong. http://www.lesswrong.com is group blog Scott started on, and which taught him how to blog as great as he does now. There are dozens of data scientists and computer folks and academics who go on Less Wrong everyday when bored, and use their vast collective life experience to share advice with young people like ourselves.

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/l5w/dont_be_afraid_of_asking_personally_important/

      There’s a voting system like Reddit, except there is zero tolerance for idiocy and trolling almost all the time, and it’s a website where the quality of discourse is as good as that on Slate Star Codex on its best days.

      Anyway, make an account on Less Wrong, mention that you were sent there through Slate Star Codex, and post in the open thread in the “Discussion” section tomorrow evening. This is how you can get the best response as a new user. Feel free to message me on Less Wrong if you have more questions about how it works.

  5. Princess_Stargirl says:

    Interesting blog post on the number of animals you need to keep alive at a given time in order to support one person eating meat. The estimates the author gets are lower than I would have guessed:

    https://comparativelysuperlative.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/vegetarianism-some-numbers/

    • 27chaos says:

      I think it makes sense to explore further that not all meat is created equal. Specifically, I think that vegetarian support for hunting ought to become mainstream. Hunted animals live long and happy lives in the wild, and killing them helps to prevent ecosystems from going out of balance due to overpopulation. I’m not a hunter by any means, but such cross-cultural alliances between different social groups are something I think is a very good thing, so I’d love to see this happen.

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        I think in the current world it very, very difficult to oppose hunting. Populations managed for hunting tend to do extremely well in most countries. And the life quality for hunted animals is presumably similar to animals living in the wild (who also tend to die violent deaths), if possibly slightly shorter.

        The worst affects of consuming meat are the terrible conditions on farms and the massive econsystem damage caused by overfishing (and just careless fishing). Hunting causes much less reduction in life quality and its activelty pro-enviroment (in the current world).

        So I definitely agree vegetarians and hunters shoud be allies. But I do not think this will happen 🙁

      • Morgenstern says:

        Pragmatic vegetarians would support it but most of those people have real lives which keep them pretty busy. It’s only the dogmatic vegetarians who have the drive to ‘support’ or ‘oppose’ things in a way that gets attention but they are, to put it politely, disinclined towards logic.

        I’ve personally dealt with something similar related to GMOs, where normal “I don’t understand the science but this seems sketchy” types are generally quite reasonable and easy to deal with but the capital-O Organic Food people who are the problem simply cannot be reasoned with. I’m certain you could find the same pattern with anti-vaxxers or chiropractors or any other fringe lifestyle.

      • Vaniver says:

        Specifically, I think that vegetarian support for hunting ought to become mainstream.

        I think many, if not most, vegetarians are that for harm/purity reasons, and personally killing animals themselves would seem alien and evil to them. But I do think it makes sense outside of moral considerations.

        • Katie says:

          Yeah, that. I don’t think we should kill animals for food because I think it’s violent and violence is bad. And the freaky thing is, people seem totally okay with acknowledging the violence! A friend of a friend was once telling us about some sort of ritual he went through in maybe North Carolina when he was young (I realize this is starting to sound sketchy, but I’m fairly certain he was sincere) where his relatives smeared him with the blood of his first kill and told him he was a real man now. I can’t imagine a way for that symbolism to be anything other than straight-up glorification of violence.

          • 27chaos says:

            Why is violence bad? To me, it’s not important whether the end of an animal’s life is violent, but whether the animal had an enjoyable life. And nature is plenty violent as well.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            Is it even violence to kill an animal?

            I mean, surely it involves some of the same emotional states as violence, but so does killing characters in a video game. Unless we are Jack Thompson, we either don’t call that violence, or use qualifiers that indicate it’s not real violence.

            You could argue “killing animals is morally like killing people, and something that is morally like killing people should be classified as violence”, but that assumes a premise that not everyone shares. Why should someone who does not consider killing animals to be like killing people classify it as violence at all, any more than killing plants or video game characters?

          • Well says:

            If you think that killing animals is OK by itself, then you must follow this belief to its logical conclusions. It’s OK to buy puppies at the animal shop and kill them in their sleep for fun. Few people would agree.

            Nature being violent is no justification. Honestly I’m amazed that such a non sequitur objection is so common. When people dig up the ruins of Pompeii, nobody says that their destruction by the hand of nature justifies nuking cities.

            Many vegans and vegetarians put the emphasis not on violence itself, but on the sufference of the animals. The lives of meat-dairy-egg animals are much worse than those of their wild counterparts.

          • Ken Arromdee says:

            The objection to buying puppies to kill them is based on the practical fact that someone who wants to do this is extremely likely to also be messed up in other ways. Most likely, such a person does not properly distinguish between puppies and people and doesn’t care much for people either. A hypothetical puppy-killer who comprehends the difference between puppies and humans, and kills puppies for reasons unconnected with a bad attitude towards humans would be okay, but since there’s not much reason to kill puppies, most would-be puppy killers don’t fall into that category (ignoring scientists experimenting and such).

          • Matthew says:

            A hypothetical puppy-killer who comprehends the difference between puppies and humans, and kills puppies for reasons unconnected with a bad attitude towards humans would be okay,

            I think people have an underlying moral intuition that it’s wrong — specifically a type of betrayal — to breed an animal for companionship and/or cooperative work with humans and then turn around and kill it.

            Look at how controversial eating horse meat is compared to eating beef.

          • Katie says:

            But puppies are cute whereas pigs are fat and smelly.

            I’m not even kidding. One time I quizzed a guy on whether he’d eat a golden retriever, and he said no of course not. I asked him what the difference was between a golden retriever and a pig, and he said well, we don’t keep pigs as pets and develop relationships with them. He was completely unfazed by this, and went right back to his political theory paper or whatever it was.

            The problem is that people already acknowledge that killing (at least some) animals is violent. The intuition goes something like this: Animals bleed. They have faces. They run away when threatened. They make really squicky sounds when slaughtered. (At least lambs do, that’s the only one I’ve experienced.) Plants don’t do any of those things. A dead plant looks more or less the same as a live plant. A dead clam is less dead-looking than a dead mammal. Ergo, it’s more violent to kill something the more anthropomorphic it is.

            I’m fine with this standard. Does it mean that killing characters in a video game is violent? Maybe. Something about the characters’ lack of material reality mitigates that for me. But I really don’t know anything about video games. If the character is really well-developed, say in one of those “artistic” video games that everyone assures me exist, and then you have to kill them, I can see some sensitive souls feeling sad or squicky about doing it, and I would say that that’s a sign that it’s violent.

          • Anonymous says:

            Matthew, don’t generalize from provincial rules. Eating horse and dog meat is only controversial in some societies. Even in America, cattle are used both for work and for food.

          • Matthew says:

            Anonymous:

            Yes, but the typical American who is strongly objecting probably doesn’t know that.

          • 27chaos says:

            Your analogy only looks at the negatives and not the positives. If killing puppies prevents someone from killing human beings, I advocate that they kill puppies because the benefits outweigh the costs.

            That said, your example is silly for the reason Ken Arromdee described. Killing puppies is likely to cause further violence that escalates to humans, it’s not at all obvious that killing wild animals will do the same. I’d expect there to be many more murderers if that were true, as hunting is popular.

            Also, FWIW Katie, I agree with your perspective that arbitrarily valuing puppies over pigs is morally okay. That’s my perspective as well.

          • Katie says:

            What? No, I don’t think that at all! There’s a difference between valuing puppies over pigs and valuing pigs over mollusks. The former is arbitrary and extremely culturally contingent. The latter is based on empirical facts. You could code it.

          • 27chaos says:

            I misinterpreted you entirely, my bad.

            I agree that the degree to which something looks like a human is relevant, but it’s far from the only relevant factor. Other possible factors would be the emotions going through someone during their actions and whether they’re enjoying it, whether or not their actions are the result of a legitimate grievance (if you defend yourself from a killer or rapist, I won’t consider you a violent person even if the rapist is very handsomely human or if you hurt him badly), whether or not the target is sentient, whether the actions are done merely in service of a goal or as an end in themselves, and whether or not coercion is involved. Cultural standards might also be relevant (culture is an empirical fact!).

            Classifying eg people who play certain games as violent seems like a bad idea to me if “violence” within videogames doesn’t predict “violence” outside of videogames.

          • MugaSofer says:

            Ken, if killing puppies is evidence of messed-up mental states, because the only reason to do it is sheer pleasure in killing; then hunting is surely doubly so, since people are actively inculcating these mental states in their children and communities.

            Personally, I disagree; it seems likely that people are only OK with killing animals when there is a strong incentives creating motivated reasoning around it. In the absence of this, they revert to seeing harm to animals as bad. (The same, of course, is true of our attitudes to killing and torturing humans.)

            It seems clear to me that hunting survives because of tradition, nothing more; it’s quite easy to persuade liberals, who don’t share that tradition, that it’s “cruel” (even though it is obviously less cruel than factory farms.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Killing an animal with which another person has formed an emotional bond, harms that person and is thus wrong (with the usual caveats re necessity, greater harm, etc). This includes most puppies in North America, I would think, including the ones on display in the average pet store. I agree with Ken Arromdee that it is hard to imagine a goal for which this is the only or least harmful path, and so am suspicious of most North American puppy-killers. Kill a cow or a deer instead.

            A corollary is that forming an emotional bond with an animal that someone else is already planning to kill sets up a conflict that can’t help but end with someone suffering some harm, and you should probably avoid doing that if you can help it. This would include most cattle and many deer in North America. Buy a puppy instead.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There is nothing inherent in dogs that makes eating them wrong. It is our relationship to them that makes it wrong to eat them.

            Man and dog have a relationship going back thousands of years. We are companions, comrades, partners and friends. You don’t eat your friends, even if they are theoretically meat. In a similar but inverse way, I only sex up my wife, even though plenty of other women are theoretically sexable. That’s not something inherent to her nature, and it could easily have gone another way, but it’s inherent to the relationship we have.

            Man and dog have an ancient covenant, for those not squicked out by religious words. It goes deeper than “people have feelings about puppies.”

            So we don’t eat dogs. But those bastard coyotes can go hang, and we are often happy to help.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Matthew
            I think people have an underlying moral intuition that it’s wrong — specifically a type of betrayal — to breed an animal for companionship and/or cooperative work with humans and then turn around and kill it.

            Yes. I’m finding the terms hereabouts very useful for sorting out things like this. In mid-century many English would raise a pig all summer, then butcher it in the fall. Dorothy Sayers was criticized for treating her pig as a pet all summer.

            I was boggled. This gave the pig a happier life. Why should she have added months of less comfortable, lonely confinement to the butchering? Mr. Spock (or Straw Spock?) might approve. Outcome, utility for the pig. I felt I was being illogical not to feel right about it. Then someone pointed out it was betrayal.

            It’s deontology that says betrayal is evil in itself regardless, and virtue that says you’ll be a traitor if you do this. So avoiding betrayal doesn’t have to justify itself on outcome grounds. A deontological instinct can stand on its own, and can trump on any item if you choose.

            Short of giving up meat, eating an animal you never met at least eliminates the betrayal.

          • Anonymous says:

            Ken, if killing puppies is evidence of messed-up mental states, because the only reason to do it is sheer pleasure in killing; then hunting is surely doubly so, since people are actively inculcating these mental states in their children and communities.

            Killing puppies is evidence of messed up mental states because in practice, most motivations to do it involve messed-up mental states. Describing this messed-up mental state as “pleasure in killing” is too broad; it’s like describing a bank robbery as being done for the “pleasure of having money” and concluding that getting a job encourages attitudes that lead to bank robbery.

            Hunters don’t gain pleasure from hunting *because it involves killing*, but from the other things that hunting gets them. Puppy-killers do gain pleasure *because it involves killing*. These are two different kinds of “pleasure in killing”. Furthermore, the puppy killer most likely kills the puppies because he thinks of puppies as like people and wants to kill them anyway. The hunter killing animals because they’re not people and it’s okay to kill them is doing almost the opposite thing.

          • Nornagest says:

            Look at how controversial eating horse meat is compared to eating beef.

            AFAIK this is mostly an Anglosphere thing — I might go so far as to say a weird Anglo cultural taboo. As such I don’t think I’d want to cite it in support of more general principles of ethics; taboos usually come from somewhere but that somewhere is often more obscure and/or less contemporarily relevant than you’d think.

            I expect the prohibition on eating companion animals (that is, specific animals intended as pets) is more universal, though.

          • Lizardbreath says:

            Others have mentioned this, but: What bothers me about farming is taking care of a being capable of caution, to the point that it drops its caution around you (AKA comes to “trust” you), and then you “betray” that trust by killing it.

            Some can do this solely toward animals through compartmentalization, but I have an intuition that, at least in some people, a willingness to do this would be likely to spill over into behavior toward humans too. An instinctive dislike of behaving that way strikes me as good, and a lack of same strikes me as dangerous.

            I’ve actually met farmers who claim they feel zero guilt or conflict about this at all, because *even though the animals blatantly come to “trust” them*, nevertheless they “never made any promises.”

            *Those* farmers creep me out.

            I feel much more comfortable with those farmers who do feel bad about it but come to terms with it because, for some (not all) humans’ health, it (meat-eating) is more or less necessary.

      • lambdaphage says:

        This vegetarian supports hunting and privately wonders whether it is morally superior to shipping tofu across the country.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is the necessity of hunting for maintaining a stable ecosystem a universal thing or just applicable in some cases? I could see that being justifiable from a utilitarian perspective when the whole ecosystem being thrown out of whack would cause more death and suffering than hunting.

        • anon1 says:

          It’s applicable where humans have exterminated or greatly reduced the populations of other predators. For instance in much of the US there’s a problem with deer overpopulation, since the wolves etc. that used to control them are gone. This causes all kinds of problems, including a vastly higher prevalence of tick-borne diseases that also affect humans.

      • Lizardbreath says:

        A Mindful Carnivore: Thoughts and stories from a vegan-turned-hunter

        The person who convinced me to cease being a vegetarian was Lierre Keith. But I was happy to find the above blog as well. 🙂

        I eat meat raised humanely by my neighbors (and waaaaaayyyyy less than in that calculation; more like half a pound per week). I’m lucky that I live in an area where there are a lot of…um, “unintensive”? YKWIM…farmers.

    • Nate Gabriel says:

      Since writing that, I’ve started thinking it’s not a completely fair comparison. I mean, it’s better than not making it, but it really ought to be a more direct comparison between the amount of animal suffering and the amount of pleasure I get.

      This thing with “how many animals before it feels emotionally repugnant” is an improvement from actively not thinking about the subject, but it’s completely ignoring the possibility that animal suffering might be bad in itself apart from the fact that it makes me feel bad.

      • Well says:

        You can learn how to make really tasty meals out of plants, so the difference in pleasure between plant eating and meat eating disappears.

    • Well says:

      That blog post discusses how many farm animals are alive for a given person.

      I would also have asked how many farm animals get killed per year per person.

      I’d be extremely uncomfortable if a pig got killed EVERY YEAR for me, or a cow every other year.

      • Randy M says:

        Really? If that’s all it was, I’d be quite happy. I think my health and enjoyment is worth about 200 livestock per lifetime, but I worry about the practical implications if that is off by an order of magnitude or two.

        • Well says:

          I might agree that health and enjoyment are worth the death of many animals, and in fact the first of those two issues, health, was exactly how I used to justify my meat eating before I was vegan. What made me cross the border of veganism was the realization that health doesn’t actually depend on meat eating (I never thought that enjoyment of life did).

          It’s very difficult to make the case that meat is required or beneficial for health.

          Aside from that, the cost of veganism is the cost of learning how to make good vegan food which suits your taste and/or to adapt your taste to veganism. Then the difference in enjoyment disappears, and in fact some vegans and vegetarians eventually come to dislike the taste of animal food. I used to like animal foods, now if I accidentally or exceptionally taste them I find that most of them no longer taste good to me.

          Once you realize that the cost of veganism or vegetarianism is actually low, the number of animal death and the amount of animal sufference you’re willing to accept for the sake of meat drops.

          (I use the word “veganism” all the time, but all these thing apply to vegetarianism as well as veganism, with few adjustments).

      • Anonymous says:

        Elsewhere on this thread, you emphasized suffering. But now you’re switched to deaths.

        • Well says:

          Huh??? I discussed primarily death all the time.

          I earlier wrote: “If you think that killing animals is OK by itself, then you must follow this belief to its logical conclusions. It’s OK to buy puppies at the animal shop and kill them in their sleep for fun…”

          Anyhow both are a problem, the death, and the sufference.

  6. 27chaos says:

    Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I’ve had several potentially viable fanfiction ideas, but I’ve not even started any of them beyond brainstorming. Anyone who wants to adopt these should feel free, as otherwise they will probably die.

    One idea I had was an Animorphs/Harry Potter crossover. Rather than having Prince Elfangor appear and give the 5 children the gift of morphing through the technological blue box, it would have Nymphadora Tonks appear and give them an ancient Black family heirloom (black box, hehe) that gives them the gift of morphing. In my characterization, morphing would allow them to turn into animals and magical creatures as well as other humans. Fighting aliens is hard, but fighting magic is practically impossible, so this would be very interesting. Visser 3 would map onto Bellatrix, and Malfoy would be Visser 1. Just as Yeerks infect the brains of humans in their attempt at world domination, Death Eaters would legilimize, imperius, and feed potions to Muggles in their own attempt. There are actually a ton of interesting parallels between the two canons and fanons that can be explored, if anyone is interested in this I’ll dig up my notes.

    Another idea I had was to explore what might have happened in Lord of the Rings if getting the ring to Mount Doom wasn’t the end of evil’s power. What if Sauron lived despite being crippled by the hit to his power? What if Saruman’s plot to control the Shire met with more success? Imagine a gritty reboot with a post Apocalyptic feel that has the hobbits serving as insurgents under occupied territory. What if, rather than condemning industry and technology as evil or Orcish, the protagonists were forced to rely it in order to resist a totalitarian enemy? This idea is much less fleshed out, it mostly arises as a result of my dissatisfaction with the canonical ending where Frodo goes to visit the Elves. Frodo goes through torture the entire plot of the original series, what if that had been just the beginning for him and he turned into a hardened amoral soldier?

    My final idea is one that I’ve had for a longer period of time than only this month, but would be the hardest to execute. I was thinking about Worm, and noticed that almost all the fanfictions for it had an overpowered Mary Sue as the protagonist. I also noticed that canonical Skitter actually got a lot more mileage out of her power than she probably should have – infinite bugs seemed to appear whenever she wanted them, for example. I then set myself the challenge of imagining a Worm AU where rather than having the best power possible, or even a mediocre power with hidden benefits, Skitter is stuck with the worst power that she could possibly get that doesn’t automatically make her worthless.

    After some brainstorming, I decided that since an essential element of Skitter’s character is her deceptive nature, she would have enormous difficulties if she had a power which compelled her to honesty. So I decided that it would be amazing to read or write a fanfiction where Skitter’s sole power was power over Truth. It would compel her to be (mostly) honest, and help her to figure out some of the secrets and deceptions that the Protectorate is involved in. The importance of democratic accountability might be a background theme revealed through the environment she would work in. Her power would also allow her to make precommitments in a guaranteed way that no one else has the capability to do, which would be very useful for her in dealing with common Newcomblike problems and exploring ideas about trust.

    Other than this, she would be powerless. She would not be an action hero, or if she tried to be one she would face tremendous, almost insurmountable, difficulties. So it would make for a much more political and deception oriented novel than canon Worm. She would be easier to empathize with, worthless in combat just like us, thrust into battle with people far out of her weight class. Despite all the difficulties, I think it is a potentially viable story to tell. It could be a lot of fun figuring out how she might try to coordinate victory in the final fight. It’s a little bit Aesopish to have a story where the power of honesty wins over the bad guys, but on the other hand if you wrote such a story realistically it would be the coolest thing ever.

    Please adopt or distort these as you wish! I just want the ideas to spread or exist in some form beyond what’s in my head and my notebooks.

    • The honesty power reminds me of Elspeth’s power in Alicorn’s Radiance (a sequel to Luminosity). One could use Elspeth as inspiration on how to make an honesty power useful.

    • Nate Gabriel says:

      Sauron technically did survive. He became a “mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape.” Gandalf talks as if that means he’s done for, but if the ex-Sauron can still talk that’s enough for him to bring down kingdoms.

      • Deiseach says:

        Another idea I had was to explore what might have happened in Lord of the Rings if getting the ring to Mount Doom wasn’t the end of evil’s power.

        Tolkien did say that Evil doesn’t vanish out of the world that easily; after Morgoth was overthrown, Sauron took up after him, and after Sauron was disembodied, the evils they had done and the harms and damage still remained, and always would remain; any victory is a temporary one, and sentienst have to continously fight (and continuously lose, and fight again). And Tolkien did start, but never continued, a story about disquiet in the aftermath of the Great Peace:

        256 From a letter to Colin Bailey 13 May 1964

        [An account of Tolkien’s unfinished story ‘The New Shadow’. (See also no. 338.)]
        I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Mordor], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

        From Letter No. 338:

        I have written nothing beyond the first few years of the Fourth Age. (Except the beginning of a tale supposed to refer to the end of the reign of Eldaron about 100 years after the death of Aragorn. Then I of course discovered that the King’s Peace would contain no tales worth recounting; and his wars would have little interest after the overthrow of Sauron; but that almost certainly a restlessness would appear about then, owing to the (it seems) inevitable boredom of Men with the good: there would be secret societies practising dark cults, and ‘orc-cults’ among adolescents.)

        From the unfinished story:
        THE NEW SHADOW.

        …’Deep indeed run the roots of Evil,’ said Borlas, ‘and the black sap is strong in them. That tree will never be slain. Let men hew it as often as they may, it will thrust up shoots again as soon as they turn aside. Not even at the Feast of Felling should the axe be hung up on the wall! ‘

        • Deiseach says:

          Frodo goes through torture the entire plot of the original series, what if that had been just the beginning for him and he turned into a hardened amoral soldier?

          Then Tolkien would have been pretty clear that Frodo was wrong; you cannot use evil means for good ends. That was Boromir’s downfall, and the temptation of the Ring for him, and for other characters, such as Gandalf:

          “With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly….Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

          Excerpts from the Letters:

          If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been destroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end. Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

          And finally, from two letters of 1956:
          A third (the only other) commentator on the point some months ago reviled Frodo as a scoundrel (who should have been hung and not honoured), and me too. It seems sad and strange that, in this evil time when daily people of good will are tortured, ‘brainwashed’, and broken, anyone could be so fiercely simpleminded and self righteous.

          One point: Frodo’s attitude to weapons was personal. He was not in modern terms a ‘pacifist’.
          Of course, he was mainly horrified at the prospect of civil war among Hobbits; but he had (I
          suppose) also reached the conclusion that physical fighting is actually less ultimately effective than
          most (good) men think it! Actually I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.

        • Eli says:

          And I’m sure everyone just eats that up without thinking about its applicability to the real world. Oy gevalt.

    • MugaSofer says:

      >it would have Nymphadora Tonks appear and give them an ancient Black family heirloom (black box, hehe) that gives them the gift of morphing. In my characterization, morphing would allow them to turn into animals and magical creatures as well as other humans.

      Ooh, this whole setup is really good. Tied in to Sirius and the Marauders (strangely easy) acquisition of Animagus abilities, perhaps?

  7. Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

    I suggest using mobile technology to make the world a safer place: Every person should have a wearable item with an emergency function that can be triggered easily (it could be cell phones but perhaps also rings or bracelets or ultimately any form of wireless communication implant people want anyway, such as AR retinas or whatever).

    The emergency function, once triggered by the user, should send the immediate distress signal + geo coordinates to an emergency service. It could also send visual or auditory recordings of the distressed person’s surroundings to make the type of emergency clear. It would also reduce rates of assault and similar crime if such data can be used to identify perps in real time and provide evidence of what’s happening.

    The emergency function could be inactive unless needed, so no additional Owellian angst needs to be added. At least not to what smartphones and the internet now do to us anyway. This would resolve the current conflict between privacy and security and help draw a sharper line between rights violations and consensual behavoir that merely appears violent or otherwise happens in a grey area. This would eliminate some current excuses both for criminals and anti-liberty ideologues who both use this grey area to attack individual choice.

    There could also be a timer or a function that recognizes if the item is no longer connected to the user and communicates this as a risk situation. If people like Natascha Kampusch or Marc Dutroux’s victims would have had these, their kidnappings might have been thwarted.

    • Auroch says:

      >The emergency function could be inactive unless needed, so no additional Owellian angst needs to be added.

      I am skeptical this is actually possible. To be able to send and receive mobile messages on short notice, it is necessary to stay in more or less constant contact with a cell tower; IIRC, most of the time to startup when you turn on a cellphone is establishing contact. Therefore a device which meets your description is necessarily either very laggy (eliminating the majority of use cases) or very Orwellian.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        A startup time of several seconds is quite tolerable. The typical response time of an emergency dispatcher is orders of magnitude greater.

      • gwillen says:

        My grandmother recently got an emergency device that seems to be implemented as a cellphone that can only dial a single fixed dispatch number.

        When turned on, a red light blinks until the connection to the cell network is established; when I tried, it took something like 10 seconds.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Doesn’t this already exist for old people? I assume everyone could them, too.

    • >The emergency function, once triggered by the user, should send the immediate distress signal + geo coordinates to an emergency service. It could also send visual or auditory recordings of the distressed person’s surroundings to make the type of emergency clear.

      All of this functionality is on the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. I’m not hawking them, but I was trained how to use them for my job, and this was a unique and new feature. Samsung is weird in that they’ll include some functionality into their latest smartphones that neither their competitors at Apple nor other companies using Android software will include in their hardware for two generations. So, I’m not sure these safety features/apps are standard in all smartphones. However, Samsung will care, and if the functionality serves its purpose, i.e., actually saving lives, they’ll keep putting it in smartphones, and other companies will catch up. So, such safety features may become an industry standard of mobile computing devices and wearables over the next couple of years.

      Also, you should cross-post this conversation to the open thread on Less Wrong tomorrow. People on that site will care more about topics like this.

      http://www.lesswrong.com/r/discussion

    • drethelin says:

      The biggest problem would be exactly the same as car alarms and/or spam virus warnings. People would just end up ignoring them, and emergency responders would have to have some kind of filter that would end up getting them sued out of existence.

    • John Schilling says:

      If the postulated emergency does not involve a human adversary, I don’t see this as offering a huge advantage over an ordinary mobile phone. It takes on the order of ten minutes to get a police car, ambulance, or fire truck to the average urban emergency, vs. less than a minute to make the phone call. There will be marginal cases, e.g. a lone heart attack victim who can manage to press a button but not dial 911 and call for help, but mostly it’s not going to matter. And as Jaskologist notes, we’ve already got a solution for that one.

      If the postulated emergency does involve a human adversary, as in your kidnapping examples, then you have to consider the ways such an adversary might overcome your proposed defense. Short-ranged GPS jammers can be purchased online for less than $100; cellphone jammers haven’t made it to market in a big way yet, but that will change if there’s a substantial criminal demand. The demand driving the GPS jammer market, BTW, is truck drivers who don’t like various busybodies keeping track of how long or how fast they drive – so much for world safety through geolocation.

      And then there are the old-school favorites like pointing a gun at someone and demanding they keep their hands in the air, or simply whacking them upside the head with a blunt object before they know there’s anything wrong and stripping them of weapons/suspicious electronics/whatever before they come to their senses.

      If you go with a fail-safe system where the police are summoned whenever the cell signal and/or GPS lock are lost, that would be pretty tricky for criminals to counter but it would get you dangerously close to Orwellian ubiquitous surveillance. And it would require truly ubiquitous cellular and GPS coverage, which is still some time in the future.

      And if you’re just looking for a self-contained gadget people can use to make a kidnapper’s life difficult, presuming they have a few seconds to activate the gadget, I believe a Mr. Samuel Colt has a few words for you.

      • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

        Good points. I do expect ubiquitous coverage in the future, but you will still be able to take gadgets away from people.

        Until we have the inevitable subdermal implants for all children, of course. 😀

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, but by that point the criminals will all have electromagnetic pulse guns to fry all their victims’ electronics. And for people connected to the intertubes 24/7 since birth, this will result in immediate catatonia rendering them easily kidnappable 🙂

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        “Orwellian ubiquitous surveillance” is both inevitable and necessary. As technology advances to the point where all you need to make a weapon of mass destruction is the know how (probably from formal education, but the very determined and intelligent terrorist could be self taught) and a bit of cheap equipment, the choice will be between freedom to use modern technology and privacy. I would definitely choose the former, and thankfully it seems that that is the way society is going.

        Because governments in the future will have universal surveillance and be impossible to overthrow from the inside, it is very important that we get as many of the right ones in power as possible before that happens.

        • 27chaos says:

          Says the Illuminati Initiate. I like where this is going.

          I share a similar perspective as you. I think it’s important to get good governments in power ASAP, but for a different reason (although I agree with yours as well).

          I think that if there is substantial technological innovation soon, which seems reasonably likely, that risks worsening and then “locking in” income inequality, making it impossible for the poor to earn their way out of suffering. So we need to get compassionate and accountable governments in power so we’re not faced with a future of Morlocks and Eloi.

          • Randy M says:

            “Says the Illuminati Initiate. I like where this is going. ”

            Ha! Anyway, I think you’d both be interested in David Brin’s take on the matter. Google “Sousurvailance,” I think.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s spelled “sousveillance”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            More specifically, Randy is probably referring to Brin’s essay The Transparent Society. The basic idea is that privacy is dead; privacy laws will just keep surveillance tools out of the hands of the common man while the rich and powerful can get away with using and abusing them.

        • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

          I don’t think it’s inevitable or necessary.

          The “individuals can destroy civilization” scenarios are possible, but not probable. For each technology that holds such destructive power, there can probably be more specific surveillance strategies to counter them.

          I do agree that a freedom-protecting surveillance state with highly permissive laws could be positive. But I’m pessimistic about the actual processes that get people in power. And the authoritarian trends even in the pro-technology communities, make very clear we can trust no one.

          So in principle, yes, Orwellian surveillance could be a good thing, in practice it would probably be a torture and misery generator and extinction might actually be better than that.

        • John Schilling says:

          Democratic government basically doesn’t solve problems until they’ve already blown up into at least a local catastrophe. Examples are left as an exercise for the student. In this case, that leads to three possibilities that I can see:

          1. The ubiquitous police state is established using the fear of easily-hacked weapons of mass destruction, but by people for whom the ubiquitous police state is itself the goal, for whom the already-manifest problem is “we don’t have as much power as we think we ought to”. This gets us, well, the sort of Orwellian police state you get when the purpose of power is power and the population is driven by fear.

          2. The ubiquitous police state is genuinely established to meet the threat of easily-hacked WMD, but comes after the threat is manifest in a sizeable way. In this scenario, we get to consider what sort of people will be the most eager early adopters of homebrew weapons of mass destruction and how they will react to learning that they are about to be subject to a police state with no possibility of dissent for ever and ever.

          3. One of the premises of the argument turns out to be false. I am somewhat optimistic that technology will not ultimately favor easily-hacked WMD without effective countermeasures, but I could be wrong. If that’s the case, we’re going to want a solution that can be implemented after a whole lot of terrorists, revolutionaries, and other misfits and malcontents have acquired WMD arsenals, without ultimately driving them to use those arsenals.

    • Lambert says:

      IIRC, in the UK, dialling 112 on a mobile phone lets the emergency services track you. (My only source on this is various Scout leaders.)

  8. Matthew says:

    I’m interest both in persuading the gamers here of the superiority of board games to video games, and in socializing with the commentariat despite living nowhere near most of you, so… if anybody ever feels like learning or playing some Race For The Galaxy or Spyrium or something online at BGA, let me know.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Aren’t board games and video games totally different things ? Your mission statement sounds to me as something like, “I want to persuade gamers that ice cream is superior to bicycles”.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Board games played over the computer are actually videogames. It’s like if you froze ice cream in the shape of a bicycle and rode it around.

        • Andy says:

          It’s like if you froze ice cream in the shape of a bicycle and rode it around.

          That sounds like a significant and worthy engineering challenge.

      • Matthew says:

        I was being semi-facetious. However, the specific type of video game that’s always being discussed in the threads here does have analog analogs,* if you’ll forgive the expression. In fact, there is even a direct board game port of the game series being discussed in this thread. (I have not played it; it is the 11th-highest ranked** civ-building board game.)

        *Change the display to “Sort by: Rank” if you want to find the interesting ones.

        **BGG uses Bayesian averaging with a bunch of dummy ratings, so rank and rating do not necessarily line up.

        • Randy M says:

          I have the game in question; it’s a good game and a decent social activity, but in terms of a civilization building game, I wouldn’t put it on the same level as the computer game it models, because the computer game can handle the fiddly bits, allowing for more complexity, much easier to save the game and return later, more variety of ‘components’ for a given price, ease of learning (and remembering) all the relevant rules, etc.
          I’ve never cared much for multiplayer Civ (computer game) due to the down time and unlikeliness of finishing the game in a reasonable time period… unfortunately, the same could be said about the board game, though to enough of a lesser extent to be manageable.

          • Matthew says:

            To further clarify my own intentions/preferences: I mention the civ games to dispute the “ice cream and bicycles” characterization, not because I necessarily think those are the best choice of board game (although there clearly are people who enjoy playing with the 12 bajillion components of Twilight Imperium for 6-8 hours at a time).

            Personally, I only own one game with a play time greater than 3 hours (though I have one more on my wishlist), and I have a strong preference for games whose strategic complexity:number of tiny components ratio is high. My ideal game length for a multi-player game that is doubling as a social activity is probably 1-2 hours, or shorter and played twice.

            In any event,I wasn’t literally arguing for people who enjoy video games to abandon them. But there is a certain elegance to good board games, which manage to represent quite complex things using far less bits than computer games do. And even for introverts, the social element of fun really shouldn’t be underestimated.

          • Harald K says:

            By boardgame standards, the (computer) Civ games have a lot of “junk” complexity, complexity that adds few meaningful decisions. The art of boardgames is short-cutting all that complexity, and get meaningful decisions from less.

            One developer who obviously does take popular computer games and boardgameify them, is Vlaada Chvatil. Just about all his games are transparently based on a popular computer game (though very few are licensed). Through the Ages is his Civ game, and it’s higher rated than SMCivTB. IMO it’s still not dieted enough on complexity and has a lot of unnecessary time-consuming fiddliness, but it’s a far better multiplayer game than the computer games. I used to play it by mail via the boardgaming-online website, that’s actually preferable I think, because it reduces the fiddliness and makes analysis paralysis less of an issue.

            Roll Through the Ages and Seven Wonders, now those are Civ-themed games to my heart.

          • Matthew says:

            Harald, supposedly Nations is the game for you if you think TTA is a little too fiddly but still want something with depth.

          • Matt C says:

            Harald, what computer games are Dungeon Pets and Galaxy Trucker based on?

    • lmm says:

      My experience is that online board games combine the downsides of both boardgames and videogames.

      • Zubon says:

        For games with interesting design but cumbersome physical interface, I have known people to play the computer version in the same room on various computers. Games with lots of setup or math lend themselves to computers.

        • Matthew says:

          There are also some interesting hybrids coming out now. Which I would link to, but that apparently causes my comment to get eaten. Repeatedly.

          So if you’re interested in tablet/mobile-boardgame hybrids, do a search for Alchemists (I suggest the Dice Tower video review) or World of Yo Ho (I suggest the kickstarter campaign page). The former in particular looks like the sort of thing that would tend to appeal to rationalist types.

          Edit: per Anonymous’ suggestion: here and here.

          • Anonymous says:

            use bitly not to be eaten.

          • Randy M says:

            The line between the two is certainly being erased, on a functional level. Picture someone playing an ios version of a board game versus someone in the same room as well as an ai opponent. Is it a board game or a video game?

        • Harald K says:

          Spreadsheet gamers unite!

      • Matthew says:

        To be clear, I would rather invite you all to come socialize over my game collection in person, but I don’t live near NYC, SF, or the other places most of the rest of you reside. Playing online is the 2nd-best solution.

        Anecdotally, playing long-distance with people I know, with the attendant text-banter, is a very different (and much better) experience than playing with random people online.

        • Rachael says:

          Agreed.
          We have a weekly board games evening, but during the week my friends and I are usually involved in several online games of Terra Mystica, Through the Ages, and Dominion, often with the same opponents we would play face to face with.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m amused that our collections show no* overlap, despite each having 10-20 newish games. What’s that one on the top?

          (Technically true since I have a different version of Ticket to Ride).

          • Matthew says:

            The black deck box is holding Chthulhu Gloom* + Unpleasant Dreams expansion, which don’t fit in the original tuckbox together.) Next to it is Sellswords, a light 2-player game that just came out, which I apparently have anti-strategy for, as I’m 0-4 against 3 different people.

            *Lovecraft + morbid irony… You can probably see the appeal to our sort.

          • Randy M says:

            Sellswords! Yes, I thought I recognized level 99 games box art. I’m looking to pick that up at some point as well.

    • drethelin says:

      Sounds like you could use some convincing about how much better videogames are than boardgames.

      • Matthew says:

        I feel like this reversal is not really analogous when taken seriously. Most board game hobbyists have also played video games,* but many video game enthusiasts may never have been exposed to board games outside the Hasbro/Milton-Bradley morass of mediocrity.

        *I played the original Might and Magic. Not Heroes of Might and Magic. The actual, original RPG game. I played video games for a long time. I don’t say I prefer board games because I lack a large sample for comparison.

    • Rash92 says:

      I’m up for learning some board games. I know jack shit about them though so you might need to be a little patient with me…

    • Leo says:

      I like board games. I have a copy of Terra Mystica, which I picked because it has no randomness or hidden information and so can be played long-distance by setting up two identical boards.

      Want to play some mail Terra Mystica? Alternately, do you live anywhere near France?

      • Rachael says:

        http://terra.snellman.net/ is good for online Terra Mystica. My username on there is the same as here, and I’d be up for playing games with other SSC readers.

      • Randy M says:

        Speaking of no randomness or hidden information, as well as board game versus video games, anyone here familiar with Battlecon? It’s a card game that is based on fighting games like street fighter, except it takes the twitch reflexes out of the equation in favor of out guessing one’s opponent. Pretty neat.

    • Harald K says:

      Race for the Galaxy was kind of ruined for us by some of us having logged hundred or even thousands of games online or against Keldon’s AI 🙂

      I’m a boardgamer at heart, and I’ll always praise the German games revolution as ten times more important than anything anglophone ludologists have dreamed up the last twenty years (although Sid Sackson and Alex Randolph were the revolution’s original prophets, without honor in their home country as usual).

      But alas, my boardgaming venue is a church that has made a habit of moving into bankrupt nightclubs. That in itself isn’t a problem, except that the latest move required quite a bit of renovation, and the renovation dugnad happens on thursdays, which means boardgaming nights were moved to tuesdays, which is the one day of the week I consistently can’t go. So now I’ve become a steam addict instead. My nick there is krivelig, I wouldn’t mind some boardgamer friends.

      (And apropos that, anyone have good or bad experiences with Tabletop Simulator on steam?)

  9. Wulfrickson says:

    Question for our resident social scientists, especially (if he’s around) the social justice warlock formerly known as Oligopsony: The name Steven Pinker seems to inspire reactions from eye-rolling to outright hatred in some intellectual circles; the usual charges seem to be that Pinker 1) likes bad ad-hoc evopsych and 2) disrespects other fields of inquiry. As SSC and associated places seem to be generally pro-Pinker, I’d be interested in hearing the anti-Pinker viewpoint spelled out in detail.

    • Anonymous says:

      He 1) likes bad ad-hoc evopsych and 2) disrespects other fields of inquiry. You really seem to understand it quite well.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks for the value-add!

      • Deiseach says:

        Count me in on the eye-rolling; any example from other fields of enquiry is silly and stupid because (long-winded rant), unless he thinks of it, and when you point out that actually (other field of enquiry) has been using this for quite the while, well, somehow that doesn’t count because it’s not as snazzy as his version of it.

    • Anatoly says:

      Pinker’s arguments often seem to rely on striking examples which crumble down when inspected more closely. The canonical example for me is flew out/flied out in baseball:
      http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4211
      because I remember being very impressed by it when I read “The Language Instinct”, investigating later on my own, and finding the reality nowhere near as clear as Pinker had led me to believe.

    • Anonymous says:

      My experience has led me to consider anti vs. pro Pinker a minor skirmish between sub-tribes of the blue team (specifically, sub-tribes of especially intellectual blue team members).

      The anti-Pinker side largely consists of people from or who identify with the (non-philosophy) humanities and the softest social sciences. They hate Pinker to a similar extent and in a similar way as they hate the New Atheists, or Jared Diamond, or Napoleon Chagnon, or anyone who has ever contributed to Edge.

      The charges against these people tend to be Islamaphobia (especially for new atheists), intellectual imperialism, and, most seriously, reductionism.* Since LW and related communities are built on reductionism, it’s not surprising that there would be some communication breakdown here.

      Of course, in a better world, we could all just agree that there are good reductions and bad reductions and get on to specifics. Instead, people yell at each other for displaying the tribal markers of each group.

      *Some might argue that they hate a specific type of reductionism in these thinkers, a biological/essentialist kind. But my friends from the tribe hate Jared Diamond just as much and so do the people they read, even though Diamond’s reductionism is largely geographical.

      • Princess_Stargirl says:

        I don’t think you can put Pinker on Blue instead of Grey. Steven Pinker is unabashedly pro-capitalism. In “better angels of our nature” he explicitly says that Muslim societies are more violent, in fact saying things like “The Muslim world has sat out some of the civilizing process.”

        Pinker never actually endorses any important non-obvious ex or racial differences. But in the Blank Slate he directly states that we should seriously entertain the hypothesis that sexes/races differ in important ways. And we souldn’t immediately conclude that different outcomes imply discrimination.

        Pinker goes after too many of the team blue core attitudes for him to be on team blue. Though he is closer to blue than red.

        • Anonymous says:

          The colors are about culture, not political belief. Pinker criticizes Blue beliefs because he is addressing a Blue audience, because he is Blue.

          • James says:

            But isn’t the grey (or gray) category more or less precisely for those who are culturally blue but critical of blue beliefs?

          • Susebron says:

            Gray is slightly culturally different than Blue. If you think of “Internet culture”, to whatever degree that holds, that’s Gray culture. It’s very similar to Blue, and in many cases overlaps, but it’s slightly different.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s spelled “gray” because it is about America.

      • 27chaos says:

        I think the humanities people generally see significant but difficult to articulate problems in writers like this. Their intuition is sharp enough to realize the ideas are flawed, but not sharp enough to let them to pinpoint the problem. Even if the experts are unable to explain exactly what’s being done wrong, that doesn’t mean their opinions don’t serve as valid Bayesian evidence. When people say “reductionism!”, often what they really mean is something more like “ignores compelling counterevidence!”

        There is some genuinely good criticism out there if you dig long enough for it. For example, if you look at Pinker’s Better Angels, he makes several significant mistakes, although his broad thesis that violence has declined is correct. Here’s a few different criticisms I’ve heard and seen merit in, along with one criticism of my own.

        1. When he’s estimating the casualties of the last century’s wars, he relies on biased underestimates provided by “official” sources like the US government. That’s an obvious mistake to avoid, and it’s a bit like complicity in US government PR/propaganda.

        2. He looks largely at direct violence such as murder and crime, and entirely ignores the idea of indirect violence due to things like systemic poverty or racism or environmental damage. But those topics all deserve serious consideration. He also fails to consider any of these factors as potential causes for violence, or to try to connect changes in these factors with changes in rates of violence.

        3. He fails to consider counterfactual histories as significant – what if the Cold War had become hot, as it very well could have? His eagerness to say that historical factors have moved and are moving us towards peace is naive when you consider how much worse things could easily have been.

        4. IMO a significant portion of the phenomenon he identifies is not due to a decline in human inclinations towards violence but due to an increase in population due to technological advances. He tries to address this idea in his book by claiming that if there are twice as many people, we ought to naively expect a twofold increase in violence, but such a brief treatment of the issue is inexcusably oversimplified.

        For one, his argument failed to look at which types of people are having their population increased, which is a potentially significant source of variation. Similarly, it failed to look at differences in the type of violence that occurred. For example, it seems imaginable that inclinations towards murder are static while whether or not rulers are willing to make war varies in a very complex way depending on (comparative) population size. There’s a lot more room here for other important details, or at least for some caveats, yet he failed to consider that things like this might exist at all. Finally, his treatment failed to investigate the possibility that the “natural” rate at which we should expect violence to scale with population might not be linear. If the relationship between population density and violence is something hardwired into the human psyche via evolution or softwired into human cultures via social factors, that means Pinker’s misunderstood which factors are important in explaining violence’s decline.

        5. I’m pretty anti-religion, but I remember that his criticism of religion as a source of violence seemed very weak to me, so I can only imagine how bad it must have seemed to someone more sympathetic to religion with more factual knowledge. I don’t really remember the details of his claims here, but I’d encourage you to look through Google for someone addressing this aspect of his book, as I’m confident criticisms about this issue specifically will be higher quality than the ones you’ve come across so far about the book as a whole.

        Overall, Better Angels was a decent book. But it could have been much better, and is overrated.

        If you’re interested in criticisms of Diamond, I recommend you look at old threads in /r/askhistorians and also look at his book reviews on Amazon. /r/badhistory might be worth a look as well, although they’re kind of polemical jerks in there. It’s very odd, but in my experience it seems that the best and most thorough criticisms of popular thinkers are usually found in informal mediums.

        • AJD says:

          3. He fails to consider counterfactual histories as significant – what if the Cold War had become hot, as it very well could have? His eagerness to say that historical factors have moved and are moving us towards peace is naive when you consider how much worse things could easily have been.

          Wait, isn’t this circular? That is, isn’t the fact that the Cold War didn’t become hot evidence for the claim that historical factors have moved and are moving us toward peace?

          • 27chaos says:

            Sure, the fact that we survived the Cold War is evidence that the world is safe. But the fact the Cold War ever happened is evidence the world is still plenty dangerous. We came far closer than we ever should have, far closer than we really would have if Pinker’s ideas were as true as he believes. Almost causing extinction is only reassuring if your prior is that extinction is inevitable, for everyone else it should be terrifying.

            (I feel like someone clever could use this to argue against the Doomsday Argument? DDA implies that the more risks of extinction we see in the world, the less likely extinction becomes, as we should conclude it ought to have happened already according to DDA? Rather counterintuitive – should we continue reducing our estimated probability of human extinction up until the moment everyone is dead? Anthropics suck.)

            Remember that the consequences would have been huge. The ghost of the nuclear war that never was deserves to enter into our consideration when we’re evaluating the violence of the past vs the violence of today. Failing to mention it at all was a mistake, as the nuclear bombs are basically the most significant change that’s ever happened in history to mankind’s capacity for violence, yet the book is supposed to be all about mankind and history and violence.

            If part of the reason for today’s peace is nuclear deterrence, but nuclear deterrence works imperfectly and raises the stakes enormously, we need to look at both these aspects in order to make an unbiased judgement. Looking only at the benefits and not the potential costs would be unjustified.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “1. When he’s estimating the casualties of the last century’s wars, he relies on biased underestimates provided by “official” sources like the US government. That’s an obvious mistake to avoid, and it’s a bit like complicity in US government PR/propaganda.”

          Why? We use KGB records to understand Soviet atrocities- governments do in fact keep accurate records and many of them are quite reliable. The US military has no reason to lie about those values.

          “2. He looks largely at direct violence such as murder and crime, and entirely ignores the idea of indirect violence due to things like systemic poverty or racism or environmental damage. But those topics all deserve serious consideration. He also fails to consider any of these factors as potential causes for violence, or to try to connect changes in these factors with changes in rates of violence.”

          Why would he look at them? The mechanism for those is completely different from the one causing people to beat each other to death due to arguments over money.

          Also systematic poverty decreased over time (because of economic growth), environmental damage increased then decreased (due to economic growth) and racism doesn’t have a clear trajectory.

          “4. IMO a significant portion of the phenomenon he identifies is not due to a decline in human inclinations towards violence but due to an increase in population due to technological advances. He tries to address this idea in his book by claiming that if there are twice as many people, we ought to naively expect a twofold increase in violence, but such a brief treatment of the issue is inexcusably oversimplified.”

          Why? Increased population densities makes it easier to use anonymity to hide among the group.

          • Matthew says:

            We use KGB records to understand Soviet atrocities- governments do in fact keep accurate records and many of them are quite reliable. The US military has no reason to lie about those values.

            KGB records were secret (actually, after a brief decade of not being secret, a lot of the Soviet archives are again closed to the public). US Military estimates for things like civilian casualties are public.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I know; I just think it is silly that the KGB records for WW2 could be considered more accurate than the militaries casualty count for the same war.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Generally speaking, r/bad[insertanythinghere] subreddits are horrible.

      • My experience is similar to yours, although I have my own reasons for disregarding Pinker. However, I’m more interested in Diamond. I’ve read his books and find them to be interesting and illuminating, though perhaps a little over-simplified. But his critics seem to hate him for some reason deeper than that.

        Chagnon is a similar case. He claims that his critics just consider him a Bad Man for attacking sacred cows of anthropology. The counter-articles I read say that Chagnon is a Bad Man for attacking sacred cows of anthropology!!!!!!! I did read one article which contained factual complaints about his methodology, but the apoplexy involved was far in excess of his purported crimes.

        If anybody has links for good criticisms of either of these guys, I would be interested in reading them.

        • Anonymous says:

          The Chagnon case seems straight-forward. Why do you not believe the critics’ explanation of their behavior?

          Here’s an anthropologist on Diamond. Anthropology has generally turned against generalization. Also, they hate him for playing the PC game better than them, especially since it’s just a game to him.

          • Harald K says:

            Oh dear, that critique you linked to is a horrible post. What it boils down to is this: Jared Diamond ultimately lies the blame for European hegemony on factors other than our inherent nastiness, thus, it excuses us and tells us the story we desperately want to hear. Thus, it must be wrong.

            That is SJWism distilled. The oppressed have to be inherently morally superior, and the oppressors inherently morally inferior. They won’t hear talk of anything else. Never mind the quality of Diamond’s arguments. Never mind that on some level, Diamond is even open to the possibility of some selection for ruthlessness (he brings up the story of how Japan banned guns, something he thinks an European prince may well have wanted to do, but then they would rapidly be overrun by other entities that didn’t).

            So it may even be that our culture is more ruthless. Maybe we ARE more evil, at least in some ways. But even that isn’t good enough for these SJWs. The responsibility has to be personal and intimate. It’s as if we actually have to confess to have uglier souls, not merely minds.

            I have yet to see a critique of Diamond that doesn’t commit obvious errors like this, or transparently misrepresent him. The only thing the (non-racist portion of) critics have convinced me of, is that anthropology as a field has plenty of the huge problems that plague the humanities.

          • So about Chagnon, there was the accusation that he started a cholera epidemic, but that seems to be thoroughly disproved at this point.

            There are criticisms of his methodology. As far as I can tell, these are technically accurate, and some of Chagnon’s conclusions are undersupported by the evidence. But in the context of the broader controversy, these look like isolated demands for rigor, and I find it difficult to believe that Chagnon would be such a villain if his conclusions weren’t judged as badthink by the anthropological community.

            The remaining criticisms boil down to the fact that he says mean things about the Yanomamo. Except that he doesn’t say things that the Yanomamo themselves object to, but things that anthropologists object to, which makes this another case of Chagnon being a villain for slaughtering sacred cows of anthropology.

          • Anonymous says:

            Mai, your original comment said that the critics were explicit that their complaint about Chagnon was that he slaughters sacred cows. If they say that, why not believe them? Indeed, your later comment reaches that conclusion, so maybe the earlier one had a typo?

          • Daniel Speyer says:

            This review spends most of its time complaining about how badly Diamond fits into the political games anthropologists play among themselves. I’m inclined to take that as a point in Diamond’s favor.

            There are a few paragraphs claiming Diamond is actually wrong. Specifically, the author alleges there might be some more domesticatable species outside of Eurasia that never got domesticated. That’s something Diamond spends a long time talking about in detail, and this author fails to engage any of his arguments.

          • Nornagest says:

            Oh dear, that critique you linked to is a horrible post. What it boils down to is this: Jared Diamond ultimately lies the blame for European hegemony on factors other than our inherent nastiness […] Thus, it must be wrong.

            That part’s pretty bad, yeah. But Diamond’s case for low domesticability in non-Eurasian organisms really is badly post-hoc; that bothered me when I was reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, and I’m far from an SJW.

            Of course, the article immediately ruins this point by running with it into some really far-out territory (“in the lowland South American context […] human-animal relationships are […] relations between social equals”?).

          • Hainish says:

            Jared Diamond is one of those people who receives criticism from both the left and the right: The left for laying insufficient blame on Europeans, the right for failing to paint Europeans as obviously superior (because if their success is due to things like geography and having domesticable species nearby, it obviously can’t be due to genetic superiority.)

          • blacktrance says:

            A belief in the genetic superiority of whites is very much a minority opinion among the right. Neoreactionaries/HBDers are a small and atypical group.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hainish, have you actually read GGS? Avoiding race differences is not the implicit message of the book. It is explicit the prologue, where Diamond says that the most common answer is race differences, but that it is wrong, and his goal is to put forward a different explanation. Indeed, he says that people in New Guinea are smarter than whites.

            HBD people don’t hate him for being wrong; they hate him for intentionally hiding the truth. He used to write about race differences, but now he wields Political Correctness. In many ways, that’s the same reason that the anthropologists hate him – that he’s faking it.

            Both sides wished he had written propaganda for them. Instead, he wrote something palatable to the public. But what other way could have have reached the public? Maybe the conclusion of the book is wrong, but conclusions are always tentative. Mainly what the book does is promote history and natural history as interesting and important and claim that it is possible to build theories from masses of data. What more can you ask of a popular book?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            The real problem with Diamond’s thesis is it is pretty weak. Eurasia and trading partners covers most of the planet and Diamond doesn’t really offer a way to tell between them. Sure, South Africa, Central Africa, the Americas, Australia and Polynesia are covered, but that isn’t exactly a very powerful of unique argument.

            This isn’t bad- it is nice to have a reason for why the Americas lagged behind- but it does mean he isn’t able to really answer the “why Western Europe” question. That said it is certainly a better book than Collapse or his most recent output.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure why there needs to be a reason for the Americas lagging behind, other than random chance. Okay, so the Americas, at European contact, were early Chalcolithic or late Neolithic cultures. That put them about 7000 years behind Europe and Asia if you map them onto the same chronology.

            But the Neolithic lasted around 8000 years in Eurasia, and it started well after the migration events into the Americas. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about why the Neolithic Revolution occurred and what caused it to, but there’s no particular reason to think that the events behind it would be the same on both continents; and indeed some estimates put analogous events in the Americas as late as 4500 BCE, or about when the Bronze Age was getting started in Mesopotamia and southeastern Europe. If we take that as a point of reference, then the subsequent development of indigenous American culture maps quite well onto the Eurasian timeline, with no need to invoke geographical or biological differences.

            (Other sources put the agricultural revolution in the Americas as early as 10000 BCE, but of course we could apply the same argument to the transition away from the Neolithic that we have to the transition into it.)

          • Harald K says:

            Nornagest: As I recall, Diamond’s domestication argument is that there are few domesticable animals in Africa due to coevolution with humans, and that there were few in the Americas because the megafauna was hunted to extinction. Do you think that’s implausible? In either case, it does seem right that e.g. zebras and hippos are not very amenable to domestication.

          • Harald K says:

            Anonymous: As I recall (don’t have the book in front of me), Diamond discusses modern attempts at domesticating and crossbreeding the zebra. It’s not that you can’t get a zebra to a point where you can ride it. It’s that if you do, they are so bad tempered, unpredictable and dangerous that it isn’t worth it.

            He also mentioned (it might have been in an article rather than in GGS) how some Papuans would keep Cassovaries as pets. Apparently you can do that, if you don’t mind the risk of them unpredictably tilting on you and slashing you to death – apparently worth it to have a badass pet, to some Papuan men.

          • Hainish says:

            @Anonymous: I have, indeed, read the book and I recall the passage you mention. I never disagreed on that point, so I’m not sure why you bring it up?

            I’m not sure what point you intended to make with that comment, tbqh, but you seem to feel Diamond was hiding something?

          • Nornagest says:

            @Harald — The argument for Africa is strong. The one for the Americas is much weaker: similar die-offs of megafauna happened in Eurasia over a time period not much longer (and probably for similar reasons), and the surviving mix of animals looked much the same as North America’s.

            There is a chance that the mammoth would have ended up domesticable (of its living relatives, one of two or three species is), but that’s only one species.

          • Anonymous says:

            Hainish, your use of parenthetical suggests that this is only implicit in the book. The book does not merely “fail to paint” Europeans as superior, but in that passage explicitly says that the point of the book is to argue against the claim.

            And, yes, Diamond is hiding the fact that he believes in unPC race differences.

    • These are not my opinions, but apart from general attacks on trying to make human behaviour into a science (a major crime for some), I’ve also heard it said that the EvPsy approach is too generalised to give useful predictions – at best it points to broad tendancies in human behaviour that will always be activated by specific circumstances/social factors that are only properly/systematically/empirically/authentically explored by the humanities.

      I’m not really sure where I stand, but I’d agree he and others like him are *very* disliked amongst the humanities-type-crowd when I’ve raised the topic with them.

    • ozymandias says:

      I only really know enough about one area to critique Pinker, but he regularly distorts what feminist thinkers are saying and ignores the strongest evidence in favor of their positions. (Also, he thinks equity and gender feminism is a reasonable division, as opposed to “Christina Hoff Sommers” and “literally every feminist who isn’t Christina Hoff Sommers.”)

      • suntzuanime says:

        Equality and gender feminism frequently play the role of motte and bailey in popular discourse when feminists are trying to convince men that feminism is not their enemy. I can believe that Christina Sommers is literally the only feminist who actually believes in equality though.

        • Harald K says:

          This straddles “race and gender on the open thread”, but Karen DeCrow got an obituary on A voice for Men, written by none other than Warren Farrell. DeCrow was more radical than Christina Hoff Sommers it seems – at least, I’ve never heard CHS argue for legal paternal surrender (“financial abortion”) for men. DeCrow did that.

    • Medivh says:

      Pinker mixes up Hunter-Gatherers with tribal cultures (aka farmers and/or herders). This is a terrible blunder, as hunter-gatherers and farmers/herders have even less in common than the US, the soviet union, and the roman empire.
      Hunter- Gatherers are far less violent than farmers and herders, therefore Pinkers claim of a constant decrease in violence in human history is utter nonsense.

  10. For theoretical physicists and applied mathematicians, it’s a standard game to try to explain just about everything (especially collective phenomena, like fashion) using the Ising model, or a close relative, such as cellular automata. This is often done purely for amusement value, on the backs of envelopes over a beer. But there’s also a thriving industry of people who then publish those envelopes as papers in academic journals. Occasionally, one of the papers contains a genuinely surprising insight. The remainder of the genre has been well described in the classic “A Simple Model of the Evolution of Simple Models of Evolution”: http://arxiv.org/abs/adap-org/9910002

    In any case, I wouldn’t read too much into the coincidence.

    • lambdaphage says:

      Maybe I’m just butthurt, but Ising/Potts models are ubiquitous because they are maxent models for discrete multivariate phenomena with observed pairwise correlations, which are also ubiquitous. Sometimes realizing “this is an Ising model in disguise” has been genuinely helpful for me.

      Also, Shalizi’s ‘article’ would be a lot more illuminating if he could give a single concrete example along with the nose-thumbing. It’s genuinely unclear who has offended him with hyper-reductionistic models when Lotka, Holland and Kauffman are all cited approvingly. (Is Lotka’s citation even approving? Ever so hard to tell with Shalizi.)

    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      “it’s a standard game to try to explain just about everything (especially collective phenomena, like fashion) using the Ising model”

      How is that different from Pearl “explaining causality” using directed graphs? Fashion, etc. are social networks effects. “Friendships/interactions” have a symmetric flavor, unlike a causal relationship, so an undirected graph independence model, which is what an Ising model is essentially, is capturing much of the right structure in the problem.

  11. Vaniver says:

    So, Michael Blume recently reblogged a tumblr post where Harley Quinn (the psychiatrist who falls for the Joker while treating him at Arkham) is treating a monkey (chimp? The text is inconsistent) with a head wound. And I thought to myself, “yeah, she went to medical school, but what does she know about treating wounds? She’s a head doctor, not a… head doctor.” Which made me curious: Scott, how much do you know about treating (human) head wounds from your medical training?

  12. Morgenstern says:

    I’ve been beating this drum for a while, under other names, but it’s worth revisiting again; people shouldn’t use the words sociopath or psychopath when they actually mean evil.

    Firstly, because hiding an ethical objection behind medical terminology is cowardly. If you really believe someone is wicked, you should be willing to say so.

    Secondly, because it robs us of valuable information. Psychopaths and sociopaths behave and think in characteristic ways, so having a word which refers to them specifically and not to all wrongdoers allows us to understand them. This is valuable for its own sake but also is vital on a personal level for identifying and predicting psychopaths one meets and on a societal level for deciding the role (if any) that psychopaths should fill in our civilization.

    Thirdly, because it encourages further medicalization of dissent. If the wicked are all sociopaths and my enemies are all wicked, then obviously all of my enemies need to to be treated for their diseased refusal to do what I want them to.

    This is a bit of a rant but it is getting increasingly tiresome to see an interesting and valuable criteria squandered this way.

    • Matthew says:

      You’re presumably a virtue ethicist of some type. Consequentialists don’t usually call people evil, because evil is a property of actions that have net harmful consequences. People perform evil acts. “Sociopath,” by contrast, is describing something about state of mind.

      • blacktrance says:

        I disagree with the trope that consequentialists don’t and/or shouldn’t call people evil. It’s true that according to consequentialism, analysis comes down to evil acts, but it’s reasonable to say that a person with a disposition to commit evil acts is evil. People who repeatedly commit evil acts or who intentionally commit harmful acts and endorse them are evil, and can be labeled as such from a consequentialist perspective.

      • Eli says:

        Consequentialists call people evil all the time, when we think it will accomplish something.

    • Nate Gabriel says:

      I agree completely, and would like to add that there exist non-evil psychopaths. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-neuroscientist-who-discovered-he-was-a-psychopath-180947814/?no-ist

      The fact that people can have the disorder without being evil should shock absolutely nobody, but if people keep making the mistake Morgenstern’s talking about it’ll hide that fact anyway.

    • fubarobfusco says:

      Calling someone a “psychopath” is a prediction that their behavior will fit certain patterns, or at least lack certain patterns which non-psychopaths possess.

      What patterns are predicted if we call someone “evil”?

      Do we merely mean that they disregard the well-being of others? That they enjoy to see their enemies suffer, as in the famous quotes from Genghis Khan and Conan the Barbarian? That they have values antithetical to “good” values — that they value sickness over health, death over life, shame over virtue, and so on?

      That they do things antithetical to the well-being of the community — such as throwing dung in the common well, spreading slanders, seducing the monogamous into adultery, or throwing lighted cigarettes from their car windows into dry brush?

    • Ken Arromdee says:

      Couldn’t the same thing be said about calling whales fish? (At least your second point)

      • Nate Gabriel says:

        Maybe. That’s also why we shouldn’t go around calling whales fish, unless we’re in a context where it’s established that the things whales and fish have in common are the characteristics we care about.

        Also, whales are unlikely to care how humans classify them, but humans whose diagnosis may or may not be used synonymously with “bad person” might.

  13. What’s your take on voting systems?

    Can you make sense of the claims made by proponents of Range Voting, where “random election” experiments show range voting as being “more condorcet” than condorcet? Do their models of random elections, party strategy, and voter strategy seem believable to you?

  14. Daniel Speyer says:

    One reactionary phrase that gets tossed around here with minimal suspicion is “Cthulhu always swims left”. That got me thinking…

    Suppose Eisenhower were to rise from the grave and run for president (the two-terms-per-lifetime limit avoided by death-and-resurrection). Culturally, he’d be very red just from lack of internet-savvy. But in terms of policy, what party would accept his positions?

    * 90% top marginal income tax rate
    * Unprecedentedly massive infrastructure projects
    * Massive foreign aid
    * Pay down the debt
    * Racial integration, by force if necessary
    * Resist the growth of the military-industrial complex
    * Careful regulation of the financial sector: Glass-Steagal, etc.
    * Strengthen labor unions

    He’d be so left-wing the democrats wouldn’t touch him! He’d have to run as a Green.

    Granted, he’d be opposed to gay marriage. In fact, he’d have sodomy laws, but not actually enforce them.

    I’d weigh this point less than the others. If my memory of history is correct, the bullet points were all controversial enough in his day that he actually cared about them. AFAIK, his position on homosexuality was less “stamp it out” and more “don’t spend political capital interfering one way or the other”.

    Is the leftward drift supposed to be century-scale only? That’s not how the saying is usually used.

    My tentative conclusion is not “Cthulhu’s been drifting right for a while” but “right and left are too fuzzy categories to produce any robust results.” Have I made a mistake here?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, Cthulhu drifts in his own direction, which tends towards greater social atomization. This coincides with leftist goals in terms of destroying the family, but not really in terms of communism.

      • peterdjones says:

        You can tell the left like atomisation , because they invented Kibutzes and collective farms.

        • drethelin says:

          kibbutzim are actually a perfect example of leftist atomization: They all encouraged creche child-rearing and equality, with everyone being an identical cog in the machine. In recent years, they’ve switched to more classic family structure.

    • Morgenstern says:

      Actually it fits rather well with a bit of perspective.

      Isolationism, a core conservative position from the foundation of the country, had since Wilson first really challenged it already become radioactive by the time Ike was in position to run.

      Shrinking the government, despite still being a conservative buzzword today, no longer includes any pretense that existing entitlements or regulations will be removed. After FDR no serious move has been made to scale down the bureaucracy to, say, the level it was in 1914 or even 1964.

      In terms of finance, positions which were conservative bread-and-butter for centuries like the gold standard are jokes today. Modern conservatives can’t even commit to reducing the debt (confused that you labeled it a left wing position by the way), and could never imagine something like cracking down on usury.

      I won’t speak to integration as it relates to a banned topic, but the pattern should be clear.

      Pretty much the only position where things haven’t moved left on that list is the 90% marginal tax rate, and as others have pointed out in the past the actual proportion of income taken in tax has increased since then despite the ‘lower’ tax rates.

      • Evan Þ. says:

        Do you have a source for more income being taken in tax today than in the 1950’s? If true, that’d fit with several of my suspicions regarding socioeconomic trends.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Isolationism: a move left under *Wilson*, but no comments on post-Eisenhower.

        Role of government and gold standard: a move left under *FDR*, but no comments on post-Eisenhower.

        I guess these are compatible with the century-scale interpretation.

        Reducing the debt: I call this “left” because that’s where it’s fallen in party politics throughout my lifetime. Particularly notable are Clinton actually reducing it and Bush II spending like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a little hard to link to underlying philosophy, but I might tie it to leftists’ respect for math.

        Cracking down on usury: I’m not used to seeing that word used in modern political discussions, but are you seriously identifying Occupy Wall Street as the hardcore right wing of modern politics?

        These seem more compatible with the meaningless-terms interpretation.

        • Nornagest says:

          My understanding is that deficit spending and accompanying tax cuts were a deliberate GOP play during the Bush II years as part of the “starve the beast” strategy. The idea was that limiting revenues would, over time, implicitly force cuts in government spending.

          In practice, it didn’t work very well.

          • Jaskologist says:

            As I remember it, it was more a capitulation. Republicans would never be able to cut social spending, so they might as well give steal the Democrat’s major issue.

            In practice, that didn’t work very well, either.

        • Jaskologist says:

          I call this “left” because that’s where it’s fallen in party politics throughout my lifetime. Particularly notable are Clinton actually reducing it and Bush II spending like there’s no tomorrow.

          It’s fascinating how many current posters’ lifetimes cover Clinton and Bush, yet somehow not the most recent president. I did not realize that Scott had enabled Ouija commenting.

          Somebody hold the planchette with me so we can spell out “congress writes budgets.” The afterlife needs to know.

          • Daniel Speyer says:

            Those recent budgets include very large loans, many of which did get paid back. It makes looking at deficits a bit more complicated.

            Also, there’s a difference between a one-time Keynesian impetus in response to an unambiguous recession and a general policy of spending like mad.

    • gattsuru says:

      I’ve seen the left point to variants of this often, but I’d make a word of caution:

      A lot of these metrics don’t mean what they sound like.

      Eisenhower supported the right to join a union… and used Taft-Hartley to threaten workers who wanted to prolong the steel strike of ’59. The top marginal income tax rate in the ’50s was much higher than today… but no one paid that rate, or even pretended to pay that rate — a combination of ever-increasing deductions and poor enforcement meant that the top 1% were paying much much less (~5%!) of the share of taxation than they do today. The massive investments of the 1950s are pretty much typical year-to-year spending today, just aimed more to maintenance than to new structures.

      Other aspects don’t make sense at all to start with : /which/ Glass-Steagall? You’re presumably talking about the separation of investment and commercial banks, but the Congressional record for that regulation is far more complicated than most people realize (and was a “Blue” thing as far back as ’35 with FDR). Modern conservatives at least make the same claims about paying down the debt, even if they spend like drunken sailors when in power, but if we compare them to the Keynesians? The Eisenhower Doctrine… I’m not sure how it goes on the left-right, but I don’t think the modern policy is that much more anti-internationalist. These don’t really easily fit into the narrative, sure, but they don’t fit easily into the right-wing descent narrative, either.

      Most neoreactionaries focus on social issues, as well. So the most relevant point would be Eisenhower’s school integration at gunpoint… but they’d also believe that modern policy pretty much takes school integration, by force if necessary, as a given. I’m not sure they’re even wrong : a publicly-funded school refusing to take students is one of those things that strikes me as a legitimate use of government force.

      If you look to other social issues, it falls further. Eisenhower’s policy of homosexuality is in line with Orson Scott Card’s — the man did, after all, codify Executive Order 10450, putting gay, lesbian, and non-gender-conforming individuals out of many defense and security-related fields for decades. His views on birth control changed leftward just within his post-presidency lifetime. He predates modern anti-harassment and anti-gender discrimination, but I can’t say that any mainstream belief in the ’50s would seem left-wing today.

      • taelor says:

        Note that the Eisenhower’s “school integration at gunpoint” was a response to Orval Faubus’s forced school segregation at gunpoint. The Little Rock School board voted to integrate; Governor Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent integration; Eisenhower responded by federalizing them and sending in the 101st Airborne to force compliance. Since they were being used to police another military unit, this did not violate the statutory prohibition on using army units as civilian police.

        • Anonymous says:

          Your main point is your first sentence, which is correct, but “The Little Rock School board voted to integrate” is extremely misleading. The board did not spontaneously choose to integrate, but merely to comply with the Brown ruling. It negotiated an integration plan with NAACP, in a failed attempt to avoid court.

    • Anonymous says:

      Eisenhower (or Nixon) might not be the best points of comparison, since they were both moderate, managerial presidents shaped by the post-war, post-New Deal liberal consensus.

      Still, I think this brings up one of the problems with neoreactionary thought. It’s hard to credibly argue that leftist economics have made any significant gains since the 70s.

      • nydwracu says:

        Who said Cthulhu would have leftist economics? (As opposed to economics that look leftist to an Austrian.)

        • peterdjones says:

          Cthulhu would have to gave leftist economics because he is supposed to be swimming left. If the western world us going rightwards economically and leftwards socially, something us happening that is not well represented as a uniform leftwards movement.

    • Cthulhu always swims left because failed left-wing movements (e.g., eugenics) are relabeled as right-wing.

    • blacktrance says:

      Agreed. Also notable is the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of Communism as a significant ideology in much of the First World (as opposed to the 1930s, when intellectuals actively advocated for it), and even things like nationalization of industry and agriculture are now well outside the Overton Window.

    • peppermint says:

      that 90% hit the richest people who took their income as income instead of as perks of being CEO like a company helicopter or a penthouse apartment on the roof of the building, as seen is Superman III.

      The tax rate the middle class feels has gone up and up and up. Oh, and social security is a tax. It comes from your income and goes to the government. For some reason – because it would increase the observed tax rate – it is not included in discussions of tax rate.

    • anomdebus says:

      I don’t think it is possible to separate a historical person’s actions/beliefs from the state of the world at that time.

      How many of those positions were holdovers from previous policies and/or responding to conditions that no longer exist?

    • Eli says:

      The strong, well-supported conclusion is “neoreactionaries aren’t talking about the same thing as everyone else when they say words like ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’.”

      Now what I’ve really, absolutely never heard from them is: who is this Cthulhu, that I should hate him so much? What do I have against Cthulhu?

  15. onyomi says:

    Scott, I wonder if you have read Michael Huemer on ethical intuitionism.

    I find his arguments very persuasive, and they seem to me to conflict with the consequentialism you seem to subscribe to based on my relatively narrow reading of your posts.

    If you haven’t read his book on the subject, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’d be very interested to hear your reaction to it, and whether you think his views can be compatible with yours, or if not, where you think he goes wrong.

    If you haven’t already read it, his book on libertarian political philosophy (“The Problem of Political Authority”) is also excellent, imo, and pretty much states better than I can what I had long thought to be correct before reading him. If I could buy zillions of copies of only one book and distribute them all over every college campus, I think this would be it.

      • onyomi says:

        This review seems to me to fail to take account of the “is-ought” problem. The reviewer notes that we can use a larger range of non-ethical intuitions about biology etc. to make our ethical determinations, but that doesn’t get around the fact that intuitions regarding non-evaluative facts can never provide evaluative conclusions (examination of historical evidence may provide ample logical intuition that nationalizing farming results in misery and starvation, but it can’t provide us the ethical intuition that misery and starvation are “bad”).

        I don’t think Huemer rejects using logical intuition about biology, history, and other matters as a means for determining whether a given course of action will result in happiness, sadness, pain, pleasure, etc. but only that those intuitions can’t provide any answers about “good” and bad.”

        For that you need the faculty of ethical intuition, which makes use of the same logical faculties as allow us to perceive non-evaluative facts (like “nationalized farming tends to result in starvation”), but which can also perceive evaluative facts (like “starvation is bad”).

        • peterdjones says:

          You can justify ought claims as the best ways of achieving desired results. Intuitiinusts need explain why ethics can’t be grounded out in preferences.

          • onyomi says:

            But if ethics are grounded in personal preferences (subjectivism) then it seems to foreclose all possibility of rational debate on ethics.

            An example Huemer gives: If a Neo-Nazi expresses the view “killing Jews is good,” and morality can be justified on the basis of desires and preferences, then “I desire for Jews to die” would be an adequate ethical justification for the evaluative statement “killing Jews is good.”

            One might say this is just the weird preference of an aberrant person, but even if a great majority of a particular society thought “death to Jews” was a desirable outcome, that wouldn’t make it right, at least not by the common understanding.

            Almost everyone would say that the majority can, in some cases, be completely wrong about what is right and wrong, and/or have preferences that are wrong (a majority of white southerners in the early 19th c. preferred that slavery continue, for example), so desires and preferences do not seem an adequate basis for evaluative conclusions.

            Perhaps more importantly, virtually everyone acts on the assumption that it is not pointless or irrational to debate ethical questions, as it would seem to be on a purely subjectivist view (that is, debating whether killing Jews is right or wrong would be like debating whether vanilla or chocolate is tastier).

          • blacktrance says:

            But if ethics are grounded in personal preferences (subjectivism) then it seems to foreclose all possibility of rational debate on ethics.

            Ethics being grounded in personal preferences does not necessarily imply subjectivism. For example, suppose that I like ice cream and would like it if arbitrary people would give it to me. That would not necessarily make “people should give ice cream to blacktrance” a true moral principle even if we ground all moral rules in preferences, because it lacks a reason for other people to give ice cream to me.
            Or, consider a more substantial example, that of the right to not be murdered. Suppose that, whatever the benefits of being able to murder are (if any such benefits exist), the benefits of not being murdered are greater for me, and the same is true for each of my neighbors. In that case, it would be to the advantage of each of us, according to our own preferences, to agree to a rule of not murdering in exchange for others agreeing to the same rule. Such a rule would be grounded entirely in our preferences, but it would not be subjectivist, because if someone had the opinion that we don’t have the right to not be murdered, they would be wrong, and could be referred to our preferences to explain why they’d be wrong.

            An example Huemer gives: If a Neo-Nazi expresses the view “killing Jews is good”, and morality can be justified on the basis of desires and preferences, then “I desire for Jews to die” would be an adequate ethical justification for the evaluative statement “killing Jews is good”.

            This treats the desire for Jews to die as a basic preference not grounded in anything else, which is a mistake. People aren’t always consistent, and also sometimes lack facts relevant to what they should do. We can argue that the person is wrong to desire for Jews to die by referring to facts about Jews (Are they different from Aryans? In what ways, if any, are these differences morally relevant?) and whether their desire follows from their more fundamental preferences.

          • 27chaos says:

            It doesn’t foreclose ALL possibility of debate on ethics. People can have disagreements about whether plan X will work in a way that’s more ethical than plan Z, if they disagree about the likely consequences of certain actions or if they have different beliefs or information about certain things. Rather than foreclosing debate, it serves to make it more practical and useful and helpful for achieving desired ethical criteria.

            The Nazi in your example can be debated with because he is mistaken about what his preferences actually are. He has an idea of “Jew” in his mind that doesn’t actually describe any living person very well. If you saw his “Jew” in real life, you’d want to kill it too, as well you should – it’s a terrifying monster that will otherwise destroy everyone you love! But if you can convince the Nazi that his “Jews” don’t exist and only actual Jews exist, he will change his beliefs about reality and thus his beliefs about morality.

            If someone does really and truly have an intrinsic preference for killing other human beings, then yes, you’re correct, they cannot be argued out of this preference.

            But why is this a flaw of the moral system in your eyes? I consider it a strength instead, as to me it doesn’t make sense to say people can have “obligations” towards things they don’t care about (or perhaps didn’t even know existed). If ethics isn’t dependent on subjective values, then being ethical is not something that human beings should want to do, nor is it something that we’re truly capable of, as we are tragically limited creatures incapable of accessing pure objective 100% truth.

            If “ought” is not a subset of “is”, then morality becomes a mere fiction, nonexistent. There’s no way out of nihilism if you insist on an objective external morality. But subjectivism is good enough for our purposes anyways (in fact it’s tailor made for our purposes), and being a subjective being is inevitable, so thankfully nihilism is not a problem we need to actually worry about.

          • peterdjones says:

            I didn’t say personal preferences.

        • Paul Torek says:

          Let’s take for granted that we can identify two domains that we call “is” and “ought”, and that the membership of these domains is not identical. Why do you believe it is disjoint?

          • onyomi says:

            “Good” and “bad” are not fundamentally different from other qualities like “red” or “weighing more than 1 ton” in the sense that we can’t draw conclusions about whether or not something is “red” or “weighs more than 1 ton” without also having a working definition of “red” (such as “anything emitting light in wavelength range x”) or “a ton.” That is, we can’t draw conclusions about what is “red” based on premises that nowhere contain “red,” just as we can’t draw conclusions about what “ought” to be based solely on what “is.”

            The difference is that unlike “is” claims, which make reference to observable facts, “ought” claims make reference to qualities which are not observable as part of the physical universe (“goodness” and “badness”).

            This seems to leave one with only two possibilities: since they can’t be observed, evaluative facts don’t really exist at all (subjectivism), and two: evaluative facts exist, but may only be deduced by the logical faculty of ethical intuition.

            Re. posts by Blacktrance and 27Chaos, it seems that all the arguments one would make in order to change the mind of the theoretical Neo-Nazi depend upon him or her sharing ethical intuitions with you and merely disagreeing on facts (which is, in fact, what most supposedly ethical disagreements amount to).

            You might say to him “look, killing Jews is bad because Jews are no different from you, don’t harm you, and are upstanding members of the community.” This assumes that he shares with you the ethical intuition that killing harmless, upstanding members of the community who are similar to oneself is bad.

          • blacktrance says:

            “Killing harmless, upstanding members of the community who are similar to oneself is bad” is a common ethical belief, whether it’s held as a basic moral intuition or as a consequence of other beliefs, so it’s easy to appeal to, but if someone doesn’t currently believe that, it’s possible to persuade them to believe it by appealing to more fundamental desires. For example, if they initially reject the above belief, then you can say “Why shouldn’t I kill you? And if I shouldn’t kill you, why doesn’t the same argument apply to the Jew?” This line of argument doesn’t have to rely on any moral intuitions, though points of agreement make it easier.

          • 27chaos says:

            Why do you consider it a failing of the subjectivist moral system that it’s unable to convince people deadset on murdering others that murdering others is wrong?

            This just seems like something that any moral system would have trouble with. Indeed, if you claim to overcome it then I know something’s wrong with your moral arguments just like if you claim to create perpetual motion I know something is wrong with your math.

            It’s a feature, not a bug, if the system does not pretend to be capable of achieving the impossible, but instead directs our efforts towards more reasonable plans of action like appealing to our common intuitions when negotiating.

            If negotiating can’t succeed then you have to fight. Waiting around for a system of morality that’s so powerful you never have to fight would be a mistake; no argument in the world is so powerful as to persuade someone who doesn’t accept its premises.

          • onyomi says:

            Blacktrance, I still don’t see how you can completely avoid ethical intuitions in convincing someone of the rightness or wrongness of anything. If you say to the theoretical Neo-Nazi, “how would you like it if I killed you?” he could very well say, “I would not like it, but that makes no difference. My desire is for me to live and for Jews to die.” You may argue he’s being hypocritical, but how do you know hypocrisy is “bad”?

            27chaos, my objection to subjectivist morality isn’t that it’s inadequately persuasive without appeal to ethical intuition, it’s that it can’t, by its nature, have persuasive force without some explicit or, more likely, implicit appeals to shared ethical intuitions–at least not any more persuasive force than arguments about why chocolate tastes better than vanilla could possess.

            Re. your earlier comment that rejecting subjectivism leaves us only with nihilism–this is one of the central questions addressed in Huemer’s book, and, admittedly, the answer to which I found most surprising and counter-intuitive before reading it–that is, that evaluative (objective) facts do exist, even though they constitute a different kind of knowledge than the sort of fact we can verify through external observation. The argument is that they are objective facts which may be verified only through reflection and logical inference.

            This may seem a “weird” or, indeed, subjective sort of knowledge, but consider the difference between statements: “there is nothing that is both red and green” and “there is nothing that is both green and a million miles long.” The latter statement seems likely to be true based on observation–we have never seen something that is both green and a million miles long, but there is nothing about those two qualities which makes it inconceivable. The former statement, however, seems to be correct not because of sensory observation, but because our logical understanding of “red” and “green” forecloses the possibility. “There is nothing that is both red and green,” therefore, is an example of something we may know objectively without any appeals to external observation.

          • blacktrance says:

            If you say to the theoretical Neo-Nazi, “how would you like it if I killed you?” he could very well say, “I would not like it, but that makes no difference. My desire is for me to live and for Jews to die.”

            But the question isn’t “How would you like it if I killed you?”, it’s “Why shouldn’t I kill you?”. They may seem similar, but there’s an important difference – the first question appeals primarily to the would-be victim’s preferences, while the second appeals to the would-be killer’s preferences/reasons. It’s true that the victim not liking X is not by itself a reason to avoid doing X (not without additional premises that have to be established), but the would-be killer may have sufficient reasons not to kill. Thus, the problem the neo-Nazi faces is this: if I have sufficient reasons not to kill him, why don’t those same reasons apply to him not killing Jews? Or, if he has sufficient reason to kill Jews, why wouldn’t those same reasons apply to me killing him?

          • 27chaos says:

            That doesn’t answer my challenge though! WHY is it necessary that a moral theory be able to persuade people without relying on shared intuitions? HOW do we avoid relying on intuitions? Trying to do this seems like a stupid idea to me.

            The fact that something can’t be simultaneously red and green doesn’t do any work to show that objective moral truths can be discovered by thinking about morality. I agree it’s hypothetically possible for that to happen, but that mere possibility is all the argument shows.

            The argument doesn’t demonstrate any magical powers contained within the human mind, if that is what you’re thinking. It only demonstrates that the human mind can recognize mutually exclusive definitions as something impossible.

          • onyomi says:

            I’m saying that we DO rely on shared intuitions, not that we don’t.

            And that’s why I’m arguing for ethical intuititionism: without intuitions about what is objectively right and wrong, all other ethical arguments seem to be unmoored.

          • onyomi says:

            What originally made me think to ask this is that on his Consequentialism FAQ, Scott seems to concede and reiterate the indispensability of basic ethical intuitions, but then arrives at a variant of utilitarianism for the purpose of actually deciding between different intuitions.

            My understanding of Scott’s view is that predicted good or bad consequences can be a heuristic for determining which ethical intuitions are the right ones, so in that sense these views could be compatible.

            But, on the other hand, my understanding of ethical intuitionism as Heumer describes it is that it’s not compatible with utilitarianism because, ultimately, what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, regardless of cost-benefit analyses. The existence of objective moral facts seems to preclude cost-benefit analysis as a determining factor, unless, maybe, one wants to argue that “the most good for the most people” IS the objective good. I should also, perhaps say that I have strong intuitive bias against all forms of utilitarianism in general.

            But it may be that my understanding either of ethical intuitionism and/or Scott’s consequentialist view is shallow or incomplete, so they could be compatible in ways I don’t understand, or Scott could have arguments for why his view is better than Heumer’s, etc.

          • peterdjones says:

            There are more options than nihilism, subjectivism and objective truth based on correspondence to mysterious properties discovered by a mysterious faculty.

            There are ought statements that aren’t moral ought statements. What that have in common is that they are rules or guidelines for not achieving various purposes, optimizing various properties, avoiding various problem, etc, …there are things one ought to do to win at chess, or build bridges that don’t fall down. They are not true by simple correspondence to some atomic fact of reality – there is no WinAtChess or BuildABridge object to be corresponded to. There are bridges and have been chess games, however. True ought claims have a complex correspondence to sets of real life examples, and include elements of theoretical reasoning as well. IOW they have a complex natural epistemology, not a simple, non-natural epistemology. And they are objective enough, even without having their own ontological domains.

            For moral oughts to work this way, we don’t need to do much more than identify what is being optimized, which I would define as voluntary peaceful conflict resolution. Morally irrelevant actions and preferences are those that can be performed or satisfied without infringing on anyone else’s preferences.  Morally relevant actions and preferences have the potential for conflict, and no other property of metaphysical moralness. The good is good because we want it …. collectively. Peaceful conflict resolution is desirable for most people. But not all individual preferences get to be labelled good in contrast to subjectivism

          • onyomi says:

            Peterdjones,

            But whence arises your sense that “that which most people desire” or “peaceful conflict resolution” is equivalent to “the moral/ethical good”? Isn’t that itself an intuition?

            As regards other “oughts,” like “if you want to build a house you ought to buy some bricks,” I would say that that usage of the word is fundamentally different from a moral “ought.” In the house-building scenario, “ought” really means “x is an effective means of accomplishing goal y.”

            In the case of a moral “ought” statement, there is, in some sense, no “if” part (other than, arguably, “if you want to be a good person”). One says “one ought not to murder, period.” “One ought not to cheat, period.” etc. These are normative, evaluative claims, not claims about efficiency or efficacy.

          • peterdjones says:

            No it’s not a first order ethical intuition like “murder is wrong”. Behind that, I am not in the business of getting rid of intuitions entirely…but ethical intuitionism requires specifically ethical intuitions .

            It could be objected that I haven’t explained the categorical (or obligatory) nature of ethics, but I don’t think there is much to explain. I regards ethics as a social construct whose characteristics are determined by the job it does. It wouldn’t be able to do that job if people could easily duck out if it. If you are in a prisoners dilemma, you need a firm guarantees that your your counterparts won’t defect to motivate you not to defect. You can duck out of the ought of chess or bridge building by not playing chess or not.building bridges, but ducking out being a member society is much harder. In order to make morality work, we play a mental trick on ourselves where we forget it’s a construction and instead come up with myths that we have to be moral because of or the laws of nature, or “for its own sake”. All of these are ways of pinning it to something invariant so that we stick with it. This explains both why moral constructivisn doesn’t seem obvious, and also why there is so much weird metaphysics associated with ethics.

          • blacktrance says:

            In the case of a moral “ought” statement, there is, in some sense, no “if” part (other than, arguably, “if you want to be a good person”). One says “one ought not to murder, period.” “One ought not to cheat, period.” etc. These are normative, evaluative claims, not claims about efficiency or efficacy.

            Then why would morality bind me? Can I rationally reject being moral – can I, without inconsistency, respond to your statement “Your action is immoral!” with “I don’t care.”? If so, you could have an internally consistent web of moral intuitions about what I ought to do to be moral, but I can just reject being moral without any inconsistency on my part.

          • Paul Torek says:

            Sorry for the delay on this one.

            The difference is that unlike “is” claims, which make reference to observable facts, “ought” claims make reference to qualities which are not observable as part of the physical universe (“goodness” and “badness”).

            Sez you.

            A nonmoral example: “Hey, this avocado is really good! Try some!” “Mmm, you’re right!” “Hey, this cilantro is really good too!” “No, you overgeneralized – it’s good for you but bad for me; I have the gene that makes it taste soapy.”

            A moral example: “Hey, that division of pie is unfair to Charlie!” “No it’s not; I cut, and he chose.”

            But mostly, what peterdjones said. And don’t forget that ethical arguments aren’t magic spells. They can’t convince someone who has no interest in the point of ethics (roughly, getting along reasonably with others).

    • Eli says:

      I find his arguments very persuasive

      I think I found the problem. His arguments are bloody nonsense: intuition is not a way of gaining epistemic access to anything except your own intuitions. If you can only reason about X by intuition, then we do not say that “X intuitionism” is the Correct Theory About X, we say that X has been defined such that it only exists in your beliefs about X, and is therefore nonsense.

      It’s a major drag and far too long-winded, but I would recommend at least reading Railton’s Facts, Values, and Norms on this subject.

      • onyomi says:

        But all knowledge of any kind must, at a fundamental level, rely on intuitions (which Heumer defines as “initial intellectual appearances”)–intuitions such as “my experience of sensory stimuli bears some relation to a physical world outside my own head” and “my experience of memories bears some relation to an actual past.”

        This is not equivalent to saying “everyone can make up their own morality” or “do whatever feels right to you,” since one can still make arguments about cognitive biases that could be causing a debate opponent to go wrong, just as one can point out evidence that one’s sense perceptions are misleading. It “seems” at first, to the evidence of the senses, for example, that the sun orbits the Earth, but one can nonetheless convince someone to modify their interpretation of this sense-based intuition on the basis of other observations.

        Intuition about what is or is not ethical is similar: that which initially seems, upon reflection, to be right or wrong. In an argument about abortion, for example, many people rely on the strong intuition most people have that killing babies is wrong, and then go on to make factual arguments about why we should consider a fetus to be fundamentally the same as the baby the killing of which most people intuitively consider to be wrong. One possible counter-argument would be to point out that in many cultures, babies could permissibly be killed even after birth up until a certain point, say, one year of age. This could lead the abortion opponent to consider that perhaps his intuition that killing babies at any stage of development is wrong is actually culturally determined and not objectively wrong.

        I am not actually trying to argue one way or the other about abortion here, but it is an example of how one may still have a logical debate about ethics on the basis of intuition. Indeed, intuition must be the fundamental basis of any argument about anything, because, without initial appearances–that is, what “seems” to be the case, there is no starting point to modify through appeal to other info.

    • onyomi says:

      Rereading Scott’s Consequentialism FAQ and thinking more about Huemer, I think I have a better grasp of where the two differ:

      Scott correctly begins with the premise that any ethical system must, in some way accord with our most basic moral intuitions, but then goes on to describe those intuitions as “some of them are hard-coded into the design of the human brain. Others are learned at a young age.”

      This description of where moral intuitions come from, I think, is where Huemer would diverge from Scott. Huemer’s argument is that ethical intuitions perceive things that are actually true as a result of our more basic faculty of logic, just as, though seeing stars may not be the purpose for which our eyes evolved, the having of eyes results in the ability to see stars.

      That is, some things really are right or wrong, and our minds are capable of apprehending that fact. Scott’s view seems to be a type of subjectivism which takes “x is right” to mean “x creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” i.e. a kind of utilitarianism. And, as Scott says himself, this collapses the distinction between “good” and “right.” This is a type of subjectivism because Scott believes that moral beliefs arise out of brain wiring and social constructs, not that they have objective existence.

      I, personally (and now I am talking as me, not Huemer, though I think Huemer might broadly agree with me), am strongly opposed to this view because I can think of far too many possible cases wherein something could both produce “good” results and yet not be “right.” Take the fat man example or the involuntary organ donation Scott mentions, for example: the results would be good (five lives saved, one life lost), but the means are wrong. Moreover, I think even most utilitarians have the intuition that this would be wrong, which is at variance with their logical position, which tells them it should be right.

      To prove morality must be practical and functional in the world and not just be some abstract quality “out there,” Scott provides an interesting example of a magic pendant which exempts one from any moral culpability. The problem, of course, is that this pendant is useless, since people will still feel guilty, be held liable, etc. for any bad things they’ve done. I like this example but disagree with the conclusions drawn. I think the reason the pendant is useless is not because it only works in some ethereal realm, but because what it claims to do is something our logical minds can’t even fathom, like a pendant which would cause 2+2=5 for the wearer. Killing kittens just is wrong, and we can’t fathom how some magical item could change that.

      This reminds me of an example Huemer gives about divine command theories of morality. Whether or not you believe in God, there is a big problem with “x is right”=”God says to do x,” because, what if God asks you to murder kittens? We can’t conceive of a world in which anyone, even God, can say a word and make kitten murder right, because kitten murder just is wrong. It objectively seems to be so to the moral intuition of almost everyone. This doesn’t mean the “kitten murder is bad” fact resides in some ethereal realm apart from daily concerns. It is just our ethical and logical evaluation of the real-life kitten murder scenario.

      So if what’s right is right and that’s all there is to it, would I say that it’s wrong to steal a penny from a selfish billionaire if doing so could save the world from nuclear war? Yes, actually, I would say it is wrong, but it is still good. That is, there are extreme cases where what is “good” (produces the best results) outweighs what is “right,” like the vaccination of children example Scott gives. I don’t think this makes the concept of “right” irrelevant, though: bodily autonomy and free choice is a very important ethical factor according to all my intuitions, but the degree of these faculties which a baby is capable of exercising and the degree to which we infringe upon them is so slight in comparison to the expected benefits of not dying from disease that we are okay with doing something that is a tiny bit “wrong” because it is so “good.”

      And I think this is the most truly relevant heuristic: “always do what is right unless you can achieve a vastly disproportionate good by doing something that is just a tiny bit wrong…but you are probably a terrible judge of when it is appropriate to make this call, so you should probably mostly stick to doing what is right.” This is why so many recoil at “the ends justify the means” in a way Scott finds perplexing–because it has so much potential for abuse.

      And for this reason I am also more okay than Scott is with the “abortion is murder” and “taxation is theft” line of argumentation, though I’m sure it is often used disingenuously. This is because I think it calls on people to justify their making of an exception when the speaker is claiming that no exception is warranted. In the case of “taxation is theft” example, for example, it is clear that taxation is “taking things from people without their voluntary consent” which is pretty much the dictionary definition of theft. However, most people have accepted the sacrifice of the right to the good in this case on the assumption that whatever ethical harm is done by taxation is slight, whereas the good obtained thereby is tremendous. These latter two propositions do not seem at all self-evident to me, however, so by saying “taxation is theft,” I am, in essence, saying “justify your view that an exception to the general rule ‘taking things without permission is bad’ is warranted in this case.” It shifts the burden in a way that I think is reasonable.

      • blacktrance says:

        What is it that makes something right or wrong? It can’t be the fact that we perceive it as such, because then right and wrong would be constituted by whatever one intuits as right and wrong, which is a form of subjectivism. So we have to be perceiving a moral property that is there regardless of whether we perceive it, but what does that property consist of? When we see a red object, it has a certain property that makes it look red to us – what is the equivalent of that property for morality? Also, if we have a moral sense (or we can somehow perceive morality directly), as you suggest, why is there so much moral disagreement?

        This is a type of subjectivism because Scott believes that moral beliefs arise out of brain wiring and social constructs, not that they have objective existence.

        Subjectivism is an overloaded term. Consider the following statements: 1. “X is good because I have the opinion that X is good”, 2. “X is good for me because I have the opinion that X is good”, 3. “X is good because I intuitively think of X as good”, 4. “X is good because it is what an agent (or specific kind of agent) would want if they underwent a process of ideal rational deliberation”, 5. “X is good because it maximizes happiness”, 6. “X is good because it maximizes paperclips”, 7. “X is good for me because it causes me to experience pleasure”. All seven of these statements would be classified as “subjectivism” under its broadest meaning, but that would conflate very different ethical and metaethical positions. For instance, in 4-7, there is some objective fact about the world that “good” reduces to, while in 1 and 2 (and arguably 3), morality is constituted by opinion. Another way this can be carved is that all of these except 6 depend on subjective states (happiness, pleasure, having the opinion that something is good, etc). A third way to carve this is that in 5-7, there is some mind-independent quality that makes X good regardless of what an agent wants or believes, whereas in 1-4, good is mind-dependent.

        Since we don’t want to use “subjectivism” too indiscriminately, 1 and 2 (and probably 3) are truly subjectivist, 4 is constructivist, and 5-7 are naturalist substantive realist. It also seems to me that 5-7 have more in common with a position of 8. “X is wrong because wrongness is an ontologically basic property of X” than they do with 1-4 (because 5-8 are all substantive realist), and that, carved another way, 4-8 have more in common with each other than than they do with 1-3 (because 4-8 produce objective answers to moral questions).

        We can’t conceive of a world in which anyone, even God, can say a word and make kitten murder right, because kitten murder just is wrong.

        God is conceived of as an omnipotent and omniscient being. If he can’t make kitten murder right, then he wouldn’t be omnipotent, and if he made kitten murder right but we continued to insist that it’s wrong, we would be mistaken because the omniscient being would necessarily have better knowledge of morality than we would.

        • onyomi says:

          Things we can physically see, smell, hear, feel, taste, or measure are not the only things with objective existence. Consider relationships between people and concepts, for example. Consider “the number four”–we know when we see four of something, but we can’t see “the number four.” What about “the past.” We have no direct access to it whatsoever, but we know it happened. And so on.

          As for God making kitten murder moral, I’m just saying it faces the same problem as the magic amulet. Theoretically, either God or the magic amulet could somehow change the nature of reality, but not in a way that we can comprehend–like if God were to make 2+2=5. Theoretically, yes, he’s God, but also, 2+2=5 simply make no sense by definition.

          • blacktrance says:

            > Things we can physically see, smell, hear, feel, taste, or measure are not the only things with objective existence. Consider relationships between people and concepts, for example. Consider “the number four” – we know when we see four of something, but we can’t see “the number four”. What about “the past”. We have no direct access to it whatsoever, but we know it happened. And so on.

            That doesn’t answer my question. Also, many of those things are a consequence of some combination of sensory information and mental construction – for example, we see objects arranged in a certain way and assign a mental concept of “4” to it, we see evidence of the past, and so on.

          • onyomi says:

            But ethical judgments are also a combination of sensory information and mental construction: we get the audio visual input of kitten killing and interpret that input both in terms of what is physically happening and whether what is happening is “right” or “wrong.”

            After all, even “the act of killing a kitten” is an abstract concept we must intuitively derive from sense data, which, on the physical level, is nothing more than various atoms rearranging in various ways.

            In this sense I agree with Scott’s notion that morality must be anchored in some sort of reality. It’s not that there is some Platonic shadow realm where the ledgers of right and wrong are kept, nor that there are some kind of “rightness particles” which attach to one when doing right and leave when doing wrong, nor even do we need assume that all morally right actions have something in common with all other morally right actions. Different actions could be right or wrong for different reasons. Why do we need to assume some unifying factor, such as “greatest good for greatest number,” “that which promotes life,” and all the other innumerable proposals?

            In other words, moral properties do depend on physical properties like sensory data and mental states, but are not fully reducible to them, just as “the experience of seeing the color red” may arise as a result of a variety of different physical brain states in different individuals and different situations.

          • blacktrance says:

            But ethical judgments are also a combination of sensory information and mental construction: we get the audio visual input of kitten killing and interpret that input both in terms of what is physically happening and whether what is happening is “right” or “wrong.”

            I agree so far. But what parts of the ethical judgment come from sensory information, and what parts come from mental construction? Obviously, the part about what the action consists of comes from sensory information. The part about judging the morality of the action seems to come from mental construction. But if that’s the case, and that moral judgments aren’t reducible to anything else, then what’s moral is what one judges/feels to be moral. This is subjectivism, and has significant problems dealing with moral disagreement.

          • onyomi says:

            The difference between subjectivism and objectivism is that subjectivism purports that “right” refers to some property, that some things have that property, but that that property depends at least partially on observers. Objectivism purports that “right” refers to some property, that some things have that property, and that that property does not depend on outside observers.

            Furthermore, within the category of philosophers who believe moral facts do not depend upon observation for their truth–the moral “realists,” Huemer describes two different positions: Naturalists, who believe that there are objective ethical properties, but that those properties are reducible to other properties (like “water” is reducible to “H2O”), and the Intuitionists, who believe that evaluative facts are a different kind of fact and are not fully reducible to non-evaluative facts.

            Certainly observation is required for concepts of “right” and “wrong” to even come into existence, just as observation is required to create the concept of “killing a kitten,” but that doesn’t mean that either kitten killing or right and wrong necessarily change in their nature depending on who’s observing them.

            The intuitionist position is that some actions are, by their nature, and independent of who is observing them, right or wrong. We need a conscious mind to perceive that rightness or wrongness, but our perceiving doesn’t make them right or wrong, just as the experience of seeing the color red doesn’t make it red. “Red” is a non-evaluative property, and as such, is reducible to other non-evaluative properties, such as wave-lengths such-and-such. “Good” is an evaluative property, and as such, is not reducible to non-evaluative properties.

          • blacktrance says:

            The difference between subjectivism and objectivism is that subjectivism purports that “right” refers to some property, that some things have that property, but that that property depends at least partially on observers. Objectivism purports that “right” refers to some property, that some things have that property, and that that property does not depend on outside observers.

            A clear distinction between the two can be difficult to draw, because “depend on outside observers” can mean a number of different things. Consider my above examples – in every case except 6 and 8, the property of “right” depends on states that depend on observers to exist, e.g. in 7 it requires you to be someone who can experience pleasure, in 5 for there to be beings whose happiness can be maximized, in 1 it requires a being that can have opinions, 4 adds even more complications, etc.

            I think a better way to carve this issue is to divide people who believe that moral properties exist into three groups: subjectivists (who think morality is determined by actually-existing opinion), constructivists (who think morality is determined by an idealized process of rational deliberation or choice), and substantive realists (who think that morality is determined by properties that are independent of an agent’s evaluation but that may (depending on the properties) require observers in order to be instantiated). Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that is in the third category.

            The intuitionist position is that some actions are, by their nature, and independent of who is observing them, right or wrong. We need a conscious mind to perceive that rightness or wrongness, but our perceiving doesn’t make them right or wrong, just as the experience of seeing the color red doesn’t make it red.

            If we are capable of observing them, why is there so much moral disagreement? Also, why would we be able to observe them, evolutionarily speaking? Having an accurate perception of physical properties is obviously conducive to survival, but why would this be the case for moral properties?

          • onyomi says:

            “If we are capable of observing them, why is there so much moral disagreement?”

            There is also a great deal of disagreement on empirical questions, such as “does gun control reduce violence?” “do welfare programs help or hurt the poor in the long run?” “is drug prohibition effective?” “are humans causing global warming?” etc.

            Among factors that can lead to faulty interpretation of sense data are: bias (cultural, personal, etc.), miscalculation, oversight, hasty judgment, incomplete information, unarticulated assumptions, fallacies (like argument from authority, etc.), and so on.

            All of these may equally lead to incorrect interpretations of the evaluative properties perceived by our faculty of ethical intuition.

            “Also, why would we be able to observe them, evolutionarily speaking? Having an accurate perception of physical properties is obviously conducive to survival, but why would this be the case for moral properties?”

            Firstly, not everything we perceive may be directly attributed to an evolutionary advantage. Consider the previous example about being able to see stars: until we started seafaring at least, there isn’t really a good reason for us to be able to observe heavenly bodies since they don’t (contra astrology) affect our survival or reproduction on this planet. Yet once we have evolved eyes for seeing things on this planet which do affect our survival and reproductive fitness, being able to see stars is a natural “fringe benefit,” we might say.

            There is even some argument that ability to appreciate music is like this (though some may argue it somehow confers an evolutionary benefit). It may be that the ability to hear and to distinguish patterns in sounds enhance evolutionary fitness but that the ability to appreciate music does not, per se, enhance fitness. Yet once you can hear and notice patterns in sound, the ability to enjoy music is a secondary result.

            Also, since we are social creatures, the ability to perceive right and wrong may increase the ability to make friends and not piss people off, etc. in a way that simple rational calculation about others’ desires, etc. might not.

          • blacktrance says:

            There is also a great deal of disagreement on empirical questions, such as “does gun control reduce violence?” “do welfare programs help or hurt the poor in the long run?” “is drug prohibition effective?” “are humans causing global warming?” etc.

            The difference is that in those examples, it’s difficult to have all the relevant information and process it, but even in simplified moral cases where people agree about the empirical specifics of the issue, people still disagree. For example, two people can disagree about early-term abortion even if they agree about all the facts about the fetus’s consciousness, sensory perception, etc. People disagree about the morality of non-procreative adult brother-sister incest, to what extent economic inequality is justified, whether protecting the environment is instrumental or good in itself, etc.

            You can say that they’re biased, but they can say the same about you. How do you resolve the disagreement if you can only appeal to intuitions? This is a problem for the intuitionist because unlike the reductionist (whether constructivist or naturalist), he can’t argue by reducing “good” to simpler objective facts.

            Also, since we are social creatures, the ability to perceive right and wrong may increase the ability to make friends and not piss people off, etc. in a way that simple rational calculation about others’ desires, etc. might not.

            This seems like a huge coincidence – why would right and wrong be related to the ability to make friends if there’s no necessary (e.g. reductive) relation between them?

          • onyomi says:

            “For example, two people can disagree about early-term abortion even if they agree about all the facts about the fetus’s consciousness, sensory perception, etc.”

            In my experience, this is hardly ever true of any real life ethical debates. Rarely (in fact never, so far as I can remember off the top of my head) have I seen two debate opponents say “well, we agree on all the facts, but I think this is right and you think it’s wrong.”

            In my experience, two people taking opposing viewpoints almost always disagree with respect to some of the relevant facts (fetuses are aware and feel pain versus they don’t) and/or about how facts are best interpreted or which facts should be emphasized and which downplayed (fetuses are human and so have a right to live versus women have a right to bodily autonomy).

            Remember, also, that ethical intuitions only refer to what seems to be right or wrong on the face of things. This intuition may change in light of different sets of facts, new arguments, etc. and people may also ignore their intuitions in favor of other considerations, have their intuitions clouded by various biases, etc.

            In fact, I think that most people have very similar intuitions about most cases, but arrive at different conclusions due to different values, motivations, biases, ideas about how the world works, etc.

            Taking again the “taxation is theft” and “abortion is murder” examples, if you make these arguments, the defender of taxation or abortion will nearly always feel compelled to say “no, taxation is different from theft” and “no, abortion is different from murder.” They almost never say “yes, taxation is theft, but sometimes theft is the right thing to do.”

            I don’t think this is just because it sounds bad to say “sometimes, murder is good,” or just because “theft” and “murder” are words with strong negative connotations in most minds. I think you could replace “theft” with “taking someone’s stuff without permission” and “murder” with “taking the life of someone not harming you without permission” and people would still overwhelmingly have the intuition that these are wrong when considered in an abstract sense.

            But then why will so many people argue in favor of taxation and abortion? Primarily because they differ on such empirical questions as “does the fetus have consciousness,” because they have differing ethical intuitions about different aspects of a question (such as that a fetus has a right to life but a woman has a right to choose) and decide in favor of one or the other, or because they value other logical considerations more highly than their intuition (that is, they may have the intuition that all theft, including taxation, is wrong, yet still determine that the social good that can theoretically be derived by taxation is more important than some vague “sense” that it’s wrong).

          • blacktrance says:

            If people can disagree about what should be emphasized and what should be downplayed, it seems intuitionism still faces the problem of subjectivism. For example, two people can agree that human life and bodily autonomy are both important, but one says that when they conflict, the former trumps the latter, and the other says the opposite. If they can’t appeal to anything besides intuitions, their disagreement can be permanent.

            However, people also actually have different intuitions about what’s right, for example, people with strong purity intuitions will be inclined to feel that non-procreative incest or viewing the environment as a resource is wrong, and that is a fundamental disagreement with those who don’t see those things as wrong – or, it’s fundamental if we can only appeal to intuitions and empirical facts.

            because they value other logical considerations more highly than their intuition (that is, they may have the intuition that all theft, including taxation, is wrong, yet still determine that the social good that can theoretically be derived by taxation is more important than some vague “sense” that it’s wrong).

            This leads to the paradoxical position that one shouldn’t always do what’s right, in which case the meaning of “right” is in question.

          • onyomi says:

            But there ARE cases where doing something wrong can produce good results; hence my point about tradeoffs and ends-justifies-means. In a vast majority of cases I think the ends don’t justify the means, but one can think of a few examples, like violating a baby’s bodily autonomy to force them to get a life-saving vaccine.

            As for differing intuitions, again, there could be other reasons for those differences besides basic moral intuition: biases, differing cultural backgrounds, etc.

            Some ethical disagreements may, indeed, be intractable, but so too are many empirical arguments. We can get to a point with empirical arguments where a vast majority accepts the correct view (as with, say, the germ theory of disease), but usually we can’t reach a point of 100% agreement on any question, evaluative or non-evaluative.

            I understand what you’re saying: if perceiving right and wrong were like perceiving red and blue then there should be extremely widespread agreement about them. And, in fact, there is very widespread agreement about basic moral questions like “is it good to torture and kill somebody who never did anything to you?” The fact that there are a few more complex and thorny ethical questions like abortion should not surprise us anymore than the fact that there are a number of perennially thorny and complex empirical questions, like climate change.

            “Is this light red or blue?” is an empirical question on the order of “is torturing for fun okay?” and “is abortion okay” is an ethical question on the order of the empirical question “are humans causing significant climate change?”

          • blacktrance says:

            But there ARE cases where doing something wrong can produce good results; hence my point about tradeoffs and ends-justifies-means.

            In such a case, should we do the right thing or the good thing? And if we shouldn’t do the right thing, what does it mean for it to be right? It’s bizarre if the right thing is ever not the thing that you should do, and if it is, then you probably need to use a different term. If something “feels right” but isn’t the thing that you should do, I think it’d be more accurate to say just that – that it feels right, but really isn’t.

            As for different intuitions, how do you know if something is an intuition or the result of a bias or different cultural background? On what grounds can you say that someone’s culture is causing them to reach erroneous conclusions? Simply disagreeing with them isn’t enough, because they could say the same about you. You seem to be making a distinction between intuitions-as-perception and culture, but culture shapes what intuitions we have.

            And people continue to disagree even about thought experiments where they’re given all the relevant empirical information. For example, people disagree when presented with a thought experiment about one-time non-procreative adult brother-sister incest, even when all the empirical aspects are agreed upon. Some people say it’s just wrong, and others disagree.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        And I think this is the most truly relevant heuristic: “always do what is right unless you can achieve a vastly disproportionate good by doing something that is just a tiny bit wrong…but you are probably a terrible judge of when it is appropriate to make this call, so you should probably mostly stick to doing what is right.”

        + like

        Perhaps popularly known as “Honesty/etc is the best policy”. ‘Policy’ seems very accurate here; usually applied routinely but subject to exception for good reason. It seems a good answer to the ‘fat man problem’: you can’t be reasonably sure of the result, or of your own judgement, so better follow the usual policy/reflex of not causing certain harm for uncertain good.

        Elsewhere in this thread, the term ‘lesser evil’ might fit in, even if to be dismissed.

        • Susebron says:

          Well, one formulation of the trolley problem is that you’re the person who flips the switch. In that case, you do know the outcome of your actions.

          • onyomi says:

            My personal take on the trolley problem is that it IS wrong to flip the switch, because by flipping the switch you are KILLING one person, whereas in not flipping the switch you are LETTING five people die.

            To me, there is a vast ethical gulf separating “killing” and “letting die.” We all let people die all the time. Every time you don’t donate all your money to malaria eradication efforts you are letting people die. It may be virtuous in a supererogatory way to donate all your money, but it’s not unethical not to.

            Related question: is it okay to steal the life savings of some random first-world person and donate it all to malaria eradication efforts? It seems obviously to me to be wrong, even though it produces “better” results: first world guy can’t retire but is still alive while, thousands of third-world children survive. Yet it’s still wrong.

            You can give all of your own money to fight malaria–this is equivalent to flipping the switch so the train hits you in the version of the problem that allows the suicide option.

            Scott tends to take it to the extreme to prove the point: “if you’re not okay killing one to save five, what about one to save a million, or one to save a billion? etc.” This is a good point, but I think it reveals the problematic aspect of his move to collapse “right and wrong” and “good and bad.”

            I’m pretty sure we can all of think of an example where an ethically wrong action might produce a “good” result–as in, result in a world which everyone would agree was better. This means these two things are distinct. Maybe it’s a GOOD idea to kill one innocent person if, in so doing, you can save one million innocent people, but that doesn’t make it right.

            If this seems counterintuitive, I’d suggest to try thinking of it this way: imagine YOU are the one whose organs are going to be harvested to save many lives, that YOU are the one person sitting on the train track when a bystander switches the lines so that the train hits you instead of five others on another track.

            In such a case, I would not only feel that I was a victim of murder, but that I would even be justified in killing the organ harvester or switch flipper to save my life. It would be virtuous of me to voluntarily OFFER my life to save a greater number, but to force me to give it is always wrong, if not always bad in terms of results.

          • Susebron says:

            If it was me getting harvested, or me on the tracks, it would be better for me to die. Yes, by not donating all my money to malaria eradication I’m letting people die. On the other hand, my moral system doesn’t have to tell me that I’m good and perfect all the time. If your moral system does, then either you are a saint or you should perhaps reconsider your moral system.

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t say letting people die was immoral; I said killing people (or directly causing their deaths) was immoral. Not letting people die (assuming preventing their deaths imposes some cost on you) is supererogatory.

            I would say that rather than including built-in acceptance of failures, a well-designed moral “system” might rather be one anyone can reasonably follow without being a saint.

            That said, since I am convinced by, and am arguing in favor of the moral realist position, it doesn’t really make sense for me to even say “my” moral system is x and “your” moral system is y. Morality isn’t reasonable or unreasonable or well-designed or poorly designed; it just is. At lest, that seems to be an unavoidable consequence of maintaining that it is objective.

          • Susebron says:

            No, you didn’t say that. I said that. It depends on what you want out of a moral system. Do you want a shining ideal, which in theory could be implemented universally, or do you want something for yourself that provides a reasonable prescription for your actions? It’s a big question, and there’s no right or wrong answer.

    • Mike says:

      I’m really happy to see someone talking about Michael Huemer on here. I too am desperate for Scott to delve into Huemer and give us his take. I think Huemer’s got is right and Scott would be convinced by him. He’s already hinted at the fact that there’s something intuitively wrong about Utilitarianism.
      Unlike other times where our intuition is wrong, the evidence for Utilitarianism being the best way to structure the world does not seem to override that intuition. So, barring something far more convincing (that perhaps I simply haven’t seen yet), Utilitarianism seems more like bullet-biting than the Repugnant Conclusion that Huemer accepts.

  16. no one special says:

    In ‘Meditations on Moloch’, Andy Turnbull Said:

    You might be interested in my book ‘The System,’ posted free, as a pdf, on my website http://www.andyturnbull.com. Essentially, it argues that the world is ruled by the metaphysical entities that I call “metasystems.” These are real entities — self-organized systems — that are not under human control. The Military Industrial Complex is one well-known example.

    I read it. Do you participate here regularly, and/or has anyone else read it and want to discuss it?

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      Can you summarize the basic idea? It sounds sort of like something I was thinking about, basically the idea is civilization as a sort of hive mind AI whose goals do not always match up to component individuals and how to make it more friendly.

      • no one special says:

        The book is divided into 4 parts:

        part 1 describes the main argument. (see below.)
        part 2 gives a quasi-historical just-so-story for how it got this way.
        part 3 gives worked examples using current society.
        part 4 discusses the future. (We’re stuck with The System, but maybe we can make it work for us, if we try.)

        The main argument is that civilization is not run by the people who theoretically run it, but by sets of rules, procedures and incentives that he calls metasystems. (This seems to me to be a misuse of the meta- prefix.) The global interaction of these metasystems he calls “The System”.

        The System is a Moloch-level entity that rewards actors that preserve it, and punishes actors that fight it. It’s a series of incentives that only rewards preservation of its own structures.

        This is either a “mind=blown” event, or a “that’s not news” event, depending on where you’re coming from.

        See also: http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com/2013/02/hostile-ai-youre-soaking-in-it.html

        I think there’s some value in using the LW tools of thought about hostile AI to analyze incentive structures within society. I was hoping this book would be helpful with that, but it doesn’t seem to go any deeper than what I’ve seen before. Broader though.

        I call group intelligences “third order life,” (first: single cell; Second: multicellular; third: multi-individual) and I’d really like to get a deeper look into how they are created, destroyed, and compete with each other, and how they relate to the individuals that are their members. These seem to be not quite the same as Turnbull’s metasystems, which don’t seem to compete much. (I would consider a family to be a third-order life form, while metasystems seem to be much larger.)

        Friendliness in metasystems and third-order lifeforms seems to be a pressing concern right now, while AI is still too weak to be dangerous.

        • nydwracu says:

          Since I pointed this out, I’ve seen it already be redeveloped in five or six different places.

          • Anonymous says:

            Since both of the examples in this thread are older, maybe you should drop the “re-” prefix.

          • nydwracu says:

            That was what the “already” was for. The “re-” means that at least four of them weren’t the first; in fact, it’s an obvious enough idea to have been around in some form for more than a century, though it fell strongly out of fashion in the Anglosphere sometime around the time of the wars, for (if I’m right about the timeline) obvious political reasons.

  17. Joe says:

    My wife have been watching a lot of “Criminal Minds” on Netflix. I know is just TV but can criminals be profiled anywhere near that accurately?

    • pneumatik says:

      Based on something I dimly remember reading years ago, no. Profiling criminals tends to predict unsubs who match the statistically most common description of people who commit the crime in question. This makes sense to me if profiling is based on past criminals, which I assume it is. But it’s not very useful at profiling any non-average criminals; the overall value-add beyond very basic statistics is minimal.

    • taelor says:

      For a show that makes no attempt at portraying FBI profiling as being anything less of superpowers (complete with Magical Empathy Vision Quests), see NBC’s Hannibal. (Said show also features a character whom both the actor and the show’s creator insist to be “literally the devil”.)

  18. A number of my Facebook friends have been posting links to an article with the somewhat hysterical-sounding headline “EPA Barred From Getting Advice From Scientists”. (You get three guesses as to what tribe most of my Facebook friends belong to, and the first two don’t count.)

    I tried reading the actual bill but I can’t figure out what it says.

    Given the parallels to a similar bill which our host once blogged about, I thought I’d ask about it here. Does anyone know what this bill would actually do, and to what extent it should be considered cause for concern?

    • Nate Gabriel says:

      The section people are talking about is probably this one:
      (C) persons with substantial and relevant expertise are not excluded from the Board due to affiliation with or representation of entities that may have a potential interest in the Board’s advisory activities, so long as that interest is fully disclosed to the Administrator and the public.

      It does not say that the Science Advisory Board is to be replaced with industry stooges. To be uncharitable, it says that industry stooges are allowed on the Science Advisory Board as long as we know they’re stooges. To be more charitable, it says that working for someone who gets regulated by the EPA shouldn’t by itself mean you can’t advise the EPA on other stuff.

      That hysterical-sounding article is much funnier now that I’ve read the bill. The provisions that it thinks are the scariest are the rules for avoiding conflict of interest. Would they prefer it if scientists were allowed to advise the EPA on regulating their own work?

      • Anonymous says:

        I have friends who’ve commented on this as well, and the relevant section is actually:

        “(E) Board members may not participate in advisory
        activities that directly or indirectly involve review or
        evaluation of their own work;

        The worry is that this will be interpreted broadly, such that e.g. a climate scientist sitting on the Board will be barred from reviewing climate science — because doing so would, directly or indirectly (somehow!) “involve review or evaluation” of their own work in climate science.

  19. Z.Frank says:

    Regarding the use of cellular automata to explain fashion: When the Toubol paper started getting media attention a Canadian philosopher, Joseph Heath, mentioned on his blog that the paper shares a lot of ideas with his book, The Rebel Sell. I don’t think Heath was accusing Toubol of plagarism, but it is interesting that Toubol, Heath, and our host all came up with similar ideas independently.

    http://induecourse.ca/i-seem-to-recall-having-written-a-book-about-this/

    ETA: Looking back at the comments thread to Scott’s “Right Is The New Left,” I see someone else noticed the congruence between the ideas of Scott and Heath.

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/22/right-is-the-new-left/#comment-121777

  20. sotamayor says:

    I was just thinking about how you are sometimes confused for scott aaronson and it reminded me of a quote from dune:

    “We have two chief survivors of those ancient schools: [scott alexander] and [scott aaronson]. [aaronson], so we think, emphasizes almost pure mathematics. [alexander] performs another function.”
    “Politics,” he said

  21. FullMeta_Rationalist says:

    Randall has picked up on LW’s event which must not be named. I chuckled.

    • 27chaos says:

      (Not commenting on that specifically.)

      XKCD’s gone down the tubes, I don’t even bother checking it anymore. It’s got none of the creativity it used to have, where it made me think of ideas or scenarios that I hadn’t even imagined were possible. It’s now just a bunch of banal observations and the occasional collusion of two different tropes or ideas borrowed from elsewhere. It could practically be automated.

  22. Mr. Eldritch says:

    So I just had a thought. A very half-baked thought, but bear with me.

    Capitalism has known problems, mostly coming from issues of coordination, friction, and the fact that humans are not perfectly rational agents. It is, essentially, an economic allocation algorithm running on seven billion distributed Mark I Plains Ape computers, communicating with each other via global variables called “prices.”

    Communism and other centrally-planned economies also have known problems, mostly coming from the issue of information access – your system must know as much about farming and the needs, desires, and productivities of every individual farm as every one of the individual farmers summed up, and the same for every other producer, and for that matter the same for every other consumer.

    What if we solved this problem by just giving everyone their own individual Un-Central Capitalist, a little perfectly rational economic agent running on a smartphone or drone or something? It would know enough about you and what you were doing to model your preferences and desires, and would be its own little expert in your life and expertise. It’d make suggested purchase decisions for you, and use its capabilities as a Perfectly Rational Agent with frictionless internet-based access to and coordination with aaalll the information in all the other Planners to make other suggestions like finding job offers you might otherwise not have found (and likewise, dis-recommending other stuff that it marks as particularly bad or causing tragedy-of-the-commons problems).

    This should provide something much closer to classical, optimal capitalism via perfectly rational agents in a frictionless market, and if the Capitalists had a good enough model of your preferences, it might even still satisfy everyone’s desires instead of the ‘bots.

    • somnicule says:

      I’ve thought of similar things before myself, except my approach was more from the perspective of rational ignorance for problems that affect a lot of people a little bit, and the redundant and wasted effort on the part of people who do spend time to make rational decisions.

      Consumer advocacy groups kind of match this niche, but there’s a lot of room for improvement and I’d be interested in some better and more efficient solutions being developed.

    • There was an idea almost exactly like this (iirc) placed as an entry in the FQXi “How should humanity steer the future” competition. It had a quite detailed justification and was quite well written and received. Sadly I can’t remember its name so if you’re interested you’d have to search for it in the (~100) abstracts here:
      http://fqxi.org/community/forum/category/31422
      It had some cool papers if you haven’t checked them out. Here’s mine btw:
      http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2050

      I think if asked I’d raise these points:
      -Companies would definitely definitely not feed this system false, selective or misleading information about their products or competitors
      -Companies would definitely not ever attempt to influence the way products were displayed or recommended. They definitely would ignore the immense incentive to do so. And they definitely wouldn’t be incentivised to be the first to market with such a device.
      -Companies would definitely never ever use such a system to track and unethically gain detailed possibly private information about their users
      -No-one would ever ever illegally access such systems to alter them, troll people or gain private information about their users

      OK sorry being a sarcastic b*stard. It’s actually not a totally bad idea, but perhaps the paper seemed like it needed adjustment and thought about how it could progress. The main thing is that the flow of information in the system wouldn’t seem to work unless it could be kept out of the hands of parties with a conflict of interest.

      • somnicule says:

        It’s about keeping incentives aligned. With prediction markets there are a few parties with an interest in biasing results, and many more interested in taking free money from the noise traders.

        Keeping it out of the hands of parties with a conflict of interest is impractical, but making it self-correcting is more practical.

        • I really like this point, thanks for making it. However, in the case of the production of a very complex product, as this would be, it’s rare that it’s done in a distributed way – usually its a specific party. It surely would be created by a company which would have to resist near-unpolicable temptation to serve biased information for increased profits. I don’t discount that something that works like a prediction market could be really useful in this kind of product though.

          • somnicule says:

            I think a prediction market is how I’d solve the problem if I had to get a minimal visible product out in a month. LMSR prediction markets are basically a distributed and robust way of contracting for information, so a bunch of consumers with similar decisions to make pool their funds for a PM on, say, which moving company will cost them least in property damage and price. Then have parimutuel betting on which will be chosen as the best bto add options to the list, and the options with the best odds are included in the LMSR market. The market selects an option, the consumers use that option, and payoffs on the LMSR market are made when consumers report their costs.

    • Salem says:

      No, for reasons James Buchanan eloquently explained.

      How can the bot model my preferences when I don’t even know them myself? I work out what I prefer by a learning process which you can subsequently retcon into a “utility function” if you like, but I do not have a complete utility function even in my own head. And that goes double for “public goods/bads.”

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        tl;dr “maximizing utility” is putting the cart before the horse, because the consequences follow from non-deterministic processes. Correct? I also liked the second comment by Mario Rizzo. Especially

        As John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern have said, “[T]he complete answer to any specific problem consists not in finding a solution, but in determining the set of all solutions.”

        So how do you feel about recommendation engines? I could easily see stumbleupon replacing catalogs. Though I realize this would not solve the tragedy of the commons. I speculate that having something like dewdrop integrate into recommendation engines so that people can downvote “tragedy of the commons” type behavior might be helpful.

      • LRS says:

        As an ignoramus with respect to public choice theory, I experienced glorious mental fireworks celebrating the possibility that the 15th President of the United States had also been an accomplished scholar of the philosophy of social science. But alas – not that James Buchanan.

    • 27chaos says:

      Seems like we’d end up with a lot of stupid dollar auctions or defections in prisoner’s dilemmas, doesn’t it? I don’t think we have rationality figured out well enough to build such baby-oracles yet. I also think there would be complications you’ve overlooked in trying to give the machine all the relevant data it would need.

      (If someone did know how to do that, they wouldn’t really need a machine, would they? Unless the machine does very advanced calculations – in which case see my first objection again, because we don’t know how to do those calculations yet nor do we know what all of them should be.)

      I’ve had a idea vaguely similar to yours, however. Communist societies fail because of the Economic Calculation Problem. But (so the story goes), Capitalist societies are able to overcome the Economic Calculation Problem by relying on the information given by prices. Prices are determined by individual decisions. The thing is, if a group of highly intelligent people aren’t able to solve the ECP from the top down, why should we assume that a group of mindless individuals acting in a swarmlike fashion are able to solve the ECP from the bottom up? Bottom up processes aren’t magical, they can fail to achieve or optimize for their goals all the time. I think it’s clear that capitalism satisfices the ECP better than communism, but we lack anything close to proof that capitalism is optimal for it. To my intuitions, it seems like the right solution will involve neither iron regulations nor a free market, but something in between, perhaps with seemingly arbitrary interventions into the market occurring occasionally.

      So the question is, what sorts of adjustments might be performed on/in markets that will cause the bottom up behavior of individuals to lead to better outcomes? One easy example is regulations which prevent people from cheating each other or hurting other people through externalities. But if the view I’ve endorsed above is correct, and I think it is, then this sort of thing could be just the tip of the iceburg. But no one seems to discuss this deeper underlying problem area in any of the literature I’ve ever read! Not even to deny that it’s a potential concern.

      Another concern, related, is: to what extent do prices actually reflect information about markets? This one is better discussed in the literature, thankfully, but I’ve yet to acquaint myself with it.

      • somnicule says:

        I think it’s a matter of actually getting somewhat accurate information from everybody to perform the ECP that’s capitalism’s benefit over state-controlled solutions, isn’t it? So it’s less that solving it in a centralized manner is hard, but more that it’s impossible to get much of the relevant information in a centralized manner.

        I do agree with you though. Might public choice theory have some relevant literature on these issues? Rational voter ignorance seems similar to problems of rational consumer/market ignorance, so maybe something can come up there?

        There’s also the problem of making sure that something with the power to intervene in the market has an incentive to only make positive interventions. I think there are a lot of beneficial interventions that could be made that aren’t, but giving the state more power to do so makes it easier for it to benefit interest groups too.

        It’s hard.

  23. Carinthium says:

    I’m going to try a new approach for the philosophy debate by discussing aspects of the nature of evidence one by one to see if I can’t secure at least some consensus. I’m going to make several Contention Posts, each contending something backed with an argument for it. If you have something to say on each one, please reply to each individual Contention Post seperately.

    I figure we can thus at least secure some consensus on what is and isn’t evidence.

    ——————————–

    CONTENTION: It should NOT be treated as a point of evidence in favour of a belief X in a philosophy debate that it is useful to believe it, nor that there are practical factors drawing people to believe it independent of some reason to believe it is true.

    If you’re not a skeptic but an ordinary rationalist, then a belief like this is necessary. If your map doesn’t fit the territory, then without doublethink it’s only a matter of time before you run into problems. Plus, if you identify as a rationalist you should value truth.

    The implications of this for the Skeptical Argument should be obvious.

    ————
    Aside: No, this isn’t contradictory with my taking the Evil Demon Argument seriously. You could argue that we don’t know that we shouldn’t take it seriously, but we don’t have any reason to believe we should take it as evidence either. If we don’t know if we should or shouldn’t take something as evidence, we don’t by default (that is, without probabilities).

    ————————-

    Final Aside: I also contend that it is absurd to say that we can justifiably know something as probable, and yet not found our probability on anything that could be considered a premise. However, I haven’t had time to read the Logical Probability material yet so I can’t really get back to this yet.

    • Anonymous says:

      Get your own blog.

      • Matthew says:

        I’m inclined to agree, but remember that there is a hide button next to the reply button, so it’s fairly simple to read around stuff like this.

      • Carinthium says:

        Open threads exist for a reason. There has been a considerable amount of philosophical discussion on this blog, implying plenty of interest.

        In addition, I am doing my best to make sure my content is entirely comprehensible.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Just because people are interested in philosophy does not mean they are interested in pages and pages of your particular half-baked brand.

          • Carinthium says:

            If it’s worth doing something, it’s worth doing it right. We are mostly rationalists here making it easier, but if we want to actually solve any complex philosophical issue we need to spend a lot of pages on it.

            As for your claim that my philosophy is somehow ‘half-naked’, perhaps you could try demonstrating this somehow?

          • suntzuanime says:

            And especially when you ignore attempts to engage with you in favor of restating your claims.

          • Carinthium says:

            Examples, please? I suspect most alleged cases of this are because I wasn’t properly understood to begin with and thus try to clarify so that people can understand me.

    • peterdjones says:

      > CONTENTION: It should NOT be treated as a point of evidence in favour of a belief X in a philosophy debate that it is useful to believe it, nor that there are practical factors drawing people to believe it independent of some reason to believe it is true.If you’re not a skeptic but an ordinary rationalist, then a belief like this is necessary. If your map doesn’t fit the territory, then without doublethink it’s only a matter of time before you run into problems. Plus, if you identify as a rationalist you should value truth.

      You are making a number of tacit assumptions there, and therefore not being very clear.

      One is that correspondence theory of truth is the correct one. (What does “the Correspondence theory is correct” correspond to?)

      Another is that correspondence is always available..IOW that a pragmatic justification will conflict with a correspondence truth, and not just fill a gap.

      Likewise, the fact that pragmatists should value correspondence truth WHERE AVAILABLE doesn’t mean they should completely reject usefulness…that is simply a false dichotomy.

      And you are assuming that things like probability are claim-like instead of tool-like. It is a category error to ask if a tool is true,

      • Carinthium says:

        From an ordinary rationalist, rather than a skeptical perspective (which I should note makes a lot of assumptions itself), I would say to your first question:

        -The claim “The correspondence theory of truth is correct” is a definitional claim about what ‘truth’ is. I see no problems with talking about “Correspondence Truth”, “Coherentist Truth” etc to refer to different theories.

        However, only Correspondence Truth is actually interesting because only Correspondence Truth refers to what actually exists. The others are just constructs in our heads.

        As for your next claim: I NEVER claim correspondence truth is always avaliable. I just think something should not be believed without evidence for it’s correspondence truth. There’s always “I don’t know”, which is at least honest.

        It’s not good enough to ‘fill in a gap’, which I thought would be obvious. Strictly to clarify: If I’m asked if a coin lands heads or tails (or any other practical question) and I say “I don’t know, but I’m going to say heads anyway”, that is not rationality.

        ———————————————–
        On your alleged false dichtomony: It is part of the very definition of Epistemic Rationality that it involves actual truth. To believe a statement on pragmatism is therefore not epistemically rational.

        The pragmatist who does things your way, if trying to be rational, will make false assumptions from their false belief, leading to potentially wrong conclusions elsewhere. It’s possible that by chance they’ll get lucky, but it’s a gamble.

        I don’t entirely agree with Elizier, but if you don’t agree with me maybe you’ll accept his views which come to the same conclusion on this point.
        http://lesswrong.com/lw/31/what_do_we_mean_by_rationality/

        ———————————————
        On your final claim: A probability system, hypothetically speaking, could be entirely arbitrary. I’ll give some hypothetical probability claims for example:

        -If the sun rises in the West, set my probability belief to 60% by default that the First World War was won by Hungary.
        -If my mother falls ill, it is probabilistic evidence that terrorists will attack the Twin Towers again.
        -The existence of the manga Dragon Ball Z is strong probabilistic evidence for the existence of Goku.

        If probability is just a tool, how can you justify the idea that these arbitrary claims are, in some sense, wrong?

        • peterdjones says:

          > From an ordinary rationalist, rather than a skeptical perspective (which I should note makes a lot of assumptions itself), I would say to your first question:-The claim “The correspondence theory of truth is correct” is a definitional claim about what ‘truth’ is. I see no problems with talking about “Correspondence Truth”, “Coherentist Truth” etc to refer to different theories.

          You’ve missed the paradox: if there are definitional truths, it is not correct that all truth is by correspondence….and if all truth is correspondence, then what dies that truth correspond to?

          > However, only Correspondence Truth is actually interesting because only Correspondence Truth refers to what actually exists. The others are just constructs in our heads.

          Constructs in the head are enough to justify our logical and probablist reasoning, which are also in the the head.

          > As for your next claim: I NEVER claim correspondence truth is always avaliable. I just think something should not be believed without evidence for it’s correspondence truth.

          Including probablistic evidence?

          > There’s always “I don’t know”, which is at least honest.It’s not good enough to ‘fill in a gap’, which I thought would be obvious.

          It isn’t obvious. Explain. Note that you can’t refrain from action, and that guided action is better than random action, and that that includes action guided by uncertain , probablistic reasoning.

          > Strictly to clarify: If I’m asked if a coin lands heads or tails (or any other practical question) and I say “I don’t know, but I’m going to say heads anyway”, that is not rationality

          You’ve cherry picked an example where the probabilities don’t weigh one way or the other. Consider crossing the road. You can’t be certain that you won’t be killed, but you cross anyway. So you must have reasoned that you probably won’t be killed. So you are saying that the kind of practical reasoning you use every day is unwise or impossible.

          >.———————————————–On your alleged false dichtomony: It is part of the very definition of Epistemic Rationality that it involves actual truth. To believe a statement on pragmatism is therefore not epistemically rational.

          That doesn’t follow as stated. Involves is too vague. You would need the premise that .ER involves *only* actual truth. Although it does.nt. The Lesswrongians think that certainty …which is what you are using actual truth to mean…is unobtainable, and so bang on endlessly about Bayes and probability.

          > The pragmatist who does things your way, if trying to be rational, will make false assumptions from their false belief, leading to potentially wrong conclusions elsewhere.

          Not invariably…you are arguing from ambiguous phraseology. Probablistic reasoning applied correctly will give better results than randomness. For abstract topics, dunno is an option, but it is not for practical issues…you can’t stay on one side of the road forever.

          > It’s possible that by chance they’ll get lucky, but it’s a gamble.

          You’re tacitly assuming something like: only prefect truth is acceptable.

          > I don’t entirely agree with Elizier, but if you don’t agree with me maybe you’ll accept his views which come to the same conclusion on this point.http://lesswrong.com/lw/31/what_do_we_mean_by_rationality/

          He absolutely does not mean the avoidance of probablistic reasoning!

          > On your final claim: A probability system, hypothetically speaking, could be entirely arbitrary. I’ll give some hypothetical probability claims for example:-If the sun rises in the West, set my probability belief to 60% by default that the First World War was won by Hungary.-If my mother falls ill, it is probabilistic evidence that terrorists will attack the Twin Towers again.-The existence of the manga Dragon Ball Z is strong probabilistic evidence for the existence of Goku.If probability is just a tool, how can you justify the idea that these arbitrary claims are, in some sense, wrong?

          Evidence. The use of probablistic reasoning doesn’t entitle you to adopt arbitrary premises, any more than logic does…which should not be surprising, since LOGIC IS A SPECIAL CASE OF PROBABILITY.

          > It is NOT the ability of a probabilistic system to do what we want of it that is the problem. It is the ability of such a system to demonstrate actual truth.

          You are again assuming that only certainty is acceptable, although you have never justified that in any way,

          > 2: You are treating probabilistic claims as like an ‘Ought’, immune from empirical challenge. But you are then using ‘Ought’ claims to establish an ‘Is’ on probabilities (unless you’re going to claim that you don’t take beliefs on probability into account when making any decisions about what you truely believe).To put it another way, your argument is A, therefore B. B is an empirical claim you make on probabilities. A is your system of probabity. But if we are to believe B has any connection to the actual world, even a probable connection, we need to know that A is a system valid for dealing with actual events.To put it another way- if you say Probability is in the Mind, that’s fine. But how are you to say that probability, far from being something only in the mind, actually correlates to an actual world?

          I am adoptnot using arbitrary premises, I am updating my premises based on evidence. That’s the connection. The system of probability, LIKE LOGIC is a was of getting from evidence to conclusions,

          > If our beliefs on probability are entirely unrelated to the world that exists, you’ve lost.3: Argument from ambiguity, You need to distinguish between probability qua uncertain claims about the world, and probability qua rules for manipulating such claims.

          >Which particular axioms are you challenging?

          Yours as I said.

          > I’d limit myself to the ones you claim I can’t justify for the purposes of this thread as there’s a lot to do.

          I don’t think you can justify any of them, by your own lights.

          • Carinthium says:

            1: You must have read Slate Star Codex’s article on whether whales are a type of fish. I basically agree with it.

            To put it another way, a definitional truth is a ‘truth’ only metaphorically speaking. A definitional truth is a fact about how something is defined for the purposes of discussion, which may or may not correlate to a reality in the human mind. But this is something that can and should be changed at convienience as part of proper thought processes.

            2: Let’s look at more detail at the definitions of truth. The Standford Encylopedia states as the definition of a Correspondence Theory of Truth:
            A belief is true if and only if it is part of a coherent system of beliefs.

            Granted the Coherentist definition of ‘coherent’, this still has the problem that it has nothing to do with whether we are actually a brain in a vat or not. If we lack Correspondence Truth, we don’t know that.

            Pierce’s pragmatist definition that “Truth is the end of inquiry” begs the same question, as do other pragmatist theories of truth.

            Besides, reasoning may be in the head but is supposed to be ABOUT something outside it. If we are merely reasoning about constructs we made up in our heads with no connection to reality, we are daydreaming not doing philosophy.

            3: Theoretically speaking I could see probabilistic evidence working. The problem in practice is that probability has too many philosophical problems around it to be viable.

            4: Let me give you a metaphor here. Say I have two roads, one which will lead to death and one to life. I have no idea which is which, so I flip a coin and decide that way. I then, as I walk down my chosen road, fully believe that my coin flip is correct rather than just a random choice.

            That is what you’re doing here. Your reasoning, for reasons I have already explained, has no connection to actual reality.

            My metaphorical person, if he has no way to determine the truth, could defend flipping a coin and using it to decide where to go. But believing that the coin was actually correct goes contrary to the definition of Rational used on this site. This is because Rationality is about the Truth, not just what works.

            5: Reasoning of the sort you discuss is indeed irrational. I am not a rational creature, but a creature of religious-style faith. I just admit it, unlike you.

            6:
            I never said certainty was the only possible form of knowledge. I referred to Probability.

            LessWrong is mistaken on a question of fact- whether it really does have an answer to the Skeptic or not. Thus they are mistaken about the implications of their own definition of Truth.

            However, LessWrong’s culture has made it very clear time and again that Epistemic Rationality refers only to the capacity to gain actual Truth.

            7:
            As I have already said earlier, Probability is irrational on several counts. I didn’t even get properly started on attacks on the legitimacy of induction.

            Whether we can or cannot choose not to commit is irrelevant. Commiting is an irrational decision if it involves belief that one possibility or the other is actually true.

            8:
            I already explained to you that probabilistic reasoning is flawed in practice.

            If a probability system is to be considered to have any relation to actual Correspondence Reality (as opposed to being a fanciful construct), this must be demonstrated somehow. Otherwise we have no reason to believe in our probabilistic interferences.

            At the very least, could you explain why you consider injunction justified as part of a probabilistic system? And if you appeal to induction, you’re retarded.

            9:
            No I am not. I am assuming that if we are to believe any probabilistic connection to reality, we must first have a certain demonstration of the axioms of probability that we use.

            As I have tried to explain to you, these axioms are assumptions. Induction is an assumption, for example, that cannot be justified.

            10: I am following Elizier’s definition just as he states it in the article of “Epistemic rationality”.

            11:
            If you mean that Logic itself has the problem of the Evil Demon Argument, I agree. But excluding Skeptical arguments I see no reason to believe in anything remotely close to Logic as a special case of probability.

            We use premises similiar to mine all the time. Sometimes this is induction and falls under the philosophical problems of induction, e.g. the person is scowling is evidence they’re angry. Other times it’s far less to do with induction- That other creature looks and acts similiar to me, therefore evidence it is like me. Another example- I recieve sense data, therefore that is probabilistic evidence of an actual world.

            They are just as undefendable as my hypotheticals, as you have no philosophical argument to demonstrate either.

            12: I’ve been justifying it continously! A theory of probability is impossible without assumptions, and these assumptions cannot be demonstrated on probability or the belief in probability is circular.

            13: Sense data may come into it, but a lot of arbitrary premises are included, such as the assumption the data represents an actual world.

            14: I MEANT which particular of my axioms. You’re the one accusing me of having implicit logical axioms I can’t justify.

            ‘All of them’ is not good enough, because different philosophers can claim different sets of implicit axioms. Otherwise I’ll have to write up an axiomatic system, only for you to claim that there’s some sort of implicit axiom I’ve written. It’s better to cover the ones you believe are there or this argument will have potential to waste a lot of posts back-and-forthing about what are and aren’t implicit axioms.

          • peterdjones says:

            I am not in doubt about what definitional truth is. The question is what kinds of realism, rationalist and scepticism are tenable. If you are saying that definitional truth is obtainable, but correspondence truth is unobtainable, you may be saying something that is tenable, but you need to be careful not object to your opponents using kinds of truth you allow yourself to use.

            If we are brains in vats, there are still kinds of truth which are available to us. That is good news for you, since your own truth claims are therefore not automatically contradictory, but also bad news, since you can’t dismiss everything your opponents say.

            For instances, if I am a brain in a Vat, it is true that I should not drop apparent bricks on my apparent foot. All I am trying to do, pragmatically, is avoid pain, which is in my head anyway .. ultimate realities don’t matter. The thing about these kinds of truth is not that they are metaphorical, but that they are not metaphysical.

            Reasoning is absolutely not always about things ..you can, for instance reason about reasoning…and you are. That was a self defeating claim.

            Your two roads argument is contrived. It is instrumentality and pragmatically reasonable to avoid things which apparently lead to apparent death, and you do.

            You are not a creature of faith, but of instrumental reason.

            If it is true that probablistic reasoning doesn’t lead to correspondence to ultimate metaphysical reality, that is anything but a problem in *practice*.  Theory is about ultimate reality, practice is about results.

            We are indeed using axioms similar to yours….and you say they are flawed. Which seems to mean yours, whatever they are, are flawed. If you are using axioms to reason about reasoning, and you are, do they need a necessary connection to reality? I leave the problem with you, since it is yours.

          • peterdjones says:

            I haven’t said much about probability and you certainty this time around, because I don’t think they are where the problem is.

            I think Bayes is a good answer to induction, providing you don’t care about connection to reality. Brains in Vats can make optimal decisions about their expected e experience using Bayes. Both probability, and it’s special case, logic, work on a garbage in garbage out basis. The outputs have the same level of connection to reality as the inputs. Lack of connection to reality doesn’t invalidate the system, because al offers is if-then, or if-probably-then inferences…the operator is responsible for the grounding.

            Eliezer may have said that Bayes can achieve correspondence to reality. If so, I disagree.

            If you want to say that ultimate metaphysical knowledge is difficult fine..you have a self consistent scepticism. If you want to say there is no truth…then not fine.

          • Carinthium says:

            Skepticism about the senses isn’t the only logical consequence of the Evil Demon. You don’t seem to have even considered skepticism about memory.

            If we can’t trust our memories (or our reasoning for that matter), how can we trust that even illusionary experiences will remain the same?

            ——————————————–
            There is a difference in my head between Truths of Faith and Truths of Reason. I thought it would be obvious from my posistion which are which.

            As I said earlier, lack of groundedness means that anti-skeptical truth claims are basically self-refuting- if you assume them, you get to their contrary. This is because the wrongness of circular arguments and the wrongness of infinitist arguments are clear by the fact they are no better than contrary arguments of the same kind, so believing them legitimate would lead to a contradiction.

            Reasoning is always about something outside the brain. “Reasoning about reasoning” is either (depending on whether a faith-based or rational perspective is taken) reasoning about the brain, or an attempt to discern a way to know something about externa lreality.

            “Instrumental rationality” with no connection to actual reality is not worthy of the name.

            My two roads example was meant to be a clarification, not an argument. Deciding to act AS IF something is true without evidence might be rational, but BELIEVING said thing is true without evidence never is.

            To ignore correspondence reality is to ignore all sorts of dangerous possibilities- that you might ‘blink’ out of existence at a moment’s notice, for example- implied by skepticism. It is irrational.

            I’m going to devote a new post to axioms.

          • Carinthium says:

            This isn’t the form I used when I first made my skepticism, as my argument is a bit more ‘efficient’ than before. That being said, it does logically add up.

            Noting that even if a set of non-skeptical beliefs isn’t ‘grounded’ in a Foundation it MUST be ‘grounded’ in a theory of justification to be justified in any sense. Otherwise they are clearly rubbish.

            I thus start with the question- How might the beliefs in the existence of the world, the memory, and Reason possibly be grounded?

            1: Strong foundationalism cannot justify the belief that my reasoning is accurate, my memory is accurate, or my senses are accurate because there are possible worlds (at the very least the Evil Demon hypothetical) in which that is not true.

            2: Weak Fouundationalism is obviously wrong as there is nothing in the theory showing why it’s foundations are necessarily accurate.

            3: Every other sort of theory of justification faces the Contradiction Problem I outlined earlier.

            Contrary to what others have said earlier, for any possible Theory justified under Coherentist, Infinitist, or any other sort of theorie’s lights it is possible to create a theory that is contradictory enough as to be incompatible justified by the same lights.

            It is true that it isn’t anywhere near as simple as putting “not P” where the theory has “P”. But amongst other possible methods, there is the method of, rather than stating not P, stating something logically incompatible with P. It comes to the same thing.
            ——————

            At this point, starting from ordinary reasoning I have shown it’s utter falsity.

          • peterdjones says:

            > Skepticism about the senses isn’t the only logical consequence of the Evil Demon. You don’t seem to have even considered skepticism about memory.If we can’t trust our memories (or our reasoning for that matter), how can we trust that even illusionary experiences will remain the same?

            If they do stay the same, then there is an instrumentality rational benefit in treating them as predictable. There is no benefit in treating them as unpredictable – in fact, there is little you can do about unpredictability. So there is nett benefit in treating them as predictable.

            You seem to be implicitly assuming that only a guaranteed benefit will do.

            > There is a difference in my head between Truths of Faith and Truths of Reason.

            There is a difference in my head between epistemological reason and instrumental reason.

            > I thought it would be obvious from my posistion which are which.As I said earlier, lack of groundedness means that anti-skeptical truth claims are basically self-refuting- if you assume them, you get to their contrary.

            You do seem to be under the impression that the insufficient justification, or circular justification in an argument implies the falsity of the conclusion: it doesn’t. “2+2=4, therefore 2+2=4” is not a valid way of arguing that “2+2=4”, but the conclusion is sound,

            Sceptical arguments, however, can be, and often are self undermining, because the sceptic argues against kinds of justification that they need to make their own points.

            > This is because the wrongness of circular arguments

            You need to understand the soundness/validity distinction.

            > and the wrongness of infinitist arguments are clear by the fact they are no better than contrary arguments of the same kind, so believing them legitimate would lead to a contradiction.Reasoning is always about something outside the brain. “Reasoning about reasoning” is either (depending on whether a faith-based or rational perspective is taken) reasoning about the brain,

            Then reasoning is sometimes about the brain.

            > or an attempt to discern a way to know something about externa lreality.“Instrumental rationality” with no connection to actual reality is not worthy of the name.

            Well, it can keep you alive…

            > My two roads example was meant to be a clarification, not an argument. Deciding to act AS IF something is true without evidence might be rational, but BELIEVING said thing is true without evidence never is.

            Never us instrumental rational, or never is epistemically rational?

            >To ignore correspondence reality is to ignore all sorts of dangerous possibilities- that you might ‘blink’ out of existence at a moment’s notice, for example- implied by skepticism. It is irrational.I’m going to devote a new post to axioms.

            So what am I supposed to do with that multitude of possibilities? The Matrix Lords might wide me out for not eating fish on Friday, but they might equally punish me for not eating bananas. What can I do with a multitude of unknown possibilities? as far as I can see, they sum to “don’t be too sure about anything”.

    • Troy says:

      It should NOT be treated as a point of evidence in favour of a belief X in a philosophy debate that it is useful to believe it, nor that there are practical factors drawing people to believe it independent of some reason to believe it is true.

      I think we’re basically on the same page re: pragmatism, but I’ll be pedantic here and point out that sometimes the fact that it is useful to believe P can be evidence for P. This is because E is evidence for P relative to K iff P(P|E&K) > P(P|K) — i.e., E raises the probability of P relative to K — and there’s no law saying that replacing E with “P is useful to believe” always makes this inequality false. (Suppose, for instance, that relative to your background knowledge the best explanation of why it is useful to believe P is that P.)

      • Paul Torek says:

        Interesting special case: P might be “Statements of type [insert here a category of which P is obviously a member] tend to be useful to believe.” This might be relevant to peterdjones’s point about tool-like probability.

      • 27chaos says:

        Delicious pedantry, I love it. Feed me more.

  24. Carinthium says:

    CONTENTION: A circular argument is not rational and should count for exactly nothing as evidence for a proposition, even if it is a Coherentist ‘web’, as long as it is still ultimately circular. I don’t think anyone will dispute this, but checking just in case.

    This can be demonstrated similiar to how Infinitism can be demonstrated false. Any Coherentist or Infinitist proposition can be compared to a contrary proposition that could be believed for which there is just as much ‘evidence’. Since one isn’t evidentially superior to the other, how is that knowledge?

    It follows from this that any rationally justified belief, assuming such a thing can exist at all, must be Foundationalist one way or another, i.e it must be ‘grounded’ somehow. How to justify the Foundations is a different matter.

    ————-

    ASIDE: See my first Contention Post if you want to use the Evil Demon objection to this one.

    • Protagoras says:

      Building a contrary theory within a coherentist framework is not as straightforward as it seems, and may not be possible. Sure, if the coherent framework contains a sentence saying P, you can construct a coherent framework with the same words in P but starting with an extra “not.” But on what basis do you conclude that the two frameworks mean the same by P (or “not”)? Absent that, how do you demonstrate that there is any conflict at all? If the two interact, in such a way as to make that possible, then the question becomes how to best maintain the coherence of the whole, where it is not trivial what answer will result, and so where your precise objection doesn’t seem to be applicable. (I am trying to reconstruct Neurath’s response to the complaint about his coherentism that someone could construct an equally coherent contradictory theory; his exact response was the admirably brief “show me this rival theory.”)

    • 27chaos says:

      You’re not doing anything new here. Have you read, like, any philosophy at all?

      • Carinthium says:

        I’m trying to establish what should already be obvious in order to secure a consensus. In my view, the claims of my Contentions should be obvious to anyone who thinks straight.

        • suntzuanime says:

          This is because you don’t think straight.

          • Carinthium says:

            That snipe is irrelevant to my argument. 27chaos attacked me for not doing anything new. What I’ve been doing is trying to re-state what in my opinion should be obvious.

            Because I thought they were obvious, I hoped (wrongly as it turned out) that we could establish a consensus on these relatively uncontroversial points.

            Whatever else you have to say about this, it does refute the accusation that I’m being idiotic by going over ground covered by other philosophers.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You’ve been going over ground covered *and rejected* by philosophers.

          • Carinthium says:

            I’ve read so-called philosophers try to refute my ideas, but I haven’t seen a single attempt even worth refuting in my readings. I don’t bother refuting idiots unless they’re brought up by others in argument.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yes, you’re a crackpot.

          • Carinthium says:

            That isn’t an argument. If you want to argue against me, why don’t you explain why you think there’s a genuine refutation of my ideas out there?

          • suntzuanime says:

            Because I made one. And you won’t acknowledge any refutation of your ideas. Because you’re a crackpot.

          • Matthew says:

            STA: Please, just stop replying to him already.

          • Carinthium says:

            I don’t see how anything you have done constitutes a genuine refutation of my ideas in the slightest.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Warning

        • Carinthium says:

          Requesting clarificiation. Are you warning me, the others, or both? What is the warning about in particular?

  25. Carinthium says:

    Final CONTENTION: The legitimacy of a system of probabilities must be demonstrated somehow, rather than being assumed.

    This follows from my second Contention, but in addition I should point out that similiar argument could be given. For any case of “X makes Y more probable”, I could contend “X makes Y less probable” or “X has no effect on Y’s probability”. Any proper system of probability that asserts the first of these three must show it a superior claim to the other two.

    Obviously they can’t do in a circular way, I should remind you.

    • peterdjones says:

      > Final CONTENTION: The legitimacy of a system of probabilities must be demonstrated somehow, rather than being assumed.

      The ability of a probablistic methodology to do what we want of it can be demonstrated using the kind of reasoning you are using now.

      > This follows from my second Contention, but in addition I should point out that similiar argument could be given. For any case of “X makes Y more probable”, I could contend “X makes Y less probable” or “X has no effect on Y’s probability”.

      That is a different issue. Those are specific claims, not a system of probability. “Socrates is mortal” is not a System of Logic.

      > Obviously they can’t do in a circular way, I should remind you.

      Much too sweeping, Obviously empirical style claims can’tbe justified circularly, but probablist axioms aren’t empirical style claims.

      I await the non circular justification of your preferred logical axioms with keen interest.

      • Carinthium says:

        1: It is NOT the ability of a probabilistic system to do what we want of it that is the problem. It is the ability of such a system to demonstrate actual truth.

        2: You are treating probabilistic claims as like an ‘Ought’, immune from empirical challenge. But you are then using ‘Ought’ claims to establish an ‘Is’ on probabilities (unless you’re going to claim that you don’t take beliefs on probability into account when making any decisions about what you truely believe).

        To put it another way, your argument is A, therefore B. B is an empirical claim you make on probabilities. A is your system of probabity. But if we are to believe B has any connection to the actual world, even a probable connection, we need to know that A is a system valid for dealing with actual events.

        To put it another way- if you say Probability is in the Mind, that’s fine. But how are you to say that probability, far from being something only in the mind, actually correlates to an actual world? If our beliefs on probability are entirely unrelated to the world that exists, you’ve lost.

        3: Which particular axioms are you challenging? I’d limit myself to the ones you claim I can’t justify for the purposes of this thread as there’s a lot to do.

    • Troy says:

      The legitimacy of a system of probabilities must be demonstrated somehow, rather than being assumed.

      This contention is unclear. What does “legitimacy” mean? What does “assumed” mean? If it just means “believed not on the basis of other beliefs” than any foundationalist will say that some things must be “assumed,” i.e., the foundational beliefs. Typically various self-evident a priori truths will be among them. Whether, say, certain axioms of probability might be among them is a substantive question.

      • Carinthium says:

        “Legitimacy” refers to the idea that the probability system actually is rational to use, rather than being arbritarily conjured out of metaphorical thin air.

        For something not to be assumed means that it can be demonstrated by argument. Ultimately, for a foundation to be legitimate, I would argue, it must be an argument with no premises of it’s own (or it’s not a foundation) AND yet is an argument to show truth, rather than an argument for practical utility or something like that.

        I am a Foundationalist of a sort, in that I think any means of actualy showing truth must be Foundationalist. However, I do not agree with your claim that some things simply must be assumed. The foundational belief, whatever it is, must be something that can be demonstrated so well it can be legitimately said it is not an assumption nor dependent on any.

        • Troy says:

          Ultimately, for a foundation to be legitimate, I would argue, it must be an argument with no premises of it’s own (or it’s not a foundation)

          I don’t understand this. I take propositions to be foundations. Propositions are not arguments.

          The foundational belief, whatever it is, must be something that can be demonstrated so well it can be legitimately said it is not an assumption nor dependent on any.

          For a Cartesian foundationalist, the foundational belief must be infallible. But it’s not the case that it must be demonstrable by means of an argument appealing to some other propositions that one believes or knows. If it needed to be demonstrable in that way to be rationally believed, it wouldn’t be foundational.

          • Carinthium says:

            1: To clarify, what I mean is that it is ‘self-demonstrating’ using an argument with no premises whatsoever.

            2: To clarify- a Foundational belief, I would argue, needs an argument demonstrating it with no appeal whatsoever to other premises.

          • Troy says:

            a Foundational belief, I would argue, needs an argument demonstrating it with no appeal whatsoever to other premises.

            Given my understanding of the term ‘argument,’ the only argument that could possibly meet that condition for some foundational proposition P would be the argument,

            (Premise) P.
            (Conclusion) P.

            Did you have something besides that in mind?

          • Carinthium says:

            I was using a broader understanding of the term ‘argument’. I know it’s not strict, but I want to allow for other possibilities just in case there’s something I’ve missed.

  26. diversity trainer says:

    One big problem I see with conservatism (or neoreaction) is that economic inequality past a certain point harms growth. I’d guess the US is beyond that point; maybe by far.

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/feb/26/imf-inequality-economic-growth

    Thoughts?

    • somnicule says:

      Does conservatism actually make claims regarding equality, one way or another? Maybe I’m steelmanning a bit much, but the economic right to me has objected to treating equality as a terminal value, rather than actually being anti-inequality. So if there are means which reduce inequality and improve long-run quality of life, great. If not, then fine.

      There’s also the question of whether economic growth should be a terminal value. Neoreaction seems to strongly value stability and safety over growth.

      • diversity trainer says:

        I can understand favoring (e.g. extinction risk) safety over growth. But I don’t see why US domestic inequality and slower growth would correlate positively with safety.

      • 27chaos says:

        In response to your steelmanned right, I would present my steelmanned left: treating equality as though it is a terminal value is useful because the costs of inequality are often diffuse and difficult to measure. Doing a direct cost benefit calculation is not possible, but it’s clear that the costs are large indeed, so we’re forced to use intuition, heuristics, and moral subvalues to guide our decisionmaking.

        I don’t think the actual left is this clever though, except perhaps subconsciously.

    • Carinthium says:

      It is also possible to object to the claim that equality is better on moral grounds. Some people could argue, for instance, that taxation is morally wrong, which is libertarian, or the more conservative stance that deliberately redistributive taxation is morally wrong. I don’t agree with these posistions, but if one assumes no skeptical hypothesis is true (including the existence of moral truths) it becomes quite a plausible posistion.

      • diversity trainer says:

        But I don’t think anybody arguing for Paul Ryan’s budget plans was defending them on those kinds of moral grounds…

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      I can’t get PDFs to work, but I suspect they included the 1950s-1970s which is a major confounding factor (equality and growth were higher in those decades before the gravy train came to a halt).

  27. Paul says:

    The People’s Republic of China has an ongoing eugenics program, has a leadership consisting mostly of engineers, and seems to value harmony and Confucian values. What strikes me as odd is how closely the values and political system of the PRC seem to match those of the neoreactionaries, with the Communist Party taking the place of the Monarchy. Are there any issues of policy where the NRXers and the PRC differ? Have moldbug and friends written anything on the Chinese model?

    • suntzuanime says:

      My recollection is that this blog’s sworn enemy Nick Land is a British expat in China and has written (mostly positively) about it. But I don’t have links handy.

    • diversity trainer says:

      About that Miller piece: The Chinese stance on abortion, or maybe any current issue, isn’t predictive. Confucianism (or any traditional philosophy) is opposed to radical enhancements like IES that would end the family. And it’s not clear that many folks would be interested in the more foreseeable embryo selection techniques. We can already do more enhancement than that with sperm and eggs from a high-IQ couple, but it’s not popular.

    • Anonymous says:

      It is true that China is interested in eugenics, like at BGI. But the opening sentence, that they have been performing eugenics for 30 years seems to me overblown. Certainly it is not “driving” China’s rise. Most of what he mentions is no different from the West. The biggest thing is prenatal ultrasound, which is universal in Europe and promoted by elites in America.

      Buying the right to additional children is certainly a eugenic program, but my impression is that few want additional children and that the demographic transition is doing most of the work of the one-child policy. The slogan “later, longer, fewer, better” is interesting, but “longer” and “fewer” are moot in light of the demographic transition and one-child policy. Lots of governments have tried to manipulate fertility with slogans and it does not have a good track record.

      Forbidding reproduction by those with heritable conditions is classic eugenics, but I failed to track down the scale of the program. How does this compare to what was done in the West? One source said that 5% of China is officially disabled, but mostly it’s not genetic.

      Urbanization and education do cause assortative mating. It’s good to be aware of that, but I doubt that’s why Deng promoted urbanization and education, just as they happened in the West for other reasons.

      • Anonymous says:

        I still haven’t found out who China doesn’t allow to reproduce, but here is an article from when the law was first written. It seems to say that the list had not yet been made, but it mentions AIDS, leprosy, and schizophrenia. American marriage licenses often require screening for STDs, but in a purely informational way. This seems to say that such diseases preclude marriage. One of those is the most heritable diseases I have ever heard of, other than simple Mendelian diseases. But it is also the one that is treatable. Maybe it is good to delay marriage for treatment, but it would be a stupid target of eugenics (unless they don’t treat leprosy in China). With other diseases, the goal may be to avoid passing it to the child in non-genetic ways. Schizophrenia is the most likely example of eugenics.

    • xhxhx says:

      I’m not certain what Moldbug thinks of China on matters of policy, but he certainly thinks well of it as a model of government. The PRC, “though profoundly flawed, is the most successful capitalist country in the world. All things considered, it is certainly one of the best to do business in …” And elsewhere: “It … has the world’s most successful economy, and [it’s] not such a bad place to live at all.”

      The PRC approaches Moldbug’s formalist ideal, although it has not gotten there yet:

      the closest are monarchies with effective monarchs, quasimonarchical one-party states such as modern Singapore or Japan, and limited-ownership republics such as the Republic of Venice. Even the People’s Republic of China is perhaps moving in this direction, although it’s by no means stable.

      Moldbug sees China and Russia as the only states that have a measure of real sovereignty, or independence from American rule. See here, here and here. That’s important to Moldbug. It means that China is one of the few states that can defy US law with impunity, and hence one of the few states that can actually effect a formalist constitution and rule of law.

      That’s because the Chinese state has the authority that comes with power, and the loyalty that comes from authority. The Chinese people yield to the party-state, and the party-state does not need to yield to public opinion.

      This is not ideal. The party-state demands loyalty of belief, which means that the party-state shapes the truth, and does so in ways that may be perverse (e.g., the Third Reich and North Korea). But it does mean that China is largely free from the drift of public opinion and the pull of the Cathedral (“the mind-control state“).

      Moldbug does wish that China had a more formal ownership structure, and thinks that the party-state’s repression of dissidents is a sign of its fundamental weakness: “Only by outlawing politics can the Party hold itself together.

      In practice, the Chinese party-state is “government by competing corrupt interests“. That’s better than democracy, to be sure, because it means that the party will not permit as much chaos as a democracy would, but, again, it’s far from ideal.

      Moldbug fears that its informality might make it liable to fall to a coup or a rebellion. See his replies here:

      China is neocameralist except in one point – it has no formal ownership structure. And this point seems very likely to be its undoing. Its rulers are lawless and they know it, and whatever internal Party clique (or, worse, movement outside the Party) does a better job of unseating them can defeat them.

      And here:

      It’s also better than democracy, I’d argue – certainly in the context of China.

      The trouble with China is that it’s an oligarchy, not a joint-stock country, and as such its power structure is exceedingly informal. Don’t expect it to be very good at making effective high-level decisions.

      Also, one of the major unrecognized ingredients in China’s success is the amount of decentralization in its present structure – local authority figures have a lot of independence. China as a whole is not especially neocameralist, but regions such as the Pearl River Delta come very close to operating in a businesslike fashion. Unfortunately, this autonomy seems to be decreasing.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        I once asked the Nrx folks what they thought of Putin’s Russia. I never got a reply, but it would be very interesting to me if they had an opinion in either direction.

        • xhxhx says:

          Moldbug here:

          Russia today is actually an independent country, which is pretty cool. I don’t get the impression that it is particularly well-governed, but it could be a lot worse. Ideally, the mafias which run Russia today will coalesce into a more coherent entity, less like the New York mob and more like Singapore or China, and neocameralist incentives for good government will start to replace informal incentives for corrupt government. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on this happening, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it, either.

          I believe Michael Anissimov thinks more highly of the man and his regime than Moldbug does, but I can’t find anything definitive. He certainly thinks Putin’s Russia is closer to the monarchical ideal than Moldbug’s joint-stock corporation: “A typical citizen is going to feel more motivated by a cultural leader like Putin than a merely corporate one like Bill Gates.”

          But Putin’s regime is more fragile than Dengist China; it’s liable to fall by rebellion, insurrection, or election. Because the first criterion of good politics is success, I expect neoreactionaries will be denouncing Putin as a ‘demotist’ within the decade. If they’re still around by then, that is.

        • Erik says:

          Putin looks like he’s at least moderately competent and independent of America, which makes me cautiously optimistic about Russia ceasing to be a Second World frozen plain sometime in the future.

  28. Status-seeking seems to be one way we get locked into a Moloch-friendly society. People are willing to do things they know are harmful to themselves and others in order to maintain or improve status. I’m currently trying to expand on my understanding and writing on social-status and status-seeking.

    Currently I present an argument that social status is distinct from power, that it can arbitrarily (mostly) defined by a culture (giving insight into that culture), and that a good society might choose having good morality/ethics as a central part of this definition. However, my initial efforts to further investigate whether social-status-seeking behaviours are variable, and whether some factors supress or increase status-seeking in communities or individuals, has been somewhat unsuccessful. At this stage its just been Gscholar and reddit discussions.

    Does anyone have any particular thoughts on social-status? Any interesting links on the topic?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Robin Hanson has a lot of interesting stuff about status-seeking at overcomingbias.com, although I should warn you that it’s mostly more on the speculative end than the definitive.

      My experience is that the people whose job it is to figure out how things like status-seeking work don’t understand what it means to figure something out. Possibly related to this issue is that trying to figure out how status-seeking works seems massively mind-killing; you’re striking a very deep nerve in your brain’s instinctive hypocrisy system.

      • Thanks for that! I’ll check it out.

        On the “don’t understand what it means to figure something out”, if that’s systematic, one explanation might be that its a field/problem that looks much easier from the outside than the inside. In my experience social scientists aren’t stupid (well some are – post-modernst trends don’t seem to help either), they just face much higher bias (their own and others) due to the nature of the field. People have a lot less normative opinions on atoms than on people and society.

        I agree with your comment regarding hypocrisy being a factor – being a social scientist might be a pathway to social status in certain very specific subcultures, for example. Also humans are, well… pretty complex – especially when they’re being all interactive with eachother and all.

        I wish there was a way to get the smart people in STEM fields to recognise there is some really worthwhile stuff in social science, that STEM people typically are naieve about basic issues of the field, but that if they properly engaged more sensible subset of folks in the social science field could really use their help (ie. brains) to filter out the good stuff and develop it better. To be honest I don’t really feel efforts that have superficially done this have achieved that just yet.

        Anyway thanks again for that link!

    • onyomi says:

      Have you read Helmut Schoeck on envy? He makes a pretty interesting case that civilization succeed or fail in proportion to their success at suppressing the negative consequences of envy (which he defines as distinct from “jealousy,” in that the latter can mean “jealously guard” (one’s resources) and may inspire healthy competition and ambition, whereas, on his definition, envy is all about resentment of those who have more).

      In some ways this may be the opposite of what you’re getting at–pulling down others of perceived higher status rather than doing wasteful things to try to keep up with them, but it may be something worth considering.

      • Thanks for that, will check it out. Yes that’s different from what I was thinking, but actually its the kind of thing I’m looking for – new ways for me to look at the topic and expand my understand.

    • If you’re open to examples from good fiction, The Wire has a sub-theme of corruption within the police bureaucracy as everyone is engaged in a zero-sum conflict for promotion. Doing favors for superiors and cultivating an internal reputation despite the personal cost, drives the character of Daniels initially and others later. It’s implied that the collective ambitions of the individuals in the department sustain the broken state of that department despite none of the individuals desiring that state. Seems a fair portrayal of your Moloch.

    • blacktrance says:

      Something worth considering is that two people (or groups) can each consider themselves higher-status than the other, because they assign status differently. For example, a good mathematician can consider themselves to be better than an artist, because in the mathematician’s circle, status is assigned by ability to do math well, and the artist would consider himself better than the mathematician for a similar reason.

    • 27chaos says:

      What if we made a rule for a group saying that whoever has the least social status as measured by standards typical outside the group has the most social status within the group? Assuming people care about both their status within the group and their status within society at large, what does this do to their incentives?

      This hypothetical isn’t all that interesting, actually. But I can’t help the feeling that it’s right next door to a hypothetical that would be much more interesting to look at. Can anyone provide one?

      Might some norm similar to this be able to prevent status competitions from escalating into the stratosphere?

      • That “hypothetical” norm sounds a lot like how things work on Tumblr.

        • 27chaos says:

          Yeah. How do we prevent new norms from replacing old ones entirely, and instead make different norms balance out into a situation where status competitions won’t escalate? That’s what I’m really trying to ask here.

    • Brian Potter says:

      Maybe it’s obvious to other people, but social status always struck me as something that desperately needed the basics painstakingly laid out.

      To start, what does social status even mean? If I have high status does that mean other people like me? That they weigh my preferences highly? That they consider information I relay reliable? That my comments have a lot of upvotes? Something else? Some combination? How does it get assigned? Who does the assigning? How do people keep track? What counts as a “group” for status purposes?

      etc.

      • pneumatik says:

        Social status means most of the stuff you mentioned. The group in which you have high status will tend to go along with your suggestions. They will defer to you by default. You will be generally believed and trusted.

        As for how, I have no idea. Game of Thrones does a good job of talking about almost exactly this. The show frames it in terms of political power, but politics is all about gaining high social status with the people who vote for you. In the show they frequently indirectly ask the question of why do people do what other people tell them to do? The answer is social status, but that’s an answer with no substance in this case.

      • I’ve got some thoughts of my own on the basics of social status included in that article I linked, but I’d like to expand it more. It’s tricky because your talking about something that is both a shared group idea, but may also vary between people. In any case I like to begin to define it by referring to social legitimacy of attacking (including verbally) a person (attacking high status people is disallowed, attacking powerful people may or may not be). You’re right though we don’t have a good definition of the boundaries and mechanisms. Social science is tricky.

  29. Paul Torek says:

    Guest comment, courtesy of my wife, aimed at shifting Scott’s views on certain aspects of his work.

    Two polar views about severe mental ‘illnesses’:

    1. Psychological phenomena, including voice-hearing, ‘delusions’, and self-destructive behaviors are meaningful, make sense in the context of life history, & are best resolved through psychosocial means.
    2. Mental disorders have genetic, viral, neurochemical, &/or structural etiologies. They can be altered significantly only through use of biological treatments in which the treatment partner has little input, except to decide whether to comply or not. The treatments usually have temporary effects, so they must be continued or repeated throughout life.

    Looking at ‘schizophrenia’ as presumably one of the most biologically-determined kinds of psychological difficulties that humans experience:

    Harrow, 2012: naturalistic, long term outcome study of people diagnosed with DSM-III schizophrenia; ‘recovery’ defined as working, not disabled, with relationships in the community. At 20 years post, 5% of those who took neuroleptics continuously during the study period were recovered. 40% of those who stopped meds early on were recovered. No differences in initial symptom severity. Those who stopped using meds “have better prognostic factors, better pre-morbid developmental achievements, less vulnerability to anxiety, better neurocognitive skills, less vulnerability to psychosis and experience more periods of recovery.”

    Wunderink, 2013 (pdf): no difference in outcome at 7 years post between med-compliant & med-refusing groups diagnosed with schizophrenia.

    Compulsory community treatment (coerced medication for ‘schizophrenia’) have been found to have no impact on outcome in the UK & Australia.

    Seikkula, 2011: sustained 85% reduction in population prevalence of schizophrenia over 20+ years, with use of family therapy as primary mode of intervention. 2/3 of treatment partners are medication-naive, less than 1/5 used antipsychotic meds for more than a few weeks. Hospitalization & ECT not used.

    World Health Organization: Rate of recovery from schizophrenia in developing countries: over half within 5 years, 60% at 15 year follow-up. In developed countries: 30% historically, perhaps less than that now.

    Harding, 1987: replicated WHO findings in the US

    Torrey 2010: 30 years after WWII, incidence rates of schizophrenia were up to twice as high in Germany than in surrounding countries, though Germany had exterminated >= 73% of people with schizophrenia diagnosis in the preceding generation.

    Hundreds of anecdotal accounts of recovery have been published or documented in which people describe in detail their own sustained recovery from psychosis via psychosocial means.

    • Anonymous says:

      Does your wife read Scott, or is this a game of telephone?

      Scott is quite explicit that people use drugs because they are cheap. Any comparison has to consider costs.

      Something that people do not often talk about is the cost of mass-producing medical treatment. The best therapists appear to be very good, but do not have a very good track record of communicating the ability to diagnose, let alone treat.

      • Paul Torek says:

        My wife reads only a little Slate Star, mostly because I say “you gotta read this,” but she’s been to a meetup too.

        Her opinion on drugs I’d sum up as: they’re very helpful to some people, but some of them have nasty side effects. Not that that’s news to Scott. Still, some of these references might help with insight into patterns of recovery, non-compliance with drug prescriptions, individual differences, etc.

        The Seikkula paper reports on results for Western Lapland, very rough ballpark ~100,000 population, with many therapists trained in the Open Dialogue method. Perhaps not coincidentally, diagnosis (in the DSM sense at least) isn’t a feature of that method.

    • 27chaos says:

      Does this imply that the failure to “treat” transgender or homosexual people is poor evidence that no disorder is present? I guess that makes sense, but it seems like my reasoning’s gone off slightly somehow. Is there a distinction I’m overlooking?

      • Well, “disorder” is a category which is subject to [insert the entire contents of Scott’s last post here].

        But of course I’m not saying anything that you don’t already know. So, which particular properties that make something a “disorder” are you interested in here?

        • 27chaos says:

          Disorder is a word which here means “something bad inside the mind, similar to schizophrenia, depression, autism, psychosis”.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            “Bad” is (obviously) a subjective term though. Most of the people who say that LGBT stuff is not a disorder are saying that it is not bad to them, they are not making a claim about the nature of LGBT stuff.

            Also, [insert rant about autism being a personality group and “curing” it equivalent to death that I don’t currently have time to write here].

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The studies showing people off antipsychotics do better than people on them seem to me transparently the same issue as that study I just blogged about. People usually stop their meds because they feel better; people usually stick to their meds because they still need them.

      My understanding is that the Finns combine schizophrenics with people with various other psychoses so that it’s impossible to disentangle the data and see who’s who. Other psychoses very frequently get better on their own; schizophrenia rarely does. From a very cursory reading of the study (ie I skimmed the first few pages and might be missing something) it doesn’t say it “reduced the population prevalence of schizophrenia 80%”, it says that 80% of the people with first psychotic episodes were doing well a few years later. If they’re mostly dealing with nonschizophrenic psychotics, this is par for the course.

      Contra claim that schizophrenics usually naturally recover without antipsychotics, see Kraepelin on “dementia praecox” writing decades before antipsychotics even existed.

      I’m actually not exactly clear what the claim is here. Is it that schizophrenics *would* recover if not for all the antipsychotics they’re getting, that schizophrenics *do* recover including in our society but no one notices, or that schizophenics *can* recover if given certain psychosocial interventions (maybe of the type a developing world environment provides naturally?)

      There’s also the problem that if the establishment view is 30% of people recover, and the contrarian view is 60% do, then that’s kind of well within the margin of error of different people defining recovery differently, different groups being studied, different lengths of time, et cetera.

      (the establishment textbooks I read usually mention that a lot of schizophrenics “burn out” after a while and become less acutely psychotic, but they still keep the negative symptoms of the disease)

      I’ll look into this more though

      • Paul Torek says:

        Obviously self-selection by people who stop their meds is huge. But that is kinda the takeaway of the study IMO: self-selection and individual differences are huge! Enough to overpower whatever good effects the drug treatments are having (if any).

        The rest is over my head, but I forwarded a link to my wife.

  30. J says:

    Apropos Scott’s comments a while back on how capitalism works because everyone is assumed to already be as greedy as possible, here’s a hilariously sad story. Town votes in a tax to support local library, everybody else reduces their contribution and the town council starts charging rent.

    http://triblive.com/mobile/7210777-96/library-springdale-borough

  31. Liskantope says:

    Is it no longer possible to get e-mail notifications whenever a new SSC post appears? A few months ago, I was able to check a box for this option whenever I made a comment here. Since I check my e-mail on my phone all the time, I would appreciate being able to get these notifications again, but understand if there is some reason that it’s no longer feasible / a good idea.

  32. 27chaos says:

    When we think about heuristics for optimization, we generally think of things that are good to have. If optimizing our personal lives, we might think of money, power, beauty, and social skills as good instrumental things to have. However, an optimization process can also be thought of as choosing the least bad amongst a horrible set of options – for example, choosing to push a fat man onto a railroad track in order to prevent an even greater tragedy. What qualities are there that we might wrongly shy away from when optimizing something? Which vices are least vicious or are highly correlated with desirable virtues? Which forms of suffering might offer us the greatest rewards? I think it is likely that we discuss these things less often than we should due to our personal moral biases, which is why I ask.

    Here’s an example: I think that there are at least some people in the world who benefit from ignoring social status, and that there are many other people who could also benefit from ignoring it if they gained the courage to do so. Social status is good, but it is very expensive to care about, and so intentionally cultivating a disregard for social status may be helpful for some people (assuming that this is possible).

    As another example: it is arguably helpful to a utilitarian to lack a bit of empathy, as they will become more able to make difficult but necessary decisions. Are there any personal qualities other than ruthlessness which are similarly instrumentally useful although bad in themselves? I think arrogance might stand as one potential candidate. Others? (Conversely, are there any qualities which are instrumentally of negative value yet so pleasant they’re worth it? Arrogance might belong here instead. :p)

    Similarly, are there perhaps evil sorts of precommitments that we should be making more often with ourselves or others, like threats rather than promises? Others?

    Are there forms of self-modification into a different type of agent which are justified although unpleasant seeming or not often discussed? Like self-modifying into someone who’s willing to negotiate with terrorists, perhaps? Any of these that would be useful to the typical person in a typical situation?

    Or social roles that we can adopt which are atypical yet useful? For example: having a reputation for honesty has certain benefits. Are there any potential benefits to having a reputation for dishonesty? I can think of one: it is more difficult to get away with lying to others, and so you become more accountable. What other types of bad reputations might be counter-intuitively useful?

    (I’m not a bad person! I just like exotic thought experiments!)

    • Susebron says:

      The problem with ignoring social whatever is that it makes it harder to disseminate your ideas. For some people, caring about social whatever is the obstacle, and those people could benefit from ignoring it. For some people, the lack of caring is the obstacle. All Debates are Bravery Debates, etc. Similar things would apply to lack of empathy. If you don’t care about others, you won’t necessarily value . If you care less, you’ll probably value said utility less. The best way to get yourself to optimize is to care about all people equally. That seems like the sort of thing which is generally considered praiseworthy but can be difficult to deal with personally.

      • 27chaos says:

        Okay. Rather than abandoning social stuff or other qualities entirely, you might adopt the strategy of only doing the minimal work necessary (please ignore the vagueness of this and the problem of measuring it). That would fit the same pattern of choosing one’s vices rather than one’s virtues, and avoid the failure mode you describe.

        • Susebron says:

          Certainly. But that’s really what most people do, I think. The difference is in what’s considered a good minimum, and in what’s being optimized for.

  33. Wulfrickson says:

    Does anyone have advice about how to deal with compulsions to read things on the Internet that cause oneself psychological distress? (I would elaborate on which things these are in my case, but they relate to the Two Proscribed Topics.)

    • diversity trainer says:

      I don’t but wish I did. I can easily waste an entire day reading random political blogs.

    • no one special says:

      Hello, I’m no one special, and I’m addicted to internet drama.

      Politics, feminism, worker ants; You name it, I’ll waste a bunch of time reading it. I even read old flamewars on usenet and controversial github issues.

    • Lizardbreath says:

      Well…might the compulsion be there for a reason? Like, maybe two of your beliefs are subtly contradictory, and that’s bothering you, and so you seek out postings that relate to those beliefs?

      So, my advice would be to go ahead and read them, and continue to work on resolving the distress. That’s what I did, and in fact it did help.

      But this advice is obviously worth what you paid for it. 😉

  34. George says:

    What’s the best way to browse this site on mobile? Is there some app that does mobile views for WordPress sites? Trying to read the comments on an iPhone is a terrible experience.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have a nice experience browsing SSC using Dolphin Browser for Android, and I’m fairly sure it’s cross-platform.

  35. Tom Womack says:

    Bill Frist (ex-senator for Tennessee, Senate Majority Leader 2003-2007) practiced heart surgery while in medical school on cats that he’d obtained from a Boston animal shelter; this came across as a moderately fraught campaign issue but nothing more. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301380.html is maybe intriguing to read in that context.

  36. wulkywilkenson says:

    Will you title your next open thread, “Thread Dead Redemption?”

  37. Apropos of absolutely nothing at all, I know there are people here who like metal. And in a group this geeky, there have to be some people who also like J-Pop and/or other Japanese pop culture weirdness. So how would you like these AT THE SAME TIME?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cK3NMZAUKGw

    Make sure that you listen through the breakdown starting at about 1:40. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to this and it’s still getting awesomer.

  38. Max says:

    “The discussion of the hospital’s Ethical Guidelines. The assurance that, although not all of us are Catholic, the hospital guidelines are rooted in Catholicism but not limited to them and we will all be able to appreciate their wisdom in a nice ecumenical way. The segue into the first of these guidelines, which is COMMUNION WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.”

    Sounds like my Catholic school experience.

    It was actually a very nice school. Very LGBT-friendly.

  39. Rachael says:

    Are you planning a post where you do interesting analysis of the SSC survey results?

  40. To save readers a click: The linked paste contains the text of “Petty Internet Drama (Part 1 of ∞)”, a piece which our host posted to SSC last Friday night, then deleted a couple of hours later after deciding that it was a bad idea.

  41. Hello.

    I do not know whether this is the right place to ask my question, so I just hope it is. I have started studying Physics recently and apparently the university I am at conducts/is involved with some online psychological surveys (at least I have been getting Emails notifying me about them). For example, recently there was an online survey for a screening for Bipolar Disorder. As a motivation they give away Amazon coupons, which is no motivation for me, since I loathe Amazon. They also say that it may help them to diagnose Bipolar Disorder earlier and more accurately. So my question is: Does it make sense to just do these surveys? Like, do they help people or something? (Apart from me just being curious what questions they ask there).

    Also, thank you for such an interesting blog. I especially enjoyed “Mediations on Moloch”. Honestly, psychologists have appeared to me as people with kind of a dubious job, but that has changed a bit now 🙂 Thank you!

  42. Panflutist says:

    I’m trying to start a conversation about hedonistic vs preference utilitarianism, and the whole complex values thing that is Less Wrong consensus. I find myself alternatingly violently agreeing and violently disagreeing with the Yudkowsky scriptures on the matter, and I’d really really like to get a more precise picture of where the disagreements lie. Here’s my first blog post on the subject; I expect future installments to have a similar worse-is-better quote-response format because anything else seems to be writer’s block for me.

    http://timcooijmans.blogspot.com/2014/11/for-sake-of-pleasure-alone.html

    Please be gentle.

    • Paul Torek says:

      The more substantial disagreement is that I don’t see why our conception of terminal values should explain our behaviour.

      OK, right away, I like you. But I still think that preference utilitarianism > hedonic utilitarianism (and that something else > both, but never mind that). That’s because I predict that in the limit of increasing rationality and information, most people will still have preferences that go beyond happiness alone.

      • Panflutist says:

        That’s because I predict that in the limit of increasing rationality and information, most people will still have preferences that go beyond happiness alone.

        I believe so too. The part where I disagree is where these preferences are supposed to be something we care about. It may be that we mean different things by the word “preference”. When I think of a preference, I see a combination of a predicate about the world (“I am riding the space elevator”) and a hedonistic payload (“Whoah and/or woohoo!”). My point is, I think, that given no objective morality, who cares about whether the predicate is true or false? Gimme the whoahs and the woohoos! If that means changing the predicate to allow “I’m experiencing something indistinguishable from riding the space elevator”, then that’s fine with me. If it can be done by changing the predicate to allow “I’m staring at a wall” or even “I’m cleaning a toilet”, then so much the better.

        There is the usual example of Gandhi and the pill that makes him murderous, but I think it muddles the issue. By that logic, he would also not take a pill that would make him less murderous, because he is exactly as murderous as he prefers to be. Anyway, all of us here have already gone through preference-adjustments, so I expect no fundamental obstacle there.

        Thanks for engaging. 🙂

    • Matthew says:

      Obligatory SMBC on the problem with hedonic utilitarianism.

      • Harald K says:

        I thought that would be this one.

        • Panflutist says:

          Wouldn’t a preference monster cause the same trouble for preference utilitarianism? (And isn’t this “trouble” only an illusion due to scope insensitivity, nevermind the implausibility of the scenario?)

      • Panflutist says:

        I’m not concerned (yet) with explaining these views to an alien or programming them into an AI. Among humans I can refer to “good feelings” and “bad feelings” and have them know what I mean (and have them understand that the arbitrariness doesn’t make pain hurt any less).

    • noahluck says:

      I wrote a long comment there but the commenting form ate it. It doesn’t seem to allow log-ins. 🙁

      • noahluck says:

        That comment has been moved over here and prettified slightly ’cause that’s how I like my blog.

        Utilitarianism starts to get really weird as soon as you think about what values you would choose if you were free to pick. It’s an extreme situation and so completely irrelevant for ordinary moral thinking, but necessary for a complete theory or if you’re planning on building a FAI. 😉

        • Panflutist says:

          Sorry to hear about your dolorous commenting experience; I thought surely blogspot would have their poop together…

          It will take a few days for me to let your prose sink in and respond, but thanks for engaging. 🙂

  43. Anonymous says:

    http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/of-flying-cars-and-the-declining-rate-of-profit

    David Graeber, notable anthropologist and anarchist, proposes – get this – that the US and related bureaucracy have been holding back the rate of technological progress, such that there has been no real progress since the 1970s.

    Which is something I’ve heard from the neomonarchists here.

    Discuss?

  44. So the grand jury in Ferguson just declined to indict Darren Wilson, and FiveThirtyEight provides some context in the form of the only non-terrible thing I’ve seen written about it thus far.

  45. Pingback: can you buy claritin d online | Herpes Survival Kit

  46. Shenpen says:

    Re: Neoreactionaries on LW. I am as conservative as it gets yet I don’t understand what smart people (LW) see in Neoreaction. The issue is Neoreaction sees it merely as an enginerring problem, designing better governance. But I don’t see how cultural decadence can be stopped by better governance. It is culture that creates government, not government that creates culture. Without figuring out a model of cultural decadence and solutions to it, no right-of-center ideology can do anything.

    I propose the concept of “small ego / big ego” in the Buddhist sense (more self-centeredness than selfishness) and I propose the following cycle in history: Christian fanaticism in the Middle Ages creates a small-ego culture when it was entirely normal and OK to abase yourself and fall on your knees before kings and God and humility is a great virtue. Then with the Enlightenment era egos grow. However the combination of growing but not very big egos combined with this newfound freedom creates perhaps the best periods of human history 1400 to 1914. Reneissance to the meat grinder. Then egos having grown too big creates a disasterous 20th century.

    I propose that governance merely reflected it. Monarchy reflected a small-ego era. when people could be humble. Limited, elitist early democracy with less than universal franchise and all that reflected already growing but not big egos combined with freedom, a strong combination. Todays democracy reflects big egos.

    My prediction is that the only solution is inventing a new religion or reinventing an old one. People need to make their egos small, probably to fanatically abasing themselves before some kind of imagined deity, and with that, again accept social hierarchy and unfreedom. A new Dark Ages come, then after that when the egos got small again you can have a new Reneissance and reinvent freedom and have a good period of history until egos become huge again.

    So Neoreaction fucks it up by focusing on governance instead of culture.

    • Anonymous says:

      Moldbug has a theory of cultural decadence. That is the foundation of neoreaction. It is the very thing that distinguishes it from old reaction.

      Which is not to say that his proposals address his theory. His proposal of anarcho-capitalism happens to be exactly what he proposed before he was a reactionary, so it does not seem informed by his theory. But his general emphasis on formalism is based on his theory that cultural decadence is people caught in the crossfire between elites trying to take power.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I don’t see how cultural decadence can be stopped by better governance. It is culture that creates government, not government that creates culture.

      Neoreaction disagrees. From Konkvistador’s summary:

      If you build a society based on consent, don’t be surprised if consent factories come to dominate your society. What reactionaries call the Cathedral is machinery that naturally arises when the best way to power is hacking opinions of masses of people to consent to whatever you have in store for them. We claim the beliefs this machine produces has no consistent relation to reality and is just stuck in a feedback loop of giving itself more and more power over society. Power in society thus truly lies with the civil service, academia and journalists not elected officials, who have very little to do with actual governing.

      So what you want is a government which is not based on public opinion, and therefore has no incentive to manipulate it. However, the government must have an incentive to care about its subjects’ quality of life. The Fnargl thought experiment was meant to show that a ruler who is secure in his power and who has a low time preference also has a strong incentive to insure his country’s prosperity, if only to increase the amount he can skim off the top as taxes. Fnargl accomplishes this by virtue of being an invulnerable alien with a thousand-year lifespan, but you could also accomplish it by having a king who knows that his descendants will inherit the country for generations to come, or a sovereign corporation with a cryptographic lock on its military’s weapons.

      • Nornagest says:

        It might be worth mentioning here that the same line of reasoning, of course, applies to societies where an autocrat’s opinion is the only thing that counts. Indeed, if you look at aristocratic societies in the early modern period, you do find careers and subcultures being built and fortunes being spent to gain the royal ear; in medieval and earlier periods it isn’t as clear, but that’s mainly because everyone including lords was dirt poor back then. To say nothing of the communication problems involved.

        In absolute terms this wasn’t much on the kind of money that gets spent in modern public relations, but as a percentage of money not going into personal subsistence or national defense, it might well be. (I haven’t done the math.)

        Does anyone here know anything about modern court politics in, say, Saudi Arabia or North Korea?

      • peterdjones says:

        One way of being secure in power is to manipulate public opinion into not wanting to overthrow you. That’s why monarchies tend to go with official state religions that preach that His Maj. was placed on the throne by God.

  47. Brian says:

    Has anyone besides Scott successfully purchased MealSquares?

    I ordered from them almost 10 days ago, they payment went through via PayPal, but I never got any email from MealSquares confirming my order, giving shipping details, etc.

    I sent them an email through their contact form today, so hopefully I just slipped through the cracks and will hear back soon. Is there a better way to contact the proprietors than said contact form?

    I’m curious if anyone has had a similar experience. Still excited to try them, though..

    • nydwracu says:

      I’ve ordered twice. Haven’t had any problems — both times, the box came around a week after I ordered.

    • hawkice says:

      I’ve ordered several times as well. Note: they get your address through paypal. If your address is old, they might have sent it to the wrong place.

  48. Shenpen says:

    @Scott re: Thrive/Survive theory of politics – have you considered that the fight-the-zombies worldview is linked with traditional manliness / testosterone and the enjoy-the-plenty attitudes you described is many ways the opposite of it, to the extent that any less erudite, old and rural conservative who would watch a movie about a utopia like that would probably describe the people as “a bunch of fa..ots?”

    Let’s just talk about cis men for now. If rightism is linked with higher testosterone – and there are studies suggesting it – rightism can be in many ways healthier for cis men, at least mentally, such less, lower chance of depression, more self-esteem and more sexual success. http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/01/13/testosterone-week-intro/ It is pretty much the magic drug of everlasting youth, good looks, and male happiness. (On the flip side it is probably also the magic drug for getting killed in some stupid bar brawl, or starting WW3. So there are some minor drawbacks.)

    For women the case is more interesting. The most likely correlation is high T= feminism = leftism. Studies show how stereotype threat threats high-T women much more than low-T women: low-T girls in a math class are not interested in competition, they just want to do well, hence the stereotype threat does not hold them back. For this reason, high-T women have much more incentive to be feminist and probably this is part of the feminists-are-ugly stereotype: with a high-T face a woman will look like her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosika_Schwimmer#mediaviewer/File:Rosika_Schwimmer.jpg

    This theory can be used to predict a lot. For example the clash between rightists and gay people is not really about religion. Rightist simply dislike feminine men. Even more interestingly leftists like to be pro-LGBT because if the feminine nature of gay men gets more accepted, even a straight but as above predicted low-T leftist man will feel more accepted. Low-T straight leftists men probably get called “fa..ot” all the time and they support actual gays to combat it.

    The right tends to lose because high-T men compete with each other too much. For example in America black male ghetto culture is very high-T, and could be adopted into conservative circles, but the high-T white men leading conservatives don’t want more competition. They know the guys who listen to gangsta rap will aggrressively try to be leaders of their party, because they too are high-T. So the right largely chases them away and blacks vote Democrat.

  49. no one special says:

    I wrote up, then decided not to post, most of a breakdown of an argument in another thread.

    It was a turn of phrase that pushed forward six interrelated points as a single idea. It really pushed my buttons, because it seemed that the bundling of concepts had the effect of disguising the real argument to make it harder to address.

    I decided not to post it because I didn’t want to be read as attacking the poster, and the thread was already heated.

    But this is Slate Star Codex, we can always go meta!

    Has anyone seen this kind of argument bundling before? Does it have a proper name? Are there tools that make it easier to recognize?

    • Zubon says:

      Any Rand has some essays on “package dealing.” That might be a good search term to start with.

    • MugaSofer says:

      I usually refer to it as “equivocating”, as in “you’re equivocating between different meanings of X”.

      As for tools … Rationalist’s Taboo seems designed for this?

  50. Perse says:

    Hey, random question:
    Does anyone know whether Scott has a tumblr, and if so, what the url is?

  51. Scott says:

    @Scott does anything you learned about addiction in any way predict that 15 a day smokers sometimes cut down to 2-3 a day because they kinda feel it makes them sick in the stomach? Not even needing to use any willpower?

  52. Zubon says:

    There is pingback spam but no way to report it. If the “report comment” plugin has an option to include pingbacks, we can help report those.

  53. Matthew says:

    Scott, I just bought something by going through your referral link and then switching www .amazon to smile.amazon. I believe it should net you about $1.50.

    If it shows up, you can remove the “, I think” caveat from your Amazon referral link.