Open threads at the Open Thread tab every Sunday and Wednesday

OT10: We Thread Kings

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

1. Drethelin has made a #slatestarcodex IRC channel on Freenode. If you use IRC, you already know what to do – if not, there’s an easy in-browser login at I haven’t really been there much and don’t know if it’s any good. Also I don’t understand why people don’t just go to #lesswrong which has a lot of the same people. Whatever.

2. Good recent comments: on framing, here’s Rowan, Youzicha, and AR+ bringing up a few aspects of the issue I hadn’t thought about. On Kerouac, a lot of people told me I should be better able to appreciate books about imperfect people – Mai speaks for me with a pithy description of why he prefers Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas to On the Road. Murphy expands upon the change in how jobs are viewed. Deiseach and Jaskologist continue the SSC comments tradition of being able to relate everything to gender, sometimes in enlightening ways. And as always Sarah is worth reading.

3. My hosting provider is giving me grief over a recent spike in traffic. Apparently science and politics are out, reviews of terrible ’50s books are in. Weird. Anyway, expect occasional outages while I deal with this and possibly move to a different hosting provider. Thanks for people who have offered me help, but I think I’ve got this one covered at this point.

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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

644 Responses to OT10: We Thread Kings

  1. drethelin says:

    you can link directly to the room with

  2. Pingback: Open Thread #4: Race the Music | Thing of Things

  3. DrBeat says:

    Did you ever get that E-mail I sent you about the therapeutic-tool-game? Did you just not want to respond to it? That’s okay, you can just say that.

  4. haishan says:

    I’ve been reading some Moldbug lately — he’s actually not that bad, if you ignore the seven times a post he implores you to stop and read a history book from 1875 — and a lot of what he says sorta makes sense, but one thing I don’t get is why he goes so Red on anthropogenic global warming, given that he generally likes science. I mean, I get the meta-level point that climate science has screwy incentives, but I have found myself basically unable to evaluate the claims of “climate skeptics” [which is a terrible name, by the way] vs. the claims of mainstream scientists and see whose are better. Does anyone know of a steelmanning of the best anti-AGW arguments, and/or a really, really convincing explanation of why the best anti-AGW arguments are wrong?

    • s says:

      Not sure if this has come up before here or at lesswrong, but all bayesians should look into and ponder the role of priors in estimating “equilibrium climate sensitivity”. One place to start is Another (perhaps better) is But you’ll want to google phrases like “nic lewis prior” to get a sense of the landscape of the debate here.

      • s says:

        (FWIW this is related to the parent comment because I think the most serious attempt at steelmanning “climate deniers” must engage vigorously with the argument that AGW is real but not that big a deal. That, after all, is what is implicitly being argued in the policy-relevant claim that the optimal Pigouvian tax on carbon emissions — regardless of the mechanism of said tax — is substantially greater than zero.)

        • Paul Torek says:

          This is the key. The optimal Pigouvian tax is primarily determined, I expect, by the optimal geo-engineering strategy to mitigate climate change – and the impacts it fails to address (often, notably, ocean acidification).

    • James Picone says:

      Depends what kind of ‘anti-AGW’ you’re talking about.

      The people who claim that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist, often referred to as ‘slayers’ after a book suggesting that, are creationism-level don’t-even-bother.

      The people who claim that the current temperature record is fraudulent or incredibly sloppy and contaminated by UHI have slightly more of a case, in that they’re not running counter to thermodynamics. You could make a case that any individual paleoclimate study neglects this and this factor, or that any individual weather station has this and this weird artefact, but getting from there to “It’s all wrong” is a rather large leap.

      I think the steel-manniest anti-AGW argument I can suggest is to grab all the low-sensitivity studies and suggest that on the basis of those climate sensitivity is maybe 2c, then argue that under business-as-usual we’ll stop emitting CO2 before a 2c climate sensitivity screws us all. But you’re still vulnerable to the point that cherry-picking climate sensitivity studies is motivated reasoning, especially given that the low-sensitivity climate studies are almost all energy-balance models that can’t account for nonlinear feedbacks or feedbacks operating on scales longer than a couple of decades, both properties that bias them low. Also even at 2c the amount of CO2 we’d be emitting under even a ludicrously techno-optimist assumption where thorium reactors come online in the next decade is probably kind of dangerous – the arctic would definitely vanish, antarctica would lose a lot of ice, etc. etc..

      Maybe make an argument that come the singularity, it won’t be a problem?

      • s says:

        My impression (please correct me if I am wrong) is that many of the high ECS studies are based upon a scientific paradigm that is not entirely beyond reproach, namely a reliance upon certain types of computer models that may be massively overfit (at least for the purposes of making decadal-timescale inferences). While the author is a well known villain to some (it seems), I found this piece to be a well-reasoned and thought-provoking essay on the topic of global climate models and what they do or do not tell us about the physical world. All that said, I certainly admit that there are multiple lines of evidence which point towards higher values of ECS and that in and of itself is cause for concern. Nonetheless I would reiterate the OP’s desire to see a truly convincing argument that shows there exist nontrivial, costly carbon mitigation policies (even if they are politically infeasible) that the USA could impose today and which (in expectation) pass a cost-benefit analysis. AFAICT the policy landscape is changing on sub-decadal timescales (e.g. shale gas) while the error bars on our knowledge of the relevant parameters for doing the cost-benefit analysis are decreasing on multi-decadal timescales (basically as we acquire more data on aerosol and carbon forcings on decadal timescales). As for nonlinear and century-scale feedbacks, color me skeptical that we actually know anything at all (simply because I can’t imagine we have enough reliable data to say anything rigorous about these things), but if you can point me to an accessible introductory survey on the topic I would be interested.

        • James Picone says:

          Yeah, Kininmoth is well known denier of the slayer variety. The article you’ve linked to, for example, says:

          Not so. Infrared radiation to space across the wavelengths associated with greenhouse gases emanated from within the atmosphere; greenhouse gases emitted more infrared radiation than they absorbed, thus cooling the atmosphere at a rate of 1–2°C per day.

          The problem with the argument in the article you’ve linked to is partially the position that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist, leading to the conclusion that you need a climate model to get a sensitivity. Not so. A first-order climate sensitivity of 1c for a doubling of CO2 can be calculated just doing physics – it’s an energy balance thing. We know how much sunlight we get, and we can calculate pretty damn well how much energy some additional CO2 will absorb. The other big problem is Kininmoth implying that everything we know about climate is modelling.

          The difficulty comes in when we try to figure out whether the effects of that warming also change things. Water vapour is an immensely-powerful greenhouse gas, and water vapour concentration increases with temperature. Ice cover reduces albedo, so decreasing ice cover is another forcing. But ice can also insulate oceans, so there’s a negative forcing there. Cloudiness is… very complicated. Some clouds are positive, some clouds are negative, and the implications of a warming atmosphere on cloudiness are kind of hard. All of these are ‘feedbacks’. The IPCC puts the likely feedback range for a doubling of CO2 at .5c to 3.5c, so with the 1c from CO2 doubling it’s 1.5 to 4.5. That’s all there is to it.

          It’s absolutely true that there are criticisms of high ECS studies too, it’s just that criticising all the high-ECS ones and then presenting Lewis as be-all end-all is the same problem as if you present one of the studies giving a 6c climate sensitivity and say all the others are wrong. There are kind of three fundamental types of ECS study:
          – Paleoclimate. We’ve got some data on what climate looked like in ye olden times, and how much CO2 there was. These give highish ECS estimates, are vulnerable to us not knowing as much as we thought about paleoclimate and different continent configurations changing things up.

          – Modelling. These are a bit over the map, ranging from moderate to absurdly high ECS estimates. We’ve got complicated models of the physical processes, put numbers in, numbers come out. Vulnerable to the model being wrong in a relevant way, encoded assumptions, etc..

          – Observational EBM things. That’s what Lewis did, the principle difference between his result and other results was choice of prior. Tend to give low to moderate estimates. Basically you take all our observational evidence for where energy is going in the system over the last couple of decades and do some simple calculations on them. The principle problem with these is that you have to assume feedbacks are linear to make the maths work, they’re very dependent on the data sets you use and how good they are, and they have a disturbing tendency to have very strong dependence on when you start and end your measurements.

          All of them have problems, which is why the ECS range the IPCC give goes from 1.5c to 4.5c. That’s a huge range. They’re only about 90% confident it’s below 4.5, as well, because of a bunch of paleoclimate studies that sit above that. Grabbing only the low end of that range because a single study says so is not good scientific practice.

          Nonlinear/long feedbacks, we don’t have much info it’s true. But they also probably exist – it takes a long, long time for ice to melt, energy to cycle through the deep ocean, etc. etc.. Any icemelt or ocean heat content data that’s missing or estimated low in Nic’s analysis will miss that, polar albedo changes are not going to be present in Nic’s analysis, etc.. Deep OHC/icemelt data is really hard to get because it’s either deep ocean or the middle of Antarctica/russian tundra, so it wouldn’t be surprising if there were huge inaccuracies there. I’m not sure I can find a good discussion of it – the phrase to look for is ‘earth system sensitivity’ (“What if we put CO2 at this level for ever?”), as opposed to ‘effective climate sensitivity’ (“What if we put CO2 at this level for a century or so?”) and ‘transient climate sensitivity’ (“What if CO2 increased at this rate?”). Most actual research on that is going to be paleoclimate.

          Policy-wise, obvious best answer is Pigovian tax. The cooperation problem is, well, a problem though. And cost-benefit analysis is really, really hard here. At our current level of CO2, the WAIS is probably going to all melt eventually (i.e., in centuries), probably raising sea levels 3.3 metres. How much is it worth to stop that now? Depends on how much technological progress you see in two centuries, how much risk that it will happen earlier you want to accept, what you estimate the other risks as, etc..

        • Anonymous says:

          One quibble and one congrats.

          The problem with the argument in the article you’ve linked to is partially the position that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist, leading to the conclusion that you need a climate model to get a sensitivity. Not so. A first-order climate sensitivity of 1c for a doubling of CO2 can be calculated just doing physics – it’s an energy balance thing.

          My PhD is in dynamics/control, so I’m quibbling with terminology here. You say that you don’t need a climate model… and then you present a climate model (an absurdly simplified one, yes, but a model nonetheless). Whether we’re sketching a two parameter model on a napkin or coding a 1000 parameter computer model, we’re not going to get a sensitivity without assuming a model.

          Policy-wise, obvious best answer is Pigovian tax. …cost-benefit analysis is really, really hard here.

          This is the most steel-manned argument that I can see. Forget how finicky climate models are. That’s nothing compared to political/economic models. Even if we can say that the climate will warm X deg C and area Y will see a Z% reduction of precipitation over the next fifty years, how can we possibly cash that out in a cost-benefit analysis? Economic/political shocks are usually just that – shocks. It makes sense that people would see X,Y,Z from above, imagine it happening tomorrow, and correctly observe, “There is no way that we could cope with that economically/politically.” Buuut, we have fifty years of economic/political dynamics, too! And these things operate on far quicker timescales! E.g., swaths of land becoming unfarmable over a timescale of a few years (say, the Dust Bowl) is a shock which devastates existing economic/political situations… but if that input were stretched over fifty years, then we may have observed a totally peaceful and gradual shift of resources into other areas/endeavors.

          This is the Hard Problem of Long-Term Planning. I don’t think we have a chance to solve it definitively in the very near future, and it is this that will solidify the cooperation problem.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Policy conclusions may be a better option — I’ve heard a lot of complaints that the Blue ideas of ‘living within means’ and conservation (rather than nuclear power and technological glory) will lead to more poverty and sometimes seem to reach the level of autogenocide.

        • James Picone says:

          As someone pretty Blue who hangs out with a lot of generally Blue people and reads Blue websites, I’d say the policy option I see pushed the most is an emissions-trading scheme, and then a pigovian tax, along with subsidies to ‘green’ power production and bans on energy-inefficient technologies. I’m not sure you even have to steelman arguments against subsidies and bans on lightbulbs, but I’m not sure what the steelman on ETS or Pigovian tax looks like. Most of the options I’m turning up are essentially “Don’t worry, the market will eliminate fossil fuels and draw CO2 out of the atmosphere despite very little incentive to do so and active efforts to prevent it doing that”.

    • Toggle says:

      Actually there was a series of discussion posts on LW last summer that went in to some of this, and I think had some interesting arguments against. You can start at

      I’ve actually had a pretty good insider’s view of AGW research; I know a lot of those guys from my early days as a lab tech. The concerns about financial incentives are overstated, I think. Providing huge grants for global warming research causes people to come up with contrived reasons that their research is about global warming; at the margins, it causes people to tweak their research some to make more global warming-ish. It causes universities to furnish labs with equipment that will help them investigate warming trends, and to hire people that investigate AGW. But one thing it does not do is cause people to reach a particular conclusion in their research.

      Repeated affirmation of AGW is great news for the discipline as a whole (in financial terms), but as deception or willful ignorance it would be seriously unstable. The incentive for an individual team is to discover persuasive and dramatic results of any kind, and more grant money just makes that even more likely than it would be if everyone was cash-poor. There’s no mechanism to prevent defectors.

      • gattsuru says:

        The incentive for an individual team is to discover persuasive and dramatic results of any kind, and more grant money just makes that even more likely than it would be if everyone was cash-poor. There’s no mechanism to prevent defectors.

        It seems like the modern peer review process would act as such, and indeed one of the big takeaways from the leaked East Anglia e-mails was that multiple authors were quite happy to punish anyone they thought to be a defector or willing to assist defectors. This couldn’t protect really serious fraud, of the type you could have published in the New York Times… but there’s a lot of space before that point.

        Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, this looks exactly like how someone would act if the warming researchers are responding to “warming skeptics” who the researchers believe are making stuff up, or promoting made-up data.

        And on the gripping hand, while I’m pretty skeptical of the skeptics, mainstream academic science has had more than a fair share of pretty high profile failure modes that don’t require this sorta intentional collaboration to begin with.

      • cassander says:

        >The concerns about financial incentives are overstated, I think.

        financial, yes. but status, career, fame, acceptance of your community? those not so much.

        >But one thing it does not do is cause people to reach a particular conclusion in their research.

        you just said that stuff that is more global warming-ish is rewarded, all else being equal. how can that not effect results at the margin?

        >The incentive for an individual team is to discover persuasive and dramatic results of any kind, and more grant money just makes that even more likely than it would be if everyone was cash-poor. There’s no mechanism to prevent defectors.

        again, you just talked about that mechanism.

      • vV_Vv says:

        […] it causes people to tweak their research some to make more global warming-ish. It causes universities to furnish labs with equipment that will help them investigate warming trends, and to hire people that investigate AGW. But one thing it does not do is cause people to reach a particular conclusion in their research.

        These incentives might however skew the results by magnifying publication bias:

        If you do a study using a strong and standard methodology and find a negative result, then you may submit it and get it past peer review as the strength of your methodology will lend credence to your result.
        If instead you used a novel or shaky methodology, then you are unlikely to submit a negative result, and if you try it will be less likely to make it past review, as the failure to confirm the preexisting consensus will be (probably correctly) attributed to some problem in your method.
        A positive result obtained by a similarly novel or shaky methodology, on the other hand, is more likely to be published.

        This probably doesn’t imply that the consensus beliefs are grossly false, since if they were it should probably have been possible to falsify them with a sufficiently strong methodology, but the strength of the evidence for the consensus beliefs is probably overstated to some degree.

    • Symmetry says:

      The climate change chapter of The Skeptical Environmentalist had some fairly good arguments that while AGW is real it’s downside is being oversold. The author’s views have shifted, though.

      • Anonymous says:

        Could you point to some evidence that the author’s views have shifted? A decade after the book, he made a documentary that seems to hold the same position.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’d nominate Judith Curry for steelman-in-chief of the anti-AGW position. And the other candidates for the position will be frequently linked from her blog, so there you go.

      Here, “anti-AGW” translates to “The climate sensitivity is more like 1C than the consensus 3-4C, there’s too much pathology in the AGW community to place high confidence in anyone’s results, and at 1C / low confidence it would be unwise to sacrifice big chunks of our economy on Gaia’s altar right now”. I don’t think you can steelman “The greenhouse effect doesn’t occur on Earth”, or “Global Warming is a deliberate fraud by a conspiracy of scientists”, though I’d be open to a counterexample.

      • Anthony says:

        More steelmanning: “All the models(*) are wrong, because they’ve all failed to predict or postdict the 17+ year stall in global temperatures. (*A few allow for a stall that long, but those tend to be those showing the least sensitivity.) Therefore, it’s irresponsible to make policy decisions which are reacting to the more extreme models, when it’s clear that we don’t actually know what’s going on.”

        • Noah Siegel says:

          Does anybody know where I can find a list of predictions made by the various models, and data on how well those predictions matched reality?
          I think this would be important, but not dispositive, to determining how accurate those models are.

    • Noah Siegel says:

      David D Friedman has two arguments that are, in my opinion, the strongest that I’ve seen:

      On the unreliability of our predictions about the net effects of global warming:

      About the unreliability of procedures that are ostensibly to mitigate those effects:

      • thirqual says:

        David Friedman showed in the first blog post that he did not do the necessary research. Most of the object-level arguments he gives are erroneous or wishful thinking.

        Soil quality is actually relevant for growing crops, and the parts of Canada and Russia which may be slightly more cultivable have horribly shitty soils. So little luck here.

        The Earth is a globe, not a cylinder. All things being equal, if we move the cultivable zone for a crop northwards, we decrease the available land surface available for farming. Not relevant for many crops as we have an excess of farmland right now. Also, those areas at higher latitudes will not have the same precipitation patterns than our current high productivity ones. People thinking that irrigation solves everything should look at the state of the Aral Sea, or what was known as the Fertile Crescent.

        Next comes the “changes will be slow and people will adapt”. Ecosystem collapse thresholds and breaking points exist. They are hard to predict, but we have observed them, and we will observe more. Most crucial, acidification of the oceans and the consequences for phytoplankton.

        Shifting to crops better suited to a warmer climates → those crops ave to exist in the first place. Oh, and the ones you want to move northwards have to deal with soils they were not developed for. And you need to move your infrastructure, which you could do slowly, sure, but he completely discounts the cost of it in his post!

        “It is true that our species evolved to survive under then existing climatic conditions”: no, it is not true. Our culture, our institutions, our infrastructure, certainly, yes, not our species and predecessors which evolved through a wide range of climatic conditions in the last. And have not prospered for most of that time (see human near-extinctions). Civilization flourished in the last interglacial, is recent, and was fragile for most of history.

        Allow me not to trust the conclusions of someone not able to muster solid object-level arguments.

    • cassander says:

      Moldbug has two problems with AGW. First, that people (in this case the left) are merely using it as an excuse to advocate progressive policies they already favored. AGW comes around, and what does the left say? “The world has changed, we need to do something new. No, not nuclear power, don’t be silly. By new, I mean spend a ton more money on the solar and wind stuff we’ve been pushing since Carter was president.” The funny this is they’ll even, unconsciously, admit this with the slogan “what if climate change is a hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” Of course, the right does this as well, but the left is much better at it, for reasons I’ll get to.

      Second, and more fundamental, Moldbug is a programmer. he thinks the projection models are complete bullshit. one can accept perfectly that the planet has gotten a lot warmer in the last century, even accept that humans are to blame, and not believe that people are capable of modeling what the climate will actually be like 100 years from now. Given how insanely complicated the systems are, I think he’s probably right. And remember, he was writing BEFORE the current pause in warming was apparent. If anything, it only makes his argument stronger.

      basically, Moldbug looks at AGW and sees a perfect demonstration of the cathedral in action. the academy identifies all sorts of problems, climate change, transphobia, what have you. politicians, always on the lookout for problems to do something about, seize on some of them. journalists, educated by academia and thus familiar with the latest generation of problems report on good politicians who are trying to do something and bad politicians trying to stop them. up and coming academics see which problems are most popular and go into studying them. rinse and repeat a few times and eventually the population is converted. Everyone involved is sincere and well meaning, but the in the end the final result always ends up being something like corn ethanol, because progressive political theory, that policy can and should be guided by meaning priests technocrats, is simply wrong. the problem is that the people who pushed corn ethanol are currently enjoying their comfortable retirements, people who lose are the serfs citizens who have to pay for all this nonsense, and of course, any notion of objective science.

      • Anonymous` says:

        Second, and more fundamental, Moldbug is a programmer. he thinks the projection models are complete bullshit.

        If you are not a programmer or in a similar field, please do not overestimate how much insight being a programmer would actually give him on others’ work he (probably? I’d be happy to be corrected with a link here) hasn’t spent hours going over.

        • Leonard says:

          Knowing those models are little more than toys does not require being a programmer. (Programmers are probably going to more sensitive to it.) The problem is that the atmosphere is a fluid, and thus a chaotic system. Butterflies are flapping their wings all over the place. In a system like that, you have to simulate it completely, down to the scale at which chaos disappears. Which, for the climate, is … I dunno. Perhaps a voxel that is a kilometer cubed? Probably smaller — a thunderhead can fit in that. Anyway, whatever the right grid size is, it is much, much smaller than that used by the climate modelers. Wikipedia: “Typical AGCM resolutions are between 1 and 5 degrees in latitude or longitude”. They are attempting to model it at a granularity that is far, far too chunky. Now, this is not their fault — climate modelers in 2014 can only do what actual 2014 computers can do. But taking such a model, with its many variables that have to be tweaked to get a fit, and declaring it to be an actual model of the climate — that is their fault.

          I should also reiterate that there is considerable fudge — “uncertainty” — that enters these models. Part of this is due to the large voxel size; processes that take place within a voxel have to be parameterized, that is, fudged. Part of it is due to the fact that we still don’t understand important things about climate. For example, from la wik: “The effects of clouds are a significant area of uncertainty in climate models.” I think there will be some clouds in the next 100 years! Again, this is not anyone’s fault; if we don’t understand clouds fully that’s because it is hard. But a computer does not compute uncertain numbers; what this means is that the model’s programmers are arbitrarily picking some value for each specific fudge factor. It is deceptive to take a model with a fudge factor of “we decided that clouds do X”, which you have to twiddle (along with many other variables) to get the model to work, hide the many assumptions made, and throw it out there as a justification for profoundly disruptive economic policies.

          • oneforward says:

            I agree with the general conclusion that climate modeling is hard. But…

            The problem is that the atmosphere is a fluid, and thus a chaotic system. Butterflies are flapping their wings all over the place. In a system like that, you have to simulate it completely, down to the scale at which chaos disappears.

            The problem here is not chaos, and chaos does not disappear at small scales.

            Chaos is a problem for weather prediction, since atmospheric dynamics will always be exquisitely sensitive to initial conditions. This means specific weather predictions with dates are impossible past a timescale of weeks. Since the measurement accuracy required grows exponentially with the timescale of prediction, our weather forecasts can’t get much better.

            However, chaos does not mean that nothing about the system is predictable. It means the specific location within the attractor is unpredictable. That’s not a problem if you only care about general features of the attractor, like long-term average temperature ranges.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s not a problem if you only care about general features of the attractor, like long-term average temperature ranges.

            Sure, chaos isn’t a problem if you can find a model which lets you say something for which chaos isn’t a problem. Suppose we have a fantastic 1000 parameter model. Further, suppose we get really lucky and the model isn’t chaotic in the state (and suppose we’re a million times lucky and can prove this!). Or maybe we’re super lucky and can prove some bounds on the attractor. Now, we let one of those 1000 parameters vary over time, too. It’s now part of the state. Quick, is the system chaotic? You have no idea, and I don’t either. We have no theoretical way of bootstrapping. We’re stuck with saying, “Here’s a model. Even if I am a million times lucky and can show that it’s not chaotic, it’s a feature of my selection of constant parameters. Sure, this system may have a non-chaotic, non-equilibrium steady state… and I can even show you average values which pop out of the simulation… but seriously, good luck. You can’t know that freeing up a single parameter won’t drive the whole system to infinity (or stabilize it to a different invariant set).

            Disclaimer: I’m not anywhere near the “models are useless because chaos” camp. I’ve just done enough dynamics to be skeptical whenever someone says, “I have a model that gets rid of all the bad stuff!” I always hope that they’re useful, and I always want to hear more about them, but I tread lightly rather than announce to the masses that we’ve solved god, the universe, and hot fudge sundaes.

          • oneforward says:

            @anonymous – Yes, I agree. My point is just that, from my understanding of climate science, the difficulties are more “we don’t know how the system works” than “we know how the system works, but we can’t predict it because it’s chaotic.”

          • Anonymous says:

            the difficulties are more “we don’t know how the system works” than “we know how the system works, but we can’t predict it because it’s chaotic.”

            I agree entirely, but it is also fine to acknowledge that chaotic behavior may be embedded in the dynamics and could thwart our efforts for a long time. The first (and one of the simplest) examples of chaotic dynamics was a three dimensional system with only three parameters (…and published in the Journal of Atmospheric Sciences!). That one is neat enough that we can prove some interesting bounds for the attractor… but it lends a lot of credence to the idea that when we do understand how the complicated system works, it may be far too ugly for us to prove much about it via theory or simulation (at least for a while).

          • oneforward says:

            Yeah, there probably will be chaotic behavior. And when that’s the limiting factor, we’ll need to do something more clever than just using smaller voxels in simulations.

            (And the Lorenz system is cool. Wikipedia has some nice pictures and animations.)

    • too cool for names says:

      He’s a Blue-tribe ex-Red-libertarian. They instinctually go Red on climate change because it’s so ideologically loaded. Climate change has a repugnant air of Blue politics. I usually have to compensate for the automatic reaction, presumably he doesn’t try to.
      (Source: anecdotal, I am a Blue-tribe ex-Red-libertarian and know a lot of Red-libertarians.)

    • Jos says:

      Here’s my 3 cents – I’m not nearly confident enough in my premises to hold the whole thing up as a steelman.


      1) It seems indisputable that the global temperature record has been increasing over modern history with some pauses, and that barring feedback effects, increased CO2->increased net energy absorption.

      2) So the questions are (a) how serious is increasing temperature; and (b) given (a), is it beneficial to (i) engage in carbon limitation; (ii) investigate geoengineering and carbon sequester; (iii) hope that market forces/techological innovation will open a solution; and/or (iv) plan to adapt to the changes.

      3) My understanding is that the case for carbon limitation depends in large part on models that predict that (a) the rate of warming is about to accelerate over historical trend and (b) that there is a risk of catastrophic warming over and above the IPCC midline.

      4) My understanding is that barring underpants gnomes, people agree that current carbon rationing isn’t going to materially reduce mid-range future temperature increases.

      5) My understanding is that economists agree that carbon rationing will reduce economic growth, which will reduce quality of life and cost lives.


      – If I understand all of those correctly, I don’t see how we’re not getting geoengineering ready to go. As I understand the current argument for carbon rationing, (a) there is a concerning possibility of catastrophic climate failure; and (b) we don’t think that carbon rationing will actually reduce that possibility by very much, but think the possibility is costly enough that it’s worth trying.

      – If so, then it seems that the answer is geoengineering. If the risk is great enough that you’re willing to accept an actual cost of lives and potentially reorganize the world economy, AND THAT WON’T EVEN REDUCE THE RISK by a predictiable or even necessarily material amount, then the risk should be great enough that we should take about half of NASA’s budget and reallocate it to geoengineering. (In fact, we should be willing to cancel almost any existing spending in favor of preventing catastrophic climate change.)

      – Since we haven’t diverted a few billion $/year in current spending to geoengineering, my rough conclusion is either (a) we should, and people lobbying for carbon rationing are a distraction; and/or (b) many people who claim to be concerned about it have revealed preferences that lead me to be sceptical of their conclusions.

      (Caveat: As I said, I could easily be wrong about any of my premises.)

    • peterdjones says:

      Moldbug claims that everyone is being systematically lied to, so he needs examples of lies. There is a lot of pre existing material about how AGW is a lie, so it makes a convenient example, The details of the science don’t come into it.

  5. hermanubis says:

    Can anyone recommend books that argue against the idea that there has been a general trend of moral progress/reduction in suffering? I’ve been pretty convinced by Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature but know that many people have not and would like to see where they’re coming from.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      What time frame?

    • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

      I don’t know, but I am not very convinced about the moral progress part. I think a lot of that could be an illusion of the expectation of politically correct masks and technological progress, rather than actual moral change.

      It should be obvious that suffering is decreased when new scientific understanding comes into play. Invent a new painkiller, suffering goes down. Invent violent internet manga porn, real rapes go down (through substitution and effort discounting). Invent Temple Gardin style slaughterhouses, and the cows suffer a little less. Invent international supply chains of complex goods, and probability of war goes down.

      This may not actually signify a change in human morality but temporary opportunism and lower benefits of causing suffering. Who knows, maybe the next technological shift turns this on its head and we end up right in distopia.

      • stillnotking says:

        I think moral progress just is progress in understanding. On the view that our moral nature is an actual, describable thing, an evolutionary adaptation of a social species designed to solve certain coordination problems, what can “progress” mean but “learning”? So, for instance, we no longer murder people from the next tribe on sight while being nice to our own tribe, because we recognize that the adaptation of niceness-to-one’s-own-tribe can be usefully extended to strangers, at least in certain circumstances. It seems to me the process is not essentially different from learning how to cook food, or identify nutritious plants, or split the atom.

        Note this also makes it unlikely that a little more learning will suddenly invalidate all the learning that came before.

      • nydwracu says:

        I don’t know, but I am not very convinced about the moral progress part. I think a lot of that could be an illusion of the expectation of politically correct masks and technological progress, rather than actual moral change.

        Or it could be because of moral change.

        If the dominant morality in a certain year (call it MT) perceives itself to be closer to MT-5 (the dominant morality of five years before time T) than MT-10, closer to MT-10 than MT-20, closer to MT-20 than MT-50, to MT-50 than MT-100, to MT-100 than MT-200, to MT-200 than MT-500, and so on — or even if most-but-not-all of these things are perceived to hold (as long as it’s not U-shaped) then of course observers who hold to the dominant morality of time MT will believe in moral progress, no matter what the content of M is.

    • PS says:

      One of the better critiques of Pinker’s book is by Nassim Taleb, although as usual it’s couched in Taleb’s off-puttingly combative style (to put it mildly). Briefly, Taleb argues that given the incredibly destructive potential of modern militaries, we are vulnerable to “black swans” such as, for example, destructive nuclear wars. We actually came absurdly close during the Cuban Missile Crisis of course.

      Here is Taleb’s blog post/attack, and is here is Pinker’s response.

      I think that 20th-century periods of peace punctuated by massive violence in the form of World Wars I & II is consistent with Taleb’s view. At the same time, Pinker’s diagnosis of consistently declining murder rates and other small-scale violence would seem to be on solid ground.

      That said, there is someone in my department (I’m a history PhD student) who works on murder specifically, and he claims that Pinker cherry picked the medieval data to make the distant past seem more dangerous; the 14th-century era of the Black Death was an unusually bad time by medieval standards, but I think that’s where Pinker starts. I don’t know though, because it seems like Pinker’s use of the early modern data indicates consistently falling crime rates.

      • Eden says:

        I guess if we attempted to make a strict utilitarian calculation to determine which position between Pinker’s and Taleb’s apparently-incompatible explanations is more accurate, we could say that one is right to say we’re a more/less dangerous society and the other is wrong. But for all practical purposes, need these positions be in conflict? I see very little issue in agreeing with both positions: while I am certainly more likely to be on the wrong end of a planet-ending apocalypse or catastrophic global war than hypothetical-me were in the Middle Ages, I am also certainly less likely to be the victim of more localized violence (whether at the hands of a local lord or serf, or by highwaymen or small-scale skirmishes between feuding lords’ armies) than hypothetical-me were then. It seems like there is no conflict with saying that our societal systems are less violent but more fragile, per se, which is the best summary of both positions I can see.

        • stillnotking says:

          Taleb’s criticism of Pinker is so wildly off-base that I wonder if he read the book. The position you’re presenting as a synthesis of Taleb and Pinker is Pinker’s actual position as expressed in Better Angels.

          • PS says:

            It’s true that Pinker is much more circumspect about the durability and meaning of the Long Peace since WWII than he is about the decline of crime over time. So Pinker covered his bases in a sense, but his meta-narrative of declining violence actually requires a decline of inter-state violence (in addition to crime, etc.) in order to be as important as it seems to be.

            Pinker does rely on the fact that *as a percentage* of the population WWII is brought less deaths than some wars of the past (although beware modern-day estimates of distant wars). So the philosophical questions that people are discussing on this thread about WWII’s relative level of destructiveness are worth talking about, and maybe insoluble.

            For that matter, even a nuclear war could easily result in less deaths than WWII *as a percentage of global population*. Sadly then, we could see a nuclear nightmare, and we still couldn’t rule out Pinker’s thesis. So that means Pinker’s ideas are at least somewhat robust, but not at all a cause for complacency.

      • vV_Vv says:

        I think that 20th-century periods of peace punctuated by massive violence in the form of World Wars I & II is consistent with Taleb’s view.

        Were World Wars 1 and 2 massively violent? If I recall correctly I’ve read (I think in The World Until Yesterday by Diamond) that WW2 killed off only a small fraction of the population of the warring countries, while tribal warfare between hunter-gatherer groups can kill 10% of their population in a single engagement.

        • Irenist says:

          tribal warfare between hunter-gatherer groups can kill 10% of their population in a single engagement.

          I don’t know how to ask this with more statistical numeracy, but whenever I’ve come across that idea, I always think something like, “Well, maybe only ten guys died, but there were only 100 people in their hunter-gatherer band? Whereas if only ten guys die in a modern battle, it’s a much smaller percentage of the population.”

          I guess what I’m wondering is if that factoid isn’t some statistical artifact of ancient tribes being small: in a group of ten people, e.g., you’d only have to kill one guy to get a 10% kill rate–but one guy is the minimum number you can kill in any group, since you can’t commit homicide against 0.5 people.

          Relatedly, in a less specialized era, the “warrior” caste might consist of basically all the able-bodied adult males, whereas now, not so much. So battles that take out 10% of the “combatants” take out 10% of the able-bodied adult males, rather than 10% of some smaller specialized soldierly subset of a modern population.

          Last imprecise thought on this: Say you have a city of a million people, and you bomb it with a drone, and kill 100 people at a wedding or something by mistake. That’s tragic, but way less than 10% of the population. Whereas if you have my tribe of 100 people, you only need 10 lethal hits with a spear to kill 10%. IOW, since our populations are in the millions, we’d have to be nuking each other pretty regularly to do as much per capita damage to our cities as a couple of spears could do to one of these ancient tribes. So again, maybe we’re not so much “less violent” in any interesting way as just “more populous”?


          • John Schilling says:

            I believe that when hunter-gatherer bands waged “war”, the usual tactic was to line up and throw spears from extreme range, while shouting and dancing and posturing and occasionally having some great hero demonstrate his bravery by dashing forth to slightly-less-extreme range to chuck a spear and then retreat. This does not result in ten lethal hits. It usually does not result in one lethal hit. But everybody has a grand old time, and it gives you a pretty good idea which tribe is bigger and which tribe is braver.

            Occasionally, there would be an ambush or a sneak attack on a tribal camp. These were aimed at exterminating weak tribes that hadn’t taken the hint and moved away. If successful, they killed pretty much everyone, possibly excepting children and young women taken as slaves.

            Caveats: From memory of books read years ago, which have obvious selection-bias issues in that most hunter-gatherer societies died unrecorded by history or science and the ones we know of may be atypical.

        • thirqual says:

          The Soviet Union lost 14% of its population (and 80% of the males born in 1923 did not survive the war), Germany close to 10, Yugoslavia between 6 and 10. The USA, 0.32. Oceans are useful!

          France, Germany, Austria-Hungary ~4%, mostly young men.

          Both are smaller than what is/was apparently common among non-state societies, but the of scope, concentration and dedication aspects of the ww1/2 conflicts make direct comparison a bit difficult. The tomb markers near Verdun may be a good illustration.

        • Alex Godofsky says:

          Were World Wars 1 and 2 massively violent?


          If, for some reason, you need actual numbers: in WW2, ~3% of the entire global population was killed. Germany, the Soviet Union, and most of the countries stuck between them lost well over 10% of their populations.

    • Bruno Coelho says:

      I’ve been a skeptic of the normative attitude. However, you could accept the data without being a optimist about our future. From less violence don’t follow less risk.

  6. anti-ai says:

    I looked at BBC’s mobile site recently and the first story was Stephen Hawking talking about AI apocalypse. So…I wrote this rant. Am I right? Wrong?

    • Auroch says:

      I don’t follow this bit:

      >Your actions -> Global technological change -> New growth mode / foom
      >There is no way to skip the middle step. So MIRI, for example, is trying that and they’re wasting their time.

      What is it that you think MIRI is trying to skip, which cannot be skipped?

      As far as I can tell, what they’re trying to do is to build a theoretical framework in advance of the systems that can implement that framework. They definitely are focusing on ‘working backwards’, so to speak; leaving the things that would change the most depending on the architecture of the implementing system for last, and focusing on high-level concerns first. I don’t think your concerns are worthless, but I also don’t think they kill the enterprise as thoroughly as you seem to think.

      And on a completely side note, LW definitely seems to slant harder toward the CFAR kind of thing than the MIRI side, these days. And that seems helpful toward the political angle in a general way, regardless of the effectiveness of MIRI. I, personally, am more interested in MIRI things, but that’s largely because it is very close to the area of my personal greatest expertise, and seems like a really interesting theoretical problem even if the practical impact was negligible (which I doubt).

      • anti-ai says:

        The attractiveness of causes (in general) depends equally on both importance and crowdedness. One big selling point of MIRI is that few people are working on AI now. I’m saying that doesn’t matter because given the enormous technological change between today and the day before AI, we literally know nothing about which causes sentient beings will favor then or about crowdedness. You can’t just skip the change in between.

        I haven’t seen this argument made before.

  7. Matthew says:

    I mentioned this once elsewhere but it was buried and you probably didn’t see it:

    The study it references came out after you did the AA post.

  8. Nick says:

    I’d like to see conversation about a leftwing analogue to Neoreaction, since a lot of people have apparently flirted with the idea, but I’m concerned that that would immediately swerve into gender and race topics. So I made a post over in Ozy’s thread instead.

    • Hanfeizi says:

      I think I know what you’re getting at, but it seems to me the real issue is that we need to break out of the right-left paradigm altogether and start looking at these issues developmentally.

      Have you or Scott ever taken a look at the work of Don Beck (based on that of Clare Graves) and Spiral Dynamics? Or Ken Wilber’s Integral Philosophy (despite some of it’s troubles)? Here’s a good breakdown of the SDi Integral Model:

      Wilber identifies that as clean as this model might look, each of the vMEMEs (levels) is capable of being distorted in various ways. He likes to talk about the “Mean Green Meme”- his name for what we would call SJWs and the politically correct establishment. Neoreaction seems to be a confused reaction against this- it’s groping towards a Yellow vMEME point of view, but tends to throw out everything Green rather than properly integrating it. The difference between the technocommercialists (Moldbug and Land, et al) and the ethnonationalists (Anissimov and Bayne, et al) is that the former are groping towards something higher, if not quite hitting the mark; whereas the latter are really full-on reactionaries who want to regress to the lower memes, embracing selfish power gods views (Red), ethnic tribal conformity (Blue), and to some extent Orange rationality- but wanting nothing to do with Green at all.

      Our host seems to have a view somewhere in the Turquoise band, OTOH- he seems to have been able to transcend and include everything worthwhile in both the Green (SJ, et al) and Yellow (NR, et al) vMEMEs and push on to something new- which, as we saw in “Meditations on Moloch”, borders on the spiritual.

      I hope if Scott hasn’t already, he takes this as a goad to take a look at Spiral Dynamics and perhaps Wilber’s worthwhile works (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution being the place to start).

      • cassander says:

        >I think I know what you’re getting at, but it seems to me the real issue is that we need to break out of the right-left paradigm altogether and start looking at these issues developmentally.

        Ah, so we just need a new soviet man? you can’t just” break out of” the left right paradigm, it is a fundamental fact of human thinking.

        • Hanfeizi says:

          Hah, no, not exactly. Left-right thinking is an artifact of the leadup to the French revolution, hardly some primordial truth- and one that tells us very little today.

          Psycho-developmental models were very popular for awhile in the 80s and 90s, but hardly anyone talks about them today, even though they present a way out of this impasse- no new soviet man required.

          • cassander says:

            I’m not a left winger, I don’t think that left wing politics are a primordial truth, but I do think they come about from primordial instincts, in this case the desire to tear down hierarchy. I have no doubt that it, like any human attitude, can be suppressed, but it is never going to go away. at least not without serious levels of transhumanism.

    • I like Scott’s take, but I can’t see what’s leftist about it. Yeah, order, civilization, and hierarchy are good for everyone, including the people at the bottom. That isn’t a leftist spin on NRx, that is NRx.

      • peterdjones says:

        Moldbug claims that everyone is being systematically lied to, so he needs examples of lies. There is a lot of pre existing material about how AGW is a lie, so it makes a convenient example, The details of the science don’t come into it.

      • Eli says:

        Since when are order and civilization things that leftists dislike?

      • peterdjones says:

        Relevant answer:

        The right kind of hierarchy is beneficial, the wrong kinds aren’t. The right kind is meritocratic, a fluid system arousing out of talent, experience and effort, like the hierarchy in a well run corporation. Any departure from this  system is ipso facto less efficient. For instance, the most efficient way of apportioning educational resources is towards those most capable of benefiting from them. People who call for hierarchy are usually calling for return to a more rigid, less meritocratic pattern….the kind that is based on class, race, gender or other group characteristics. The kind that squanders the talents of the low-status in favour of “upper class twits”.

        • cassander says:

          >The right kind of hierarchy is beneficial, the wrong kinds aren’t.

          this is tautological. no one on earth would disagree with this statement.

          >People who call for hierarchy are usually calling for return to a more rigid, less meritocratic pattern….the kind that is based on class, race, gender or other group characteristics.

          That’s what it looks like to you, maybe. In their mind they’re just calling for a return to the right sort of hierarchy. For example, a traditional defense of aristocracy was that unfettered social mobility would destabilize society. Adding some friction, limiting how far people can rise in a single lifetime, preserves social stability. the merit they are selecting for here is “good breeding”, not in the literal sense of aristocratic descent (though that was a byproduct and proxy), but of being socialized into existing cultures and norms. You might not think that a virtue, but the people defending it did. And while it isn’t the argument I would make personally, the fact is that in aristocratic germany there was no chance of a rabble rousing austrian corporal becoming chancellor.

          • Mark says:

            >In their mind they’re just calling for a return to the right sort of hierarchy. For example, a traditional defense of aristocracy was that unfettered social mobility would destabilize society.

            Sounds very implausible to me. If your society structurally excludes many (if not most) of its smartest and most talented citizens from high levels of prestige while nevertheless allowing them to be educated, then they’ll likely get together and start coordinating popular attacks against the higher classes. It also means they’ll simply leave your society and go assist one of its competitors.

          • peterdjones says:

            And something like that demand for participation usis always happening somewhere….currently Hong Kong …showing that that was not a merely theoretical argument.

          • peterdjones says:

            And something like that demand for participation usis always happening somewhere….currently Hong Kong …showing that that was not a merely theoretical argument.

          • peterdjones says:

            ….and under democracy, there’s no chance of Ivan the Terrible. Traditional hierarchy doesn’t guarantee good government, it guarantees government by the descendants of of previous governors. Stability isn’t an unalloyed good. It suits the privileged. Those who don’t like it call it stagnation.

            >> The right kind of hierarchy is beneficial, the wrong kinds aren’t.

            >this is is tautological. no one on earth would disagree with this statement.

            Au contraire, it isn’t obvious that there is a non empty set of good hierarchy. It is typical of mindkilled debates that something is discussed as though it is either 100% good or 100% bad.

          • cassander says:


            the degree to which aristocratic society excluded talented people is usually overstated. It wasn’t “you’re a peasant you’ll be shot if you leave the farm” hell, you have Disraeli running around the UK of the 1860s as a (non practicing) jewish prime minister, something inconceivable in a more democratic system. It was more like reverse affirmative action. If you weren’t from the right social set, you could advance, it was just harder. and if you did advance, you’d be treated a bit suspiciously, but your kids wouldn’t be, or maybe their kids.

          • Matthew says:

            ….and under democracy, there’s no chance of Ivan the Terrible.

            The rest of this comment makes me feel you might not understand the nomenclature when choosing this example. Terrible (Грозный) here means “inspiring fear” or “ominous,” not “very bad.” His secret police, the Oprichnina, were awful in terms of despotism, but his government wasn’t incompetent by the standards of other autocratic regimes.

          • Mark says:


            Sure, social stratification comes in degrees. That’s compatible with the thesis that stratification causes a proportional amount of instability (at least among an educated populace) for the reasons I gestured at. The old aristocratic order lost. I don’t necessarily believe in historical inevitability, but the fact that Victorian England gave way to what we have now is at least some evidence that it wasn’t very robust against internal pressure toward egalitarianism.

          • cassander says:

            I don’t deny at all that there is pressure towards egalitarianism, particularly in industrial societies. Egalitarianism is a basic human impulse. But to say that the system didn’t have robust defenses is to ignore that just about all civilizations were aristocratic for essentially all of human history before about a century ago.

          • Mark says:

            I’m not ignoring that. It’s why I qualified my statement to apply to societies that provide universal education. Peasants were highly uneducated for the majority of the time aristocrats were in charge, and I don’t think anyone wants to suggest we return to that.

          • peterdjones says:

            Victorian England was a meritocratic society with the vestigefcan an Aristocracy. It was not feudal. Under medieval feudalism, runaway serfs were returned to their lords.

      • Julie K says:

        Leftists are respectful of authority, provided it’s the kind of authority they like.

        “Together with my collaborators Dr. Danielle Gaucher and Nicola Schaefer, we asked both red and blue Americans to share their views about obeying liberal authorities (e.g., “obey an environmentalist”). In an article that we recent published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, we found that liberals were now the ones calling for obedience. And when the authorities were viewed as ideologically neutral (e.g., office manager), liberals and conservatives agreed. Only when people perceived the authority to be conservative (e.g., religious authority) did conservatives show a positive bias.”

        • Hainish says:

          Military officers and religious clergy represent a very different type of authority than environmental and civil rights activists. I think the researchers might be conflating the two, and actually testing the degree to which liberals/conservatives like or trust people who hold the same views as them.

    • It’s not really left wing, and not exactly political, but I’m working on a new philosophical view that I’d like to fill the polarised void between transhumanism and luddite views. It’s nothing like finished – feedback welcome. I’ll post a toplevel for it with a bit more explanation.

    • cassander says:

      You can’t make one. the fundamental argument NRx makes is that order and hierarchy are good. the different sects within NRx disagree about how to achieve those things, but they all want them. the left can’t emulate them because the fundamental left wing impulse is to tear down hierarchy. You guys are all levelers at heart.

      • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

        the fundamental argument NRx makes is that order and hierarchy are good.

        Sneaky. Order is not the same thing as hierarchy, and hierarchy is not the same thing as, say, monarchy or patriarchy.

        If I were king of the world, I would rationalist-taboo “left” and “right” as political expressions and force people to be far more specific about what they really want.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Wait, but doesn’t NRx explicitly advocate monarchy ?

          (I agree with your other points though)

          • Anonymous says:

            Some do, some don’t. That’s why cassander said that nrx agrees on order and hierarchy (explicitly distinguishing them because they are different), but doesn’t agree on further detail.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Understood, thanks !

        • suntzuanime says:

          Order and hierarchy are not necessarily the same thing, but a crucial piece of the NRx worldview is that in practice, order requires hierarchy. There are the technocapitalists among them that believe in a fundamental emergent order springing from the free market, but even they are envisioning powerful firms imposing strong hierarchy within their domains.

        • cassander says:

          basically what suntzuanime said. the leftist conceit is that you can have order without hierarchy, something that has happened zero times in human history. hell, even in the absence or order you get hierarchy, master blaster rules bartertown, after all. and I say that as someone who is not a fan of monarchy or patriarchy.

        • Julie K says:

          Doesn’t tabooing a word usually result in the replacement word ending up having all the connotations of the word it replaced?

          • Tom Womack says:

            Yes, eventually; but you can hopefully get a reasonable amount of useful debate done during the ‘eventually’, and after a few eventuallies the original term has all the vicious connotations of “gadzooks” or “Scythian” and the language can cycle round again.

          • peterdjones says:

            The equivalent in mainstream philosophy is Unpacking, which includes a requirement to expand a word out into multiple words.

  9. Liskantope says:

    A few open threads ago, I made a resolution that I would, whenever feasible for me, ask the “hive mind” of SSC commenters in the open thread about whether certain rationalist ideas have been discussed at LW.

    So ever since the age of around 12, I’ve noticed a flaw in the persuasive rhetoric of many of those around me, which I’m now referring to as “conflating the meta level with the object level”. I started calling it that in the past few months since discovering this rationalist, somewhat LW-affiliated crowd, during which I’ve run across references to “the object level” versus “the meta level”. But I feel like I’ve had an intuitive feeling for this most of my life, and have often felt frustrated with many I interact with for seeming unable to notice when they are doing this. It was probably the first thing that made me begin to feel as though I’m “more rationalist” than most people.

    For example, conflating the meta level with the object level is an underlying component of a lot of the “arguments are weapons” mentality that Scott in particular seems to be passionate about fighting against. For instance, in the Brandon Eich controversy, one can argue that at some sort of object level, we should stand against Eich for his opposition to gay rights, while at the meta level, we must respect his right to a differing opinion and therefore support his right to remain CEO of Mozilla.

    It seems that “object level” and “meta level” are standard terms used by LWers, but are there sequences highlighting the folly of confusing them in one’s rhetoric? Am I even using the terms correctly? What is the best way to describe what I’m getting at (hopefully I’m being clear)?

    • Alejandro says:

      Have you read Scott’s political spectrum quiz? It is very relevant for your question.

      • That quiz is the best argument I’ve seen against overreliance on the object/meta distinction.

        • Paul Torek says:

          And against overreliance on the meta to solve problems.

          • Eli says:

            It always takes more evidence to locate the correct hypothesis at the meta-level. However, with each meta-level hypothesis, you have several different object-level questions where you can go look at the world and obtain evidence. Further, as your meta-level hypotheses get better, you start needing less and less evidence to arrive to correct object-level conclusions.

            The issue is quantifying your uncertainty across the whole hierarchy of distributions over both meta-level and object-level hypotheses, which our current rhetorical techniques basically don’t ever allow for.

            EDIT: Actually, I do believe I’m incorrect. I do believe meta-concepts are larger, set theoretically, and therefore require less information to specify, and therefore less evidence to locate. They can be learned more quickly because they are more general and because more evidence is available, but they predict object-level evidence less specifically.

      • Liskantope says:

        I had read it a while back but had mostly forgotten about it; thank you for linking me. Yes, it is the most relevant post I’ve seen on this issue. I see the issue as somewhat more far-reaching than what was conveyed in that post. For instance, it not only affects actual policy proposals, but even the language people use to describe controversial issues. (E.g. “Some southerners still like to say that the civil war was about states’ rights, when clearly it was about slavery!” And when it’s pointed out that in the minds of many who fought on the confederate side, it really was about states’ rights, “But they were wrong because states don’t have the right to oppress people by instituting slavery! So you see, the civil war was never about states’ rights.”)

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          States’ rights means rights that states have while remaining part of a nation. A meta-level view of the Civil War was whether states could secede from that nation and become an independent nation: “Compulsory union is a contradiction in terms”.

          Hm, that Confederate slogan is a bit more meta than “Taxation without representation is tyranny”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Was that a Confederate slogan? I can’t find a Confederate citation before the 20th century.

            I can find the slogan being used before the War for the parallel case of the Union of Sweden and Norway; and the quite different case of trade unions.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The earliest US Civil War use of “Compulsory union is a contradiction in terms” that Google came up with was from a novel copyrighted in 1911, and even there it was not the exact phrase.

            Where was your citation?

            Even the rhyming four-word phrase “No taxation without representation” was not in popular use till an English headline writer apparently invented it in 1767. (Attribution to James Otis now doubtful.)

            “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” apparently came from a biographer condensing some thoughts of Voltaire’s. This, and the taxation quote, seem to be accurate condensations of Voltaire’s and Otis’s meaning, respectively.

            [ Refrains from looking up “Play it again, Sam”. ]

        • Matthew says:

          And when it’s pointed out that in the minds of many who fought on the confederate side, it really was about states’ rights,

          So, this is really, totally wrong. Not only do you have indirect evidence of this, such as widespread Southern white support for Federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, but you can actually read the various articles of seccession voted on by the Confederate states — they are explicit about the central relevance of Slavery.

          You might try to argue that that viewpoint only reflects the wealthy Southern political elite and doesn’t tell you much about what average Southern soldiers thought. But then you look at reaction to the emerging revisionist Lost Cause account of the Civil War, which was being produced by the generation that grew up after the War was fought, but written while many of the generation that actually fought it was still alive. And the Confederate veterans were outraged, because they didn’t see anything shameful about fighting for slavery, and thought that claiming it was about states’ rights was a bullshit concession that there was anything wrong with the antebellum social order in the South.

          • Liskantope says:

            I’ve never been knowledgeable about history in general. I probably do have a better understanding of American pre-civil-war history than any other place and time (which in itself seems to be a sign of not being passionate about history!) It seems you’ve done more research than I have, though, and if you’re correct about the typical Confederacy supporters’ attitudes, than we might say that my example fails on the object level only 😉

            Not only do you have indirect evidence of this, such as widespread Southern white support for Federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act

            I don’t find this to be very convincing evidence against my claim. Yes, the South cared a great deal about preserving slavery, and supported most laws that allowed southerners to enforce slavery. But my impression was that at least their rationale was first and foremost to be defending states’ rights. Slavery was clearly the most weighty and controversial issue of the time, so it would make sense that defending slavery would have been the South’s main states’-rights-related cause.

          • Matthew says:

            The point is, the Fugitive Slave Act was the premier example where the values of “pro-slavery” and “pro-states rights” pointed to opposite conclusions. (The FSA compelled Free states, where slavery was already abolished, to return slaves who had escaped there from Slave-owning states.)

            The percentage of future Confederate whites who opposed enforcement of this law because it violated the Free states’ rights was… approximately zero.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Object level included slavery and taxes.

            One meta level was a right to secede from the US.

            Larger level was independence, becoming a separate nation. I’m not sure whether this would count as a higher meta or as a larger object — probably both.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            And the Confederate veterans were outraged [….]

            It would be interesting to see whole texts of these veterans’ correspondence.

          • Liskantope says:

            Matthew: Okay, I see your point about the Fugitive Slave Act now.

            houseboatonstyx: Yes, I also would be curious to read these documents. Also, the right to be an independent nation seems like a direct corollary of the right to secede, so I would characterize that as meta-level.

        • cassander says:

          even if you accept that the war was entirely about slavery, that means the war was fought over the question of whether or not the states had the right to legalize slavery. “states rights” is not the whole answer to the civil war, but it is unquestionably part of the answer.

    • Eden says:

      You are using the terms correctly as far as I understand your example. The object-level discussion here concerns whether or not Eich should be allowed to keep his job despite his opposition to gay marriage rights, and the meta-level discussion concerns whether a person’s continued employment should be subject to political pressure. It makes sense that you could disagree with Eich on the object-level discussion (by supporting gay marriage rights) while supporting him on the meta-level discussion (by saying he shouldn’t have lost his job over his position on gay rights).

      Regarding an easy way to highlight how people routinely confuse them, I’m not sure there is one that’s generally applicable. In my experience, usually you have to sit down and explain the error in the context in which it’s made. Cf. Scott’s posts on the motte-and-bailey fallacy as an example of the difficulty: it’s a phenomenon that’s almost impossible to describe meaningfully without a specific example. And besides, it’s unlikely that anyone whose error rate on this subject is greater than incidental (aka those who would be targeted by such a generally applicable explanation) would be able to understand a generalized explanation anyway; quick and accurate processing of such an explanation tends to presuppose the kind of exposure to object vs meta distinctions that would lead someone to avoid the error in the first place.

      inb4 someone already has the exact prewritten explanatory piece(s) you’re asking for, lol

      • Liskantope says:

        I see that your definitions of “object-level” and “meta-level” are consistent with Scott’s characterizations of two modes of thinking which he lays out at the end of his Political Spectrum Quiz. There, “object-level thinking” is what I was calling “not distinguishing between levels”, my implication being that a lack of distinguishing them leads to treating every aspect of the issue based on one’s object-level opinion. I guess the way I was using the terms is still consistent with your and Scott’s use.

        (To be fair, I suppose “not distinguishing between levels” could also mean deferring to one’s meta-level opinion at all times. This would lead to some sort of extreme relativism where you don’t ever really disagree with anyone about anything because they have a right to their own views. But this is kind of bizarre and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it.)

    • Hainish says:

      I get the impression that “object level” has a slightly negative connotation*, so that something trivial or something that a commenter dislikes will be deemed “object level” . . . whether or not it actually is.

      *Or maybe it’s loaded with negative affect?

    • Jos says:

      IMHO, the object and meta level distinction in the Eich case (or I’d say case base vs rule based, if you want an alternative frame), is pretty fuzzy.

      Ultimately, I think most discussions break down into which rule we want:

      – Do we want to discourage sufficiently offensive beliefs, even at a cost of limiting the range of public expression or

      – Do we want a wider range of public expression, even if that slows or even prevents adoption of beliefs we feel are productive?

      There’s also another argument you can have of classification – “if we agree that some expressions are beyond the pale is this one?” or “if we agree that some reactions to public expression are acceptable even if they discourage some speech (e.g., some people are ok with mockery or pile-ons even if they feel there’s some chilling effect, and almost everyone would be ok with a personal decision not to use Mozilla.), were the reactions in the Eich case acceptable?”

      • Liskantope says:

        I agree that it’s really fuzzy in my example concerning Brandon Eich. The rigorous way to argue Scott’s views on the Eich situation is to compare the merits (on a utilitarian basis) of firing Eich versus letting him keep his job, and show that choosing niceness, community, and civilization is ultimately more beneficial for society as a whole. But I feel that there is a general conflating-meta-with-object mentality / emotional bias underlying the viewpoints of those in favor of firing Eich. And maybe it would be useful to identify this factor, and observe other cases in which it plays a role in people’s mindsets.

      • veronica d says:

        But we can always up-meta the meta. For example, my view is this: the modern LGBT movement has advanced not because of logical argument — as if anything ever does — but instead because it managed to make being pro-gay seem cool. In fact, it made gay seem cool. At the same time it made being anti-gay seem decidedly uncool. (Which, Fred Phelps should be recognized as a great pro-gay crusader, even if he had no clue he was doing that.)

        Anyway, you take this idea and throw it out into a world with actual people who do actual politics the way people actually do. Like, you can herd cattle but you can’t make them march single file. (Or maybe you can. I’ve know jack about herding cattle.) But anyway, you do politics. Stuff happens.

        One thing that happens is I get to live my life — cuz in the world where gay rights fails I suicide. DO NOT DOUBT.

        In that same world Eich gets canned.

        Logically we could have a world with gay right and with Eich not-fired. However, in practical terms I think they come together. Politics is messy, and it ain’t like the anti-gay crowd made an effort to keep this fight clean.

        LGBT rights have a long way to go. We still do not have marriage in ever state, never mind the globe. We still lack good anti-bullying policies or other protections for queer kids. Queers still get treated terribly in all kinds of ways. Moreover, trans rights are WAAAAAY behind gay rights, probably where gay rights were in the 80’s. We need to keep pro-queer cool and anti-queer way uncool. Lives depend on it.

        The culture war is a real thing. It matters.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          the modern LGBT movement has advanced not because of logical argument — as if anything ever does — but instead because it managed to make being pro-gay seem cool. In fact, it made gay seem cool.

          When the Air Force flew jets with rainbow contrails, I imagined staid straight pilots finding a chance to step over into coolness temporarily and safely.

          Wasn’t pro-gay cool among, well, cool people long before the recent advance? Anyway, the downstream fact of openly gay couples moving into stodgy suburburbs, was credited with some of the progress. (Massachusetts? After an ‘activist’ court pro-gay ruling which gave majority voters the experience of their next door neighbors being gay while otherwise being ‘normal people’, didn’t a second popular vote show a switch from anti- to pro-gay?)

  10. I’m going to Secular Solstice—specifically, the one in New York—for the first time this year. This will be the first time I’ve ever met anyone else from the rationalist community in real life, which is something I’m looking forward to.

    Who else among the SSC commentariat is going to be there?

  11. anon says:

    Does anyone else here pretend to be Christian to please their relatives?

    I see this as mostly harmless. Life seems too short to fight over religion. And I would face high costs since I live with a couple of relatives.

    • Wirehead Wannabe says:

      Only some of them. My immediate family knows I’m an atheist, but no one in my extended family (all of whom are out of state) does. I don’t really care if most find out, but whenever I visit my grandfather I go to mass with him. It’s the only time he really gets out of the house, and there’s no sense troubling him with coming out. Though his mental functioning has declined to the point that he probably wouldn’t remember if I told him.

    • zz says:


      My immediate family knows I’m not religious. I still sometimes attend church (networking, sometimes I get paid to play music), but usually spend the service outside the sanctuary (having an hour of nothing to do means my brain starts kicking out good novel ideas). I don’t deny my lack-of-faith if it comes up, but that usually doesn’t happen, so I’d guess a good portion of the congregation assumes I’m Christian.

      For Christmas and Easter, my extended family visits and we all go to Church (except my father, who has been known to watch Life of Brian instead of attending the Christmas Eve service.) I’ve always gone with them and will go this year. If I’m playing music, that gives me reason to be “backstage”, so I usually don’t attend the service. If I’m not playing music, I’ll sit through the service. If there’s communion (which my church does inconsistently), I don’t partake.

      For reference: I have a Jewish uncle. He attends services with his Christian wife and son every week he doesn’t have some conflict. My immediate family has, for the past few years, attending a Seder with his family. My church is incredibly liberal: we have a sign with a LGBT rainbow saying “ALL are welcome” on our front lawn and I’ve been told by non-relative members I’m still part of the church family after stating I’m definitely not Christian, and the denomination is vaguely pro-choice.

      I also play music at a Catholic church. I’ve never lied about my faith (or lack thereof), but I try a lot harder to make it seem like I’m a Christian, albeit a Protestant (and, near as I can tell, it’s worked! I’m as deceiving as a low-down dirty deceiver!)

    • qsz says:

      I did for many years – had a “gradual deconversion” experience at university but kept quiet about it around friends and family and let them assume I maintained Christian views but was slipping away from church attendance. I live 5000+ miles away so it was pretty easy. But very eventually (10+ years) I decided it was hard to maintain this illusion, and I’d prefer not to lie about something I now feel so strongly about and I revealed the truth to my immediate family.

      Surprisingly enough this changed nothing. The immediate reaction was shocked disappointment (and immediate activation of the Christian Gossip network, that is, prayer chains) but longer term everything is exactly the same from my perspective. Once in a great while there will be a religion-related talk, or when I visit, an invitation to church, but surprisingly little hard-sell or personal rejection.

      Your mileage may vary.

    • stillnotking says:

      My former in-laws used to do the pretending for me — no matter how many times I gently pointed out to them that I wasn’t a Christian, they’d insist I was one, just not “churched”. I took this as a compliment, since “Christian” was more or less synonymous with “good person” in their lexicon.

      My biological family are all atheists, and in fact I wasn’t fully aware that anyone seriously believed in any religion until I was seven or eight. It was something of a shock.

    • also anonymous says:

      Not so much relatives – I’m kinda-slowly-gradually coming out there – so much as the vast majority of people I know around university. I’ve got nothing particularly against Christianity, I just no longer believe it, and suspect that coming out as agnostic-but-definitely-not-Christian would make my life a lot more complicated without actually helping anyone. My current plan is to continue pretending until I finish university, then move away and quietly drop out of the church.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      My Aunt thinks me and my immediate family are Christians, really only my dad is maybe (?, he doesn’t really talk about religion). This has led to some awkward attempts at steering conversations away from things.

    • drunkenrabbit says:

      I pretend to be more liberal (theologically and politically) around family then I actually am, which is pretty much the same dynamic. After I left home I gradually drifted right and became more serious about church. But for the sake of harmony and avoiding hurt feelings, I smile and nod whenever someone quotes Salon with a straight face. It’s funny how much SWPL-land is a bizzaro version of 50’s America.

  12. DrBeat says:

    OK, sent it again.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m still not getting it. Do you have an email address very easily mistakeable for spam or something?

  13. DrBeat says:

    oh for God’s sake I know I hit “Reply” under Scott’s post up there

  14. ilzolende says:

    I’m trying to write a blog post about euthanasia, and I realize that I don’t know how to politely refer to the group of people who support legalizing consensual active euthanasia. If there’s no community-accepted term, would “euthanasia proponents/supporters” sound non-insulting?

    Also, does anyone know of any pro-nonconsensual-euthanasia arguments that take into account the studies (see below) that show the ratings of family and medical professionals of quality of life of a sick or disabled individual to be lower than the individual’s rating of their own QoL?

    My sources, with quotes:

    Who should measure quality of life? “There is no direct correspondence between objective functioning and an individual’s quality of life nor between the perceptions of patients and healthy people, professionals, or others with similar disabilities … Clinicians may find it difficult to accept patients’ ratings of quality of life.”
    Systematic misperception: oncology patients self-reported affective states and their care-givers perceptions. “the care-giver rated the patients as feeling considerably worse than the patients themselves reported feeling”
    Using proxies to evaluate quality of life. Can they provide valid information about patients’ health status and satisfaction with medical care? “Proxies … asked to respond as they thought the subject would … reported lower emotional health and satisfaction than did subjects”
    Patients with cancer and their spouse caregivers. Perceptions of the illness experience. “Almost without exception, caregivers viewed patients’ functioning more negatively than patients described themselves.”

    • Murphy says:

      Possibly “Dignity in dying”

      For the stronger representatives of the positions I’d recommend Pratchett’s Dimbleby lecture:

      Though it doesn’t address studies, it’s more from the personal point of view of wanting power of attorney over your future self.

      • anodognosic says:

        A term with a more neutral affect, like “euthanasia supporter”, would be more conducive to clear thinking on the subject.

    • Nita says:

      Hi, I support active voluntary euthanasia and don’t mind being called either a right-to-die supporter or an euthanasia proponent, as long as I’m not lumped in with the Nazis.

      Wikipedia has separate articles about voluntary, non-voluntary and involuntary euthanasia, as well as one about assisted suicide. I think it’s a good idea to clearly delineate these four things.

      So, “nonconsensual euthanasia” is a suboptimal term because it includes both non-voluntary (can’t consent) and involuntary (won’t consent) cases. I don’t think anyone in the mainstream advocates for the involuntary type — to debate them, you would need either a time machine or an expedition into the dark corners of the blogosphere.

      • ilzolende says:

        Thanks for your responses!

        If I wanted to lump supporters of voluntary euthanasia in with supporters of euthanasia with explicit dissent, I probably wouldn’t have posted here. I don’t think you guys are Nazis, I just think some of your proposals could do more harm than good.

        Does dividing euthanasia without explicit consent into “euthanasia with dissent” and “euthanasia without dissent” sound like the same division in euthanasia without consent that you were referencing?

        The arguments I am looking for are arguments for euthanasia in cases with neither consent nor dissent, as arguments I’ve seen of that type refer to quality-of-life concerns without taking systemic errors in QoL interpretation into account.

  15. Wirehead Wannabe says:

    I know that “how do you make friends after college?” gets asked all over the internet, but how does a recent grad meet the sort of intellectually-minded people you tend to find in the rationalist community? For reference, I live in a midwest city with a metro area of about 400,000 people, and no LW meetup less than three hours away.

    • drethelin says:

      Do you mean Madison Wisconsin? I could point you to the boardgame group that formed out of the remains of our meetup group if you like.

      • Anonymous says:

        I appreciate the offer, but no, that’s not where I am.

        Edit: whoops this got posted as anon. I promise it’s me.

    • Anon says:

      A suggestion: Hang around universities, especially public seminars on rationality-adjacent topics, and talk to other people who show up.

      • Wirehead Wannabe says:

        Is this considered socially acceptable? I get the sense that it would be perceived as being unable to move past college.

        • Anonymous says:

          Stop thinking in such nonsense terms as “considered socially acceptable”. Especially if it prevents you from reaching mutually beneficial things such as making new friends.

          • 27chaos says:

            ^protip: don’t actually do this

          • Anonymous says:

            Why? “Socially acceptable” doesn’t mean “good”, “moral”. It simply means “currently fashionable”. If you are pursuing your happiness and notice that current fashions stand in your way, you should disregard them. Society is way too rigid in what it considers socially acceptable and unacceptable.

          • Creutzer says:

            Except that doing socially unacceptable things is not usually an effective way of pursuing your happiness, especially when the source of your unhappiness is related to social relations.

          • Grumpus says:

            “Socially acceptable” is a pretty good proxy for both “good” and “moral”, which are exquisitely tricky concepts and dubiously productive to try and figure out for oneself.

          • Irenist says:


            I’m sympathetic both to deference to tradition and deference to societal norms (and sympathetic to skepticism of personal reinventions of morality), but I’m thinking that there have been lots of regimes where it was considered a faux pas to voice disapproval of the regnant injustices in polite company. (It would be a faux pas to mention any of the historical race/gender examples on this thread, but I’m sure you can think of a few.)

            Did you mean to include that caveat by saying “pretty good”?

          • Grumpus says:

            I was kidding, mostly. I’d love it if our Overton window shifted to include straight-up conformism, though.

        • Hanfeizi says:

          I go back to my alma mater and visit profs frequently. Several I now consider personal friends.

          College/University can be treated as somewhere you punch a ticket for four years, or it can be a lifelong resource you participate in. I get invited back to lecture and mentor as well. There’s no such thing as “moving past college”- when you get your degree, it’s your home for life.

          • Wirehead Wannabe says:

            I do visit my alma mater, but it’s 7.5 hours away and therefore not ideal for meeting people locally.

          • Hanfeizi says:

            Sure, there is that problem. My business school is pretty far away as well, which is unfortunate, as I’d like to get back more often. But just saying that taking advantage of the nearby university is perfectly acceptable. 😉

    • Kaminiwa says:

      I’ve had decent luck using to find people who share geeky interests with me. I personally go for Euro-style board games, because those mostly seem to be enjoyed by smart, algorithmic people, and usually ones with pretty good planning and decision theory skills.

      Obviously, there’s also plenty of casual players who have no real interest in that sort of thinking, but it’s a *much* higher hit rate than I’ve gotten off anything else.

      I suspect you’d get similar results from a lot of other topics – pretty much anything in the Math, Science, Engineering, Programmer, or “Maker” subculture will probably have a much higher hit rate for that sort of person. Think of fun geeky stuff you do that exercises the skills you’re looking for, that encourages that sort of mindset, and then see if there’s any local groups that focus on that?

    • Quixote says:

      Consider that in the mradium to long term you may want to move. Intellectual people are a small subset of the population. To get large clusters you either need a large number of people (big cities) or distinctively non representative sub samples of the population (college towns).

  16. Baby Beluga says:

    Something I’ve been wondering for a while now is: why doesn’t the rationalist community bring up the topic of animal rights more often? The conditions in which most animals are raised (in the United States at least, I’m less confident about other countries) for eventual slaughter is truly horrifying–and there are roughly 9 billion land-borne animals killed for food in the US each year, suggesting a moral catastrophe of epic proportions.

    One of the things I admire most about rationalists is they try and think of stuff that’s wrong about society that most other people haven’t thought of, and then they try to do their part to fix it, first in themselves and then in others. Epistemological honesty is the first thing that comes to mind for me, but there are plenty of other examples. So why not animal rights advocacy? It’s generally pretty easy to go vegetarian or vegan in this day and age, and unlike so many other giant problems that plague society, this one is *simple*: simple to formulate and simple to solve.

    • Anonymous says:

      People on LW talk about vegetarianism all the time. There is a wing of the effective altruist movement devoted to animal suffering.

    • Wirehead Wannabe says:

      Have you been following the recent discussions on Eliezer and Brienne’s facebook pages? They discuss this pretty thoroughly, and link. Rob Bensinger also has a pretty good reply.

      • Baby Beluga says:

        Wow, I… stand corrected. That reply by Rob Bensinger is really well-written and thoughtful, and not only does it sort of invalidate my question, it also answers it.

        I’m pretty new to this community. I guess I shouldn’t have assumed that I’d sampled enough to know this didn’t get talked about. Thanks for the link!

        • Auroch says:

          As a marginally-typical, possibly-representative LW person who eats meat and has no intention of stopping: I consider it incredibly improbable that animals have the approximate moral worth of a human. I distinguish between sentience and sapience (sentience is sufficient to feel pain, sapience is necessary to feel suffering), and consider that a) animals are likely to be sentient but very unlikely to be sapient and b) sapience is necessary and sufficient to be morally worthwhile for your own sake (pets are also valuable for their owner’s sake). Currently I’d estimate about 50 cats would approach the moral value of one person, and 200+ chickens to reach the same target. Cattle are somewhere in between.

          • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

            sentience is sufficient to feel pain, sapience is necessary to feel suffering
            I don’t understand the difference.

          • suntzuanime says:

            So 200 people each killing and eating a chicken is as bad as killing and eating a person? It sounds like there’s still a fairly horrible murder industry going on, by your numbers.

          • Leo says:

            Nikias: pain is the sensation, suffering is the bad part.

            Pain doesn’t necessarily entail suffering. Masochists often experience pain without suffering, as do people with chronic pain who’ve learnt to classify good and bad pain. Meditation techniques can be used to reduce suffering without reducing pain. Wiping your memory after inflicting pain (some anaesthetics do that) also spare you suffering due to memory of pain, although not suffering simultaneous with it.

            Conversely, it’s easy to inflict suffering without pain, for example through sensory deprivation or grief for loved ones.

          • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

            Leo, I see. In that case, I’m almost 100% convinced that most farmed animals can suffer.

            There is a simple enough evolutionary argument for it.

          • Jiro says:

            suntzuanime: I believe that that plays on a particular bias humans have: we’re not really good at estimating low numbers. People when estimating a low number will pick something like 1/50 or 1/200; nobody’s going to pick 1/10000000. Someone else then calculates using the overly large estimate and produces a strange result.

            I’ve seen this elsewhere: the Drake Equation, where picking “low” numbers for such things as the chance of life concludes that there are tons of alien civilizations, and a creationist argument where a “low” number for how fast the population increases leads to the conclusion that there were only two people thousands of years ago.

            Consider that if 200 chickens are worth a human, it sounds equally “reasonable” to say that 50000 nematodes are worth a human, or a million plants are worth a human (plants react in ways that discourage predators and that has to count for something nonzero, right?) Then draw even stranger conclusions from that.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Suntzuanime already sort of pointed this out, but if your going on pure add-up-the-suffering utilitarianism with chickens and humans being mutually exchangeable (this was sort of implied by your 200=1 comment), 200 chickens equals one human means that the meat industry is many times worse than the holocaust.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Jiro: I entirely agree that very small probabilities are unintuitive for people. However, I think that in the specific case of estimating the probability that chickens/pigs/cows are capable of suffering, it’s not reasonable to assign a probability of 1/10000000 (in fact, I think the probability is at least 50%, but I digress). Their brains are really not much different from ours, and as Niklas pointed out, there’s an evolutionary reason for why they should be able to suffer, just like the one we have.

            It’s sort of a mystery why it is that we are sentient; the only thing we know is that we are. But assuming that we humans are all sentient, it seems artificial to me to assume that animals, whose brains resemble ours to an incredible degree, definitely aren’t.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Baby Beluga
            It’s sort of a mystery why it is that we are sentient; the only thing we know is that we are. But assuming that we humans are all sentient, it seems artificial to me to assume that animals, whose brains resemble ours to an incredible degree, definitely aren’t.

            Seconded — for either meaning of the word ‘sentient’.

          • Jared says:

            You don’t have to feel that humans and animals are morally equal to give some moral worth to animals. Do you think it’s ok for someone to torture cats just for the fun of it?

          • Auroch says:

            Jared: I don’t think torturing cats is a good thing, but it’s at least a factor of 50 away from being as bad as torturing a person. Maybe less, depending on the degree to which cats can suffer, but I’m fine with sticking it at 50, same as death.

            suntzuanime: Sure there’s a ‘murder industry’, but when you’re judging 1/200th of a death vs. increased health/pleasure for a person, it’s a lot more iffy than if you’re within an order of magnitude. I’m also significantly less confident in the number for chickens than cats/dogs/ other clever mammals. I incidentally don’t eat pork, generally, but that’s a habit, not a moral commitment. I’m fine with a moral commitment not to eat dolphins, chimps, New Caledonian crows, or their close relatives, since those species have a pretty decent chance of having at least rudimentary sapience, but that’s a low-cost commitment for me anyway.

            Incidentally, in one US meat-eater’s lifetime they will eat approximately 10 whole cows, 65 turkeys, 30 pigs, 1650 fish, and 2100 chickens. Using my rough numbers, the only chunks of that number that may approach the value of one person’s life are pigs and chickens (I put turkeys roughly on par with chickens, fish somewhat less valuable but I haven’t thought about it much.)

            Oh, and Nikias: I’m unconvinced there’s any evolutionary argument for suffering beyond pain, even in humans. Pain is the reflexive response, suffering requires reflective consideration of pain (and is an accidental but possibly unavoidable side-effect of sapience). Basically, if it can’t introspect I don’t think it’s morally valuable.

          • Jadagul says:

            Auroch: that is in fact my actual position. Torturing cats for fun is a bad idea because it encourages bad habits. But cat-suffering is morally neutral because cats are animals and not moral subjects. (In my value system).

          • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

            Pain is the reflexive response, suffering requires reflective consideration of pain (and is an accidental but possibly unavoidable side-effect of sapience).

            Auroch, I think this model does not reflect the actual nature of the phenomena. But let’s leave it at that. Surely we can take away from these discussions that smart educated people disagree with you, and not just by anthropomorphizing animals. This means you should operate under the assumption of uncertainty in the degree to which animals can suffer, not under the assumption that you know they can’t.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            @Auroch: Pain is the reflexive response, suffering requires reflective consideration of pain (and is an accidental but possibly unavoidable side-effect of sapience). Basically, if it can’t introspect I don’t think it’s morally valuable.

            I assume by “introspection,” you mean, “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.” If so, I don’t think that follows. Is suffering really me being like, “gee, I can tell that I am feeling pain right now, and this makes me sad?” No, I think the thing that’s making me suffer is not the fact that I can tell that I am feeling pain, but the fact that I am actually feeling pain, and that pain really sucks. Introspection seems to me like a pretty arbitrary bright line to draw between moral and non-moral agents.

            I think you should consider whether or not you decided to hold that opinion because it makes sense, or if you decided to hold it so that you could put yourself and your loved ones on one side of the bright line, and the creatures you eat on the other (and I mean this in kindest way possible; this kind of reasoning is something we are all guilty of, all the time).

            @Jadagul: Why aren’t cats moral subjects in your value system?

            EDIT: Whoops–once again, Nikias beats me to the punch 😛

          • Jadagul says:

            Baby Beluga: I dunno, something something my upbringing? It’s a contingent fact that I don’t treat cats as having moral value. And it’s not like values can be true or false; it’s just a reductive statement about my value system.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Jadagul: you’re right that value systems aren’t really “true” or “false” in the same way, for example, physics is.

            That said, having a bad value system can lead you to do some very destructive things without you having fully considered what’s going on. To give a contrived example, if my value system didn’t assign moral weight to children, you could imagine some really bad things happening if I ever became an elementary-school teacher.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Baby Baluga
            I think you should consider whether or not you decided to hold that opinion because it makes sense, or if you decided to hold it so that you could put yourself and your loved ones on one side of the bright line, and the creatures you eat on the other (and I mean this in kindest way possible; this kind of reasoning is something we are all guilty of, all the time).

            I agree, but it would be more charitable to expand “the creatures you eat” to “all other creatures” (of course you may have been just being brief). Vegetarianism and veganism are actually practical. It’s other implications of stretching (or dimming) the bright line, that our minds shy away from. I keep looking to the Jainas, who have worked all this out in detail and found ways to live in normal society with no bright line at all (except between plants and animals).

          • Baby Beluga says:

            houseboatonstyx: Agreed! The earlier discussion on wild animals, among many, many other things, raises a lot of uncomfortable and confusing questions, and it’s almost surely worth it for people, myself included, to spend more time thinking about them.

          • Salem says:

            “That said, having a bad value system can lead you to do some very destructive things without you having fully considered what’s going on. To give a contrived example, if my value system didn’t assign moral weight to children, you could imagine some really bad things happening if I ever became an elementary-school teacher.”

            Similarly, if your value system said that eating animals was wrong, you’d make a terrible farmer.

          • Auroch says:

            I don’t agree with
            >Nikias: pain is the sensation, suffering is the bad part.

            Pain is an unpleasant sensation (And my masochist ex agreed with this, it was just also pleasant.) Animals do not enjoy pain. But suffering is a cognitive process of anticipation of further pain, and that’s the part that is morally relevant.

            Also, I pretty much value introspective-entities-only a priori. Differences of opinion about mind architecture don’t bother me, because I only value people and consider that the criterion by which personhood should be judged. When I consider what other kinds of human-like entities I value (animals, aliens, AIs, sculptures, etc.), that’s the quality that feels worth preserving.

            Also, veganism is in no sense practical. Without very careful management, it’s terrible for your long-term health.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Auroch: I take issue (predictably enough) with your claim that veganism is “terrible for your long-term health without very careful management.” It’s really hard to do a proper study of this, because of the confounding factors of income and health-consciousness. That said, a 60-year study of Seventh-Day Adventists, many of which are vegan or vegetarian, found the following, and by polling mainly members of an insular community, managed to mitigate (hopefully) many of the confounding factors (EDIT: my original post was much too simplistic)


            Death rates BMI
            1.00 1.00
            All Vegetarians .88, .80-.97 .90, .82-.98
            Vegetarian Men .82, .72-.94 .83, .72-.96
            Vegans .85, .73-1.01 .84, .72-1.00
            Lacto-Ovo .91, .82-1.00 .92, .84-1.02
            Pesco .81, .69-.94 no impact
            Semi . 92, .75-1.13 no impact

            As can be seen, vegans had a similar death rate to vegetarians and a lower death rate than the general population by a standard deviation. I’m not gonna lie, there are still plenty of confounding factors here; but if being vegan was indeed “terrible” for your health, you certainly wouldn’t expect to see these results, so this should make you think your statement is substantially less likely to be true.

            If you’re a vegan, taking a multivitamin containing B12 is wise. As far as I’ve done my research and spoken with my doctor about it (and you can bet I’m more motivated than you to learn what I can about this, given that it’s my health on the line), that’s about it. And I doubt that the 1950s-era Seventh-Day Adventists even had access to multivitamins.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Because the hard question there is one of values (does a chicken count as a man and a brother?) rather than factual questions that rationality speaks to. Yes, if you place high moral weight on someone’s life, it’s probably a bad strategy to kill them and devour their flesh. But like you say, this is *simple*; it’s obvious to even the brighter non-rationalists. The primary question of animal rights is not one of whether or not raising people for slaughter is a good idea, but a question of whether animals are people.

      • Deiseach says:

        But it also involves “So now what do you do with the animals once they’re not being used for food?”

        Okay, so no more cows in calf or chick hatchery because you’re not going to want a new generation of animals for slaughter. The present lot of animals will be either finally slaughtered or otherwise let die. Presumably some herds will be maintained in a kind of zoo-type habitat in order to keep historic breeds alive.

        You’re pretty much talking about making pets of domesticated farm animals to ensure they continue in existence, which means (a) drastically reducing numbers of existing farmed-for-food animals and (b) given the continuing campaigns for feral cat and dog populations and neglected/abused pets (my vegan brother is all over these types of campaigns), I imagine that there still would be suffering to some degree.

        Basically, I suppose what I’m saying is that for animal rights of this nature, you’re endorsing an anti-natalist for food-animals position. Because we’re not talking about cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, goats etc. roaming free and wild in an unspoiled habitat, we’re talking commercial farming. And nobody is going to keep a herd of fifty to two hundred dairy cows when there’s no custom for milk and dairy products, or drystock for meat and leather etc.

        So to get from the current numbers to the zoo/pet numbers, we’re still talking about slaughtering a massive number of animals because again, the costs for farmers/commercial producers of feeding and sheltering animals for several years until natural death, when there is no income from those animals, is never going to be contemplated; particularly when you’re going to plough up the meadows and pastureland where these animals graze for tillage instead in order to produce food and make a living.

        This may or may not count as euthanasia (to borrow a phrase from a comment above, non-consensual active euthanasia). It certainly will be one last slaughter for meat purposes.

        I agree that there should not be cruelty in farming. I don’t necessarily agree that animals are people. And I don’t think that everybody in the world turning vegan in the morning is going to be a magic solution, unless you’re incorporating some tough-minded realism into how a campaign to stop raising and using animals-for-food is going to work for the animals themselves.

        • Panflutist says:

          I don’t think killing these surplus animals is bad, but if you do, surely that’s not going to count against abolishing meat? And surely doing it once and for all would count for abolishing meat?

          • Deiseach says:

            My point is that if we all turned vegan in the morning, there are a lot of farmed-for-food animals that suddenly become surplus to requirement, and they are going to end up slaughtered anyway, because it’s not cost-efficient for the producers to keep them alive for no yield.

            So if slaughterhouses are horrible pits of torture and murder, your vegan campaign is still going to condemn cows and sheep and chickens to undergo that suffering in one final vast mass slaughter. There will still be pain and suffering.

            Since we will no longer be farming animals for meat, then there will be no future generations suffering – a net gain. It is a point of debate whether trying to reduce and remove cruelty in farming is worth it and whether it would not be better to stop farming-animals altogether.

            On the other hand, there may be no future generations of farmed-animals at all, or if there are, only in very small numbers as ‘petting farms*’ and as more or less de facto pets.

            *(And I wouldn’t bet against more militant vegans getting these kinds of ‘come and see the animals’ non-working farms shut down eventually as well; as I said, I’ve got a vegan brother who’s very into these kinds of campaigns, and he’s been travelling around to protest against circuses using animal acts. I know zoos get a lot of criticism as well. Petting farms could also be seen as holding non-human persons in captivity to perform for our amusement against their natures).

            So I’m pleased you acknowledge that everyone becoming vegan does not result in some Disney fantasy of cows and sheep frolicking through the meadows; we might end up with no chops in the butchers’ shops and no cows in the pasture, either. No more farm animals at all certainly means no more suffering; I leave to others the calculation as to what the net utility is there.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            It is true that if everyone went vegan overnight that we’d have to find some way of dealing with the animals currently alive, and that “way of dealing” would probably be really terrible and ugly, but I think this is dodging the point. After all, as you say, this would be the last time–the point would not be to “save” the animals that are currently alive, but to prevent such from ever happening again.

            As you also point out, a lot of current vegans probably behave irrationally if this happened, and I agree that the animal-rights movement’s hatred of zoos and circuses is ill-considered and distracts from the real issue, the one that dominates all the numbers, which is factory farming. You should be careful, though, not to let your negative opinion of the average vegan color your views of all statements relating to animal rights; just because there are vegans who have said wrong things doesn’t mean anything said by a vegan is necessarily wrong. I share your frustration, though 🙂

        • Jaskologist says:

          Cows will certainly go the way of the buffalo; there’s no room in this world for large animals which are of no use to humans.

          I would bet against sheep as well; those things are just too stupid to live on their own.

          Part of me wants to bet against chickens, but another part thinks they’ll surprise me. They’re dumb and can’t really fly, but may be small and flexible enough to find a niche next to pigeons. They could stick to areas where we’ve killed all predators but cats, and then breed faster than cats eat them.

          Goats, of course, will carry on just fine, eating anything that might conceivable be organic, and destroying everything.

          • Anonymous says:

            Chickens do fine in Hawaii among other places:

          • Deiseach says:

            The interesting question will be: should we continue to interfere in the lives of animals?

            On the one hand, we’ve created these domesticated species that either no longer have a niche in the wild or cannot survive there. As well, with the pressures on ‘the wild’, there needs to be conscious and ongoing intervention by humans (as with environmentalism) to preserve both the uncultivated areas and the species (flora and fauna) who live there. So you could argue that, having created the problem in the first place, we have a duty to intervene in a benign way.

            On the other hand, if we have no right to interfere in the lives of non-human persons for our own benefit, we have no right – or perhaps no duty – to interfere in their lives in order to keep their population stable, provide disease control, maintain appropriate and spacious environment, protect or maintain populations against predation, etc.

            So do we stop farming cows and sheep, and let them form feral communities, and let those communities thrive or decline as they can in the modern world? If, say, wolves have been deliberately made extinct in one area due to human intervention, should we re-introduce them? Because (a) we can’t recreate the pre-human environment and (b) the wolf-human struggle was, you might say, as much a part of the natural predation chain as wolf-rabbit or wolf-lambs. We were just better, fiercer predators in our turn.

          • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

            The interesting question will be: should we continue to interfere in the lives of animals?

            If it were up to me, the biosphere would be completely absorbed by advanced human civilization for maximum profit. The few remaining animals would live in sheltered conditions suited to their needs (without live predation).

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’m sure the Vegan community has covered this somewhere, but given how animals interact with each other, how do we justify not interfering?

            Animals cause each other suffering all the time. Predators do not kill merely for food; they will do it for fun even when not hungry. Cats particularly enjoy torturing their victims first. And then there are those, like lions, who will kill any children of former pride leaders, or cuckoo birds who cast “siblings” out from the nest to die on the ground.

            If we ascribe moral weight to animal suffering, on what grounds do we stand by and ignore this holocaust? If we declare that humans, and humans alone, must practice non-interference, we are once again elevating humans to a position above that of mere animals.

            (This is without getting Jainist and worrying about the deaths of lower-level creatures like insects or even microbes).

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Jaskologist: you raise a very interesting point, and it’s one that I’ve thought about. One of my friends who is also interested in animal rights has argued that hunting should actually be encouraged, because most animals live net-negative-utility lives in the wild. This is a question whose answer I think is far more complicated than human-run animal agriculture, since we can’t always see the animals involved to confirm that their lives suck.

            It should be noted, however, that this kind of animal intervention would be far more expensive per animal saved than ending factory farming. Moreover, just because the claim “we should end factory farming” leads to some surprising moral conclusions, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still agree with the claim if it considered alone seems to be airtight.

          • Multiheaded says:

            @Jaskologist, BB – I agree, and so does Brian Tomasik.

          • Irenist says:


            given how animals interact with each other, how do we justify not interfering?

            British transhumanist utilitarian David Pearce’s “Hedonistic Imperative” (1995) offers a book-length argument for an ethical duty to abolish animal suffering entirely:

            OTOH, a non-utilitarian/non-consequentialist ethics that morally distinguishes between actively harming and passively allowing harm could presumably distinguish “we must stop torturing animals through factory farming” from “we must prevent animals from torturing each other through predation” by noting that the former is harm directly caused by human action, whereas the latter is not.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            I think we should intervene eventually. We don’t remotely have the technology to do so yet safely, obviously, but eventually I would want to either redesign or eliminate nature.

          • @Illuminati, I always thought that the goals of NICE in That Hideous Strength were unrealistic, and that there were very few people who would actually support such a scheme. It’s good(?) to know that this isn’t actually the case.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Never read that book, but is that the one where they try and replace trees with metal trees? That would be pointless, aesthetically unpleasing and a waste of resources. But I certainly think that in a hypothetical far-future world where we have the technology to redesign the ecosystem to prevent natural animal cruelty without harming ourselves, we should do so. By “destroy or redesign nature” I didn’t mean something ridiculous like paving over the galaxy for the hell of it. It was hyperbol-ish.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Animals cause each other suffering all the time. Predators do not kill merely for food; they will do it for fun even when not hungry. Cats particularly enjoy torturing their victims first. And then there are those, like lions, who will kill any children of former pride leaders, or cuckoo birds who cast “siblings” out from the nest to die on the ground.

            That picture could be expanded by including animal disease and accidents, which are not caused by other animals.

            I’m sure you didn’t mean “all the time” literally, but that kind of picture does kind of suggest that wild animal lives have net-negative utility. But in the wild, each animal’s life ends with a minute or two of being caught and killed by a predator, or at most malfunctioning only till a predator finds him. That first severe pain is the only severe pain. Which leaves most of his lifespan for pleasure or happiness or challenge of one kind or another, or states with no pronounced utility either way. If they don’t have our kind of suffering — so much the better for them, their net utility is better than ours.

            By “in the wild” I mean in the kind of environment their species is adapted to, not in degraded environments or where territory is scarce, etc etc. But even there, their problems are either shortly-fatal or no worse than ours, and their worry-suffering much less than ours.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I don’t think your view that most animal deaths are quick is true. I’ve seen cats torture their prey for a long time before killing it, ripping flesh off and then chasing them some more. Starvation can claim many creatures, especially cute baby animals whose parents met an untimely end. Some parasites are even nastier than that.

            (Aside: it’s creepy how many of you prefer death to suffering. Normally facing death involves courage and virtue, but I think y’all’ve found a loophole.)

          • Irenist says:


            it’s creepy how many of you prefer death to suffering.

            For non-human animals? Sure. I don’t take most non-human animals to have life projects that can be thwarted by death. (I say “most” b/c I don’t feel qualified to have an opinion on cetaceans, corvids, elephants, non-human primates, and other notably clever species). But I take non-human animals to be sentient, and so capable of suffering pain. So non-human animal pain bothers me more than non-human animal death.

            However, with euthanasia of sapients, all sorts of ethical concerns other than pain come into play. I don’t desire to discuss the pros/cons of euthanasia at SSC just now (or probably ever), but I will venture the limited thesis that one could, in theory, coherently prefer death over suffering for non-human animals while preferring suffering to death for sapients like humans. Preference utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics all seem to me to be positions from which one could more or less coherently defend such a view. (“Coherently” within such ethical frameworks, I mean. Whether the frameworks are themselves coherent is another matter, of course.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Jaskologist: Orphaned babies are found by a predator as soon as they cry, if not sooner. In the wild, a cat can only play with a mouse until a larger predator takes it away from him (or it manages to escape). So the length of the play may correlate negatively with the hunger of the cat.

            As for creepiness, that might relate to assumptions about a difference between animal death, such as Irenist’s above.

            Here I’m talking about wild animal death by predator as a result of serious current malfunction, and/or of natural, yes, natural hunger of the predator. CS Lewis mentions human “kindness that leads to killing animals lest they should in future somehow come to harm” [quote from memory] and I think he might have considered that creepy.

          • Jaskologist says:


            I mostly have in mind the vegans of the “a pig is a boy is a dog” mold, who essentially consider humans as just another animal.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Mai La Dreapta

            I don’t think that helping animals was quite the motive of N.I.C.E. ;-/

        • Anonymous says:

          Perhaps you’ve been talking to some extremely unreasonable people, but nobody that I’m aware of thinks that A) there is much of a chance of everyone in the world simultaneously becoming vegan overnight or B) thinks that such an occurrence would instantly remove all animal suffering.

          I think the general argument is that the most likely “good” outcome is that slowly more and more of society becomes vegan, and over time the number of animals bred for food reduces to negligible levels. You’re missing the point if you want to point out that whatever path to veganism still results in animals dying. Those animals would have been killed in the present system anyways. Killing less animals is strictly better.

          To make an analogy, it would be like saying that an HIV vaccine would be problematic, because even if we vaccinated everyone overnight, people who were already infected would still /DIE/.

          • Deiseach says:

            It may be that I’m particularly hard-hearted, because the heartstring-tugging about animal suffering doesn’t move me as it is presumably intended to, for exactly that reason: if the cows were living in the wild, they’d suffer. Sheep need to be dipped to prevent parasites; I don’t know what the infection rate of wild sheep is, but blowfly infestation is not pleasant.

            There is no reason to cause suffering to domesticated animals; the problems of intensive farming methods are part of the wider problem of how profitability is maximised.

            Mass production of food crops is not without its own problem. If we’re going to produce enough vegetable matter to feed the global human population efficiently, cheaply and maintaining a proper nutritional balance, there are going to be mass industrialised tillage farms on the same model as mass livestock production.

            Indeed, you already have that in the U.S. and Canada, with the massive acreage under grain. Monoculture and events such as the Dust Bowl, where mechanisation made it possible and profitable to bring large tracts of grassland under tillage, without the understanding of the ecology and the methods needed to maintain the soil, then combined with an extended period of drought – these are some of the problems that are likely to crop up.

            My objections aren’t so much to veganism in principle; it’s more the feeling on my part that a lot of the present wave of vegetarian/vegan activists are young, have a very romantic notion of small organic farms producing boutique crops in harmony with Mother Nature, and have not sufficiently considered the necessities of mass production.

            Looking up soyabean production on Wikipedia (and soya is where you’ll get your tofu from), I note that (surprisingly) the U.S. is the largest global producer.

            The Great Famine in Ireland also shows the risks of putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, when relying on one crop as your main source of nutrition.

          • Nikias The Random Blog Commenter says:

            if the cows were living in the wild, they’d suffer.

            This is a silly reason. Lower demand for cows doesn’t teleport them into the wild, it reduces the number bred. As you well know.

            Mass production of food crops is not without its own problem.

            Neither is the mass production of feed crops to feed the livestock.

            I’m not a vegetarian, but these are poor points.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Deiseach: you’re right that industrialized plant-growing is not without its own problems. Be careful, though–most crops grown in the US today are grown with the intent of feeding animals that we plan to eventually eat. If suddenly everyone became vegan, we’d grow fewer plants, not more.


            Edit: looks like Niklas already said what I said. Whoops!

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            There are a lot more animals with the farms than there would be without them. Getting rid of meat farming means billions less chickens, but billions of wild animals would not take their place. Also, it seems pretty obvious that, assuming the animals are morally relevant, factory farms are alot worse than the wild, even though the wild is terrible.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          You’ve brought this up before and I still don”t understand the point- most consequentialists are not going to have a problem here. And LW/SSC vegetarians are going to typically be consequentialists.

      • Panflutist says:

        “Are animals people?” is a mysterious question. “Do animals suffer?” is a question of fact. “Does the suffering of nonhumans matter?” is a question that seems to be tacitly answered affirmatively by those who try to chicane around the issue by redefining suffering to require sapience.

        And the chain of requirements so set up must of course be satisfied with complete certainty. Expected value goes out the window. So does the universal prior: there is nothing parsimonious about conditioning on the concept of sapience.

        Besides all that it strikes me that these people are anyway dealing with the wrong question entirely. If they decide animals suffer in a way that matters, they’re not going to try and reduce the suffering. They’re going to conclude that the Death of an animal brings Very Large Negative Utility(tm), and be all preoccupied with keeping them alive. Suffering goes out the window.

        Or does this all make sense if I take this “sapient suffering” to mean the frustration of preferences? Is this how preference utilitarians see the world? That would make some things click into place.

        [edit: mind=killed, sorry]

        • Carinthium says:

          Actually, based on the definition of ‘suffer’ there could easily be “neutral cases” which partially fit but don’t quite fit the definition of suffering. I don’t know biology so I can’t claim this categorically, but it’s definitely at least philosophically possible.

        • Deiseach says:

          (1) Are animals people? No, and I’m going to be less impressed with “Apes are persons too” because I see every day people arguing that “foetuses are not people, they’re only potential people” or “foetus with condition X, Y or Z should be aborted because if permitted to be born, they will never reach Minimum Baseline Human Requirements because they don’t even have the potential to do so”. When there are no more arguments about “But a human should be defined as someone with a minimum base of such-and-such IQ points and this-and-that physical ability before being considered a person”, then I’ll worry about ‘are moo-cows people too?’

          (2) Is there a duty to reduce suffering as much as possible when keeping and farming animals? Yes, because cruelty is wrong. This applies as much to people who keep pets – I’m sorry, I mean “persons who share their domicile with non-human companion persons” – as it does to farmers. Personally, I think people who dress up their pets in ‘cute’ costumes are being abusive, because it is not the nature of an animal to be togged out as a mini-Robin Hood or in a top hat and tails. And dog breeds, for one, have definitely suffered from breeders’ demands for more and more stringently ‘pure’ standards of conformation and the public’s fad for certain breeds (crossing Labradors and poodles? teacup pugs?)

          (3) Is obligatory veganism the answer? I don’t know; I do know that telling people they are horrible murdering torturers if they don’t all start eating tofu in the morning is not going to work (a) for those who know about how animals are farmed and killed and are okay with that (b) those who prefer not to think about it and won’t be forced into doing so just so you can cram your morality down their throats, you religious zealot, you!

          • Panflutist says:

            Veganism is definitely not the ultimate answer. It still does nothing about the discomfort of the huge numbers of wild animals out there because, well, we have this concept of “nature” as if it’s some kind of something, you know?

            Anyway, my main point was how rationalizing rationalists can be — they introduce mysterious questions, Aristotelian categories, fully general excuses and false dichotomies. For all their obsession with subjective probability and optimization, you would expect them to actually think in terms of fuzzy categories, degrees of belief in extents of suffering, various plausible rates of meat-eating. But no, it’s all binary.

            Surely there’s enough uncertainty in all these things to justify e.g. Meatless Mondays?

            Myself, I’m a vegetarian who avoids eggs for ethical reasons and cheese for disgustingness reasons. I’m not vegan because at some point between vegetarian and vegan I figure it would become just as important to buy everything fair-trade and organic and whatever it is today and grow my own crops and make my own mayonnaise and pretend it’s better than anything store-bought and, well, then I think one has reason to wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh, why the ethical eggs (this is not facetious, I mean it sincerely)? Not all eggs are the by-product of fertilisation, and it is possible to keep hens free-range or organic. If you knew a local producer with a small flock who could ethically raise fowl, would you change your mind?

            Battery farms are horrible, I agree. Also, I apologise if I seem to be picking on you; as I’ve mentioned, I have a vegan brother who is militantly evangelistic about the whole animal rights thing (e.g. won’t even eat honey because it exploits bees) and I’ve gotten into the habit of (1) flaming rows with him because there’s just the slightest hint of smugness in his attitude which triggers my own self-righteousness and (2) for the sake of family peace and my own blood pressure, trying to avoid having flaming rows with him.

            So, since you’re no relation (as the saying goes), the vials of my wrath are getting poured out here! 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            A) Having a brother who thinks honey exploits bees explains a lot of what you’re arguing against. I retract my “nobody is arguing that” claim from above.

            B)I think that in general vegans make the mistake of framing veganism (or vegetarianism) as an all-or-nothing venture. Like, if you can just cut out that last bit of meat in your diet, then you suddenly become pure. But the reality is that from a utilitarian point of view, it’s much better to convince a huge meat eater to cut his meat consumption in half than it is to convince a light meat eater to go vegetarian.

            Stop focusing on the the horror or disgust you’re supposed to feel towards meat, because that is only preaching to the choir.

            The 80-20 rule suggests that you could cut 80% of your meat consumption with only 20% of the effort, and so really, the primary focus should be convincing people that eating less meat is a good idea, not that eating any meat is abhorrent.

            (Disclaimer: I eat a mostly vegan diet)

          • Irenist says:

            My feelings are similar, Deiseach.

            Since animals are sentient, causing them pain is to be avoided.

            Since animals are not (AFAIK) sapient, they don’t have life goals that will be thwarted by being killed. So killing them is not (IMHO) wrong.

            However, since raising animals for food and killing them seems, AFAIK, to involve inflicting suffering on them as a practical economic matter (since humane farming and slaughter methods seem rather too expensive to move beyond being boutique), moving to vegetarianism/veganism is one of my many as-yet unimplemented goals.

          • Panflutist says:

            Well Deiseach, I’m ruthlessly hedonistic in my utilitarianism, so I too find myself at odds with every veg*n I meet.

            I have in fact been considering buying eggs from a good source because I love eggs and I’ve seen some evidence that these chicken lives might be better than not. My parents own some hens and I usually eat a couple when I’m there, but — and I realize I’m probably not a chicken — their lives don’t appeal to me. So yeah, I’m considering. Of course, there are other, complicated, indirect effects, but I feel that would be fighting the hypothetical here.

            All this is complicated by the fact that I’m a former antinatalist. Over time my arguments for antinatalism became more utilitarian, which is funny because it is a bit of a deontological position (as in “thou shalt not” hard and fast rules). In the end, the utilitarianism stuck and the antinatalism had to go, but it still influences my intuitive judgments more than it should.

            So there’s why I don’t see much of a problem with killing animals, I don’t believe in “rights” except as instruments, and I don’t see conserving nature — with all its competing species — as doing much good to anyone but ourselves (who doesn’t love a good dogfight?). I should care somewhat more than I do because I don’t consider myself a negative utilitarian, but my bias may be a good counterweight in veg*n circles.

            edit: did this thread just turn all reasonable and civil? kudos to all!

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Anonymous, I totally agree with you that vegans should not be so insistent on one hundred percent compliance. I think it’s common and easy, when you’re newly vegan and filled with righteous fury, to miss the forest for the trees and insist on purity when the real issue is suffering.

          • Jiro says:

            I find the argument “oh, well, if you eat less meat, that would partially satisfy me” to be disingenuous. Vegetarians consider eating meat to be worth of moral condemnation, the equivalent of mass murder.

            I consider “partially satisfying the vegetarian” to mean “I don’t lose as much utility from the vegetarian’s condemnation of me”. But I am nonlinear on X with respect to utility from vegetarians telling me “you killed X people”. So by *my* standards, eating half as much meat doesn’t partly satisfy the vegetarian–he just calls me a killer of 200 people instead of 400 people, but I find being condemned as one to be pretty much the same as being condemned as the other. And he should realize that most people think that way.

            It’s like an abortion opponent who thinks killing fetuses is murder but says “how about at least stopping all abortions except in cases of rape or incest”. Anyone who does that would just be a “fewer people mass murderer” instead of a “more people mass murderer”–it wouldn’t satisfy him, even partly, in any sense which matters to other people than himself.

          • Anonymous says:

            Jiro: Your assumption is clearly wrong, because I am a vegetarian, and the only thing that especially bothers me about people eating meat is when people refuse to acknowledge their actions.

            Maybe /you/ know vegetarians who are all about moral condemnation, and who argue disingenuously, but that’s not me.

            First, you’re implicitly assuming that the circumstance of “I’m doing something every day that’s morally equivalent to murder” is a situation that’s specific to eating meat. It’s not. We’re both consequentialists here. According to Givewell, AMF saves a life for every 3,000 dollars spent. Every time you spend a total of 3,000 dollars that could have been spent on charity, you’re committing the moral equivalent of murdering a human, never mind an animal of questionable status… or so that argument would go.

            But nobody applies your logic to human charities. Nobody says “well, I know you’re just suggesting that I donate 10% of my income, but that’s completely disingenuous! By your logic you see me as just a 90% murderer, and you won’t be happy till I devote 100% of my resources to effective altruism”. Everyone accepts that people are selfish to some degree, and there’s no point spending all your effort yelling condemnation. So why can’t you accept that I have the same attitude towards eating meat?

            The only difference with meat is that there’s a huge substitution effect which suggests that at least for the first bit of marginal change, eating less meat is hugely efficient as a charity. When you donate 1% of your income to charity, that money is gone, and you receive none of the benefits of it. But when you eat 1% less meat, you instead replace it with plant foods, which are quite similar at no extra cost (in fact, most likely at a decrease in cost). The marginal utility you lost is negligible. It’s like saying that using Firefox as your browser saves a life every few months: why would you use Chrome!

            If you’re thinking about it in terms of “satisfy the vegetarian” or “not be called a murderer”, you’re already thinking about it on the wrong terms: you haven’t engaged intellectually. Please consider that the posters above in various forms of ve*anism are not trying to lure you into some sort of trap, but actually are suggesting a change because it really is low cost to implement (and wouldn’t insist on such a change if it weren’t low cost). I can testify that at least I myself fall into that category.

          • BenSix says:

            This is a significant point of contention among vegetarian and vegan communities. Some, like Gary Francione, are “abolitionists” who think that all exploitation of animals is wrong. Others can be placed on a scale of people who give more or less significance to each animal life. At the bottom end a lot of people are delighted with initiatives like “Meatless Mondays”. At the top end are people who think it is equivalent to pardoning rape.

            (I’m a pescetarian, which sounds much worse than vegetarian, though eating dairy appears to be less defensible than eating sardines. Either way, it is terribly inconsistent.)

          • Jiro says:

            Anonymous: I suspect that many vegetarians (or abortion opponents) don’t really alieve that meat eaters (or people who support abortion) are equivalent to murderers. So you’d never treat me like or call me one. But I am still implicitly condemned as one by the logical consequences of your beliefs, even if you would never desire to verbalize “you are like a murderer” to me.

            But nobody applies your logic to human charities.

            The logic doesn’t apply to human charities unless you not only claim a utilitarian benefit for giving to charity, you also imply that failing to give someone a benefit is morally equivalent to killing them. (I do not, of course, believe that myself.) In that case, I would indeed say “wait a minute, you’re just telling me to give X% to charity. But by your own standards, that doesn’t make me any better; it just makes me a slightly different shade of mass murderer. Your standards require I give everything I have, and no way am I going to do that”.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            @Jiro: I think you’re approaching the issue from the wrong angle. To tell if an idea is good or not, don’t start by asking yourself, “if I decided to believe this idea, would I be a terrible person by my own standards?” First test the idea on its own merits, and once you’ve sorted that out, only then think about the implications to your own behavior. Just because an idea being true would appear to make you a terrible person, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

            That sounded really harsh, but it really wasn’t meant to be, I promise. It’s okay to be a mass murderer by the idea Anonymous put forth ($3000/human life). It really is okay! We all are! And what’s more, changing your belief system so that you no longer buy the arguments for veg*nism and charity won’t make you any less of a mass murderer. It’ll only make you more wrong!

            But this isn’t the point of any of this, at all. The point is not to make you feel terrible! The point is taking small steps to better yourself and the world around you, ten percent at a time. Not everything has to be grand gestures and perfect consistency!

          • Jiro says:

            To tell if an idea is good or not, don’t start by asking yourself, “if I decided to believe this idea, would I be a terrible person by my own standards?”

            First of all, I can’t decide to believe an idea. Second, it’s not that I’d be a terrible person by my own standards, it’s that I’d be a terrible person by the standards of the guy telling me to do stuff. All that is being done by my own standards is how to compare different degrees of terribleness.

            Essentially, the vegetarian is telling me “eat less meat and you will be a less terrible person”. My answer is “According to what you believe (though not what you alieve), if I eat less meat, I will still be substantially as terrible as I am now”. It may be a better number on a utility scale, but it’s equally terrible.

            I do know that telling people they are horrible murdering torturers if they don’t all start eating tofu in the morning is not going to work

            Your beliefs imply that I am a horrible murdering torturer. Choosing not to speak the implication of your beliefs out loud because it would drive people away doesn’t change that. Neither does not alieving that I am a horrible murdering torturer.

            Imagine yourself as a religious fundamentalist knowing that a gay person doesn’t like being called a sinner and telling him “if you won’t stop practicing homosexuality, could you at least stay in the closet? From a utilitarian point of view, gay people in the closet do less damage to society than gay people not in the closet.” You still think he’s a sinner, regardless, and he’s going to realize that, even if you don’t say it out loud because you know it drives people away.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            eating dairy appears to be less defensible than eating sardines

            Eating meat always requires killing an animal — essence. Hens and dairy animals can be treated badly or treated well — accident.


            Finding milk and eggs from very well-treated animals is possible, though expensive. Success of those farmers motivates even large producers to treat their animals somewhat better, so they can label their products “free-range” or “cage-free” etc. Giving up all eggs and/or meat gives them no reason to change their practices, since you won’t buy their products anyway.

          • Anonymous says:

            ” It may be a better number on a utility scale, but it’s equally terrible.”

            No, it’s not, and to suggest it is, is to reject the entire premise of rationalist ethics.

            Based on other comments as well, such as “you also imply that failing to give someone a benefit is morally equivalent to killing them.”, it seems like the point of contention here is not anything to do with veganism, but rather that you aren’t coming from the same rationlist/utilitarian perspective of morality that I assumed you were. I think it would be useful to engage these ideas first without the context of ve*nism.

   Is a discussion on the topic in general, but I think you would question even basic utilitarian premises, so you might need to find some more basic posts.

          • Jiro says:

            As far as I can tell, the implications of the utilitarianism you espouse are such that pretty much no human being in existence including yourself follows them (and as far as I know, probably no human being whatsoever). If this type of morality is followed by no human being, that suggests it fails to capture something important about what we mean by morality.

            On the other hand, a substantial number, and probably an overwhelming majority, of human beings believe that killing someone and not saving someone are not equivalent, and that a mass murderer who kills 200 people is not substantially better than one who kills 400 people.

          • Matthew says:

            and that a mass murderer who kills 200 people is not substantially better than one who kills 400 people.

            People may have vague feelings of “killing is bad, numbers are just a detail,” but in practice, the vast majority, if not all people, faced with a choice between stopping a mass murderer who is plotting to kill 200 people and stopping a mass murderer who is plotting to kill 400 people would choose the latter, which suggests that their vague deontological intuitions are missing something important.

          • Jiro says:

            Matthew: You need to distinguish “how bad is it to kill X people” and “how bad is it to be a person who kills X people”. The former is linear with the number of people killed and the latter isn’t.

            The goodness or badness of *stopping* the murderer depends on the number of people killed, but consider a scenario where a murder is not being stopped yet whether two murderers are still being compared. For instance, you have a choice between a) saving two people, one who has killed 400 people in the past, and one who has killed nobody, and b) saving two people, one who has killed 200 people in the past and one who has killed 199. Almost everyone would pick A. If the 400-person killer was as much worse than a 200 person killer as the 200 person killer is than a non-killer, they would have picked B instead.

            Also, I’m I’m pretty sure that most vegetarians who say that killing X animals is equivalent to killing a human, if faced between saving X+1 animals and saving one human, would save the human. And abortion opponents when faced with a choice between saving a test tube containing two fertilized eggs and one human would also save the human.

          • @Jiro:

            A person who has never killed is unlikely to do so in the future (circumstances being equal). A person who has killed one person may or may not, depending on circumstances, kill again. A person who has killed 200 doesn’t seem any less likely to continue killing that someone who has killed 400. So, if we’re concerned mostly about future actions, there’s no additional badness signal in killing 400 over 200.

            But maybe I’m missing your point.

          • Jiro says:

            Randall: Then imagine it’s a situation where you save the person but they are no threat. Perhaps they’re tied up in two trolley cars and you only have time to save one, but the police would arrive before anyone has a chance to escape the trolley car.

            It is still true that most people would prefer to save 400-murderer+non-murderer to 200-murderer+199-murderer, because 200-murderer is much worse than non-murderer, but 400-murderer is only slightly worse than 200-murderer.

            (The word “yet” above was a conjunction , not an adverb.)

          • Jiro:

            I’m not disputing that people aren’t adding up past body count as a measure of badness. Rather, I’m saying that this apparent failure to shut up and calculate makes sense if you realize that “badness” is a proxy for “how dangerous is this person to me or mine”. In that context, the 199, 200, and 400 count murderers are all about equally bad, and there’s one person in that group clearly not like the others.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            And abortion opponents when faced with a choice between saving a test tube containing two fertilized eggs and one human would also save the human.

            Now that would be an interesting approach for a study on the zygote/abortion issue: comparing answers to questions of how many human zygotes vs how many mature dogs/cats/other breeds of animal. Or, how many human zygotes vs how much loss of one’s own income/car/etc. But you’d need a large pool of test subjects, since repeated questions similar to these might be too stressful for any one subject to consider.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          It should be noted that very few people actually use person-hood as a necessary requirement for moral worth. Babies are not people, but most do not support infanticide. Most people’s standards seem to be something like [person, human, or both] for most anti-abortionists and [person, human or both, and not a fetus/embryo] for most pro-abortionists*, with [person, human or both, and if not a person some sufficient level of sentience] for most people who are OK with early term but not late. Most people also seem to assign moral worth to animals that humans know personally that are above some sufficient level of sentience (ie. pet dogs).

          *I’m pro-abortion but think the magic birth line of moral significance is kind of silly. Which seems to be too rare a position to have a [most] category.

          • Most people oppose infanticide precisely because they think that babies are people.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Well, they might call them people but this might be a language thing, where “people” is also used as a synonym of “humans”. Newborn babies are obviously not people in any meaning of the word that includes non-humans (well, except the legal definition in which Walmart is a person), which seems to be the usage I was responding to. I’m not really sure how to define person-hood in words, but I meant a sense in which Spock and Yoda can be considered people, but a chicken is not.

            Of course people could actually just be mistaken about the content of baby-minds, are they generally? In which case you are correct.

          • Deiseach says:

            My feeling on that, very briefly and which I fully expect to be ripped to shreds by those on here with fully-worked out models of ethics, is that if “personhood” is not innate by virtue of being a human, but is awarded or achieved, then it’s revocable.

            And if it can be awarded or revoked by the will of the larger society, I don’t think we’ll stop with “twelve week foetus is not (yet) a person”; I think we’ll find ways of revoking personhood (even if we still grant humanity) to others at later life-stages.

            In my most cynical imaginings, I can see the status of “human animal” (revoked or never attained personhood) being legally lower than “non-human person” (animal judged to be person – you know, one of the cute animals like dolphins or elephants or gorillas).

            I mainly think both sides have been driven to extremes of positions; pro-choice defending abortion of viable foetuses/abortion on demand for such things as sex-selection (primarily used to abort female foetuses) or things such as in the U.K. where cleft palate is medical grounds for having an abortion; those pro-life having to maintain that the zygote is fully human and fully a person.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            Well, even if that slippery slope holds true it wouldn’t mean newborns were actually people all along.

            Elephants, gorillas and dolphins are not considered candidates for personhood because they are cute (Gorillas are cute? YMMV I guess), but because they are particularly intelligent and person-ish. While I have no doubt cuteness bias would be in play with a hypothetical ugly but equally person-ish animal, that’s not the case here.

            I don’t see any issue with nonhuman persons being considered more important than human nonpersons, if those labels were “correct” and not just propaganda.

          • Anthony says:

            The use of “birth” as a dividing line has the singular advantage of being easy to determine. Conception is also a pretty easy place to draw a line.

            Everywhere else is hard, because it’s hard to be sure. Many people like the “12-week” limit, but what about the woman who occasionally misses her period, and doesn’t know if it’s week 10 or week 14? Viability? So far, it seems that viability at 23 weeks is 1%, and at 24 weeks it’s about 30%, and despite lots of efforts at saving premature births in that range, the 23-week viability just isn’t going up. But how do you know whether a particular fetus has reached that point? That’s probably technically harder than telling the difference between a 10-week and a 12-week fetus.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            I’m aware of the “birth as a Schelling point” position, and I think it is a reasonable position to take, but I was talking about most people and that is another position not really common enough to have mentioned.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I mainly think both sides have been driven to extremes of positions [….]

            I agree with this paragraph, and with the implication that both extremes may be wrong.

            if “personhood” is not innate by virtue of being a human, but is awarded or achieved, then it’s revocable.

            I’d pretty much agree if you said “defined” by the larger society, instead of “awarded”. Whatever the definition (or award), it changes when the other side wins an election.

            Coming from the opposite side, I kind of see a word like ‘person/personhood’ as sort of like phlogiston. I’d like to drop that word altogether and say things like “If a [being] currently acts like it can feel pain, don’t hurt it; if it currently acts like a loving companion, don’t kill it or make it [act] sad; etc.”

            This would protect thumb-sucking fetuses of all species and born, functioning creatures of all species. A mean ugly warthog pup old enough to run around, would outrank a human embryo or early human fetus.

            In moral calculations, I’d like to drop all flogiston type words, such as ‘soul’, ‘person’, ‘human’, ‘sentient’, ‘sapient’, etc, and consider how it acts currently, not what it may grow to “be”.

            ETA: I know this is all very rough. I’m putting it up here for people to use as target practice, which I’ll gratefully take as critique (the wording is much more up for change than the principle).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Elephants, gorillas and dolphins are not considered candidates for personhood because they are cute [….]

            Well, that gives me a chance to be a smart alec for mentioning a sort of backwards streetlight factor I’ve been thinking about. It’s animals under our streetlights (elephants etc) that we observe (‘consider’) clearly enough to notice signs of sentience.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The use of “birth” as a dividing line has the singular advantage of being easy to determine.

            A devout modern Jewish scientist I know, seriously supports abortion till at least very near birth, saying it was with his first breath that Adam “became a living soul”. I’ve seen some medical or semi-medical sources saying that a fetus/baby on an umbilical cord in the womb seems to show a quite different organization of brain functions once outside and breathing, and that caesarian babies also can be distinguished from regular birth babies for a time (a day or few days?).

            [ Call for steel-manning of terms from someone more familiar with this view. ]

          • Jiro says:

            I’m not sure about elephants and gorillas, but the idea of dolphins as being people seems to be traceable back to pseudoscientific works by John Lilly in the 1960’s. While the actual intelligence of dolphins probably had some influence in the sense that the idea wouldn’t have caught on if it was about styrofoam instead of dolphins, the intelligent dolphin meme seems to have caught on mainly because a random percentage of memes catch on and this one had the luck of the draw. It’s like asking why people believe in the Bermuda Triangle instead of the Easter Island Rectangle–there’s no merit to the idea, it’s just that at some point someone wrote a book about it and by chance, that happened to be the book that caught on.

          • > It should be noted that very few people actually use person-hood as a necessary requirement for moral worth.

            My tongue is somewhat in cheek, here, but I’m not sure how much, myself.

            Maybe we could say that a system having moral worth acquires it through potential might (in the sense of might makes right). If it would be possible in some world for you to be oppressed by an entity, then that entity clearly deserves to be considered as a moral actor, even if it is currently difficult or impossible for it to oppress you. Perhaps this should be in proportion to how likely it is that this could occur.

            In that way, we can say that humans of different gender or ethnicity are definitely of moral worth, and uplifted dolphins with human intelligence and technological enhancement would be of moral worth, but uplifted dolphins limited by genetic engineering to IQ 60 would be of significantly less moral worth, since it would be incredibly unlikely that they could rise up and oppress humanity.

            This avoids all consideration of whether a system is suffering, by simply accounting of no moral worth the suffering of systems which can’t do anything about it, and those that can do something about it will let us know by trying, after which we can come to an accommodation with them. Also, this rationalizes the feeling of more primitive peoples that the world and creatures around them are of moral worth, since those systems can and do win over them regularly.

        • > “Are animals people?” is a mysterious question. “Do animals suffer?” is a question of fact.

          I’ve always assumed that personhood was required for suffering, though obviously not for registration of pain. Can a system “suffer” without being a person? If so — if we define “suffering” to be something that can occur in the absence of anyone to feel it (like pain), what word or phrase should we use to convey the sense of “a person having the experience of suffering”? That is what I would have used the word “suffering” for, prior to encountering this thread.

          • Grumpus says:

            “Do animals suffer?” is a mysterious question, too. You pointed it out yourself–“if we define suffering to be…”

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Grumpus: I agree that it’s definitely a more mysterious question than, say, “am I bigger than the Sun?” That said, I think it’s also substantially less mysterious than “Are animals people?” This is because I consider the question, “do I suffer?” to be entirely un-mysterious: the answer is yes. Therefore, the answer to “do animals suffer?” seems likely to also to be “yes.”

            (Obviously, it gets continuously less likely as the animals in question become increasingly different from us: pig > fly > sponge.)

          • Grumpus: Yes, but it’s mysterious at least mostly because it seems to import the “is a system a person” question implicitly. I think if someone has a definition of suffering that doesn’t reference someone experiencing suffering, but only something like “pain or the attempt to escape from pain”, then that’s much less mysterious, since we can see lots of systems that attempt to avoid pain.

          • Grumpus says:

            Never mind, threading, I got confused.

          • Panflutist says:

            Well, before I say anything else I should say that I think different people who do require personhood for moral worth are using different definitions on this thread, so I’m not sure we disagree. Yours seems to be that there should be something that it is like to be the animal, which I come close to agreeing with.

            That said, I may have been wrong in using the adjective “mysterious”. The problem with “is X a person?” is that “person” is a category much like bleggs and rubes. You want to know about whether X is a member of the category because members of the category have certain instrumentally valuable properties.

            The concept of a person strikes me as being a discrete thing, made out of exactly one brain. Also it is continuous in time, in that the brain at time T and at time T+epsilon are the same person. I see no reason why these two features should be required for pain to feel bad. On the contrary, we’ve seen the verbal side of split-brain people communicate feeling bad, which shows both of these properties to be irrelevant.

            So instead of asking “is X a person?”, we might ask “does X’s pain feel bad?”. Cut out the middleman and its irrelevant properties, and go straight for the properties you do care about.

            (In case the verdict is that X’s pain does indeed feel bad, then the leftover question “but does X’s pain feel bad to somebody?” I think is a typical question that comes from the inside of an algorithm but makes no sense outside.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        Whenever I see people take up the cause of animal rights, I’m reminded of a bit from Clement of Alexandria, circa 195AD:

        Although keeping parrots and curlews, they do not adopt the orphan child. Rather, they expose children who are born at home. Yet, they take up the young of birds. So they prefer irrational creatures to rational ones!

        One can of course support animal rights and oppose abortion, but it’s interested how rarely it seems to work out that way.

        (This thread was insufficiently controversial.)

        • Nita says:

          Well, this problem has at least one simple solution: assume torture is worse than killing, which is worse than love and care. So, you can support the killing of cows and unborn humans (especially if they’re growing inside your body), but still oppose their torture.

          • anodognosic says:

            I’m gravitating towards this position myself. I question whether an animal has, or can have a preference for not dying, as humans do, and as such, I think humane farming might be OK, by the same logic I think abortion is probably OK. But animals certainly have a preference for not being tortured.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Most vegetarians I’ve encountered (let alone vegans) do not support killing cows.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            I’m vegan, and this is my position. Admittedly, I think this is atypical.

          • Anthony says:

            From a utilitarian perspective, that’s a hard argument to buy, but from other moral perspectives, it’s not so hard to say that you shouldn’t torture animals because it makes you a bad person, but that killing animals for some valid reason, including food, might be ok.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Anthony: I think it makes sense. Utilitiarianism is about suffering, right? Torture definitely causes suffering, but being dead doesn’t.

          • anodognosic says:

            @Anthony From a utilitarian perspective, I don’t buy that death is bad per se. I believe that death is only bad for organisms that have an interest in continuing to live. It is not clear to me that most animals have awareness of death, let alone an interest in avoiding it–although I admit I might be wrong about that.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          I’m possibly wavering towards the “killing a chicken is OK but not torturing it” position, but I don’t think the no killing chickens but abortion is OK position is necessarily unreasonable.

          I think one could make a reasonable case that having to deal with pregnancy and unwanted children is sufficient justification for late term abortions being OK, but liking the taste of chickens is not sufficient justification for killing them.

          Also, I’ve heard that a dog is roughly on par with a two year old in terms of emotions and intelligence (not sure how accurate this is, it seems plausible). Assuming this is true, it implies that young human infants are not as close to person-hood as an adult dog is. To me this would then imply that I should care more about dogs than human fetuses. (And even care about dogs more than newborns).

          Though if someone is defending the right to life of fish but not fetuses, then we might have a contradiction.

          • Jaskologist says:

            It’s not accurate. Kids start talking around 2, and their conversational skills develop very rapidly from there.

        • DES3264 says:

          I’m actually on the fence about abortion, so I was hoping someone more committed to the pro-choice side would point this out, but I imagine there are plenty of vegans who would not object to killing a parasite that was damaging the host, even if had a fairly substantial brain. (All the parasites I can think of are also very unintelligent, but I don’t think that is why vegans would feel that way.)

          I think it is pretty reasonable for a utilitarian to believe that

          avoiding 9 months of physical hardship and the risk of serious incapacitation > the life of a fetus > the life of a fish > a yummy dinner

          • DES3264 says:

            Also, people who are personally committed to avoiding abortion but believe the procedure should remain legal generally call themselves pro-choice; people who avoid eating meat but believe it should be legal call themselves vegan. Someone could certainly hold those positions with no contradiction.

        • Katie says:

          I support animal “rights” (or rather, vegetarianism) and oppose (or rather, have very serious qualms about) abortion. It does happen.

      • Baby Beluga says:

        Seconding what Panflutist said–it’s not clear what it would mean for animals to “be” people, but it seems quite likely that animals can suffer similarly to how we suffer.

    • Eric Jorgenson says:

      In my local rationalist community, animal welfare has been kind of a hot topic recently and a number of people have gone vegan and other stuff (there was an experiment with eating bugs as a more ethical source of protein, etc.). I do agree that there is less advocacy for it than other causes of similar impact, though. I think it is because endorsing the moral position that animals should not be eaten kind of requires you to right away make a big personal sacrifice (not eating meat) in a way that endorsing other moral positions may not. I mean, I could start arguing for a guaranteed minimum income on the internet 24×7 and yet not have to make any personal changed in my life. If I started arguing for veganism, I would probably have to give up meat to not feel like a hypocrite.

      Giving up meat is hard. I find arguments for veganism compelling, but it has been easier to give 10%+ of my income to Give Directly than to give up meat (I admit I suck).

      • Baby Beluga says:

        It’s hard, I agree, although it gets easier as you go. I did it gradually, but I have friends who did it cold turkey. Each person tends to know how it’ll work best for them; if you want to go vegetarian/vegan, do it the way you know will be comfortable and not make you want to give up.

        I’ll also point out that you can argue for veganism online without being vegan! A hypocrite you may be, but you might also be doing more good than you would have by merely going vegan in the first place.

      • Anonymous says:

        It seems like you’ve actually got the answer to your dilemma right in your comment.

        Consider that the “optimal” amount of your income to give to charity is probably higher than 10%. But that’s no reason to not give 10%! Cutting your meat consumption from 100 to 90 units is just as ethically good as cutting it from 10 to 0. Stop thinking about it in black and white terms, and think about it like charity. If you cut your meat consumption by 10%, you’re already doing good.

      • Jared says:

        I’m in similar situation and it really makes me guilty. It’s a lot easier to be an abolitionist when slavery is already illegal in your state.

        • John Schilling says:

          You now have me wondering, did historic abolitionists abstain from smoking tobacco and wearing cotton clothes in the antebellum United States? Was there a market for “ethical cotton” specifically sourced from India or Egypt?

          It’s very easy to be an abolitionist if there’s no such word as “boycott” and nobody cares that you are a downstream participant in the slave economy so long as you aren’t the one actually keeping slaves.

          • Tom Womack says:

            At least in England, there was quite a strong movement to boycott sugar (produced by slaves on plantations):

            ‘by 1792, about 400,000 people in Britain were boycotting slave-grown sugar. Some people managed without, others used sugar from the East Indies, where it was produced by free labour. ‘

            A pamphlet “An Address to the People of Great Britain, Proving the Neceffity of refraining from SUGAR and RUM In order to abolish the African Slave Trade” made it into twenty-five editions, and there was a rather splendid handbill published in Haverhill

            ” I mean to discontinue selling the Article of SUGAR, (when I have disposed of the Stock I have on hand) ’till I can procure it through Channels less contaminated, more unconnected with Slavery, and less polluted with Human Blood”

          • Anonymous says:

            The first quote appears all over the web, suggesting that it once appeared on wikipedia. The original source appears to be here, except with 300k in place of 400k. Also “up to” in place of “about”: the original sources are David Jones (1792) saying 100k and Thomas Clarkson (1808) saying 300k.

          • John Schilling says:

            Interesting. Not much in the way of “ethical cotton” or “ethical tobacco”, but a bit of a movement to boycott sugar. And sugar plantations were (justly) viewed as particularly hellish compared to tobacco and cotton. So, kind of equivalent to modern meat-eaters boycotting the factory-farmed stuff.

            The more things change…

          • Anonymous says:

            There was a movement more general than sugar.

            And 300,000 people boycotting sugar in England is more than “a bit” of a movement.

    • stillnotking says:

      It’s easier for some people than others. I’m an ethical vegetarian, but even before I was a vegetarian, I barely ate any meat. Apparently, most people experience very strong cravings for meat that can’t be satisfied by meat substitutes; I never have. The smell of cooking meat is actually a bit nauseating to me.

      So my position on meat-eating is similar to how I feel about obesity: I do think there is an ethically and pragmatically better side to the argument, but I recognize that I am predisposed to the better side for reasons that can really only be described as providential, so I avoid congratulating myself too much for not eating meat or being fat. (Or judging others on those grounds.)

    • John Schilling says:

      I’ve known too many American pigs, sheep, dairy cows, and beef cattle to accept uncritically the claim that their conditions are “truly horrifying”, and I frequently see such claims presented on the basis of what is clearly cherrypicked or contextually misrepresented evidence. It is possible that the “most animals … truly horrifying” claim is true based on the numerous chickens, etc, that I have less personal familiarity with, but there is that problem of reliable evidence.

      Which really makes it a question of fanaticism. I consider it ethically acceptable to kill and eat any animal that I have not caused to suffer more than it would have suffered in its natural habitat. Many of which are both tasty and nutritious. The bulk of the animal-rights / vegetarian activist community seems to consider me a monster for this, which I mostly laugh at, but as a consequence does not provide me with any effective channel for collective action or even the information I need for reliable private action in line with my actual ethics and preferences.

      So, the issue drops too far down the ladder of cost-effective altruism for me to pursue with any great vigor. I’ll hunt when I can, pay extra for ethically-farmed meat when it is available, and pass on the opportunity to argue the issue with fanatics who are big on caring but not on compromise or effectiveness.

      • As someone who lives within sight of several farms with cows and chickens, I to question whether the conditions are bad enough to merit the hyperbolic adjectives. The ones that I see aren’t obviously more overcrowded or filth-ridder than, say, humans in San Francisco.

        My wife and I prefer organic/free range foods largely for reasons of flavor and our own health. We had an excellent pork loin last night, raised by a farmer that we know.

      • Baby Beluga says:

        There are indeed ethically raised animals in the U.S. If a farmer that you know was keeping pigs in his backyard to be raised for slaughter, and you saw the pigs and they looked happy to you, it’s probably ethical or ethically neutral to eat that pork loin. I don’t think animal agriculture is inherently evil; I think the bulk of animal agriculture as it’s practiced today in the US is empirically evil, though.

        I understand that hyperbolic adjectives like “truly horrific” aren’t to be used lightly; however, I think that they accurately describe the state of most American factory farming. To give an example, most breeds of egg-laying hens are debeaked to prevent them from pecking each other to death. This means that the ends of their beaks are cut off; this is done with no anaesthesia, and we know that beaks contain nerve endings that cause acute pain (similar to our fingernails).

        I won’t belabor the point, because doing so is generally considered impolite. That said, if you don’t believe me, you can learn more at

        You should understand that the farms that you have access to and can see don’t represent how most meat is farmed in the US. Factory farms, which produce most American meat, tend to avoid people and keep out visitors. And you should also understand that while it’s probably fine to eat your friend’s pig, most pork you’ll eat at a restaurant or buy at a supermarket didn’t live a life like that of the one that belonged to your friend.

        • John Schilling says:

          The agricultural operations I have personal experience with are large professional family farms, economically competitive with the very largest corporate farms and not targeting any sort of specialized green/organic/ethical/locavorist markets. Not hobby farms. Mostly farms that have no choice about accepting me as a visitor because, family or friend of family, and in one case briefly co-owner.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            Hm–I admit I have never visited an industrial farm. I guess the real question is: are most factory farms like the farm you describe, or like the farm I describe? You have an advantage over me, given that you have visited a farm and I haven’t.

            That said, I’m not ready to give up yet. All my information about this comes from the internet, and pretty much the only people talking about this stuff are the animal rights groups, who may not be entirely honest. So should we assume they’re lying/distorting the truth? It’s not like the factory farms are really participating in this discussion, so they don’t really have an opponent. And they behave in ways that suggest they have something to hide, such as pushing Ag Gag laws, which make it an act of terrorism to take undercover videos showing animal cruelty in farming practices. Such laws are active in Utah and Iowa, and companies are making the push to activate them elsewhere.

            Now. Mercy For Animals is an organization whose purpose is to create such videos. You can find a whole bunch of them here:


            I admit that these videos are likely to be the worst cases of animal cruelty that have been recorded, and that therefore it’s specious to regard them as the average case for an animal living in a factory farm. That said, if animal agriculture companies would go to the trouble of lobbying for Ag Gag laws (a move that’s caused substantial backlash), I think that’s pretty good evidence that there’s something going on in their farms that they’d rather not be in an internet video.

            I can’t say for sure that your friend’s farm isn’t representative of most farms–but for the above reasons, I’m skeptical that it is. Your friend’s farm may be professional and competitive, but it surely isn’t as prolific and large as, say, JBS Swift, a beef producer with a market cap in the low billions?

            The core question is: what is it like to live on one of the factory farms whose ilk produces the vast majority of this nation’s food? I don’t know the answer to that question. The only thing I do know is that the only people who are trying to answer it are the animal rights groups. If you can point to evidence to the contrary (i.e. CAFOs insisting that the things Vegan Outreach is saying are a dirty lie, and showing what life is like for their animals for all to see), then I’ll be listening.

          • Jiro says:

            Test post…

          • Jiro says:

            And they behave in ways that suggest they have something to hide, such as pushing Ag Gag laws, which make it an act of terrorism to take undercover videos showing animal cruelty in farming practices.

            Just like opponents of meat-eating see value in graphic depictions of farms, abortion opponents see value in graphic depictions of abortion.

            This only shows they are aware that people react irrationally to graphic depictions.

            Edit: It seems that my problem with getting posts lost was avoided when I opened the thread in a second window and replied to it there, instead of in the initial window. Apparently something that I did–I don’t know what–caused posting in the initial window to stop working.)

          • PSPACE-complete says:

            I tried to look for sources that weren’t animal advocacy groups. I found a United States Department of Agriculture survey. I also found a course from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on agriculture. Problems with these are the survey is from 1997, so things have likely changed in the past 17 years. The class is from 2009 so things may have changed int the past 6 years.

            I’m going to try to find more information from classes and USDA surveys that are more recent. The former presumably matches “best practice” and the latter presumably models “actual practice”.

            Another question I have is about treatment of pigs. Gestation crates are a hot topic at the moment. I wonder what percentage of pork uses these? It seems additionally relevant because pigs seem to be rated to be very intelligent in general. (Apparently even modern farmer agrees, though they have a different opinion about the ethical implications than Baby Beluga does

            Captive Bolt guns seem to have a good but not amazing miss rate. It is unclear to me how they picked the 11 plants by of the 11 plants 6 had a miss rate of 10% or higher.

            The same report states that of 22 plants 2 had “serious problem” handling of cattle. It seems they were using electric prods excessively. In another three they were “not acceptable” due to over crowding or rough handling.

            “The normal procedure to dry off a cow is to withdraw all grain and reduce the water supply several days before the start of the dry period. ”

          • PSPACE-complete says:

            In terms of chickens there is the practice of “instantaneous euthanasia” that really does seem to be standard practice of killing chicks by grinding them. This seems horrifying, but there isn’t evidence that putting chicks through a grinder is necessarily painful. It seems to be supported by the Veterinary Society, though they don’t offer evidence painlessness they just offer evidence that it is quick. However, a chick can only suffer so much in a given period of time. So, presumably this is a reasonable method.


          • PSPACE-complete says:

            Apparently public opinion is that grinding isn’t acceptable for fully grown birds? Though there still isn’t evidence presented that the method of grinding is necessarily non-humane. There is a case against a veterinarian on the animal welfare committee who told a farmer they could dispose of chickens via a wood chipper.


            Another article claims many groups advocated for this as the way to kill many spent chickens.
            “Cutler did not act alone but was part of a team of veterinarians, poultry producers, and government officials that recommended the procedure in a written guideline for dealing with avian influenza outbreaks. It included the disposal of live “spent hens” in wood chippers – “A large chipper can be rented and set up to discharge directly into a loader bucket or other container. Death is instant and humane.” ”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I’m going to try to find more information from classes and USDA surveys that are more recent.

            For sources more-up-to date and less subject to lobbying/regulatory capture/etc, I’d suggest looking to the Market. What are current equipment manufacturers selling to large operations, and how many are they selling, and what features are their customers discussing?

        • Deiseach says:

          All my information about this comes from the internet, and pretty much the only people talking about this stuff are the animal rights groups, who may not be entirely honest.

          Leaving out any speculations about honesty or dishonesty, I think that’s the major problem a lot of people have with militant campaigns on animal rights: that many of the people either involved or targeted have no direct experience themselves.

          So when Person A is passionately arguing to Person B about how dairy farming is the equivalent of cattle rape, and Person B lived in a rural area where farming went on or even worked on a farm themselves and Person A has no idea which end of a cow milk comes out, the success of conversion is rather less than hoped.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            That’s fair, but even though I never have lived in a rural area where farming went on or lived in a farm myself, I am not absolved of the responsibility to not eat meat that I believe to have been badly mistreated.

            To be clear, I don’t know that the meat has been badly mistreated; but when I go online to try to decide whether or not it was, all of the evidence I find points in the direction that it was. I think that if there was a 10% chance that my description of factory farms is accurate, that it would still be highly unethical to eat meat–and from the information I’ve gathered, I think the odds are at least 75%.

            I know I can’t say for sure. I know! But literally, google “Chicken Treatment Factory Farms” or “Pig Treatment Factory Farms” or “Cow Treatment Factory Farms” and don’t even read the results, just read the names of the links. Every single one is an animal rights organization, talking about how terrible these places are! The factory farms themselves aren’t even interested in arguing! Or if you prefer, use a synonym for factory farm, like “CAFO” or “Intensive Animal Farming”–same thing! I just don’t think it’s reasonable, based on that, to think there’s less than a 10% chance that the animals in these places aren’t treated as the animal rights groups claim. I do not think that’s reasonable!

            If I may quote Eliezer Yudkowsky here, “One who wishes to believe says, ‘Does the evidence permit me to believe?’ One who wishes to disbelieve asks, ‘Does the evidence force me to believe?’ Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: ‘But it is good to be skeptical.'”

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @Baby Beluga
            The factory farms themselves aren’t even interested in arguing!

            I think this is a situation* where ad hominem is valid. When no one in a large industry is willing to answer such accusations, and some have pushed laws defining photographing evidence as “terrorism”, I think that’s an indication that the industry has something important to hide. And by Occam’s Razor, it’s unlikely they are treating their animals well but hiding something unrelated.

            It’s not a matter of how many farms including all sizes of farm are counted, but how much of the meat sold comes from animals badly treated. If 9 0f 10 ‘farms’ were small and kind, but that 1 unkind farm produced 90% of the meat, then the odds would be 90% in favor of boycotting meat.

            Skimming the arguments above, I don’t see anyone claiming to have visited a really large producer. The neighboring operations they mention are small and did allow them to visit!

            As with all internet websites, yes there’s a high Sturgeon’s Factor (“90% of [everything on the internet] is crap.”) at least in details. But soon if not already, the worst pro-animal sites will be fakes put up to discredit the movement. And then will come impressive sites labeling themselves “Council for Humane Farming” or some such, pretending to be pro-animal, but white-washing the industry. And ridiculing the fake pro-animal sites! War of the sockpuppets. 😉

            Your logic is sound, especially on different burden of proof for different choices. Great certainty should be required for criminal punishment, but less for individuals choosing to buy different food.

            *(In a court case the plaintiff may have been advised by zis lawyer to not talk about it, so this ad hominem would not apply there.)

          • Jiro says:

            And by Occam’s Razor, it’s unlikely they are treating their animals well but hiding something unrelated.

            So? Hiding something related is not the same thing as hiding good evidence. Abortion supporters don’t like campaigns which aim to show people pictures and videos of what goes on in an abortion and what the fetus looks like. That’s not because those pictures and videos would provide real evidence against abortion–it’s because they would play into biases. Likewise, gay rights advocates try to describe gays as regular people–they don’t graphically describe anal sex to everyone. It’s for the same reason.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Abortion supporters don’t like campaigns which aim to show people pictures and videos of what goes on in an abortion and what the fetus looks like.

            With abortion, statistics and medical information are available for opponents, so graphic photos do not add any further information. With factory farming where little information is released, clandestine videos may be the only evidence available as to what is going on, and what terms like “instantaneous euthanasia” actually refer to.

    • 27chaos says:

      I don’t think I really care about most animals if I don’t know them and don’t have to watch their suffering.

      The only type of invisible suffering I care about is that of human beings, because 1. I’ve been socialized into valuing the idea of humanity. 2. Social contract/decision theoretic reasons mean that caring about anonymous humans is useful insofar as they’ll reciprocate my attitudes. 3. Humans are more useful to me when happy than when sad, even if I don’t know them, because they’ll be more productive.

  17. drethelin says: Why can’t I get exercise in a pill yet?

    • BenSix says:

      I think a lot of people tried to get exercise in a pill in the 1980s.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      Nicotine is an appetite suppressant. And all evidence points toward it being safe. Just take straight nicotine, don’t mix it with tobacco. Nicotine is very addictive but since its legal and has no known side effects addiction seems fine.

      There are also some probably illegal options:

      If you are male getting your testosterone to the minimum of:
      -Top end of the normal range or just beyond it
      -About 150% of your natural production

      Is basically safe for most people. The only downside is a high percentage of men taking test experience accelerated male pattern baldness, which is not reversible. you are And this is almost guaranteed to improve your physique. Both in terms of fat loss and muscle gain. The risks of your body shutting down its natural production are very low at these dosages. If you like the results of test an old trick to get a prescription for test is to intentional take a very large amount of testosterone for a cycle. This will likely temporally shut down your natural test production. Then you go to the doctor and get diagnosed with low test levels. I have heard “anti-aging” doctors are good to talk to.

      The other good choice is ephedra. Its effects are not nearly as large as testosterone’s but it does work for weight loss. If you are in good health (Please, please check this explicitly) its safe in moderate doses.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        There’s mixed research on testosterone causing heart attacks. Although right now the studies seem to be leaning toward “no”, I find it suspicious because men get more heart attacks than women and people with male-pattern baldness get more heart attacks than people without. Overall, if your “exercise in a pill” idea is about cardiovascular health, I’d suggest *not* taking something that might cause heart attacks.

        I don’t know enough about nicotine or ephedra long term effects to comment, but on priors I’m skeptical.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          Sorry I didn’t even read the article :(.

          I just assumed that everyone worrying about exercise was worried about looking better. This may have been a bad assumption. Really apologize.

          So none of my recommended are very good at all. And probably all counter-productive.

      • Thomas Eliot says:

        Nicotine in any form, including gum and vapor, makes me extremely nauseated at very low doses. There definitely are side effects.

      • Deiseach says:

        Nicotine is very addictive but since its legal and has no known side effects

        You’ve obviously never read the Golden Age detective novels from the 30s and 40s when nicotine poisoning was the murder method of choice, inspired by real-life murders (nicotine being used as an insecticide in gardening and thus easily available for a would-be poisoner) 🙂

  18. zc says:

    My therapist recently brought up eye movement desensitization and reprocessing as a possible treatment for me. I’d be interested in getting your opinion of it (overall, not whether it’d be useful specifically for me, of course).

    • chaosmage says:

      I take your “you” to be meant in the plural. Two bits of evidence.

      1) The German highly regulated psychotherapeutic system recently accepted EMDR as a treatment well-respected enough that every health care insurer is mandated to cover it. This is pretty significant because they are super conservative and have not awarded similar laurels even to highly respected treatments like systemic therapy.
      2) Anecdote. One very severely traumatized friend of mine got it. She needed years of regular sessions to finally force herself to start it, because she was terrified of the confrontational aspect and had various co-morbidities that impaired her ability to handle in-depth therapy. But when she did, it seems to have worked much better than anything tried before (lots of medication, extensive talk therapy). She was nearly non-functioning for over two years, and after that EMDR thing, although she still has the anxiety, she surprisingly quickly became capable of attending social events and went on to finish her degree.

  19. Eden says:

    Hey Scott, big fan of your work here on SSC. I think this request is staying on the proper side of the “no race/gender discussions” rule, but I apologize in advance if subsequent responses do not, because I cite a couple of examples that are arguably racially charged.

    The failure to return an indictment recently reported in the Eric Garner case has me thinking about the efficacy of increased recording of police officers as a deterrent to police brutality. It’s been a common policy proposal in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson to require police officers to wear body cameras on the job. My instinctive reaction is that this idea sounds decent enough in theory but probably doesn’t actually translate as well to reality; it’s easy to imagine convenient “recording errors” or “camera failures” in controversial cases, and in any case with Garner and the Tamir Rice killing, video recordings don’t appear to have made an impact on the situation.

    Given that you did a stellar job with the race and law enforcement article, and you have a penchant for going into intriguing levels of detail concerning various topical issues similar to these (curious readers can find them in the Top Posts link at the header), I was curious if you would be interested in doing a similar post on whether the “make police wear cameras” solution is as good as advertised (or even if you weren’t interested, whether or not you had any thoughts on them).

    Thanks for running an awesome site btw; I found LessWrong through SSC (though I only lurk there, alas) and reading your essays here has provided me both with a feeling of greater insight into how we discuss politics in America and inspiration in my intellectual self-development. You’re doing great work here!

    • ShardPhoenix says:

      >My instinctive reaction is that this idea sounds decent enough in theory but probably doesn’t actually translate as well to reality; it’s easy to imagine convenient “recording errors” or “camera failures” in controversial cases, and in any case with Garner and the Tamir Rice killing, video recordings don’t appear to have made an impact on the situation.

      IIRC police districts that have adopted cameras have seen a sharp drop in complaints.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        Thus far, police districts that have adopted cameras have done so under the leadership of a commissioner or chief who has been explicitly trying to reduce police misconduct.

        It seems likely that where leadership is trying to reduce misconduct, misconduct is likely to fall – resulting in a fall in complaints.

        The question is what will the effect of cameras be on a police district where leadership isn’t making a general effort to reduce misconduct?

    • Salem says:

      I find Arnold Kling persuasive on this point (see e.g. here and elsewhere). I find it incredibly suspicious that liberals want to see police wear cameras, and not, say, EPA officials. Surely if citizen oversight is good for the goose, it is good for the gander, and the experiment should be applied to public officials generally.

      I worry that the “make police wear cameras” campaigners are simply anti-police, but I favour all methods that actually increase effective oversight of government. These experiments should be tried, and judged by their results.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I’m not totally sure I understand the article.

        Firstly, I think there’s no doubt that plenty of the people pushing for body cameras are anti-police. There are plenty of people who are certain that making police wear body cameras will reveal the true depths of systemic corruption in law enforcement.

        …but those cameras will either prove them right or wrong (to whatever extent), so that doesn’t seem like a reason not to support them.

        So, public officials. Kling says that he thinks that a modicum of privacy is important to public officials and we shouldn’t put cameras on them. The reasons there are persuasive- public officials often have to consider confidential evidence, or make decisions where each possible outcome discussed could upset the nation entire. This tracks, for example, the exemptions you’ll find in federal or state Sunshine Acts.

        But law enforcement at the street level doesn’t seem like it invokes those kinds of policy concerns. I suppose a world in which the chilling effect it has on genuinely beneficial police action outweighs the benefits of public disclosure is possible, but this doesn’t look like it to me.

        What I find more interesting is an argument I saw on reddit a while back, where a number of people were arguing that the costs of storage and equipment were too high. I’d love to see a cost-benefit analysis on the subject.

        • Salem says:

          Cameras will naturally cast a chilling effect on legal police actions, making officers ever more reliant on “standard procedure” and ever less willing to take robust yet legal measures to enforce law and order. Perhaps this is a price we should be willing to pay for oversight, but it’s clearly a price.

          But that price will become far greater if there is a class of people who will hassle the police by pulling them up for trivial infractions. I do not see a great deal of good faith here. I don’t think these people support robust policing and are just worried about occasional abuses. In my view, this is all of a piece with their ideology that criminals are somehow “victims of the system.” Cameras will be used to second guess officers’ decisions after the fact, and steadily chip away at the latitude we afford police.

          I’m not in love with the police, and in a world where they didn’t have institutional enemies, I’d favour far stronger oversight of them. But I definitely see them as the lesser evil here.

          • Jordan D. says:

            How institutionally powerful are these enemies?

            Obviously you’re going to have certain media personalities and their followers heap criticism on police for even the most benign behavior. A video showing a guy getting shot after attacking officers with a rocket launcher would probably get panned somewhere.

            But in the actual system, I’ve seen rather more uncritical acceptance of police behavor than the reverse. I accept totally that this could simply be bias from the environment I dwell in, but it seems to me as though public opinion is still much more pro-law-and-order than against.

            (And I agree with you that it’s much, much better to have effective police than not.)

            Insofar as you’re invoking a sort of Schelling Fence to prevent the police from being worn away by the tide of public opinion, I suppose I understand. It just doesn’t strike me as inevitable.

            Anyway, thank you for explaining!

          • Irenist says:

            Cameras will naturally cast a chilling effect on legal police actions, making officers ever more reliant on “standard procedure” and ever less willing to take robust yet legal measures to enforce law and order.

            Excellent point. One would hope that this might lead to adjustment of standard procedure if the current by the book procedure is demonstrated, by bodycam footage, to be unworkable. But it’s still a real issue–by the book actions will always lack suppleness and adaptability.

            Cameras will be used to second guess officers’ decisions after the fact, and steadily chip away at the latitude we afford police.

            Well, defense attorneys second guess cops anyway–that’s their job, and rightly so. Nowadays, in the very common trial situation where there’s no evidence available other than the cop’s and defendant’s he-said/she-said dueling testimony, whether cops’ or defendants’ versions of events are believed often depends upon factors including:

            a) jury bias (anecdotally, some major metros’ juries start off rather anti-cop, and I imagine some rural juries swing the other way) in interpreting he-said/she-said disputes
            b) rhetorical skill of the attorneys in building sympathy for the cop/defendant in he-said/she-said disputes

            What body cameras could add in that extremely common situation is:
            a) exculpatory evidence for actually innocent defendants
            b) incriminating evidence for actually guilty defendants
            c) confirmation for cops who claimed to, and did, follow procedure
            d) disconfirmation for cops who claimed to, but didn’t follow procedure

            Those four additions to the process would make it more likely that the guilty would be convicted and the innocent found not guilty, as well as rewarding rule-following cops and penalizing rogue cops.

          • Deiseach says:

            That same argument was probably used when it came to introducing the recording of interrogation sessions.

            Why was it considered a good idea to tape sessions where the police question suspects?

            Because one too many miscarriages of justice where police were proven to have lied, forged notes, signed forged signatures of witnesses to statements and ‘confessions’, and went on to commit perjury in court in a conspiracy where it wasn’t “one bad apple”, it was the entire squad (or even worse, force) doing this over years.

            We’ve got an ongoing case in Ireland right now about an unsolved murder and the police persecution (if you believe the allegations) not alone of the main (and only) suspect but of an alleged witness who first put the suspect at the scene of the crime, then later retracted her evidence claiming she had been bullied and blackmailed into it by the police.

            We accept such things as the Miranda Warning and police cautions to people when arrested, because people were not alone ignorant of their rights but those rights were being ignored or flouted by the police. Sound recordings of interrogations have come next. Camera surveillance? Since we’re living in a society where CCTV on public streets and in private buildings both is commonplace, it’s definitely a case of “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” (and throw in some Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, while you’re at it).

            I don’t, in principle, mistrust the police. I do think my rights would be better protected the more oversight that there is, and you bet I’d like any possible encounters to be recorded for playback in case of a “he said/she said” situation.

      • Irenist says:

        I consider myself more or less “pro-police,” but I think cameras will just improve their overall performance, so I’m in favor.

        As to cameras elsewhere in government, I haven’t thought much about it. However, I do recall a law school professor mentioning a “C-SPAN effect”: prior to the public broadcast of Congressional floor activity, actual deliberation allegedly occurred there; once transparency advocates got the C-SPAN tv channel going, the floors of the houses of Congress were reduced to canned speeches only, and actual deliberation moved elsewhere. Or so he told the tale. He said there was a similar effect with city council meeting transparency.

        (Note for non-U.S. folks: C-SPAN is a group of free, legally-mandated-to-be-always-included-by-your-provider cable tv channels that broadcast the goings-on of the two houses of the U.S. Congress)

        • Izaak Weiss says:

          That would be an incredibly interesting proposition, if true. I had always attributed it to the size of congress becoming unwieldy to have conducive discussions… but that’s certainly plausible.

          • Irenist says:

            It is plausible (and seductively contrarian), but (perhaps disappointingly) I’m unaware of any good studies supporting it. It’s pretty easy to turn up anecdotal observations (e.g., elderly Congressmen from the pre-C-SPAN days saying Congressional deliberation has gone to the dogs), but the value of such “it was better in my day” opining is of course extremely limited. An SSC post on “effects of transparency on deliberative quality” would make my day, that’s for sure.

      • stillnotking says:

        I’d like to see an improvement of the phrasing and tone of the body-camera argument to get it to appeal to conservatives. It is usually conceptualized as a sort of “nanny cam” to catch cop misbehavior, but surely there are advantages to the police, too — catching and deterring cop-killers being the biggest!

        • Anonymous says:

          I think the easiest conservative point is that it protects cops from false accusations. Existing implementation of body-cams show plenty of examples of this (I recall several cops on reddit claiming exactly this effect). Catching more liars and criminals and protecting the force of law seems like the most conservative slant you could possibly have!

        • Irenist says:

          Of possible use, here are some conservatives in favor of body cameras, as observed in the wild:

          The rhetoric isn’t so much “pro-cop” as “anti-government” accompanied by a reminder that cops are part of the government. Of course, now that Obama has announced a pro-body camera position, the number of pro-body camera conservatives will presumably decline precipitously.

        • Jiro says:

          What I am most worried about in the case of cop cameras is that the cops will just “lose” the recording whenever the recording shows the cop did a bad thing. Remember when the British police shot Jean Charles de Menezes and had a “technical problem” preventing there from being CCTV footage?

          If you’re going to have cop cameras, you need to accompany it with a presumption of guilt on the part of the cop if the cameras have a “malfunction”.

          • Anonymous says:

            I think that you are the third in this thread to make that complaint, but the first to give an example. Thanks!

            Of course it would be better to have more reliable systems than less reliable, but will we really know what the problems will be before trying it? There was a experiment where it dramatically reduced complaints against police, which is good even if it has no effect on shootings.

        • Anthony says:

          I’m somewhat conservative (right-libertarianish), and I generally support police cameras. There’s a graphic going around facebook that says that some police department started using body cameras, and incidents and complaints went down by some number. I don’t remember the numbers offhand, but a rough calculation told me that based on those results, probably two-thirds of excessive-force complaints (pre-camera) were spurious. Making those go away would be a tremendous benefit to the police.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Yeah it seems to me that the only legitimate reason not to support police cameras is if you think a little police brutality can be a good thing (the neoreactionary view) or if you think it’s convenient to be able to make false claims of police brutality (hands up, don’t shoot). It seems like honest citizens and honest cops both have a lot to gain.

          • DES3264 says:

            How could your computation distinguish between “civilians didn’t complain about police violence because they knew the cameras would falsify their claims” and “police were less violent when they knew the cameras would document their actions?”

          • Jaskologist says:

            Does it really matter? Both of those sound like wins to me.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            This graph? (from here). It’s not clear whether it reduced police misbehavior or spurious complaints. The fact that incidents were reduced in the control group suggests that it was police behavior.

          • DES3264 says:

            @Jaskologist Anthony wrote “probably two-thirds of excessive-force complaints (pre-camera) were spurious.” I am interested in corrrectly updating my beliefs about the frequency of police violence.

            I agree that both are good reasons for police to wear cameras.

          • Luke Somers says:

            > Does it really matter? Both of those sound like wins to me.

            Both would be wins, but yes, it matters! Totally different dependency trees and strategies for dealing with the problems.

            Plus, cops beating people up seem like a more severe problem than people making false complaints (that don’t accomplish much) about police beating people up.

    • pneumatik says:

      Two comments:

      1) Someone in a comment to one of Scott’s recent posts said there were over 750,000 armed police in the US. If they average to one confrontational interaction with non-cops every day, that’s 273,750,000 possible instances for the interaction to escalate to possibly deadly violence – shooting, wrestling, punching, tazing, etc. Even a very tiny chance of the interaction escalating to death will kill a few people every year. Police cameras may reduce those odds even further, but they’ll also publicize the possibly avoidable deaths more.

      2) It’s unclear to me if the behavior of the cops in the three situations you mention in your post ever clearly crosses over into criminal behavior. My impression of current situation is that the people of the US definitely want cops to have authority to exercise organized pre-emptive force without having ever thought through what that means, or at least they haven’t thought it through using modern-day sensibilities. Police wearing body cameras will only change so much as long as the actions of police that the cameras capture are technically legal.

      • anodognosic says:

        On point 2, video evidence might put to rest a significant portion of the controversy surrounding the Michael Brown shooting.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, while I get the chance to lob in snarky comments on a thread that’s all Liberty Hall, I think the problem with the American police is that they’re being trained not to be police, but to be soldiers.

        Where the heck did I read a comment, in amongst the long and varied discussions about what happened in Ferguson, where someone said re: six rounds used to shoot Michael Brown, “I’m trained to put six rounds in the target in one second”.

        And that’s the problem right there: it’s not that the police have guns, it’s that they’re being trained to react with “stop them before they can stop you”. Empty your clip into the target. Don’t stop until they’re on the floor and not moving. Don’t mess about with trying to go for disabling shots or disarming shots; go for centre of mass and keep going.

        You don’t have police forces, you have paramilitaries.

        • Irenist says:


          Anecdotally, gun safety training for civilians here in Texas tends to the same idea: if they’re not dangerous enough for you to be shooting to kill, you shouldn’t be shooting at them (or pointing your gun at them at all, for that matter–“If you’re not going to shoot it, don’t point your gun at it.”). OTOH, if they are a lethal threat, you need to go for the head/trunk to ensure success (rationale being, inter alia, that limbs are much harder to hit relative to head/trunk than one might naively guess, and shots at limbs are more likely to hit bystanders).

          I’m not at all qualified to defend/oppose this argument (not being a gun owner or a big gun hobbyist or otherwise motivated to research it properly), and so I feel it proper to refrain from having offering a settled opinion on it here. (In real life, I suppose I’d defer to my gun safety instructor’s advice in the extraordinarily unlikely circumstances that would be required for me to have a gun in a situation where that advice was relevant.) In case you’re interested in having your argument challenged (which SSC commenters tend to enjoy), here, FYI, is a defense of the “shoot to kill” mandate for cops:

          • Nornagest says:

            Yeah. It doesn’t matter if you’re a soldier, a cop, or a civilian; if you’re shooting at someone you should, outside rare circumstances, be firing multiple rounds center mass. Not only are limbs harder to hit, they’re not actually that much less lethal; gunshot wounds generally kill from blood loss and some of the biggest blood vessels in the body run through the arms and legs. You aim center mass because that’s easiest to hit. You fire multiple rounds because your fine motor coordination goes to hell when you’re pumped full of adrenaline (which you will be, cop or no cop) and most of them will probably miss. Never mind disarming; that’s not even on the table.

            There is a case to be made that American cops draw their guns too often, but the procedure Deiseach described is, in fact, the correct thing to do once you get to that point. (To an extent, anyway. I wasn’t trained to empty the magazine, but I can imagine forgetting that detail if I had three hundred pounds of angry biker bearing down on me with an axe.)

          • Deiseach says:

            But that’s my point: the training is to become instinctive that you shoot at the person with lethal intent. And not every case, as we’ve seen, is a crazy giant biker with an axe. “I thought he was going for a gun so I let him have it and it turns out to be a chair leg” situations. If you feel endangered, shoot to kill. But that militates against being able to accurately identify what is a genuine lethal threat and what is not, because that takes too long to process and ‘hair trigger’ reflexes have been trained in to you for the purpose of saving your life.

            That’s my point; police are being trained to be like soldiers, not a civilian law force. If society is going to accept that petty theft or jaywalking is punishable by execution, so be it, but we can no longer look down our noses at 17th and 18th century transportation of children for stealing sixpence worth of goods or sentencing starving men to jail for stealing bread.

          • Nornagest says:

            But that’s my point: the training is to become instinctive that you shoot at the person with lethal intent.

            Lethal intent is what guns are for. If you aren’t sure you want to have a good chance of killing the person you’re shooting at, you shouldn’t draw your gun — which civilian firearms instructors will tell you in no uncertain terms, and I’ll bet cops get some version of the same speech. They do not say you should instinctively draw and fire if there’s the slightest hint of a threat.

            We give cops Tasers and nightsticks and jujitsu training specifically so that they can use levels of violence between strong language and acute lead poisoning. If you’re arguing that they should be exercising those options more often and giving more twelve-year-olds with Airsoft guns the benefit of the doubt, then I fully agree — but that’s a question of when, not how, to use firearms. I read your original complaint as being more about the how.

        • John Schilling says:

          Point of fact, “disabling shots” and “disarming shots”, are absolutely unworkable in practice. Pistol marksmanship under combat conditions is abysmal even for trained experts, arms and legs are too small and move too erratically to be reasonable targets, and arterial bleeding from the extremities is still lethal in minutes. The Lone Ranger was a fictional character; if you try that in the real world the most likely outcomes are failing to stop a determined attacker, killing the guy you were trying to wound, and/or killing an innocent bystander with a stray bullet.

          At the other extreme, anyone claiming “six shots in the target in one second” is almost certainly lying, and probably hasn’t been trained at all. That’s not the doctrine anywhere I have heard of, and it is not really credible.

          What is pretty standard, is two rapid shots aimed at the center of mass (realistically expecting maybe one hit to the torso) followed by a very quick, 1-2 second, evaluation, and repeat as necessary. This is sufficient to protect someone’s life from an attacker who is seriously trying to kill them, which is the only time we want police officers shooting at anyone in the first place.

          If this is too brutal for you, you need to seriously consider unarmed policemen.

          • Deiseach says:

            The six shots quote is my half-remembered version and is probably inaccurate.

            And as I’ve said before, we do have an unarmed police force and continue to have one, even after police officers having been killed in armed robberies and after going through the IRA conducting armed robberies.

            Maybe you guys in America might consider not tooling up your police forces so they look more like special forces units?

          • Irenist says:


            There are many points on the continuum between unarmed (like Gardai) and “dressed like special forces units” (like the cops in Ferguson during the rioting). In particular, there is the typical U.S. beat cop, wearing a handgun and one or more non-lethal weapons (pepper spray, taser, nightstick) but not wearing a helmet or body armor or camouflage, and not carrying an assault rifle.

            Although the unarmed tradition of the Irish Gardai and the British bobbies is noble, both are operating in societies with much lower rates of gun ownership and gun crime. Replicating that model in the U.S. (with our higher rates of gun ownership and gun crime) would be rather difficult: the cops would be outgunned far more often. That said, demilitarizing U.S. cops, and getting rid of militaristic hardware of the sort used in Ferguson, and often used by SWAT units, is certainly a potentially doable and helpful reform.

          • John Schilling says:

            And worth noting that pretty much everywhere you have an “unarmed” police force, you have an armed police force waiting just out of sight to back them up – usually with weapons and tactics that would make an American SWAT team look like the Mayberry sheriff’s department. I don’t know much about Ireland’s armed police beyond what wikipedia has to say, but their British counterparts use actual military assault rifles rather than the semiautomatic-only imitations you all saw in Ferguson, and they are explicitly allowed to shoot on sight anyone they believe to be a sufficiently dangerous criminal.

            There seems to have been a tacit agreement between British police and British criminals over the past century or so, that the criminals will not use guns and shoot people, in return for which the police will give them a pass on much of their lesser violence (boys will be boys, etc). If a criminal does use a gun, he’ll be the focus of attention for all the policemen who aren’t bothering with ordinary robberies, rapes, etc, and in the end he’ll be shot down like a mad dog. This has had the entirely predictable results that criminal shootings are rare in the UK but that robberies, rapes, and stabbings are now rather more common than in the United States.

            I’m not sure that’s a deal we would want; it could be argued either way. But for cultural reasons it is not a deal we can now credibly offer. Our criminals are going to be using guns, mostly to protect themselves from other criminals. Our cops will also therefore be using guns, mostly ordinary pistols and shotguns. And our journalists will be telling you that this is a cross between the Wild West and the battlefields of Afghanistan, mostly because that sort of thing gets more clicks than accurate reporting.

          • houseboatonstyx says:


            Logically, helmet or body armor or camouflage, making the police officer less likely to be harmed, would give zim less motive to shoot for self-protection. Unfortunately, in the US it seems to be combined with training for harsher response.

          • Nornagest says:

            This has had the entirely predictable results that criminal shootings are rare in the UK but that robberies, rapes, and stabbings are now rather more common than in the United States.

            This doesn’t seem to be straightforwardly true, although from eyeballing the stats you could probably tell a similar but more nuanced story. Robbery rates in the UK are slightly above those of the US; rape rates are slightly below; assault rates are much higher (source). I couldn’t find statistics on non-firearm homicides with five minutes of Google, but I dimly remember from the last time I looked into this that they’re higher in the UK, but that the overall homicide rates are nonetheless significantly lower. Property crimes look like they’re somewhat but not dramatically more common in the UK.

            All stats from 2012. I suppose it’s possible that the situation’s changed in the last couple years, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          • Jiro says:

            Crime stats in comparing different countries need to be broken down by race if you want to avoid a Simpson’s Paradox where each individual race doesn’t have lower crime rates but the overall racial balance causes the country to have a low crime rate.

          • John Schilling says:

            For US v UK crime rates, the best recent (2011 data) source I was able to find was here, attempting to dispel the myth that the UK is anywhere from four to ten times as violent as the US. And they are correct to do so; those claims come from apples-to-oranges comparisons particularly insofar as US statistics for “violent crimes” include punches whereas the UK version starts at “baseball bats”, roughly speaking.

            However, the author dives into the numbers with a rigor almost as formidable as that of our host, and breaks it out by type of crime.

            Robbery – 10% more common in the UK.

            Burglary – 50% more common in the UK, and from other sources I believe far more likely to involve violence in the UK.

            Rape – Equally common in the US and UK, but these are pre-Rotherham numbers and that one town probably bumps the UK numbers up by 10% or so.

            Stabbings – 25% more common in the UK

            Shootings – 97% less common in the UK

            Other Assaults – incomparable; the US and UK simply don’t categorize them the same way. The author of this study tries to compare the US “aggravated assault” rate with the UK’s “grievous bodily harm”, but the former (roughly speaking) counts every case where someone tried to hurt someone else real bad whereas the latter counts only the cases where they succeeded.

            There’s also some interesting bits in The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy, David B. Kopel, 1992, but obviously dated. British non-shooting violent crime rates seem to have been at about 80% of US levels then.

            I did look, but couldn't easily find anything I trusted, for a racial breakdown. That and income would be the obvious factors to control for if we wanted to look into this a bit deeper.

          • Andrew G. says:

            @ John Schilling:

            those claims come from apples-to-oranges comparisons particularly insofar as US statistics for “violent crimes” include punches whereas the UK version starts at “baseball bats”, roughly speaking.

            You appear to have “US” and “UK” backwards there – UK statistics on violent crime include the category of “common assault” or “assault without injury”. US statistics had, last I looked, nothing less than “aggravated assault” listed.

            Last time I looked the year-on-year variations in robbery rates in US and UK made that 10% figure insignificant. But more importantly, the armed vs. unarmed rate is quite different (only a small minority of UK robberies are armed with anything at all), and the chances of a victim being killed during a robbery are several (at least 4) times higher in the US (this number is a lower bound based on police-provided statistics with, on the US side, a very large “other / unknown” category).

            Burglary was indeed more common in the UK than the US every time I’ve looked at the statistics. However, that category excludes violence; violence committed in a burglary makes it a robbery, and the rate of robbery-in-the-home is not significantly different between US and UK (the claim, commonly used to justify US firearm ownership, that “home invasion” robbery is much more common in the UK is false).

            On homicide, the UK rate is about 4 times lower than the US. This figure rather outweighs any considerations of what weapon exactly was or was not used. (Most likely, the kind of person likely, in the UK, to kill someone with a knife would instead use a gun if they were in the US.)

          • Richard Gadsden says:

            The problem with UK vs US stats on violence is that the England-and-Wales criminal system categorises assaults by how much damage was done and the US system by how much the assailant was trying to do.

            So the UK categories are: Common assault (you made physical contact – mostly slaps and pushes), actual bodily harm (exactly what it says, usually a bruise or a cut) and grievous bodily harm (most often a broken bone). The only exception is if you were trying to kill them, then it’s attempted murder. If you slap someone and it triggers a heart attack, that’s GBH. Swing a club and get a glancing blow that stings a bit and doesn’t even come up as a bruise: common assault. In the US, the first one is plain assault, the second is aggravated assault.

            Even if the boundaries were drawn at similar points in terms of the amount of damage (they aren’t; the UK has three categories, the US usually has two, the US split is pretty much in the middle of the central UK category) it would be impossible to get comparable numbers.

            The only way would be to include everything, but then you get confounded by prosecutorial discretion. Any physical contact without consent is assault, but minor hostile contact never gets prosecuted. Different prosecutors have different places to draw that line, though.

        • Anthony says:

          While you’re wrong about whether police should use their guns to attempt to wound instead of kill, you are most definitely right that training cops to be soldiers instead of police is a big problem. There’s always been some element of that in policing, but it’s become a bigger problem for a variety of reasons over the past 20 or so years.

          One part of the problem is SWAT-envy. SWAT stands for “Special Weapons And Tactics”, and are essentially the “Special Forces” of the police – they’re sent in where the situation calls for something other usual policing – similar to where the Army would send in Rangers instead of regular infantry. Many cops are former military servicemen, and the opportunity to do something more exciting than they did while in the Army is a pretty strong pull. The government handing out old military gear essentially for free doesn’t help, because then there’s nobody to say “that’s nice, but we can’t afford it”.

          I will hazard a guess that the reaction to using the National Guard to put down riots in the 1960s led to the over-militarization of the police, since they were then expected to handle large civil disturbances, which need more military methods to quell.

      • Eden says:

        In response:

        I) I may just misread your position, but are either of those things a bad? Reducing errant death sounds like a great thing, and if a given death were avoidable, publicizing it tentatively sounds good as well.

        II) I’d urge you to check out some of the cases in more detail. The Brown case is ambiguous, but I have a hard time seeing the others as so. I don’t think I agree with the impression that Americans want the police to exercise organized preemptive force without thinking it through, either; again though no ready #s to support/disabuse me of this notion

  20. LRS says:

    I am trying to find a study that I think was mentioned some time ago either here or on LW.

    The subjects were women who had tried and failed to lose weight. The study sequestered them and fed them a calorie-restricted diet. The result was that some of them ended up losing weight while some others still did not lose weight.

    Can anyone help me find this study?

    • zz says:

      Not the study, but may be helpful (there should be a reference to a study of prisoners in there that may also be helpful).

      • LRS says:

        This is interesting, but unfortunately it’s the particular study I’m looking for.

        The one I’m looking for had an abstract that was written in a tone that seemed to suggest that researchers initially didn’t believe the subjects had been restricting calories effectively pre-study (undercounting, sneaking candy bars, etc.). The researchers seemed to have devised their methodology to do nothing except ensure with 100% certainty that the subjects would have no access to food outside of that provided by the researchers.

        I think there was a sentence in the abstract along the lines of “obese women with self-reported difficulty losing weight under calorie restriction were isolated in cells and fed no more than 1200 calories a day.” The person who was talking about the study quoted this line with amusement.

        Still searching.

  21. Deiseach says:

    Deiseach and Jaskologist continue the SSC comments tradition of being able to relate everything to gender, sometimes in enlightening ways.

    I don’t know whether to be flattered or rebuked 🙂

    Maybe I should stick to whimsical anecdotes from the national news here in Ireland, or more gloomy cautionary tales from the day job?

    • Jaskologist says:

      The lesson for me is to stick to single-sentence comments.

    • Nick says:

      I like the gloomy cautionary tales!

      • Deiseach says:

        Seeing as this is an open thread and we can argue anything and everything (except race and gender), let me throw down the gauntlet (which I should really save for Valentine’s Day):


        I am sick to the back teeth of amor vincit omnia as I’m seeing it every day. Another work day, another batch of applications where single mothers with seven kids by three different fathers cross my desk. Oh, but she was going to marry her latest (now ex) partner! They were only waiting to get social housing before marriage and domestic bliss!

        Yeah, and that was last year. This year there’s no sign of Mr Right. So much for Twu Wuv! (Meanwhile, ex-partner No. 2 has gone on to have a child by another woman to whom he’s not married, either).

        And eldest daughter is replicating the pattern: just turned eighteen, two small children, living with her granny. Generation No. 2 who went for ‘love’ where they could get it, with Generation No. 3 on the way.

        Were I ever to be Absolute Dictator of All I Survey, with the power of the low justice and the high, I would stamp out all this romantic bullshit about “love”, “irresistible impulses”, the right to be happy and self-fulfilled and the constant stream of lovesexromance you need it you gotta have it if you’re not in a couple (at the least) what’s wrong with you.

        For EVERYONE, not just the “lower classes” – I’m egalitarian in my tyranny, and I don’t like the habit of talking about ‘the poor’ as if they were a different species. Just because you didn’t get caught out with an unexpected baby does not excuse the same behaviour in you, Nice Respectable Middle Class Offspring!

        And you’d damn well have to pass a test for a marriage licence the same way you have to pass a test for your driving licence. And films with cutsie-poo baby romances where six year olds are supposed to be having boyfriends/girlfriends and kissing will be charged with child pornography and incitement to be damn idiots before you’ve even attained the age of reason. You will need to be sixteen before you can even think of holding hands in a non-platonic manner, let alone anything else. Legal adulthood will be twenty-one once more.

        And if you’re living with someone, you have a child or two by them, and you take out a mortgage to buy a house, then by law you will be required to go the extra step and get married, even if it’s just for the sake of the legalities.

        Speaking of mortgages, the best advice I have garnered so far is this: ladies, or those who so identify, or who include that in their non-binary/other identification – if you’re living with someone, particularly if kids are involved, MAKE SURE THE TENANCY/DEEDS ARE IN YOUR NAME AND YOUR NAME ONLY.

        Because believe it or not, Love’s Young Dream often does not last and when the rows get vicious, you don’t want to be the one kicked out with a couple of kids in tow, sleeping on a couch in your parents’ house, and trying to find somewhere to live while your ex-partner does the dog in the manger bit about not letting you live in the house of which you are both joint mortgage holders, and he makes life so unpleasant that for the sake of your mental wellbeing you’d rather be on the streets.

        Seriously, I am thanking God every day that I’m aromantic and on the asexual spectrum, because Holy Family of Loretto, the mess people make of their lives, and their children’s lives, all for this physical itch in their pants! Or their hearts, mar dhea, which is worse!

        Irresistable impulses, my arse. Tie a knot in it! Or have it cut off, either way, I don’t care: NO KISSY-KISSY WITHOUT MARRY-MARRY!!!!

        To end as I’ve begun on the misanthropic note, with a quote lifted from that slang post:

        From Maura Treacy’s “An Old Story”, from her collection Sixpence in her Shoe, published by Poolbeg Press in 1977.

        “You’re the one to talk about strangers! Every bucko from hell to Bethlehem slouching up to the door in the dark winter nights. Or whistling behind the hedge for you to come out. And your ladyship, of course . . . hah!” The old woman lifted her hands, held them fatalistically in the air, then brought them back to rest again. “Hah!” she repeated, as if her daughter’s behaviour might have been predicted from the beginning of time. “Out with her on the minute, no questions asked, go a bit of the road with everyone. And then as soon as the bright evenings were in and they saw the shape you were taking, away with them over the hills. Off to re-join the regiment, moryah. And it’s farewell to thee, my bonny wee lass.”

        • Andy says:

          How do you feel about mandatory contraceptive implants at or before the first menstrual cycle? They seem to be a standard component of science fiction.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think messing about with developing systems by dumping a ton of artificial hormones into them is a terrible idea, and I also note the ongoing notion that ‘not having babies’ is the female’s responsibility.

            How about reversible vasectomies for boys as soon as their voice breaks? And when the SF authors stop wincing and crossing their legs, then let’s talk about treating people as people (which includes educating them and giving them the tools to be responsible, to develop a sense of personal responsibility), not pets to be neutered and spayed so they won’t be having litters.

          • Multiheaded says:

            …Andy is a well-known progressive/feminist sympathizer around here; why would you assume that he meant women and women alone in that bit about contraceptive implants. Moreover, that aside about the “hormones” was annoying: randomly dragging up something that is in no way your true rejection dilutes the debate IMO.

          • Irenist says:

            How do you feel about mandatory contraceptive implants at or before the first menstrual cycle?

            “Mandatory” gets into all sorts of civil liberties/bodily autonomy/privacy issues. “Massively subsidized and promoted,” OTOH, might be a more interesting scenario. (Pairing IUDs for young ladies with reversible vasectomies or whatever for young men might be a good change to the proposal, too.)

          • Multiheaded says:

            “Mandatory” gets into all sorts of civil liberties/bodily autonomy/privacy issues.

            I’d say that we are well past giving a fuck, considering the context.

          • I’m reminded of Beta Colony in Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, which has basically this scenario. You get a contraceptive implant at puberty by law, and then are let loose into a society of total sexual libertinism. And you have to leave your implant in forever; if you want to have a baby, you apply to get one from an artificial womb through some byzantine bureaucratic process. IOWs they have traded totalitarian control over reproduction for total freedom of sexuality.

            I think a lot of people would sign up for that deal. (But not me.)

          • Multiheaded says:

            ^ Frankly, I still quietly think we need to do this after we solve government. Most feminists would be a lot less opposed to it if they viewed children as real individuals with concrete rights and entitlements.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            I’m going to post to third the idea that we should just sterilize everyone and require special permission to have or raise children. I’m really not sure why you focus on sex or love Deiseach when clearly the problem here is about babies- Its not hard at all to have the former stuff without the latter. Especially if every guy has been sterilized at 14 (male sterilization is generally easier).

            There is actually already a reversible male contraceptive in development called RISUG, by the way.

            @Multi, to be fair, Andy did say “at or before the first menstrual cycle”, something I don’t think guys generally have. I don’t think Andy is a sexist though.

          • Deiseach says:

            Question: why would you assume that he meant women and women alone in that bit about contraceptive implants

            Answer: mandatory contraceptive implants at or before the first menstrual cycle?

            Question: What type of persons, in general, are the ones who have a “first menstrual cycle” (this specifically said, not “at beginning of puberty”)?

            The answer to that may indicate to you why I thought women, and women alone, were meant.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why do I focus on love when the problem is babies? Because people being in love, or thinking they’re in love, often leads to babies.

            And even if babies are not involved, “love” fucks up lives. Whatever about an adult making a mess of their life, when children are involved and are getting dragged around from pillar to post, that annoys me.

            I’m laughing at the touchingly naïve faith in “contraception! better contraception! more contraception!” because I’m old enough to remember when contraception was illegal in Ireland, and the exact same arguments were being made: let doctors prescribe condoms/the Pill and no more out-of-wedlock/unwanted pregnancies!

            Then it was ‘let people get contraception without having to go to their doctor for a prescription!’, and so on and so forth.

            Well, we have sex education in schools (and not the same kinds of campaigns as in the U.S. so far as I can tell); we have condoms freely available in supermarkets and chemists throughout the land, doctors running family planning clinics and promoting various kinds of contraceptives, and the access to the wider world via television, books, movies, and the Internet which has liberated us from our old repressive mores. We have legal divorce now! We have legal civil partnerships! Next year our government is anticipating bringing in, without too much opposition, same-sex marriage!

            And yet somehow the same old problems persist: people are getting pregnant and having kids all over the place just as if we were back in the bad old days when there was nothing except coitus interruptus available to try and hope.

            If you don’t change the attitudes, all the “here’s the latest snazziest implant” won’t make a straw’s worth of difference. And people are messed up about love and sex – they take up with new partner, it’s all hearts and roses, they’re going to get married tra-la-la, oh look we’re having a baby – and then a year or two later it’s all over.

            Rinse, repeat.

            Another example from work: no babies involved this time. More than one person has applied for social housing on the grounds that they have a girlfriend/boyfriend living in another county, and they have to travel miles every weekend to see them, and if they had a house then girlfriend/boyfriend could move in with them.

            Don’t ask why (a) they don’t move up to where girlfriend/boyfriend is living and look for a house there (b) if they’re so crazy about girlfriend/boyfriend, marry them!

            As one guy said “I’m crazy about her, I’m so in love with her I’d live in a tent with her”. Except he was looking for a house from us so his new girlfriend could move down from her own (social housing) house in another administrative area.

            Fly in the ointment there? Ah well, you see: there was an ex-husband on the scene. Snookums didn’t want guy to move in with her as occupant (and councils permit people to apply for right of residency as long as the rent is paid for each occupant) because the ex wasn’t as ex as all that and might kick up rough.

            So they thought it would be better to move down to guy’s home place. All for love. And we’re to house them, of course!

            And that’s why I say love (or the tissue of nonsense we’ve wrapped around romantic love as this amazing thing that involves sex and emotions and is the only valuable and worthwhile thing in the world) is so damn destructive.

            I would extirpate these ‘free love’ attitudes lingering on from the Enlightenment and get people to have their heads screwed on about it. No, you are not going to die of a broken heart – or blue balls. Get over it.

          • Multiheaded says:

            People usually don’t die of a broken heart, people don’t die of blue balls, but quite a few people do seem to die of loneliness and lack of intimacy.

            Re: menstrual cycle – yes, bad reading comprehension of me.

            Andy: tsk, tsk. Seriously problematic!

          • Jaskologist says:

            IOWs they have traded totalitarian control over reproduction for total freedom of sexuality.

            As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator (unless he needs cannon fodder and families with which to colonize empty or conquered territories) will do well to encourage that freedom. In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.

            -Aldous Huxley, Foreword to Brave New World

            I’m not sure this generation understands that Brave New World was a dystopia. Maybe materialists simply can’t grasp that.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Matthias-senpai (aka Oligopsony) indeed cannot. I mostly think that it’s kind of an ableist book (less “Eww, coercive genetic engineering” and more “Eww, stupid people”; distasteful) and with some totally unnecessary coercion here and there to make it look more dystopian.

            Other than that, it all sounds pretty amazing. Like, can you imagine how many people today would give how much if it meant their loved ones could live in BNV?

          • Illuminati Initiate says:


            Andy, I, and I think reluctantly Multi, were advocating sterilization, not contraception. You can’t have babies if you are sterilized. The reason people keep having babies when they shouldn’t with contraception and abortion* available is because they either want to or are pro-lifers (plus women forced to in more conservative countries). That can’t happen if everyone has been sterilized and you need to apply for a license and meet minimum requirements to even get pregnant in the first place. Because you can’t just undo sterilization yourself. Some black market stuff might happen occasionally, but there will be legal penalties for that and I doubt it would be anywhere close to as bad as it is now.

            *Yes, I know that there is no abortion allowed in Ireland, but people go though with having children when they really shouldn’t here in ‘murica as well. Actually, I wonder if the severity of the problem in Ireland as you observe is because of the lack of abortion. Does anyone have any stats comparing Ireland to other countries with similar wealth and education levels but legal abortion?

            Edit: Uggh nvm I just realized Andy referred to contraception and I called RISUG contraception. Don’t feel bad Multi, I apparently fail at reading comprehension today as well.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            The reason people keep having babies when they shouldn’t with contraception and abortion* available is because they either want to or are pro-lifers (plus women forced to in more conservative countries).

            Do you have examples of communities where this applies? In Brazil contraception and sterilization are very available, and most women (even RCs) say “This factory is closed” after one or two babies. In the US contraception is theoretically available but in practice often unobtainable for poor women, and abortion is becoming more and more limited.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Deiseach: As others have said, mandatory reversible sterilisation (which is currently unavailable, but will soon be possible in the form of RISUG) and a licence requirement to reverse it would solve all the baby-related problems.

            As for your supposedly objectionable moving-for-love example… This doesn’t even involve anything being destroyed by love! It’s just a guy who wants to make use of welfare for a purpose that you personally don’t approve of (and don’t really understand the value and importance of). Sure, there is a legitimate question of whether the social housing regulations should be such that he is entitled to anything or not. Maybe there is an argument to be made that he shouldn’t. I don’t know. But how on earth do you get from there to abandoning romantic love altogether?

        • Leonard says:

          You’re sounding quite reactionary here. Or at least you sound like Theodore Dalrymple.

          Sadly, the welfare state and evolution are against you.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The welfare state is against her. I’m less sure about evolution; if it cannot cull fools directly, it will instead cull the society foolish enough to subsidize fools. When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins, the Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m not “Don’t support single mothers”. I’m not “cut back on public spending and let the market sort it all out”.

            I think there should be more public money and from an earlier age; our education system is crying out for things like school nurses (no, we don’t have these in Ireland and believe you me, I wished we did when I, as job-sharing school secretary, had to be responsible for the medication for a pupil with Graves’ Disease), more access to psychological services, both educational and ‘ordinary’ psychological services, a whole raft of investment in family support services, a thorough overhaul of literacy aid provision, etc.

            Properly funded and supported social workers/social services, and not the current patched-up mishmash.

            On a pragmatic basis it’s “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. On a social basis, despite what Margaret Thatcher may have (allegedly) said, there is such a thing as society and we all have to bear one another’s burdens. Nobody should be dumped on the scrapheap.

            I also think it would be no harm to teach that sex is an adult pursuit. Not that “having sex makes you an adult”, because it doesn’t, but because you need to be an adult to cope with it. Even the most sex-positive, happily bonking your way around the country, on top of contraception and STI control and all the rest of it.

            And stop the nod-and-wink approach to sex; we don’t go “Well, of course, you can’t stop young people drinking, smoking, taking drugs, overeating so we’ll give them judgement-free information to help them make choices”. We damn well teach them that no, tobacco smoking is harmful and there’s no ‘safe(r) smoking’ education about reducing your risk by only smoking low-tar cigarettes and only five a day.

            If you’re not ready for babies, marriage and settling down, then you’re not ready to have sex. Fourteen, sixteen or eighteen. That’s the attitude I’d inculcate: do I really want this person? Do I want to stay with them and live an adult life? No? Then it’s just the tingle in the loins and that’s what masturbation is for.

          • Multiheaded says:

            Deiseach, it sounds like your ideal society would benefit from something like a sacralized caste of sex work professionals at least… masturbation is all good until one is going crazy for want of intimacy and esteem. At the very least you ought to think about disabled people, who’d very likey be avoided and stigmatized even more than they are now if a partner had to fully commit to a long-term relationship with them beforehand.

          • Anon says:


            >If you’re not ready for babies, marriage and settling down, then you’re not ready to have sex. Fourteen, sixteen or eighteen. That’s the attitude I’d inculcate: do I really want this person? Do I want to stay with them and live an adult life? No? Then it’s just the tingle in the loins and that’s what masturbation is for.

            We don’t say “don’t go skiing if you’re not ready to get in a collision and be permanently paralyzed and permanently paralyze someone else”.

            Instead, we say “this is an activity. Here are the risks. Here are how to mitigate said risks. Don’t do the more dangerous parts until you’re competent or you will with high probability hurt yourself or others”. (And indeed anyone doing it at all is likely to get hurt in some way eventually, although events like permanent paralyzation – as with events like unintended pregnancy with proper contraceptive use – are exceedingly rare if you know what you’re doing.)

            Are you on board with this? It seems like you are opposed to applying the same general philosophy to sex, and I can’t really see a reason why.

          • Anonymous` says:

            Then it’s just the tingle in the loins and that’s what masturbation is for.

            I thought Catholics weren’t allowed to recommend lesser sins, even to avoid worse real-world consequences.

          • Deiseach says:

            See, re: intimacy, my Great Plan of Total Mind Control Social Reform would involve restoring the dignity and value of all the loves, not the over-valorisation that has been awarded to erotic love.

            Platonic love! Friendship! Same gender friends being able to walk arm-in-arm down the street together without the assumption “Ah, they must be banging!” Embraces and kisses once more being part of normal social intercourse! Not having to rely on getting intimate (unless we’re talking about really intimate) physical touch from someone with whom you are in a sexual/romantic relationship!

            I wouldn’t be that keen on a cadre or corps of Official State Sex Workers. Being able to put Tab A into Slot B may not be satisfactory when what you really want is someone you can sit on their lap (or have them sit on yours) and talk passionately about your favourite TV show.

            Then again, that was the point of the geisha/hetaira, and not sex, so a caste of “I’ll come to your house and plait your hair and we can talk about which of the characters in show/book/movie is the yummiest” could be worked into my New Ideal (Dys)Utopia 🙂

          • Irenist says:

            Anonymous at 3:23pm,

            I thought Catholics weren’t allowed to recommend lesser sins, even to avoid worse real-world consequences.

            That’s our official line, yes: ends never ever justify means. The closest (and it’s not that close, as I’m about to describe) we get to a dispute on that principle is the question of lying. “You can’t lie to Nazis at the door to protect Anne Frank” is the majority Catholic theological position. (The minority position redefines “lying” as “deceiving those *entitled to know a truth* so even they aren’t departing from the “ends never just the means” doctrine, just trying to define their way out of its applying in that case by adding the asterisked part to the definition of the sin.)

            That sort of rigorous morality is probably quite uncommon among most Catholics in practice. But it is the official line, taught in the Catechism, etc.

            However, given that Deiseach characterized zygote personhood as an extremist position elsewhere in the thread, I suspect her Catholicism may not entirely toe the official line. Of course, that’s only my hunch, and she obviously would be the one to clarify the matter if she chooses.

          • Carinthium says:

            Deisach- What about those who want to marry, but NEVER want to have children? There’s a good case for considering that the optimal choice from the perspective of individual happiness.

        • Jaskologist says:

          This isn’t misanthropy, it’s a truer, deeper love of humanity. What you hate are feels.

          The grand distinguishing characteristic of mankind is, supposed to be our ability to reason, and rise above the mere level of our feels. A pox on all those who would drag us back to mere sentimentalism! Youthful infatuation doesn’t last even in the best of circumstances, which is just as well, because it renders the victim dunderheaded and useless while in its grip. You better find a more solid ground than that.

          (Then again, when I was a child I very much wished to be either a robot or a Spock, so I’m predisposed to like any philosophy which desacralizes emotions.)

          • Deiseach says:

            My trouble probably is that I am aromantic, so I’ve never had any patience (because I’ve never understood, because I’ve never felt) the cri-de-coeur about “all for love!” (This also underlies my “Francesca da Rimini is a skanky ho” attitude to what the Romantics liked to think of as the Great Love Story in the “Inferno”; meanwhile, fifteen year old me approved of Virgil whapping Dante round the head for his sentimental swooning away over her Tragic Love Tragedy, which was all a tissue of self-justification and selfishness).

            “And why don’t you use your brain about this, because there are several very good reasons why this is a bad idea?” was and is my attitude, which is fine were I Vulcan or a Houyhnhnm, but means I lack necessary human sympathy for my fellows. And it is a lack, and I try to rein in my more judgemental attitudes, but dear Lord above, sometimes I’m so tempted to start whacking people round the head!

            Also, it can tilt over into misanthropy, like Timon of Athens who judges the entire human race to be worthless when he gets burned by a selection of greedy parasites. Yes, greedy venal people exist, but so do ordinary people trying their best, and good people, and all of us are stupid, venal and greedy at times (and it is to be hoped we’re generous and kind and decent at other times).

          • Multiheaded says:

            The grand distinguishing characteristic of mankind is, supposed to be our ability to reason, and rise above the mere level of our feels.

            Ironically, this nonsensical, arbitrary binary concept comes across as poorly processed “feels”.

          • Jaskologist says:


            Your objection is a fair one, if I read it correctly. I may well value reason above emotions for the same reason I valued grades above athletics; I was much better at the former than the latter. But I am at least in agreement with many great philosophers, who themselves were likely better at reasoning than talking to girls.

            Reason really does seem to be a unique human capability. Why waste it? 90% of raising kids is already teaching them how to deal with their momentary moods and make smart, long-term decisions.

        • I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Romantic love is dumb.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s a very short and unpleasant newsletter, best summed up as “Grrrrr. People!” and “Humans – we’re stupid” (though I don’t except or exempt myself from that last; I’m as big and as bad an idiot as the rest of us).

          • Multiheaded says:

            The ideology of romantic love is bad, and, on the whole, inseparable from the bourgeois regime of femininity, but it does deal with some real and deep human experiences. Even given a reductionist view of + “friendship” + “intimacy” + “sex”, the thing that is “romantic love” currently covers a lot of actually needed emotional and interpersonal work.

          • Katie says:

            Isn’t that just evidence that we need to diversify the sources of said emotional and interpersonal work, though?

        • Anonymous` says:

          The thing about romantic love is that most people’s lives suck, and their capabilities suck similarly, so they don’t really have any prospects for a good life…

          …except here’s this phenomenon that, for obvious evolutionary reasons, allows them to feel strong, pleasurable feelings, and, for obvious evolutionary reasons, is actually attainable. So they desperately latch on to it, and desperately consume all the obnoxious popular media sappily praising it, and so on. And then they build the idea that it’s the meaning of life, and the highest accomplishment, and so forth.

          (All this makes “you really need to get laid/a girlfriend/a life/etc.” comments directed at nerds who like/are good at OTHER THINGS annoying yet schadenfreudenly hilarious.)

        • blacktrance says:

          There are a lot of bad social norms surrounding romantic relationships, but that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The pressure to be sexual and the notion of “irresistible impulses” should indeed be destroyed, but that doesn’t mean that people should be pressured into getting married. The most important thing is to discourage people from having children except when they’re sure they want them and have the means to support them. The second-most important thing is to encourage people to be more self-aware, reflective, and analytical, and not fall prey to the “love is irrational” meme.

        • Anonymous says:

          It seems that you are conflating sex with children. Take the children out of the picture, and it’s not such a big deal, eh?

          • Deiseach says:

            Take liver failure out of the picture and chronic alcohol addiction is not such a big deal, eh?

            See, that’s the attitude I want to extirpate. Sex is not something like a new flavour of coffee for this season, it’s an adult activity. Adult activities have consequences. That’s why we have age limits on when you can buy cigarettes and alcohol and drive cars.

          • Illuminati Initiate says:

            In modern first world countries, sex pretty much only has severe consequences if you let it.

            If your true objection is children in bad situations, then I suppose you would be OK exempting people who have been sterilized from your restrictions?

          • George X says:

            I recently came across a study that asserted some kind of causal biological link between sex and having children. It might have only been a correlation, though; I’ll see if I can dig up a reference….

        • nydwracu says:


        • zslastman says:

          Sorry, but I feel like you being an asexual social worker is kind of biasing you inevitably towards that view. Most of us really, really like the kissy kissy. We’re perfectly willing to accept some bad, social worker requiring consequences, for a minority. It’s just a shame that you’re exposed daily to the downsides, and never to the up.

          • Katie says:

            I’m neither asexual nor aromantic, but I’m very sympathetic to the idea that indulging romantic love is and should be widely considered to be a poor life choice. People make poorly-thought-out decisions in romance that would not fly in other domains, particularly where these decisions involve hurting another person. If you go to a friend with a complaint about your boss, they might respond with “Have you tried doing x or y?” or “Have you tried sucking it up?” but never “Maybe he’s just not the right boss for you”. Because of course it’s a magical essential quality that makes someone a good life partner for you. Somehow even otherwise-sane people are willing to countenance that reasoning and it leads to real problems, and not just of the social-worker variety.

          • anon1 says:

            Advice of the form “It sounds like this isn’t likely to improve. Have you considered transferring to a new department/getting a new job?” isn’t unheard of at all, and as far as I can tell has no meaningful difference from “Maybe he’s just not the right boss for you.”

        • Anonymous says:

          I KNEW IT.

          Seriously, this confirms all my suspicions about the emotions conveniently rewiring our desires in ways that help evolution but seem curiously hostile to our usual goals in life.

    • nydwracu says:

      congratulations, you’re the new Handle, now go start a blog

  22. Wulfrickson says:

    How is Ialdabaoth doing? He hasn’t shown up here in a while.

    • Multiheaded says:

      Had a brief… hm… private conversation a while ago. He seems to be in good cheer!

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      I LIVE.

      I’m currently living in Berkeley, and working on getting a job here. Things are good, but a bit busy – hence less time for internetting.

  23. Anyone read “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” by David Graeber? I recently finished it and would be interested in discussing it.

    Briefly I really life the first three quarters or so but felt it went a bit of the rails in the final chapter when it talked about modern day policy proposals.

    • Nick says:

      I’m in the middle of it actually, in the chapter on The Axial Age right now. It’s definitely pretty interesting so far. I might finish it by next open thread, but the end of the semester is coming up so don’t count on it.

      But, I have had one question weighing on my mind. Graeber says that nearly all the great world religions use the language of debt: Judaism and Christianity with sin, etc. and it seems he thinks it’s very problematic to ground our morality in those terms. But these religions are comparatively pretty good about actual debt policy, aren’t they? Jews had the Jubilee, while Christianity and Islam condemn usury. So what’s going on there? The only thing I can think of is that insofar as these religious movements are somewhat populist they are appealing to the widespread hatred of lenders that Graeber discusses, but I don’t think he ever says that’s what did it.

      • Jaskologist says:

        I don’t think they’re appealing to hatred of debtors; God is the one we are portrayed as in debt to. Fear is the emotion being inspired there, not hate.

      • Quixote says:

        Condemning usary isn’t good debt policy. Look at growth rates in places wih and without financing and in Europe pre and post enforcement of usary laws.

        The set of talented people and people with inherited wealth are not coextensive. Usary laws as traditionally enforced serve to keep most benefits of investment to the latter class.

      • Alex Godofsky says:

        You think banning usury (which, in this context, is pretty much the same as banning debt entirely) is good policy???

        • Nick says:

          I’ve pretty much been raised on stories of how unfair lending practices screw people over (so take my “usury is good policy” with a grain of salt). I really don’t know how usury laws have played out, so if there’s something big I’m missing here, please tell me!

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            The big thing you are missing is how debt finance is a cornerstone of modern capitalism and deleting it would result in untold economic catastrophe.

            Also, “unfair” lending is a completely miniscule fraction of all debt.

            Remember, debt is not just credit cards. It is also mortgages, and (this is a very big thing) business loans and corporate bonds and government bonds.

          • Anonymous says:

            One of the reasons Renaissance Florence and Venice flourished was that merchants there had better access to credit. Having access to credit is very important.

      • Julie K says:

        Minor correction- Judaism calls for debts to be forgiven each Sabbatical (7th) year, not just in the Jubilee (50th) year.

        • Nick says:

          Thank you–it’s been at least five years since I’ve read anything about this. Is it land redistribution that happens during Jubilee?

    • Salem says:

      It may be that the reason you like the first 3/4 of Debt but think the last 1/4 is off the rails is that you have sufficient knowledge of modern times to recognise the obvious flaws in the last 1/4, but you miss the flaws in the first 3/4 because your knowledge of former times is necessarily not as good, so you take on trust Graeber’s outrageous falsehoods.

      Brad DeLong has done an excellent series of posts on Graeber’s mistakes, lies and blunders here.

      • Anonymous says:

        So called Gell-Mann Amnesia 🙂

        Things like these made me reluctant to pick up this book unless I have an accompanying “errata” made by other authors who point out mistakes and falsehoods. It would be great if every book had an accompanying list of criticisms. 🙂

    • anodognosic says:

      I’ve read some harsh criticism of the book, especially with factual mistakes, which has made me wary of it as whole. For me, though, two major insights have stuck:

      1. The way that the concept of debt permeates our psyche and drives our thoughts and behaviors far beyond the financial, and

      2. How societies tend towards class-wide, inescapable debt, how this is a significant cause of sociopolitical instability, and how states play a vital role in keeping this state of affairs from coming about. This latter stands, for me, as a solid counterargument to more extreme forms of libertarianism.

  24. Nestor says:

    My hosting provider is giving me grief over a recent spike in traffic.

    Seriously? It’s a text heavy blog, it can’t be that bad. I assume you’re running the usual wordpress cache plugins? If not look into that

    I’ve been having some surprising success treating Ozy’s borderline personality disorder with something that really shouldn’t work

    I don’t have it but a relative does, and I had an “entertaining” couple of months a few years ago where I shared a flat with someone who in hindsight was probably bpd. I confess curiousity.

  25. Carinthium says:

    I’m in so many debates right now I’m a bit sick of it, but I’m rather curious on one thing- what is Scott Alexander’s own view on the Skeptical Problem? And to the extent he has a view on Probabilities beyond the obvious point of being a Bayesian, what is it?

    If Scott Alexander himself isn’t willing to answer, perhaps somebody could tell me?

    • Nita says:

      So, have you read anything about probability theory yet? This page, for example, is quite short.

      Scott likes to proclaim that he’s not very good at mathematics, so let’s not put too much pressure on him 🙂

      Also, have you considered this idea: everyone makes assumptions, but not all assumptions are equal?

      • Carinthium says:

        Right now I’m exhausted for a combination of reasons. The reason is that I’m curious for Scott’s views on the philosophy of probability, to the extent he has them, to know where he stands.

        And Nita- I have considered and rejected it. If it is an assumption and not self-proving, then there is no way it can epistemically have any weight.

    • 27chaos says:

      The Skeptical Problem is boring.

  26. Jos says:

    Scott, I’d be curious to read more of your thoughts on the Koch brothers and climate discussion.

  27. Steve Reilly says:

    I think there’s an SSC curse. If you’re on the left, and Scott disagrees with you in a post, soon other leftists will tweet their hate for you for not-entirely-fathomable reasons, and the hatred will burn all the brighter for being unfathomable. First it was Charles Clymer, now it’s this:

    Hard not to feel sorry for the guy, but Jesus. Apparently if you disagree with Suey Park, and you’re “a tool of white supremacy.”

    • Multiheaded says:

      Even a bad, insidiously nasty left-authoritarian forum got fed up with Suey Park’s motherfucking narcissistic bullshit a good while ago. That’s saying something.

      Suey Park today didn’t behave like a person who wanted to address the issues that Asian Americans face, she behaved like a fucking Shark who smelled blood in the water at the first sign of outrage. That Huffington Post guy wasn’t being a dick, he was 100% right. You don’t get to misuse and throw around academic terms like some Hipster rage parrot to shut up legitimate criticism, you don’t get to throw all of the people who disagree with you under the “White Liberal Male” umbrella. It’s not only sophomoric, it’s disingenuous.

      If only the aforementioned space obtained a little bit of self-awareness along precisely these lines, sigh…

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s impossible to build a space for good discussion in a community based around a circlejerk. Despite that I think that the whole SJ ideology is misguided, I think their particular ideology isn’t important here. Everyone would fail in a similar situation.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Pretty sure that happens to everyone and you just notice the ones I post about. But I don’t think a Twitter thread with Suey Park is big enough to count as the inevitable giant explosion of hatred.

  28. jmcgvr says:

    I wish there were an article on secondhand smoking comparable to your articles on AA and race/police. Searching “second hand smoke study” on google gives a comical list of links with alternating views. Anyone know of something like that? This up your alley if not, scott?

    • Nornagest says:

      I haven’t got a clue if there are any high-quality studies on this issue, but if I wanted to take a whack at it myself I’d start by working out a dose-response curve for chronic exposure to woodsmoke (there should be nonpartisan studies on that in the occupational health space), then figure out what the exposure rates are in secondhand smoke situations and go from there. Most of the harm of tobacco smoking, IIRC, comes from the fact that you’re inhaling burning plant matter, not tobacco per se.

  29. Alex Godofsky says:

    I am trying to figure out a way to productively engage with, or at least read, LessWrong. (Disclaimer: yes, I have already read the Sequences.)

    So I go to and skim the posts. Looking at it right now, I get:

    (Aside: I was originally going to say “it looks like just AI stuff”, but then decided to go back and be a little more scientific about it.)

    1. Exploring an edge case in utilitarianism. Ugh, plz no.

    2. Self-help thread regarding relationship with parents. Not interested, unlikely to be able to contribute.

    3. “What do you wish you’d studied in college”. Possibly interesting if I were part of the community, but prior to that not as much.

    4. Theoretical issues with utility functions. Ugh, nonono.

    5. Math problem dressed up as finance problem. I like math, but this particular problem looks similar enough to stuff I did in university that it triggers my “a solution exists! I’m done now” reflex.

    6. Stephen Hawking and AI risks: ugh.

    7. “The Philosophy of Intelligence Explosions and Advanced Robotics”: noooooo.

    8. AI ex-risk: you may have noticed a pattern by now?

    9. GiveWell: ok, potentially interesting.

    10. “Group Rationality Diary, December 1-15”: again a community thing

    11. Cryo: nope.

    12. Utilitarian population ethics: see 1.

    I generally agree with the Sequences and find HPMOR entertaining, and typically enjoy discussions with people [I perceive as] intellectually honest, which mode would presumably be favored by LW. But I have less than zero interest discussing the topics it seems to find most interesting.

    Is there some subgroup or community in LW that spends more time on issues like policy or economics or, well, anything that isn’t extremely speculative?

    • Nornagest says:

      Is there some subgroup or community in LW that spends more time on issues like policy or economics or, well, anything that isn’t extremely speculative?

      Yeah. You’re posting in it.

    • gattsuru says:

      Unfortunately, most of the politics and economics posts seem to fall into the Open and Open Media Threads. There are occasional exceptions, however, and once you have enough Karma to post Discussions doing so can be rewarding.

      The use of a single karma system seems to reduce the breadth of controversial discussion a site can hold, in nearly directly correlation with the value people place on the scoring.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’ve also found that policy posts on LW tend to fall into only a few categories: either it’s some obnoxious single-issue wonk, usually a neoreactionary or SJW and often a newcomer, taking on all comers, or it’s obnoxious Tumblr drama spilling over onto the main site, or it’s obnoxious Internet atheism, or it’s some first-remove correlate of obnoxious Silicon Valley class snobbery. Analysis of status dynamics is also common, but that at least can be interesting.

        Economics fares a little better but I think Overcoming Bias has hegemony over that part of the discussion space.

    • Anonymous says:

      How about write your own set of sequences?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      After you’ve read the Sequences, then unless you’re really interested in technical math I think there’s more to like in the wider community than on Less Wrong itself. You can find more about the wider community here.

      • Matthew says:

        Can I just mention here that I think the gradual rationality community shift away from forums and blogs toward Facebook pages and Twitter is unfortunate?

        Facebook is hostile for participants who rely on pseudonymity, and Twitter is hostile for people who can’t use the Internet during their workday and thus miss most of the interaction.

        • Susebron says:

          Twitter is also hostile towards ideas which can’t be summed up in 140 characters.

          • suntzuanime says:

            A word to the wise is sufficient. Twitter permits you nearly thirty. Its hostility towards meaningful ideas is overrated.

            Twitter does filter against rigor – you would have a hard time doing the sorts of research reviews that Scott does here on Twitter. But most people in the “rationalist” community don’t do those sorts of research reviews; they just talk about ideas. And the space limitations of Twitter are helpful for forcing you to narrow down the core of your ideas and keeping you from dressing a banal point up in mountains of fancy verbiage and convincing yourself it’s meaningful.

          • nydwracu says:

            Pffff. Reply-chaining.

            (Every once in a while I wake up to 100+ notifications, and I know it’s because someone went and wrote an essay in my mentions.)

          • veronica d says:

            I tutor friends in math and compsci on Twitter. The secret: you can send more than one tweet.

        • Anonymous says:

          YES! Twitter and Facebook are awful ways to communicate interesting and deep ideas. No serious analysis can fit into 140 characters. Although Facebook allows you to have lengthier posts, it is still inferior to having a blog in nearly every conceivable way

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Unfortunate but probably inevitable. I can’t think of a good way to reverse it except, well, the one I’m doing.

    • Bugmaster says:

      As far as I understand, the explicit purpose of Less Wrong is to raise awareness of AI risk, so it’s pretty unsurprising to me that its posts consist mostly of a). articles about AI risk, and b). articles about mitigating AI risk.

      • Less Wrong has two explicit purposes: that, and “raising the sanity waterline”. The latter goal was adopted largely in service of the former, but it was believed that it would be damaging to both goals if they became overly conflated, or if one was seen as subordinate to the other. So there has been plenty of emphasis on both.

        Yudkowsky laid out his reasoning in this post, written just before Less Wrong spun off from Overcoming Bias.

        • Alex Godofsky says:

          Ah, I didn’t realize that. I thought ostensibly LessWrong had been about rationality first, and then evolved/devolved into an AI place.

  30. Kevin says:

    For what it’s worth, a suggestion on web hosts: I use They’re well-priced ($10/mo or $8/mo if prepaid) and very reliable. My personal domain is just used for odds and ends, so it doesn’t get very much traffic, but I know people who have used them for high-traffic sites. Their customer service is very responsive and accommodating.

  31. Nesh says:

    What do people think of the societal effects of dark-nets like tor or free-net? I’d make the claim that whatever the cost they are one of the few areas large state powers find it very hard regulate and that makes it important to have them around. While they may cause damage in some areas, the bad incentives of people not having any option that wasn’t under the jurisdiction of the current systems of modern first-world governments would be worse.

  32. BenSix says:

    What with our host’s popular sojourn into the world of lit crit, how about some fiction recommendations? I am reading Albert Camus’ The Plague, which is more humble and moving than people who categorise him with JPS might imagine. Anyone who enjoys the wordplay that one can find here is liable to enjoy anything by P.G. Wodehouse.

    • veronica d says:

      +1 on The Plague. It is a deeply thoughtful book.

    • Anonymous says:

      Despite Sartre being more sophisticated and critically acclaimed, Camus is actually a better thinker. Sometimes simplicity helps you to be less wrong about everything.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I know you’ve indicated you are bored of NRx and I think you’ve given their insights an adequate hearing. But do you have any more thoughts on Catholicism/Natural Law/Aristotlean forms? At one point you were investigating that and I wonder if you have come to any further conclusions about what’s going on there. Because it seems there are several smart people who ascribe to it and I have never been able to figure out what is compelling about it, despite reading Aquinas, Feser, etc

    • Alejandro says:

      I think Scott once linked approvingly to this review of Feser’s book, saying it was similar to what he would have written if he hadn’t gotten bored/tired of the subject.

      • another says:

        I don’t like links to google documents. I prefer this link.

      • 27chaos says:

        I’ve never taken, LSD, but reading that makes me feel like what I imagine taking LSD would. Specifically, the thought is stuck in my head that perhaps God’s brain is made of the universe and we are essentially his neurons, so he manipulates things by thinking about them/thinks about things my moving them. Not a good argument in a probabilistic sense, but it seems to resolve some of the problems raised by that review. (Obviously Feser wouldn’t endorse this type of solution though.)

        Just fun to entertain such thoughts. I’ve never had such a weird flight of fancy originate from myself before, although I’ve seen others articulate them.

        • Alejandro says:

          I think what you are saying could be expanded and steelmanned until it resembles (one possible interpretation of) Spinoza’s philosophy.

          • Protagoras says:

            Yes, that’s why I mention in the review that I do find what I call the Plato/Spinoza/Einstein view (for a particularly interpretation of each) not to be lightly dismissed, even if I don’t quite accept it. Scott actually complained that I have far too many unexplained references to obscure philosophical issues, and that I generally go over things too quickly, which seems to me to be completely fair. I keep intending to pick up Feser’s new book on thomistic metaphysics and do some updating of my criticism of him, but haven’t gotten around to it.

  34. grendelkhan says:

    There seems to be a loosely grouped batch of obvious improvements to the way things are, which are Just Not Done for various reasons.

    Would it be worth collecting those somewhere? It seems that most of them bump up against sacred or practical values. For example, starting school later in the morning would interfere with parents’ work schedules, making organ donation opt-out rather than opt-in would trip some fake-consensualism dread-bioethicist triggers

    I have no illusions that all of these policy ropes can easily be tugged sideways. But it would be nice to know what we’re trading off against.

    • Matthew says:

      I’m pretty sure I recently saw an article somewhere finding that the donor opt-out question wasn’t as clear cut as originally thought. In an opt-in situation, the relatives can’t possibly argue about what the dying person wanted. But they can and do argue when it’s an opt-out situation, and this was having unexpected consequences for the donation rate in [can’t find the article now dammit]

      The school timing situation was/is (depending on location) even dumber than you suggest. They often started high school early but elementary school late (shared buses) even though high schoolers need more sleep and don’t need to be watched over by their parents, while the opposite is true for elementary schoolers.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Kieran Healy has written extensively about organ donation. In practice, it’s up to the relatives, whether opt-in or opt-out. Maybe Austria is the only exception. Moreover, other things can make huge differences. A time series showing Italy and Spain making improvements in 10 years dwarfing the difference between the two groups of countries. This graph shows opt-in vs opt-out. Both graphs from this paper

      • Deiseach says:

        Thinking about it on a purely gut-feel level, I imagine that if you make organ donation compulsory (which is basically what an “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” situation boils down to), that would actually increase the number of refusals.

        Organ donation is going to need to come from relatively healthy individuals; nobody is going to take, say, the heart or lungs of eighty-nine year old Granny Joan who died of the complications of old age, simply wearing out. So you have either unexpected deaths or accidents of relatively young, otherwise healthy people as your source pool.

        And since the relatives in such instances are going to be in no fit emotional state to rationally consider the matter, unless Cousin Bob specifically said “I want my organs donated”, they’ll probably refuse. You can imagine the stories in the media where grieving, angry family tell sympathetic reporters about the ghouls and vultures in the hospital pressuring them to let them cut up poor Tom’s body before he was even cold in the bed.

        The tearful widow talking about how she was in shock when her healthy (as they all thought) husband suddenly dropped dead after playing a football match, and how while she was still in a fragile state mentally and emotionally, the hospital whipped his body off to the morgue and started mutilating it without informing her of her right to “opt out”. The parents of a teenager killed in a car crash and the shock they received when the hospital released the body for burial and the funeral home told them they needed to make it closed casket because…well…they took the eyes and other parts. Lawyers licking their lips over the possible cases suing for emotional distress in such instances. Governments feeling the heat from unhappy voters who don’t want Baby Sally’s little body treated disrespectfully (and I don’t know if you know about the ‘organ retention scandals’ here in Ireland and in the U.K. and wanting to roll back such legislation because they don’t want to be painted as modern day Frankensteins treating people’s loved ones who die tragically as raw materials.

        People who might otherwise be persuaded about organ donation but who dislike the notion of mandatory ‘anything not forbidden is compulsory’ legislation (like I would have elements in my character, to be honest) going “Compulsory? Unless I kick up blue murder about opting out? Hell, no, you can be sure I’m going to dig my heels in and refuse to let them have my sister’s kidneys!”

        • David Hart says:

          I imagine that if you make organ donation compulsory (which is basically what an “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” situation boils down to), that would actually increase the number of refusals.

          This study suggests that your fears may not be realised – they found that opt-out countries had higher overall rates of transplants than opt-in countries (though complicated by lower rates of transplants from living donors).

          Perhaps their would be some people at the margins who would make enough of a fuss to allow a family’s veto, but I’m not convinced that that would actually be justifiable – we’re weighing up people who want to see their relative’s remains buried or cremated, against people who need those organs to stay alive, after all. And in a system where everyone knows that organ donation is the default, anyone who finds sufficiently traumatic the prospect of their loved one having organs removed for transplant will know that it falls to them to persuade that loved one to opt out.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I like this study of car crashes in a county that delayed school start times from one year to the next.

    • Vaniver says:

      making organ donation opt-out rather than opt-in

      Others have touched on the practicality of this (i.e. what seem like improvements may not be improvements on net) but I’ll touch on the political nature of this- a common libertarian position is that organ sales should be legal (or ‘it should be legal to compensate donors’). For organs like kidneys, it is empirically obvious that this is the correct policy (see Iran) and obvious that the standard counterexamples are the exact opposite of correct. (Details at the end of this post.)

      But if you say “organ sales should be legal, duh, this is Just Not Done for silly reasons” you’re now waving the libertarian flag, even if you only wanted to come up with a list of Pareto-optimal policies. Part of this is because “Pareto optimal” tends have a value system baked into it- if one thinks that, say, allowing gay marriage is Pareto-optimal because it makes gays better off and “doesn’t really” make gay marriage opponents worse off, then the gay marriage opponents will have some strong opinions about what “doesn’t really” means to you. (We can call bioethicists evil all we like for not sharing our values, but if they actually don’t share our values we need to have the conversation around that.)

      The promised details: currently, kidney sales are legal in Iran, supposedly as a result of the desperate situation after the Iran-Iraq war. Like everywhere else in the world, Iran had a waiting list to acquire kidneys; once they allowed sales, the list gradually shrank until now they have the opposite list, of people who want to sell their kidney and are looking for a buyer. A standard claim is that the homeless will be pressured into giving up their organs in order to stay off the street, but when there’s a waiting list to sell organs buyers look for evidence of quality: why get some wino’s kidney when you could get someone who has avoided alcohol and has regular checkups? This had led to public health improvements, of people taking better care of themselves to maximize the value of their salable kidney.

      Another standard objection is that a white market would make it easier to sell black market kidneys. I think this is just a basic misunderstanding of economics; the lack of white markets subsidizes crime, rather than white markets subsidizing crime. Consider alcohol- it’s easier for minors to acquire alcohol in dry counties (where all alcohol is sold illegally and smuggling is thus a large economic niche) than in wet counties (where alcohol is mostly sold legally, and buying requires an ID with proof of age, and so supplying alcohol only to minors is a small economic niche). If the only way to buy a kidney involves not asking questions because any kidney sales are illegal, then improperly acquired kidneys will be easy to hide; if one can go down to the kidney match center and check the genetics of the donor and meet them and so on, then improperly acquired kidneys will be difficult to hide because they don’t have the paper trail of properly acquired kidneys.

      • Charlie says:

        I agree with this comment overall and think it’s great.

        Looking at the underage drinking bit entirely separately, I think there’s a big loophole in your argument: in my experience most alcohol that gets drunk by minors is legally sold at the point of record-keeping and enforcement, and then just shared with minors, or snuck by minors from their parents’ liquor cabinet.

        So in a dry county the market availability of alcohol to minors would go up, but the extra-market availability (college parties and the parent’s liquor cabinet) matters more, and would go down.

  35. Jared says:

    I have had a sort of crisis on abortion in the last couple days. I have always thought that the typical “famous violinist” argument is terrible because first of all abortion in many situation does involve killing the baby rather than simply letting it die and second of all, parents have responsibilities to their kids that they don’t have to others. Not feeding your kid is far worse than not feeding a stranger. So I have always dismissed that argument. But I don’t have a problem with aborting a one week old fetus because it isn’t really human and doesn’t feel pain. So I thought that the point that a fetus begins to feel pain is when abortion shouldn’t happen anymore. Simple enough.

    The problem came when I read an article about a woman who had a later abortion. She had just figured out that her baby had a problem and would suffer through life if he/she lived at all. So the mother aborted her kid because she thought it would be better for both her and the kid in the long run, since the baby wouldn’t go through so much suffering. I can’t help but sympathize with her but this conflicts with position because the baby was past the point where he/she would feel pain. How can I reconcile my views?

    • blacktrance says:

      abortion in many situation does involve killing the baby rather than simply letting it die

      For the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s fine to refuse to feed your own baby. Normally, killing someone would be wrong because they’d rather stay alive. However, a fetus cut off from nutrition will die anyway, and will probably suffer before it does. In such a situation, you wouldn’t be making much of a difference by killing it. so I don’t think it’d be wrong to do so.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Kind of smuggling a lot into “for the sake of argument,” there.

        • Auroch says:

          Not really, it’s a weaker assumption than assuming it is OK to disconnect the famous violinist.

        • blacktrance says:

          Of course that has to be argued for separately. My point may be irrelevant because it may not be fine to refuse to feed your own baby, but the question is about what follows if it is fine.

      • Jared says:

        So basically you’re saying that it’s ok to put the baby out of it’s misery, right? How would you feel about the government implementing some version of that, where infanticide is ok under certain circumstances? I could probably make an argument that infants with Down Syndrome should be killed for their own(and their parents) good but I find the thought horrifying. And to a lesser extent, I’m sure an argument could be made about children in war zones. I’m generally utilitarian but the idea of justifying murder with raising total utility is not something I could ever be comfortable with.

        • blacktrance says:

          How would you feel about the government implementing some version of that, where infanticide is ok under certain circumstances?

          I think infanticide should be legal in all circumstances, so it being legal in at least a few circumstances would be an improvement over the status quo.

          • Jared says:

            Wait, What? You think it’s ok to kill a baby that’s six months old even if the reason was because the mother just doesn’t like her kid?

          • blacktrance says:

            I realize this is a controversial position, but I support the legalization of infanticide on the same Hobbesian grounds on which I oppose animal rights.

          • Panflutist says:

            Can you elaborate? Which Hobbesian grounds are those?

          • Irenist says:


            I share Panflutist’s curiosity as to what Hobbesian grounds you’re referring to. Sounds intriguing. I’d be grateful if you could elaborate.

            (I looked at your blog’s posts tagged “animal rights” and “abortion”, and my best guess so far is that it has something to do with your rejection of positive moral obligation? Or something to do with “Hobbesian libertarianism”? Or maybe a Hobbes-influenced account of what characteristics are required to have a right to self-defense?)

          • blacktrance says:

            Morally ideal law is constituted by the laws that people would rationally agree to while attempting to further their own interests. Rights are formulations of the ideal mutually agreed-upon self-restrictions that benefit those who agree to restrict themselves in exchange for others doing the same. For example, us agreeing not to murder each other would be a mutually beneficial self-restriction. But if a self-restriction isn’t mutually beneficial, one would not agree to it – so, for example, animal rights and the rights of infants are both out, because if I choose to restrict myself in this way, I don’t get greater value out of it.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Infanticide by the mother is ok under the same circumstances today that it has been for virtually all of history: that you don’t talk about it. If the mother exhibits grief, it is swept under the rug. Even if prosecuted and convicted, the sentence is usually suspended.

          • grendelkhan says:

            I’m curious about this. Do you have any reads on the subject?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I don’t remember where I read any of this originally. The claim that there is a lot more infanticide than people believe is inherently controversial. (To be concrete, say a majority of SIDS.) The standard reference is Hrdy’s “Mother Nature,” but I have not read it. As for the objective question of what happens in actual trials, a little googling leads me to recommend this news story for the current situation in Europe and this longer piece for America and history. However, it’s mainly about newborns, not infants.

            Let me restrict my claim about suspended sentences to Europe, where infanticide is defined to be lesser than murder. According to the news story, 2 of 49 women convicted of infanticide in Britain 1989-2000 were jailed. I doubt any were charged with murder, but I don’t know. It also says that infanticide in Sweden is tried by doctors, not the legal system.

            The original infanticide statue was in England in 1922. It allowed insanity to reduce murder of a newborn to manslaughter; this was extended to infants in 1938. Insanity was not allowed as a defense generally until much later. Moreover, I believe that it is very easy in practice to plead insanity. The charge of infanticide was introduced as a compromise because juries acquitted so often, partly because of the possibility of miscarriage and partly because of jury nullification. I guess the 1938 extension of infanticide to twelve months was because of continuing jury nullification, but it is hard to find sources that distinguish them.

    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      I’m pro-abortion and think the violinist argument is bad, though for different reasons.

      Basically, killing person=/=killing fetus, and I actually do think it would be wrong to disconnect the violinist. I don’t have a letting die vs killing distinction.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      It took me a bit to realize my true rejection of pro-lifeism, but it goes like this:

      I am a utilitarian. There is no big utility penalty when a life ends; that’s deontological thinking (which you’re welcome to defend, but it has no place in my ethics). There’s an opportunity cost of a life ended, and there’s often grief experienced by survivors, and these give us ample reason to feel as we do about death in general. Murder is an especially heinous crime not only for these reasons but also due to the social effects unchecked murder would have.

      But in the case of abortion, the social effects are, given social liberal assumptions, positive, and we can reliably predict that most of the grief is borne by the person making the decision.

      The opportunity cost thing is a bit messier, but there’s a similar opportunity cost whenever someone capable of getting pregnant chooses not to, and we wouldn’t consider banning that. I recognize there’s lots of room for discussion of why this is and potential room to make the distinction.

      You can argue that this reasoning can justify infanticide. I’m more likely to accept infanticide than reject abortion.

      Also, this requires me to be totally fine with instantly killing everyone and replacing them with a different but similar set of people. I am (except insofar as I’m selfish).

      • Irenist says:

        this requires me to be totally fine with instantly killing everyone and replacing them with a different but similar set of people. I am (except insofar as I’m selfish).

        What about a utility monster? (E.g., an unfriendly AI capable of being VERY, VERY happy about turning us all into paperclips or whatever.) Other than the selfishness, would you oppose that?

      • Jared says:

        Would you be ok with killing kids with Down Syndrome? Even if you don’t, can’t you see how a utilitarian might support it? This is why I don’t like being committed to one ethical system. I don’t want to bite the bullet and support mass murder just to resolve the contradictions in my belief. Maybe moral consistency is overrated.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          That’s an issue of fact, not of morality. Downs is not as debilitating as most speculations about euthanasia would require. Granted it is easier to spell and does not require hyphens or many bytes of modifiers.

      • AlphaCeph says:

        I think there’s another cost: the cost of hopes, dreams, etc being cut short for a concsious being. I would assign less utility to a world where people flit in and out of existence for a few seconds, only to be replaced by another short-lived equivalent person.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        @Irenist: I see this as something to resolve when specifying the utility function rather than choosing the ethical framework.

        @Jared: If you mean non-infant children, I really don’t think that would increase utility by any adequate measure, and I don’t feel tainted to be using the same ethical framework as someone who supported this. You’ll need a better hypothetical to make that case.

        @AlphaCeph: That’s a very interesting point, but I’d suggest that instead of a cost of cutting lives/hopes/dreams short one assign a benefit to letting them continue. That way, one can prefer not to kill everyone and replace them but still have pretty much the position I outline on abortion. I might actually bite your bullet, though, and just accept this is a case where my intuition doesn’t handle computationalism very well.

  36. Math Teacher says:

    Okay Scott, since you claim to be bad at math, I’m going to post some math on every open thread along with a problem for you to solve. Hopefully you can get a taste of math, and see whether you enjoy it.

    I think Linear Algebra would be a good topic to cover. It’s very intuitive once you get the hang of it, and to quote , it shows up in literally every discipline of engineering among many other reasons. However, since I’m not sure of your background in algebra, we’ll start with some basics. If it is too simple for you, then we can just move ahead.

    Okay, let’s start with the idea of a function. Everyone is familiar with numbers, but functions are an abstraction which hasn’t hit ubiquitous understanding yet. To make things concrete, let’s imagine we have a bunch of jelly beans. For example you could have 5 jelly beans. A function is like a machine with an input and an output. You feed in a certain number of jelly beans in one end, and a certain number of jelly beans come out the other end.

    For example, you could have a machine that removes one jelly bean from the amount you put in. With such a machine, if you put in 7 jelly beans, you would get out 6. If you put in 38, you get out 37.

    You also could have a machine that doubles the number of jelly beans. Or one that triples the number of jelly beans you feed in. Or even one that triples the number of jelly beans and then adds two more jelly beans.

    Now, you may have noticed that all my examples of functions had something in common: They followed rules which seem mathematical. You could figure out what they would do by using addition, multiplication, etc. This is all well and good, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Any sort of machine you could think up would also be a function. The only requirement is that it has to be consistent. For example, you could have a function that always output zero jelly beans, unless you put in precisely 2538, and then it would output 5. But the key here is that such a function is consistent. If you put in 7 jelly beans, you will /always/ get zero out, no matter how many times you do it. Likewise, if you put in 2538 jelly beans, you will always get precisely 5 out. This is the power of the function, once you know how it behaves one time, you know it will always behave the same way.

    Let’s try to think of some interesting functions.
    How about a machine that outputs the number of U.S. States with a population greater than the input number of jelly beans.
    Or a machine that outputs 8 jelly beans if the input is even, and 22 if it is odd.

    1 a) Come up with the strangest function you can think of.
    b) Convince me that it is a function.
    c) Give me some examples of inputs and outputs.
    2 a) Do you already know the material, sort of know it but it’s worth reviewing, or is it new?
    b) Is the pacing of the expository segment too verbose, not verbose enough, or just right?

    • Matthew says:

      I’m not Scott, but consider me subscribing. (This particular post was too basic for me, but I expect future offerings will not be.)

    • This will be fun. I have no background in this stuff at all, but the concepts are familiar enough from computer science (… which I also don’t have any formal training in, but programming is easy enough to pick up on the internet these days).

      1a) Given that I’m a computer programmer, the “strangest function I could think of” immediately went to a function that, when given n jellybeans, outputs another function which, when given m jellybeans, outputs n + m jellybeans. (I could make it weirder than that, but for the introductory segment functions returning functions is probably weird enough.)

      b) This is a function because the same input always produces the same output.

      b2) It occurs to me to wonder whether it’s possible for a function to return something which is not a function, or if that would make the first function not a function. (A jellybean, of course, can be considered an instance of a trivial function x -> jellybean for all x, so any function which outputs jellybeans or another “thing” can still be considered an instance of a function.)

      • Math Teacher says:

        1 Be careful here. You’re using your outside understanding of functions to talk about functions in a sense we haven’t introduced yet. I’m not sure where I stand on this. On one hand your understanding of functions in a broader context is correct, and so you’re only engaging the material more deeply. On the other hand, there are lots of cases where pulling in a definition from an outside understanding will confuse you.

        So how about an example that isn’t quite so exotic. A function which takes a number of jelly beans as inputs, and outputs another number of jelly beans.

        2. (although this is a bit beyond the scope of this intro and may just confuse you more) It really depends on whether you can give a mathematical structure to the the thing it outputs. If you can, then it’s perfectly fine to have a function which spits out something which is not a function. If you can’t, then it’s hard to say how you would treat it as a function.

        Also, usually if a mathematician wants to treat a jellybean as a function, they’ll treat it as a function that can only take in a single jellybean, and always outputs the same amount. But that gets into the “domain” and “range” of a function which we haven’t covered yet.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Maybe you’re driving at this, or maybe I’m bad at math, but I’m not convinced that “outputs the number of U.S. States with a population greater than the input number of jelly beans” is a function. Population numbers change, so would that additional input mean this is no longer functional?

        • Math Teacher says:

          No, that’s a good point, I should have come up with a better example. It only is a function if you’re asking about the state population at a fixed point in time, if you consider the population to be changing over time, then that is /not/ a function. In order to be a function, it must follow the rule: same input, same output.

    • Are you on Tumblr? That seems like it would be a good medium for this. I doubt Scott is going to be terribly receptive to it—he basically wrote an entire post explaining why—but it seems like a number of others among us are.

      My field is computer science; I took a local college course on linear algebra my senior year of high school, but didn’t feel like I took away any deep mathematical concepts from it. Which is too bad, because the impression I get is that it’s very important. I hope I learn something from this soon-to-be-sequence.

      The function that immediately came to mind, when asked to think of the strangest one I could, was the busy beaver function. If anyone hasn’t heard of this and likes well-written nonspecialist explanations of really cool math things, I highly recommend that you stop whatever you’re doing right now and go read Scott Aaronson’s essay “Who Can Name the Bigger Number?”. Of course, this is rather like deploying a hydrogen bomb against an ant.

      • Math Teacher says:

        I certainly don’t expect to convince Scott that math is interesting. And likewise I don’t think I could convince him to try it. The goal is to present math in (what I think is) the best way possible, and dangle it out in front of him, and if it /is/ interesting to him, then great! If not, at least it might be interesting to others.

        As for your example of the busy beaver function, very good! It fits the specifications of the exercise, but you missed the part about why you know it’s a function. Be careful, it’s not so straightforward.

  37. Matthew says:

    As long as we’re making reading suggestions for Scott, I’m putting in a good word for China Mieville’s Embassytown It’s a science fiction story that’s mostly a reflection on philosophy of language and philosophy of mind, so I would expect it to be right up your alley. (It’s also one of my favorite books to date.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I tried to read that Mieville book with the squid and couldn’t get through it, even though I love squid. It’s going to take a really really strong recommendation to get me back into Mieville after that.

      • Matthew says:

        Kraken is by far my least favorite of the Mievelle that I have read. (I suspect I also wouldn’t have liked Railsea that much even though I liked Moby Dick, but it was about to go overdue and I returned it.)

        Strongly recommended: Embassytown and Perdido Street Station (which are very different books, however).

        The Scar is not quite as good as Perdido Street Station, and Iron Council is not quite as good as The Scar. Which is somewhat unfortunate in that you have to read them in descending order of quality for it to make the most sense.

        The City and The City was very good too, but I’m less confident that you would love it, whereas my model of you says that you would really, really, like Embassytown.

        …Commentariat, back me up here.

        • Anonymous says:

          Everyone agrees that Embassytown and the City and the City are the best.

        • Nornagest says:

          Perdido Street Station is a very good book. The politics are occasionally intrusive — every time the militia’s mentioned you can practically see China Mieville snarling “fucking pigs” over his manuscript — and if you have a strong squick reaction to weird sex you’re going to find it being triggered a lot. Also it’s really depressing in places, including one of the more gratuitously sad endings I’ve seen in fantasy.

          But don’t let any of that deter you. It’s placed in one of the most sheerly imaginative settings I know about. It’s got memorable characters, really memorable monsters, and a nicely twisty plot, and most importantly of all, nobody in it remotely resembles a callow farmboy with a glorious destiny.

          The Scar is similar, but it loses a bit without the novelty.

          The City and the City is also good, but it’s a totally different book. It’s more of a One Big Idea piece, more literary, probably more mature, less overtly political but the implications are there if you look.

          • Julie K says:

            Are the same issues (politics and weird sex) true for all his books?

          • Nornagest says:

            Depends where you draw the lines.

            China Mieville is personally very left-leaning and this informs the hell out of his work; but sometimes it’s in the background and sometimes it’s front and center. Perdido Street Station is fundamentally about painting a really detailed, gruesome portrait of its setting and its monsters, but it has a lot of overt political content; The City and the City is fundamentally a story about sociology but very little comes out on the surface. Kraken is in the middle; The Scar is close to Perdido. I haven’t read Iron Council but I’m told it’s more fundamentally and even more overtly political than Perdido is.

            Sex is a bit different. Only about half of Mieville’s stories that I’ve read have any sex in them at all; but if there’s sex, it’s probably going to be weird.

          • Matthew says:

            Iron Council is very political and also includes a significant amount of gay sex (more sex than PSS, though none of it is inter-species, if I recall correctly).

        • Matthew is right. The City and The City takes a large dose from the Borges style of magic realism. It’s probably my favorite Mieville book and the only one I would recommend to others.

          Kraken is fairly conventional urban fantasy and a weak example at that. Only suitable if you’re really into the genre.

        • Anonymous dos says:

          Haven’t read Embassytown, but seconding Perdido Street Station. Intense world building, a pretty straightforward literary style, and a tense, gripping plot. Kraken was lacking all those departments.

          The Scar might fit ol’ Scotty’s interests better, though: there’s even more weird politics and sociology than in PSS.

          Which makes sense: it’s a sea story about a gigantic floating pirate city made up of ships from all over an incredibly diverse world – actually, that sounds a lot like this “archipelago” business I keep hearing about, doesn’t it? PSS is confined to one (incredibly diverse) city.

          I don’t even think you have to read them in order! They share no characters and no settings to speak of: the protagonist of The Scar is escaping the city that went all batshit after the events of PSS, but she wasn’t involved in those events, and hence drops into the narrative exactly where a new reader would (except she has seen manatee-people and cactus-people before).

          Also: protagonist is a linguist. (Although the protagonist of PSS is a bald man with a lab, so who knows.)

          So there’s my half-assed contrarian backing you up: Scott should read The Scar first if he’s only gonna give Mieville one more shot. (Your advice is probably better.)

          (Also thirding that Kraken was disappointing, although there were some scary villains in it and other good bits.)

        • Mark Dominus says:

          I thought The Scar was better than Perdido Street Station. It’s more focused, with less extraneous material. PSS was a wild ride, but I felt that long sections of it were digressions. Everything in The Scar serves the story.

          I thought the characters in The Scar were better drawn. It also doesn’t have the somewhat overwrought tone of genre horror that PSS has. Several times in Perdido Street Station some character freezes with terror just conveniently long enough to be eaten by the monsters; I don’t think there’s anything like that in The Scar. On the whole, it seemed to me that in Perdido Street Station Miéville was still figuring out how to tell a story, and in The Scar he had it figured out.

          I tell people that if they liked PSS they’ll like The Scar, but if they didn’t like PSS they should try The Scar anyway.

          On the other hand, I put down Iron Council three quarters of the way through and didn’t pick it up again.

          • Anonymous says:

            Which did you read first? It’s probably just that they are too similar and the first you read is better for not being redundant. You tell people who didn’t like PSS to try the Scar, but did this advice work for anyone?

        • Hainish says:

          I tried reading the squid book twice and couldn’t get through it either time.

          The City and the City is less fantastical than the other ones (by which I mean, it’s AU, but the AU is not much different from our universe . . . no magic, no steampunk, no non-human sentient beings). I hadn’t heard of Embassytown, but I’ll have to track it down.

  38. Jared says:

    Lets say 20 years from now, China becomes very rich and a superpower that rivals the US. They have been very hostile to each other and China has upped it’s rhetoric on Taiwan. This is a new Cold War caused by China’s new power. I have somehow managed to create a time machine that allows me to go back and kill all the reformers who have helped China become a developed country. I’m not certain of anything but I feel like killing them would keep China poor and that it’s worth it in order to prevent the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse. So should I go for it? Is the possibility of nuclear apocalypse so horrible that it’s worth keeping people in dire poverty to prevent it? How high of a probability would the chances of that nightmare scenario be before you would support my plan, if at all?

    • Wulfrickson says:

      Couldn’t you just give the US government the time machine, have them hide it away in a kilometers-deep bunker somewhere, and tell them to use it if the bombs actually drop?

      (yes, I know, dodging the question)

      • Jared says:

        Well it’s possible that I simply don’t trust the government to do the right thing(from my perspective) or don’t trust the government to be competent at doing it. I think both of those are valid concerns. Also, if I actually created time travel I would never tell anyone because they would probably spread the secret of how I created it and someone could go back millions of years ago, kill a butterfly and doom our species before we began. Being able to change the past is the worst existential risk possible.

        Maybe I could simply wait until the day the bombs drop, but maybe I don’t have the resources available to me to make sure I survive and am unwilling to get anyone else involved.

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Time travel that changes a timeline rather than entering a separate one is in most situations inherently ethically problematic, because by changing the time line you will end up erasing some people from existence (who actually “did” exist in some sense in the “past”, because you and your time machine were effected by them). Changing history like that would erase a lot of people, which could potentially tip the balance of the decision the other way.

          If it is another timeline being entered you shouldn’t worry about butterflys wiping out humanity. Though everyone’s going to be trying to invade the “past” for all sorts of reasons.

    • Jiro says:

      Human beings are pretty bad at deciding whether it’s necessary to commit murder to save the world. So you should have precommited to not doing so. Then, if you find yourself in a situation where you really must murder to save the world, you won’t do so because your precommitment leaves you with no choice.

      This would still be overall beneficial because although the world would be destroyed in the timeline where you need to murder, there are so many murders prevented in all the other timelines that it makes up for this.

      We just call this precommitment “scruples” or some such.

      • Illuminati Initiate says:

        This assumes many worlds is correct.

        Also, I’m not sure if its actually possible for humans to commit themselves like that anyways.

        • Susebron says:

          Not if it’s a precommitment. If it’s a precommitment, then it turns into a question of probability. Of course, the question of whether or not it’s possible for humans to precommit is entirely different and probably much stronger of an argument against.

          • Jiro says:

            My point is that “scruples which prevent someone from doing X whether it is beneficial or not” functions like a precommitment to not doing X, can be analyzed as such, and may be a good idea even if it results in someone “irrationally” not doing X and thus not benefitting.

    • I would say no, you would be better off using the time machine to scam lotto numbers and then using your new ridiculous wealth to find some way to systematically makes nuclear war less likely. This seems better than messing with the world’s complex strategic balance with all its swings and round-abouts, and it has the added bonus of not throwing anyone into poverty.

      • Jake says:

        You can’t win the lotto more than once without seeming extremely suspicious, and most lotteries top out around ~$50m after tax. That’s a lot, but not change-the-world money. You’d be better off playing the market, since you can credit your success to your special system more plausibly.

        • suntzuanime says:

          You could probably do it twice without *really* seeming suspicious. Three times would be too much though.

          This is all in the spirit of fighting the hypothetical, and I’m not sure we should encourage it.

          • Deiseach says:

            Or win lotteries in different countries? You might seem suspicious, but could they prove you were anything other than a really lucky punter?

        • Matthew says:

          Congressman James Sensenbrenner has won the lottery three times, though not at the with-bonus-ball jackpot level.

    • Deiseach says:

      Take a historical view.

      Not making any recommendations as to capitalism, communism, left, right, science, religion, or anything else, the one lesson we see from history is that:

      Empires rise and fall.
      Civilisations flourish and decline.

      Power passes. As in the last century it passed from Europe (remember the Empire on which the sun never set?) to America, so it may be that this century will see the passing of power and influence from America to China.

      The U.S.S.R. attempted to be the world power and didn’t achieve it, though you could say that Putin is trying to rebuild the old Empire today, on a mix of super-nationalism and oligo-capitalism using natural resources as his blackmailing and power strategy (controlling the flow of natural gas into continental Europe was certainly part of what he was doing, or is trying to do, with Ukraine and the not-so-subtle threat that he’d cut off gas and thus energy supply to continental western Europe if those governments cut up rough about the Crimea).

      Bablyon fell, Egypt fell, Rome fell, previous Chinese empires fell, the British empire fell. Why should the U.S.A. be any different? Why reduce the Chinese to poverty and lack of reform when attempts to prop up one particular nation-state is going against the current of historical trends?

      • Jared says:

        It’s different because a war could cause a nuclear apocalypse this time. Also, my hypothetical involved China not just becoming powerful but hostile to the US.

  39. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    What is the best device without an internet connection for watching nautically acquired movies, television shows, anime, and cartoons? Laptops and tablets are out because wi-fi. Portable DVD players with USB ports are troublesome; their format recognition is very hit-and-miss, and returning internet orders is annoying, time-consuming, and possibly expensive. MP3 players with video playback tend to have ridiculously small screens, no easy way to keep them standing, and also tend to be picky about formats and codecs.

    What do?

    • suntzuanime says:

      Out of curiosity, why avoid an internet connection? People will just slap internet connectivity on any device they can get these days because it’s cheap and useful.

      • oneforward says:

        Presumably it’s related to the fact that the videos were nautically acquired.

        • suntzuanime says:

          That seems pretty bizarrely paranoid given the actual level of enforcement of those laws. Like building a secret chamber in your basement for smoking weed in. Especially since you’re much more likely to get caught in the process of buying the weed, not smoking it.

    • Fnord says:

      A laptop with the wireless turned off? Maybe you could get a computer tech to remove the wireless card completely.

      • John Schilling says:

        No “maybe” about it; that’s a pretty standard thing for laptops that are going to be used in high-security environments.

        The next question is, how are you going to get the content onto the device? If internet is out, you’re going to have to think carefully about anything USB. Optical drives are safe but tedious and you can burn through a lot of not-cheap DVD-Rs along the way.

      • Anonymous says:

        Maybe you can find a computer or laptop that’s old enough so that it doesn’t have built in wi-fi at all.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        Many generic PC laptops make it pretty easy to open panels in the base to meddle with the hardware. (In my experience, the more generic and less name-brand the machine, the easier it will be to work on.)

        If the wifi is provided by an add-on card (like these ones) you can just unplug the antenna cable (pigtail) and remove that card. If the wifi is on the mainboard, unplugging the pigtail will have to suffice.

        You can also often disable wireless in the BIOS settings.

        As for getting data on and off a disconnected machine, the SD card is the floppy disk of the 21st century. Good ones are less than $1 per gigabyte now and lousy ones are less than half that.

    • Jiro says:

      I use a jailbroken Wii with WiiMC for this. The main problem is that the Wii is a weak enough system that it can’t play anything HD and has trouble decoding some more complex videos. A Wii technically has wi-fi but you have no reason to ever want to use it.

      I would imagine an Ouya with wi-fi permanently turned off would work well. The Wii and Ouya are also good for emulators.

      A lot of Blu-Ray/DVD players now play videos, although I had trouble because of inability to compensate for overscan, which tends to cause subtitles to go offscreen for videos meant for PCs.

      Honestly, I don’t see why you care if something has an Internet connection. Just get an open-source player that isn’t going to be reporting any stats to anyone. And I always keep wi-fi off on my tablet unless specifically using it for Internet purposes anyway.

    • Anonymous says:

      A laptop in airplane mode. Honestly.

      I feel like you’re being a bit paranoid here though, unless you don’t live in the US and your country is a lot more strict about this sort of thing.

    • Charlie says:

      Build a desktop, then buy a wireless monitor with built-in speakers?

    • peterdjones says:

      Laptop. Disable wifi.

  40. John says:

    What is the ideal form verb form for “using a motte-and-bailey argument”? “Motte-and-baileying” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…

  41. I’ve felt for a while that there isn’t any formally described position that sensible people can identify with on futurism and technology. Transhumanism seems to be a bit extreme in parts and lacking in certain human values, while luddite attitudes require me to dislike technology and kind of pretend the world isn’t changing. So I’m working on trying to describe and advocate what I think is a more sensible position which I’m calling “technonaturalism”. It’s pro-environment, pro-rationality, pro-humans, and technology friendly.

    Scott and the SSC crowd is one of my preferred crowds, so I’d love to get some feedback on it while its still in progress and hasn’t solidified. I’d be keen for any thoughts on presentation, whether I get the message across clearly, and how people feel about the position?

    • Jared says:

      I’m not seeing the conflict between tranhumanism and what you’re proposing. I believe that tranhumanism is just regular old humanism applied to technology not invented yet. It’s not like tranhumanists believe all technology is good. Most of us would not like to see AI that is antagonistic to human values for example. Maybe you could be more specific in your criticism.

      • Bugmaster says:

        As far as I understand, transhumanism is primarily concerned with improving human bodies through advanced technology (which, as you say, has not been invented yet). Thus, I could easily envision a movement that embraces humanism and technology, but opposes transhumanism, citing reasons such as general caution, preventing an intelligence explosion, religion, etc.

      • While I certainly don’t see technonaturalism as being directly opposed to transhumanism, I do think it implies coherent and important differences. The central criticism I’d have with transhumanism and what I see as the common views on the singularity that often go with it, is that it seems to be compatible with the extinction of our species as part of the process. Proponents often like to reframe humanity in terms of “consciousness” to try and get around this, but the reality is that we are organisms and our consciousness isn’t a stable, coherent object that makes sense to assign as being “us”. We are a species, and our survival is paramount. However, in conflict with less forward looking views of this kind, technonaturalism would envisage a future where humanity and the species of the biosphere (terminal values) are encased by an advanced civilisation and “technosphere” which is structured and geared towards the survival of the biosphere. This is differs to transhumanist approaches which don’t inherently include the survival of our species, except as some religious “transcendence” to a fundmentally mythical higher existence that doesn’t make sense to any rational thinker. Ultimately transhumanism doesn’t prevent the replacement of the human species – it doesn’t oppose slow extinction, and for most humans that’s unacceptable.

        So technonaturalism isn’t opposed to most transhumanist thought as luddites are, but in difference from transhumanism/common views on the singularity it does require that technological developments are explicitly shaped around the survival of our species and the other species on this planet.

        EDIT> Actually I realise I’m partially jumping the defence of my view rather than trying to improve my communication. Does that clarify the position… do you think I need to explain the above in introducing technonaturalism?

        • Jared says:

          I think the difference between me and you is that you see the replacement of our human bodies with mind uploads as extinction of the human race and I see it as evolution. Our bodies have gotten us pretty far but they are from perfect. I’m not sure why you hold so much attachment to them.

          • > difference between me and you
            let’s focus on figuring out the truth as best we can, and not worry about who we are. perhaps we will agree at some point in the future.

            > Our bodies have gotten us pretty far

            There is a number of schools of thought floating around the rationalist-o-sphere that claim to be physicalist and scientific, but treat “us” or “I” as some kind of metaphysical entity separate from our bodies. Unless we’re spiritual (apologies I mean no offence to anyone’s belief), I want to suggest that we are not a floating entity separate from our bodies. One of the great insights of science is that we are not entities hosted by biological organisms – we ARE biological organisms. In other words, body = us. I want to politely suggest that we may unknowingly still be caught in a confused space between monism and dualism. This is where I think technonaturalism get’s it right and transhumanism falls down.

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, you don’t say a computer program that is being run is the hardware on which it’s being run, do you? So I see nothing inherently wrong with not identifying ourselves with our bodies.

          • @ Creutzer

            > Well, you don’t say a computer program that is being run is the hardware on which it’s being run, do you?

            I feel this is an ill-fitting metaphor, but to try to respond to your comment, I don’t think it would make sense to to talk about preserving an instance of a computer program when that program dies everytime you switch the PC off. The only thing that was constant throughout your life was your being a genetic organism – each consciousness you have dies whenever you go to sleep.

            (sorry if reply goes to you Jared, Scott’s blog is so cramped for comments. deliberately perhaps?)

          • Creutzer says:

            But my brain doesn’t cease all activity when I go to sleep. Nobody said only consciousness counts.

            Also, a computer program can save stuff to a hard drive and resume in the last state is was in when it’s run next time, which seems like a relevant kind of continuity.

            There are issues with this view, of course, especially relating to the nature and role of the execution of a program, but I don’t think it can be dismissed quite so easily.

          • I don’t think I’m able to keep going with the PC metaphor, so I’ll leave that for now.

            > Nobody said only consciousness counts.

            Cool, but the kind of activity that goes on when we are sleeping doesn’t seem to be a meaningful conception of what we’d probably consider human. Perhaps we might also propose that preserving homo sapiens also has the benefit of preserving all that other stuff that we perhaps don’t understand yet too. For reference, if you ever change your mind, the more philosophically thorough version of the technonaturalist position on defining humanity and related values is here. *tips hat*

        • Illuminati Initiate says:

          Species is an extremely vague and fuzzy concept, much more so than minds (whether you are a pure patternist or think physical continuity is important as well). What do you mean here by continuation of species?

          Like, lets say we remove your non-brain body and put you in a cyborg body. Are you still homo sapiens? What if we then apply genetic modification to counter cellular decay? How much genetic modification until someone is no longer a human?

          I can see why mind uploading is philosophically problematic. I’m not really sure of my view on it myself. But I don’t think being anti-uploading disqualifies as counting as transhumanism.

          • I like these questions I think you’re right this is the heart of the matter.

            Briefly for the first part, I believe in practice definitions of species vary in only the most minor ways*. Yet thousands of years of philosophy has failed to define minds or consciousness without the deepest most furious disagreements (see philosophy of the mind, other minds problem, dualism / monism ). These are amongst the most contentious topics of philosophy. So I’d politely but strongly disagree with this first idea.

            > Are you still homo sapiens?

            I find if I try to define “you” or “I” rigourously and in a way that’s compatible with science, the only consistently sound answer is that “you” or “I” refers to a specific homo sapiens. Because we spend most of our time interacting with other humans, our social identities become very prominent in our thought. We forget our physical existence and imagine ourselves based on what we commonly deal with – our emotions, our choices etc. Yet such things are changable, transient – they are not who we are. If we ask ourselves what are we, while asleep or awake, young or old, conscious or unconscious – it’s not a “consciousness” – it’s a genetic organism. We don’t exist as separate entities hosted by our bodies, we are our bodies. They are the same thing. As with all objects in the universe, the constituent matter changes over time, but the only defining thing that remained almost entirely constant, from your birth until this very day is not your thoughts or your social identity, it is your existence as a genetic organism.

            Adding machinery around the organism is potentially great imo – it is humanity’s sophisticated version of a hermit crab’s shell. It’s a tool designed to create utility – I also like to think of the biosphere surrounding itself with tech like a metaphorical cyborg biosphere enhanced to maintain survival. We need only remember that the means (cyborgism) is not the same as the ends (us!).

            If you change the genetics of the organism, you are proportionally ending that organism’s existence and creating a new separate entity. As with almost everything above the lowest units in physics – that’s not discrete or digital – its a gradual, organic, analog change, but a change none-the-less.

            Technonaturalism captures that clear distinction between utility and terminal value. That’s why I think it’s so important – to prevent the means destroying and becoming the ends.

            * In the philosophical leadup to technonaturalism I actually primarily refer to genes which is more scientifically correct but awkward to explain.

    • Fnord says:

      Even if you take “genetic replacement of the species” off the table, there seems to be a broad range of transhuman technologies possible.

      I mean, I’m currently of the opinion that there doesn’t really exist a coherent position where you’re trying to stand, embracing technology but rejecting transhumanism, and so the reason your position statement doesn’t exclude transhumanism is that cleanly and rigorously excluding transhumanism from your philosophical position is folly, but I assume you disagree.

      • The key differences between technonaturalism and transhumanism would be, imo, a removal of the teleological confusion around direction- less (fallacious) conceptions of “progress”, replaced with a coherent goal of survival, a clear, rational criteria by which technology can be assigned a value (in terms of utility towards goals of survival), and a focus on a scientifically sound and philosophically unambiguous basis
        for its values – biological species, which if we discard wishful/motivated thinking is the best characterisation of what you are I are. Transhumanism tries to ground its goals in things like “consciousness”, which ultimately aren’t stable coherent objects, and are very much concepts open to wildly varied interpretation and manipulation for less noble ends.

        The difference between technonaturalism and transhumanism is in some ways minor, yes, but it cuts to the heart of an important flaw – if we want to ensure the survival of our species, homo sapiens, transhumanism simply doesn’t achieve that in the long term. Technonaturalism is a philosophical basis for a high tech civilisation, with humans at its heart.

        EDIT> Actually I realise I’m partially jumping the defence of my view rather than trying to improve my communication. Does that clarify the position… do you think I need to explain the above in introducing technonaturalism?

    • diversity trainer says:

      I like your site. I’m on board with preserving the environment and the human species. I also attach large importance to maintaining diversity between different human societies. The world needs to stay “interesting.” This is a very un-utilitarian outlook although consequentialist.

      But be cautious of futurist visions. First, an interplanetary civilization won’t be logical for a while–we haven’t even colonized Antarctica. Second, we don’t know how far technology can take us. Don’t dismiss it being impossible to advance much more. I’m not saying don’t have futurist ideas, but understand them as a statement of values.

      A general problem is how we can evolve beyond humanity while preserving the human species and natural ecosystems. Er, this is too futurological. A better specification is how we can build new societies and maybe even new species, increase populations, maintain high living standards, all while preserving what already exists.

      Would you describe yourself as biocentric? Ecocentric?

      • Thanks for the comments. I agree regarding not being utilitarian but being consequentialist (if your into your moral philosophy rule consequentialist with shades of virtue ethics at a hat tip to the deontologists now and then).

        The technology / futurist issue is quite complex and I don’t know how to respond in the space we’ve got here. I think even if our technological progress isn’t as successful as we’d like to be, finding ways to shape technology more effectively to our human needs is probably going to be a positive thing. I personally find the space program to be the most benefical area to focus on – though it’s absolutely true significant population movement is extremely unlikely on this front in this century.

        I obviously prefer my own label of technonaturalist but I also obviously value biological humans and other species. So perhaps that would match those names you suggest. I probably wouldn’t match up with the “bio-conservative” label I’ve heard some transhumanists use, which I imagine will be a bit confounding for some who like to see a polarised debate on these issues.

        Do you have a site?

      • roystgnr says:

        This is a very un-utilitarian outlook although consequentialist.

        Utilitarianism does not mandate one particular way to aggregate utility, so you don’t need to call yourself un-utilitarian. I personally agree that the sum of utility between two populations should be negatively related to the mutual information describing those populations. In the crazy thought experiment limit, this completely solves the “double-thick transistors” paradox, wherein simple additive models give twice as much utility to a certain mass of sentient semiconductor depending on whether that mass is used to create a single “thick” circuit or whether it’s sliced down the median to produce two identically-configured “thin” circuits hooked up to the same inputs.

    • diversity trainer says:

      By the way, seeing as you’re maybe one of a tiny number of folks to share values kinda like mine…do you have any thoughts on cause prioritization? Of major concern is that historically, ecological footprint is highly correlated with GDP growth. How can we sever this link?

      I am a different kind of environmentalist from many. Global warming has not heretofore been the major cause of species extinction–the leading causes are habitat loss and too much fishing/hunting.

      • I’m a bit hesitant to get into things on Scott’s blog that are red vs blue tribe stuff (ie. non-scientific discussion around global warming). Habitat loss and bush meat do seem to be very significant pressures on mammals which in terms of species loss I think Technonaturalists would look at as priorities.

        Yes sadly we’ve got a problem that economic growth is associated with environmental damage in many cases, though not uniformly and not in all cases. Quantifying and pricing environmental harm seems like the best idea we’ve come up with so far. The problem seems to be that discussions of whether to do this, and the specific ways to implement it, are very highly politicised. That’s one of the reasons Technonaturalism isn’t a red or blue thing, because people seem to get locked into these perspectives and then switch off their thinking gear and decide pretty much everything is all the other tribe’s fault.

  42. anonymous says:

    “I’ve been having some surprising success treating Ozy’s borderline personality disorder with something that really shouldn’t work.”

    Suppose “intervention that optimizes Ozy’s life” conflicts with “intervention that optimizes how you as Ozy’s partner want zir to behave.” Why do you trust yourself to choose the former?

    *If this question crosses a personal boundary of any kind, I’m sorry, feel free to delete it, and please don’t hate me.

    • Leonard says:

      I would guess that Ozy can be the judge of whether Scott is mishandling any conflict. It’s not like Ozy has no opinions or is a shrinking violet.

      I’d also point out that, unlike a standard therapeutic relationship, Scott loves Ozy. If you love someone, you try to optimize his life on his own terms, in spite of your own convenience. Or at least you do more than if you don’t love him.

      Compare to a standard shrink, who has a strong financial incentive to not actually solve your problem so much that you don’t need him any more.

      • ozymandias says:

        Yes, if I felt a treatment was not optimizing my life I would say “no, I don’t want to” and then I would stop taking it. And, as it happens, Scott has shown willingness to advocate for me doing things that are not in his naive self-interest (for instance, I am currently in an airport preparing to live in SF for six months), presumably because he knows me optimizing my life is in his long-term enlightened self-interest.

        • Anonymous says:

          How can you differentiate “treatment optimizing life” and “treatment optimizing for feelings of optimizing for life”?

          • ozymandias says:

            That seems like a fully general argument against wanting things.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yes and I agree it’s a dumb argument, but as someone who has significant experience with medicating I would say it is more prone to the problem than other things.

            That said, I think you and Scott are capable of accurately differentiating the two.

  43. elstir says:

    Is discussion of the Eric Garner case banned here for its connection to race? I’m not really looking to talk about the racial issue, but I’m interested to know whether there are two sides to this story. Usually I find these sorts of cases at least somewhat ambiguous, often to the point that the outcry seems largely motivated by pre-existing grievances, confirmation bias, and people taking misleading accounts at face value. But the Eric Garner case genuinely shocks me. Based on my (admittedly very superficial) knowledge of the case, it seems blatanty ridiculous that his killer is likely to get away without even facing trial. Is this as bad as it looks, or am I missing something important?

    • JRM says:

      How about if we stick to law?

      (This is just my opinion, I could be wrong. I am a prosecutor; that does not mean I’m right. I read some NY cases, but I AM NOT EXPERT ON NEW YORK LAW.)

      New York has nine non-vehicular criminal homicide levels (criminal negligence homicide, aggravated criminal negligence homicide, manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, aggravated manslaughter first degree, aggravated manslaughter in the second degree, second degree murder, aggravated murder, first degree murder.)

      It’s not quite as bad as all that, though. The “aggravated” crimes are for cop victims, so those are out.

      In every state but Texas, there are rules requiring malice (which may be not-caring in an extreme degree) or an underlying felony for murder. (NY has depraved indifference murder.)

      Brief aside: Much is being made that the medical examiner ruled this a homicide. The Ferguson thing was also a homicide. If you shoot the guy there to murder you, it’s a homicide. Of course it’s a homicide, but that doesn’t automatically mean that it’s not justifiable or excusable. The argument otherwise is wrong.

      Back to our regularly scheduled programming: People v. Suarez (2005) 6 NY 3rd 202 outlines the differences in the various statutes:

      1. Depraved indifference murder (second degree murder): Doing something that has a likelihood of death and “not giving a shit.” (Please note: I may have slightly misquoted the court.) In CA, this is when you drive 90 in the school zone or figure your 18-month-old can fend for herself for a week.

      The Garner case is not that, at least without a lot more evidence.

      We’re left with criminally negligent homicide (negligently causing death) or second degree manslaughter (recklessly causing death.)

      A justification for homicide is that the use of force was necessary. Cops are allowed to take in resisters. Cops are not allowed to shoot fleeing nonviolent offenders.

      In general, the recklessness issue is going to be dependent on the cop’s knowledge. According to media reports (which usually suck), the cop said he was not trying to use a chokehold. There are a couple of types of chokeholds, one of which is not banned everywhere; all chokeholds are barred by the NYPD. This was an administratively barred chokehold.

      The video I’ve seen has a significant missing part; let’s assume that Garner told the cops he wasn’t going in and he didn’t like their mothers or he really liked their mothers. He surely seems agitated when the cops move in on him.

      I don’t know what the penalties are for selling loosies. Let’s further assume the cops are authorized to arrest or search him.

      Assuming all that, the cops can use force – but it still has to be reasonable force. if the cop did not know the dangers of the chokehold, or was trained so poorly as to genuinely think that was not a chokehold (his apparent claim), this looks to me like criminally negligent homicide.

      If the cop knew the dangers of the chokehold, it looks like second degree manslaughter (recklessly causing death.)

      This analysis makes certain assumptions which may turn out to be wrong. If the cop was trained that chokeholds have a high fatality rate, the stop was unjustified, and the cop has a vanity plate of CHK M OUT, that gets murdery.

      If the clipped portion of the video has Garner saying, “I cannot reach my gun to shoot you all. I am trying to get it out so that I may shoot you repeatedly,” the use of anti-policy force may nonetheless not warrant criminal sanctions.

      These are just my opinions. I could be wrong. Relying on media for correct info cop-involved deaths is a dicey business. Relying on me on non-CA law, you do at your peril.

    • Irenist says:

      I have no idea if it’s as bad as it looks. God knows it certainly looks bad. That poor guy.

      Anyway, if you’re interested in reading an argument that the jury got it right, here’s a Pat Buchanan column:

      CAUTION: I posted this to answer your question. However, discussion of the contents of Buchanan’s article could very, very rapidly get to be about race. So enjoy the article. But be wary about breaking our gracious host’s entirely reasonable rule.

      (Note to Scott: if my posting this link breaches your ban, please go right ahead and disallow this comment. Your house, your rules.)

    • Lizardbreath says:

      Have you seen the video?

      On the topic of people’s reactions to videos and whether a video “speaks for itself,” this article may be of interest.

      That said…

      Some of the people I know who have seen the video have commented that to them, the video looks like someone “being thrown to the ground and pinned,” rather than being “put in a chokehold.”

      I see the cop’s arm go around Garner’s neck, but I can see why those who have categorized this as “a guy being pinned” might think the intent of that “hold” was to “throw the guy down and pin him” rather than to choke him.

      I wonder if this problem is better solved by altering police training methods than by punishing one guy. I don’t know, because I don’t know if this one cop was acting in accordance with his training or not. (Apparently he testified that he was.)

      The video starts with what looks to me like a guy kind of working himself up. I then wonder if they needed to arrest him and if so, if they needed to do it in that way.

      The video shows no reason for him to work himself up in that way (it starts after he’s already begun, so it wouldn’t; but I see no ongoing provocation), so I can see why someone might interpret this behavior as “resisting arrest,” and/or as something that needed to be intervened in.

      But the police often seem not to know how to effectively intervene when someone is working themselves up, which seems to often result in police shootings of mentally ill people, too.

      That brings me back to thinking police need better training in dealing with those who are “agitated” and may be mentally ill.

      If Eric Garner died despite the cop actually following his training, then punishing the cop will not prevent more deaths. Instead, it amounts to scapegoating one guy for the severe problems with the training. It encourages people to think, “OK, problem solved,” when it’s not, at all. And if the cop really did follow his training, then it’s unfair to punish him for his training having failed him (and, more importantly, having failed Eric Garner).

      I’ve been interested in air crash investigation since uh before the show “Air Crash Investigation” existed…and I liken this to that type of investigation. In such an investigation, if what caused the many deaths and horrible injuries that result from an air crash was the crew’s training, then that is (ideally) discovered and addressed. Rather than just scapegoating one flight crew or one individual and saying, “Whew! One bad apple removed, problem solved, guess we don’t have to actually change anything!”

    • Scott Alexander says:

      No, as long as people keep it civil.

      Does anyone know of any actual actions people can take (besides protesting/yelling really loud) to reduce police brutality? Causes to donate to? This might be one of those times when charity is less fungible than usual because people are worked up over this particular issue and want to do something.

      • JRM says:

        “All politics is local.”

        Find out which police agencies near you use body cams and dashcams. For the ones that don’t, go to public meetings and politely suggest that they do.

        “Alas, my local councilpersons are members of the reds and they will hate this.” Nope!

        The former Officer Wilson has suggested he should have had a body camera. Damned right. The cost is enough to get some attention, but lawsuits are spendier. Body cams are awesome at refuting fabricated claims.

        This is a real solution. A letter to the editor, a council meeting, plug the goodness for cops and citizens. This is a time when pushing has a good shot to get something done.

        And body cams help get to the truth. That’s good for society.

  44. Deiseach says:

    Just to prove I cannot resist beng a smart-alec, although the opportunity for the pun in “We Thread Kings” was admittedly irresistable, nevertheless that image is for Epiphany and we’re only just in Advent 🙂

    • Jaskologist says:

      Just wait until people start talking about Jesus’ immaculate conception.

      • Deiseach says:

        Hah! You know my vulnerable point! 🙂

        Yes, it drives me spare that even Catholics who should know better (then again, Catholics – we tend to know nothing about our own religion) confuse the Virgin Birth with the Immaculate Conception. Though yes, Jesus was also conceived free from Original Sin, but that’s nothing to do with the physical method of conception.

        I’m getting slightly better now, I no longer throw things at the computer screen and I confine myself to scowling and muttering under my breath “Dammit, don’t they know anything?” when I see the misuse of the term.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I wish to submit to the court that “We Three Kings” is a Christmas carol, and according to this calendar which is Exhibit A it is currently after Thanksgiving.

      • Jadagul says:

        But two open threads from now will land almost precisely on the Epiphany, which is really the day “We Three Kings” is about. Christmas carols are certainly acceptable now, and will remain acceptable until January 6, but this is the unique carol that steadily becomes more appropriate until then.

      • Deiseach says:

        Deponent respondeth:

        (a) in Ireland, the Feast of Epiphany, which is on January 6th in the new Gregorian calendar, is also called “Little Christmas” and that therefore, by using its iconography before that date, the SSC has created a time paradox which – as we all know is the case with time paradoxes – will THREATEN THE VERY FABRIC OF SPACE AND TIME ITSELF!!!!
        (sub-clause to a) (i) indeed, given that the calendar in current use, and to which you make appeal, is the Gregorian calendar, which was reformed, introduced, and promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and the calculations for which are the work of a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, I submit you should give in on this point 🙂

        (b) not being under the American hegemony, I am not bound by your calendrical customs.
        (sub-clause to b) (i) since Hallowe’en which is a native festivity and practice of this nation has long (that is, within the past decade) succumbed to its Americanised version, to wit; pumpkins appearing on supermarket shelves where ne’er a pumpkin was glimpsed before, and other appurtenances of the American version being absorbed from acculturation due to the influence of American TV and movies into our popular culture, and furthermore that Black Friday and Cyber Monday seem to have made their way across the Atlantic and are popping up on these shores in the U.K. and Ireland, so that the season of Christmas is going the same way such that they bloody well had the Christmas confectionery rolled out on the shelves at the same time as the Hallowe’en stock, I am sick to the back teeth of U.S. influence on our cultural calendar and am digging my heels in over this one.

        (c) Epiphany thanfully not, as yet, having been commercialised into seculardom as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Hallowe’en and (depending on how one wants to look at it) Easter have been, it is still primarily a religious feast day and therefore comes under the liturgical calendar of the church year, not the secular calendar of the civil year. Therefore, though I accept that “We Three Kings” is indeed a Christmas carol, I counter that it falls within the liturgical season of Christmastide which runs from 24th December to 6th January (or even up to 1st February if we follow older traditions and our Eastern brethren in the other lung of the Church), not the secular version of “Day after Thanksgiving is Shopping Time and Christmas ends before St Stephen’s Day on 26th December”.

        All of which is to say, we are still in Advent and if it’s carols for the season you want, try the O antiphons (here is O Adonai in the setting by Arvo Pärt) 🙂

  45. Q says:

    I understand if my question will be deleted. However, I much prefer asking my question here than elsewhere, because you guys are likely to understand my standards for evidence. Can anyone point me to a fair critical review about how same sex couple adoption affects adopted children ? I have been hearing for years, that there is experience and there are no negative effects, except of stigmatization. However, yesterday somebody on TV was saying, there are studies opposing this statement. That person does not seem credible to me, but still a critical overview like Scott has a habit of making would help. Even Wikipedia has no such entry.

    Just to explain why I bother you, my crazy country will hold a referendum on this topic within a couple of months 🙁 .

    Please, minimize your answers to article links if possible to make me less guity before Scott. Or, even better, please, e-mail me the articles to .

  46. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Have you considered the possibility of adding vote buttons but not using them for ranking or letting anyone see the vote tallies? I’d love to see some analysis on voting patterns.

  47. Robinson says:

    Astonishingly “Not from the Onion” article- the inexplicably titled “Sure, Artificial Intelligence May End Our World, But That Is Not the Main Problem” (!):

    The problem with such scenarios is not that they are necessarily false… [it] is that they tend to distract from very real and far more urgent ethical and social issues raised by new technological developments in these areas. For example, is there still a place for privacy in the ICT world we are creating? Does work become increasingly stressful due to information overload and the increasing speed of communication?… Will further automatisation lead to (even) fewer jobs?

    It’s a great example of what you were describing in “If the Media Reported on Other Dangers Like It Does AI Risk”:

    A sufficiently large nuclear war could completely destroy human civilization. If the bombs struck major manufacturing centers, they could also cause thousands of people to be put out of work.

    Talk about scope insensitivity… it ends with “Let us hope that the best human minds of our age begin to focus most of their energy and attention on those questions rather than the end of the world,” which sounds dreadfully backwards.

    • Bugmaster says:

      I could steelman that article with something like this:

      “Sure, it’s possible that AI will end the world. It is also possible that genetic engineering, particle physics, longevity research, and lot of other applications of science and technology will end the world. In fact, the world could end tomorrow in a totally non-anthropogenic gamma ray burst.

      However, “possible” is not the same as “likely”. If we focus on all of these off-the-wall scenarios which have virtually no chance at all of happening, we risk missing the very real, yet utterly mundane, dangers inherent in these new technologies. So, let’s not do that.

      Rather than spending all of our money on defending against potential rogue AIs or gamma ray bursts, let’s see what we can do to address the more immediate concerns of information overload, reduced privacy, and so on.”

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        By improving the current world, we’ll raise a next generation more capable of dealing with whatever turns up then.

    • Artemium says:

      article- the inexplicably titled “Sure, Artificial Intelligence May End Our World, But That Is Not the Main Problem”

      I wouldn’t call it “inexplicably”. Basically it is ironic-witty-clickbait type of article that is becoming more common these days. It is pathetic to see that even respectable magazines are now falling for that crap without even considering the arguments from people who are actually involved in AI safety research.

      If this article was written in 1930’s it would look something like this “sure some people are worried that the nukes are dangerous, but we should worry more about nuclear companies becoming powerful force in society then focusing on something crazy like the danger of nuclear weapons. “

  48. Alsadius says:

    Would it be possible to make the SSC logo at the top of the page link back to the home page? Many blogs I read use that formatting, and it’s instinctive for me.

  49. zz says:

    Eric Raymond writes about Less Wrong. In particular, “Relative to a typical LW follower, I am much more likely to connect the discipline of rationality to traditional issues in epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and analytical philosophy in general. The LW culture sometimes, to my perception, exhibits patches of enthusiasm and shallowness that would be cured by a bit more knowledge of these fields and historical perspective.” (emphasis added).

    What should I read to acquire said bits of knowledge and perspective? (Not asking LW for obvious reasons).

    • nydwracu says:

      Find a time and place in history that interests you. If you find this to be impossible, find a time and place in literature that interests you. But you shouldn’t find it impossible.

      Read about it when you feel like it. Pick up background knowledge from references to other times and places. Find an interesting reference and repeat the process.

      Do that for a few decades.

    • Charlie says:

      Tell you what, I’ll check back in and let you know when any of the people who respond are not regular LW commenters. 😛

      I would guess he’s largely referring to philosophy. My guess as to his philosophy recommendations (note: inherently a bit mixed with my preferences), would be: Haykawa, Nietzsche, Pierce, Quine, Wittgenstein, Kant, Hume.

      • nydwracu says:

        No, it won’t work to recommend that people read philosophy without telling them that they have to learn how to read philosophy.

        What’s a philosopher who writes straightforwardly without barely-defined jargon (like the continentals), terrible style cultivated to cover over weak spots in the arguments (like Kant), or weird performative shit (like Nietzsche)?

        Maybe Hume? But he’s not a very good stylist, and it doesn’t help that he’s a few centuries old.

        The classic Chinese philosophers? They tend to be straightforward (unless they’re trying to be obscure to make a point that’s difficult to convey straightforwardly, like Han Feizi sometimes does, or they’re Laozi, although Laozi is a good way to learn to read), but there’s a lot of inferential distance that has to be made up, since half of the content is cultural references that they always expect their audience (with good reason) to already know.


        (I don’t have a very high opinion of analytic philosophy in general, so I won’t recommend any. Nozick is very clear in that one book everyone knows him for, but I don’t expect that it will be of much use to anyone here except as an introduction to reading philosophy.)

        Edit: esr is talking about Korzybski and that sphere, which LW tends to be unaware of. Memetic immunity is likely, especially to Robert Anton Wilson, so I don’t think anything there will be productive unless someone can insight-mine it all and present the ideas in a way LW can stomach.

        • social justice warlock says:

          I find Carlyle profoundly difficult to read, though I’m aware that many people admire his style. I don’t think his admirers would say that clarity is its distinguishing feature, though.

          On the broader question probably the only way to really learn to read philosophy is to read philosophy, although obviously some starting points are better than others (Hume rather than Kant, Rortu rather than Heidegger, etc.)

          • nydwracu says:

            Carlyle is clear; he just doesn’t present things in a linear order. So he still takes effort.

            (Just like the Carlyleans.)

            Rorty is a particularly bad recommendation — taking sophistry all the way into an attempt at supervillainy.

            Anyway, the key thing is probably to read the book with a way of indexing key quotes (Tumblr or Goodreads or something) and a notebook in front of you, whatever the book is. You don’t do that, you won’t get anything out of it, unless it bites you in the ass out of nowhere a month later.

            Some things you have to let bite you in the ass a month later. I haven’t read much D&G but I get the impression that they’re like that.

          • social justice warlock says:

            Carlyle is clear; he just doesn’t present things in a linear order. So he still takes effort.

            i.e., he’s unclear.

            (Just like the Carlyleans.)

            I find Moldbug a very clear writer, actually.

          • Multiheaded says:

            I find Moldbug a very clear writer, actually.


        • g says:

          Philosophers who write (to my taste, at least) clearly and pleasantly include Bertrand Russell, David Lewis, Daniel Dennett, W V O Quine. All of them firmly in the analytic tradition, though. (Which doesn’t bother me, but apparently doesn’t suit you so well.)

          • BenSix says:

            I’ve been enjoying Anthony Kenny’s New History of Western Philosophy. Bertrand Russell’s History is eminently readable though famously biased.

        • Jadagul says:

          Hah, I was going to recommend Nozick and Rorty. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity is really good and really readable. What makes you accuse him of sophistic supervillainy?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          esr is talking about Korzybski and that sphere

          * pricks up ears *

        • Anonymous says:

          Berkeley, strangely enough.

          • Alex Godofsky says:

            Seconding a recommendation of Berkeley, who was a very early reading of mine that I don’t remember having any trouble with.

    • Eli says:

      Analytic philosophy is occasionally good, but still mostly crap. At the very least, you’ll get halfway decent material if you read only naturalists.

      Besides that, I honestly advise learning the sciences and mathematics more than philosophy.

  50. Setsize says:

    Here’s a review of Peter Pan that hits some of the same notes as your On the Road post.

    • 27chaos says:

      Is there an intentional connection between Peter Pan and the Greek god Pan? I think that is likely and that exploring it could lead to interesting ideas. For one thing, it seems worthwhile contrasting “Tell them the great god Pan is dead” to Peter’s immortal youthfulness.

      Also, it occurs to me that Tick Tock is probably a metaphor for aging. Transhumanist Hook fanfiction here we come! He’s undergone substantial body modification already, this will be easy!

      • Luke Somers says:

        Yes, Peter Pan is definitely connected to Pan. Never-learning, anti-civilized, primal, irresistible, inconsiderate.

        Your take on the crocodile is new to me, though.

  51. Andy says:

    With the holiday season upon us so rapidly, does anyone have a favored holiday recipe they’d like to share?
    Every year I make Gingersnap Brownies, a variation on this recipe with brown sugar instead of white sugar, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger, and half a teaspoon of nutmeg, added at the same time as the sugar. Very tasty, especialyl with some crystallized ginger chunks on top. Still trying to figure out a vegan version of the base recipe.

    • Hainish says:

      I like this recipe, with slightly less sugar and butter. I also substitute the green tea and cranberries with pretty much anything else.

    • Charlie says:

      Our family holiday recipe is the cranberry jello mold – 2 packets red jello, half the usual amount of hot water, a can of jellied cranberry sauce, a cup and a half of sour cream. Mix in that order, chill in a mold overnight.

      • Andy says:

        I loathe cranberries (unlike the rest of my family – I am surrounded by heathens) but I might try that with some different flavor payloads in place of the cranberry sauce. Maybe oranges and pineapples – those seem to be popular in Internet recipes.

        • Charlie says:

          The trouble is that the cranberry sauce is an important structural element – ideally you’d replace it with something with a bunch of pectin, like quince paste or a very orangey orange jelly. Alternately, you could up the amount of jello by a bit (or proportionately decrease everything else by a third) and use boiling concentrated fruit juice to dissolve the gelatin – and hope that this doesn’t hurt the texture. (Also, beware raw pineapple juice – it doesn’t play well with protein)

          As an aid to experimenting I’d still recommend that you make the mold for your family one time – if your dislike of cranberries is just for low-level flavor reasons, I’d even predict that you’ll like it.

        • roystgnr says:

          Careful with highly acidic fruits; they can prevent the gelatin from setting.

          • Anonymous says:

            Acid is not a problem — lemons work fine in jello. The problem is enzymes in tropical fruit.

  52. Illuminati Initiate says:

    So I saw this an immediately thought of transhumanist potential, but could not find anyone else commenting on this, and this seems like a good place to bring it up.

    I’m not at all neuroscientist or molecular biologist, I could be completely misunderstanding something and if so correct me. but, if I understand correctly…

    Now, I know that there are also glial cells in the brain that might undergo replicative aging like most other human cells, but it seems that finding a way to keep brains alive outside a human body (with some way to interact with the outside world, obviously*) (probably with some sort of replaceable biological organs hooked up) could be promising area to look into for life extension. It may significantly increase lifespan all on its own just from not being hooked up to an aging body, and if a way is found to help stop decay of glial cells, or replenish them somehow, that potentially is a much easier route to super-long or indefinite lifespans than trying to work on a whole aging body.

    I’m probably missing something important, so take this all with many grains of salt, and people with more knowledge in these areas feel free to correct me.

    *We already have limited brain-machine interfacing. By the time we can go full brain in a jar I think it will be pretty easy to give these brains plenty of ability to interact with the world. So this is not an “And I Must Scream” scenario, as TV tropes puts it.

  53. Grumpus says:

    Has anyone here done the research/guesswork on highly restricted diets, e.g. Soylent? I’m not trying to live off one product, but I am (a) cheap, (b) busy, and (c) vegetarian, so I’ve ended up subsisting pretty much entirely on granola, yogurt, hummus, oatmeal, cheese, and the occasional fruit. I take a daily multivitamin. Am I going to drop dead at 40?

    Corollary: What do people on here eat? I imagine quite a few have to deal with (a) and (b).

    • Hainish says:

      If you want to work the smallest degree of cooking into your life, consider a rice cooker. (Not that rice is the best addition to what you’re eating now, but you could throw in some veggies. Or have rice with kimchi. Or rice and tuna, which I like, but that might just be me.)

    • zz says:

      Having micronutrient deficiences will kill you, albeit probably not by 40.

      I subsist exclusively off DIY soylent. My current blend comes in at $4.79/day ($4.50 if you don’t include nootropics, and slightly less if you’re willing to buy your weigh protein 100 pounds at a time), it takes a few minutes to prepare a day, and is vegetarian (but not vegan). A more thorough discussion can be found here. I’ve done vegetarian and paleo previously and have firmly settled on soylent because of how it makes my brain feel, as well as a and b (c is a coincidence).

      I can’t say whether I’ll die at 40, but I do know that I feel much more clear-headed when I subsist exclusively off soylent. This makes a lot of sense if you stop thinking about food in terms of “get to enough micronutrients given a calorie constraint” or “minimize calories given a micronutrient constraint”, but rather “plants evolved to make them bad for me to eat! Animal evolution is neutral wrt to being bad to eat, but bioaccumulation!” I got this way after reading Staffan Lindeberg (fantastic book, mediocre live presentation). He’s a paleo guy, but unlike every other paleo guy, backs his position with evidence (and he doesn’t spend all his time hating carbohydrates); my nutritional framework comes from his book and I wound up on soylent (the furthest thing from paleo) because of it.

      Also, I find I need 30–45 minutes less sleep on soylent. Like, I go to bed and stay there until I wake up naturally, and that point is 30–45 minutes sooner and I wake up feeling better-rested.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      I am (a) cheap, (b) busy, and (c) vegetarian, so I’ve ended up subsisting pretty much entirely on granola, yogurt, hummus, oatmeal, cheese, and the occasional fruit.

      Re busy, an easy way to combine those is as ‘breakfast cookies’ rather than drinks or stews. A batch of cookies can keep for a couple of weeks or so, depending on how dry you cook them. A cookie sheet doesn’t need washing, and the batter can be mixed in a big disposable cup or plastic bag.

      Peanut butter fits in the recipe, and so do things like cornmeal, flax seed meal, chopped nuts, dry fruit, etc. Actually I use muesli which is like uncooked granola, but granola might work too, though you might need to soften it some.

  54. diversity trainer says:

    I say whatever future we create should have flying ships.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Will you publicly release the treatment, at least after you are done with the amateur clinical trials?

  56. Pingback: Developmental views and rationality | Rival Voices